Ask a stranger, ” Have you been to Thailand? If so, Where?” and chances are, 90% would have the same reply – Phuket ; Samui ; Bangkok ; Pattaya and probably those who think they might have ventured off the shopping/drinking/night scene path- Chiangmai/Chiangrai.
Korat, you ask? and this might ensue ” Where again? What is there to do there? ” For first time visitors to the North Eastern Part of Thailand (Isaan) and Korat (like I was), you are in for a nice surprise. Korat, or rather Nakhon Ratchasima, is actually the second largest capital after Bangkok (Surprise again!), and yet not as popular and largely bypassed by the travellers en route from Bangkok to the hot favorite Chiangmai. ( In all Fairness, Chiangmai is lovely with cool weather and gorgeous mountains/countryside, one of my favorites in fact ). To get to Korat, it is a three hours drive up from Bangkok, and anyone who might want a short weekend getaway, this is the place to go.
No, you do not go to Korat to shop, leave that “Shopping Heaven” title to Unbeatable Bangkok. In fact, they only have one large shopping mall called The Mall and a night markets littered around. That said, The Mall is pretty awesome, housing a Full size swimming pool to keep the heart pumping, Water Park to entertain the kids, a wide variety of brands to satisfy the richer shop-a-holics and plethora of food choices to indulge in – Korean, Japanese, Steam Boat, Fast food and what not.
You go to Korat, to be in one with Mother Nature. Little would one expect the North East Thailand to house some little gems!
1) Enter Jim Thompson Farm. After rotating the wheels past bare yellow fields and minimal looking infrastructure and upon entering this farm, you find yourself in a different land. A very well maintained , sculptured land in fact, with Pine trees, Sunflower fields and vast clean, green lands you imagine to find in Europe.Take the tram which provides shade from the sun and whirls past the fields and drops you off at specific attractions, such as the pumpkin field and the Korat Village ( a depiction of how Korat houses and villages looked in the past as well as the activities the people undertook back in the good old days. )
Sign that greets you at the entrance.
Pumpkin Field, a huge variety of pumpkins planted, harvested and sold here. Sample them and let the sweetness of this orange goodness tantalize your tastebuds at the end at the souvenir stop. Highly Recommended!
You can even try your hands at milling rice. Displays of Silk, Worms and their life cycle (live ones! which they harvest and use to product the famous Jim Thompson Silk products), Rice Milling Equipment and many more, are actually interactive for visitors who stop at the Korat Village stop.
What do you do after spending an afternoon under the hot sun and trying your hands at the various interactive display at the Korat Village stop? Enjoy the local fare, of course! Sit and dine on covered hay stacks (How creative!) after buying from the stalls set up around this place. Heads on, Som Tom (Papaya Salad) is very refreshing but remember to ask for lesser or no chilli ( Mai Pad-in Thai ) because I was tearing throughout, yet could not stop myself from devouring everything. The Glutinous rice, purple or green colored, are peppered with sweet shredded coconut and actually provided me relief from the spiciness of the harmless looking salad!
Continue on the tram and you find yourself at the souvenir stop. Shop around for your winning pumpkin to put on the dinner table that night, various tea leaves and Thai snacks or the well known Jim Thompson Silk scarves/products.
Before your tram heads back to the entrance again for your exit, a last treat for your eyes and the lingering thought “Wow, I cannot believe I am in Thailand”
2) If you are feeling too tired from the day, plenty of accommodation are found around and the one we stopped at was a simple hut, with its own shower/bath room, air conditioner and fan with a Television, and a bed large enough for a couple ; 3 girls for fun conversation throughout the night and even a family with one kid, or two small sized ones. All for 500 Baht per room. Good deal! Very simple, but good enough to lay the head for the night
My hut from the outside
The sunrise I caught and the room, swanky for 500baht.
3) Embrace the sunrise the next day if you are awoken at about 4am by roosters who are adamant that dawn is at 4am, not 6. Drive on to the next destination, A cup of love. Yes a cafe, cum sheep farm! Enjoy your cuppa and breakfast leisurely here and proceed on to feed the sheep if desired and roam around the mini area modeled to look after Amsterdam with its windmills.
See the windmills? You can actually stay here for a night, albeit a lot more expensive. Feed the gorgeous Kois in the pond and a free tip for the sheep feeders, you can just refill the bottles with water and trick the sheep who still gulped down the H20 like they haven’t drank for days. Why, I wonder..
4) One of my favorite of the trip -Flora Park
Apparently the bloom wasn’t that great this year compared to last, but I still found it pretty. Pay 100Baht for the entrance and be greeted by a variety of flowers, my favorites being the gorgeous smelling forget-me-nots, pink roses and lavenders that sway lovingly with the wind. Spend a good amount of time to wander through this well “manicured” land, enjoy the colors, bend to smell the flowers, and an extra treat when you wander off to the houses at the far end, where I think I found my dream house-a house with long window panels from floor to roof, wooden planked floors, floral printed furniture, white, bright and spacious. Facing the lake with black swans merrily swimming by, small dreamy hills, one can only imagine the bliss if you can enjoy your favorite drink on the veranda while enjoying the gorgeous pink, white clouds as the sun sets and everything fades away. ( My camera had to die on me, hence, this awesome memory shall be mine and mine alone. Which only means you gotta make a trip down there if you are in that area )
4) If you are still feeling up for more drive, detour and take the route towards Khao Yai National Park. This was definitely a major highlight for me and I am only glad we forged on because boy, I was in for a treat! As you drive closer to Palio ( Also termed endearingly Little Italy by locals ), you will be greeted by a vast, calm lake and dreamy, flowy trees of Khao Yai National Park.
Palio is definitely a nice change after being Thailand for 2 weeks. Say hello to a mini replica of Europe, or US (For me, that is). Make the effort to get away from the centre after you’ve wandered through the cobbled lanes and had your fill of the unique cute stores. Go past the car park till you get close to some houses at the end of the road. Here, you find yourself letting go, sighing satisfying as you embrace the little houses built along a row of neatly trimmed trees, with the mountains as the backdrops and dreamy blue skies as the roof. I actually stood here for 40 minutes to soak it all in, or maybe because I sorta miss the scenery of US that looked very much like what I was looking at, and saw a white squirrel for the first time in my life flirt and “fly” from tree to tree 🙂
I did not have time to spend in Khao Yai National Park, but from what I was seeing and what I have heard, I can only imagine it to be beautiful. And once again, it only means another trip to this place one day!
5) Last but not least, if you can have a local bring you on this trip, even better! And if your local companion can bring you to this riverside place (on your way to Khao Yai National Park, before the part where they start selling figurines of cows/gods etc) where you will dine in a little stilt hut, sit on straw mats on raised floors and feast on some of the best grilled/steamed fish with stewed cabbage and black beans found in Thailand, it will be what Thais like to say ” Happy ending”. No, not that way, but stomach-happy-ending. And, have I mention it cost less than 5 USD for one whole huge, fresh fish? If my compass and twinkly stars guide me back to this no signs, lakeside eatery , I am not just getting one fish. That is silly. I am getting three, or four and maybe some more to feast on that night. That is how good it was. Enough said.
All in all, Thailand has so much more than cheap shopping and endless massage, if you are willing to explore off the beaten path, and even better with local’s guide to food and sights, you will be pleasantly surprised. Thailand is definitely a very messy box of different flavored chocolates, you really never know what you are going to find.