Beyond Bangkok: 10 offbeat escapes around the capital

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If you’ve had your fill of Bangkok, head a few hours north of the Thai capital to a world of wildlife, adventure sports, golf, agro-tourism, wine tours & more, says ANURAG MALLICK

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ATV rides & White-water rafting in Nakhon Nayok
Nakhon Nayok province is fast emerging as a hub for soft adventure sports. Go rappelling down a rockface or zipline with Khao Lon Adventure. Rev through streams and forested hills in ATVs with Sarika Adventure. Or try kayaking and white-water rafting in Nakhon Nayok River, one of the 12 rafting sites in Northern Thailand. Starting from Tha Dan Bridge, tackle the winding Nang Rong Canal with Samchan Rapids and Three Rock Rapids ending the 2-hr trip at Ban Wang Yao.

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Night safari at Khao Yai National Park
The country’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Khao Yai spans four provinces. Covering an area of 2,168 sq km, the park is dotted with scenic viewpoints, gurgling streams and many Nam Toks (waterfalls) like Sarika, Nang Rong and Heo Narok. Besides trekking and game drives, the open-jeep Night Safari is an exciting way to spot elephants, hedgehogs, civet cats, deer and the occasional leopard.

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Wine tours at GranMonte vineyards & PB Valley
If you thought Thailand was all about Singha and Chang beer, think again. The cool mountain air of Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand’s emerging winemaking region has resulted in exciting New Latitude Wines. Sprawling across 2000 acres in the shadow of the Payayen mountain range, PB Valley is Thailand’s largest vineyard with great farm trips and wine-tasting tours. At GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery nearby, know your Syrah from your Rosé with Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy, Thailand’s only female oenologist and viticulturist while dining at the brookside restaurant VinCotto. +66 (0) 36 227 334 http://www.granmonte.com, +66 (0) 36 226 415 http://www.khaoyaiwinery.com

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Agro tourism at Farm Chokchai
For a hands-on Knowledge Tour of Farm Chokchai, hop on a bus with Thai girls in plaid shirts and cowboy hats acting as guides on Asia’s largest agro tour. The 8000-acre dairy farm with 5000 heads of cattle has the charm of an eastern ranch with a western attitude – rodeo shows, pony rides, petting zoo, a Wild West town, sheep dogs performing drills and quirky animal tricks. Sample dairy fresh ice cream, milk the cows, watch them being lassoed and if you’re up to it, bite into juicy beef at the Steak House! +66 (0) 44 328 386 http://www.farmchokchai.com

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Marvel at the largest Ganesha statue in Thailand
In a largely Buddhist country, it’s surprising to see Thais line up to pay tribute to the Hindu elephant-headed god. Worshipped as Phra Phikanet, Ganesha is the Lord of Wisdom and Good luck. At Ganesha Park, see Thailand’s largest Ganesha statues – one sitting cross-legged and the other reclining against a giant bolster. Locals offer incense, circumambulate and whisper prayers in the ears of his divine vehicle, the mouse. A small enclosure in the complex displays Lord Ganesha in 108 postures.

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Dine at the Smoke House or enjoy a Thai meal at a highway shack
Just past Piazza Palio, an Italian-style outdoor shopping plaza, is what looks like a medieval grey building but is actually the most popular eatery in Khao Yai. With alfresco dining in a garden and live performances in the evening, Smoke House serves excellent pork chops or ribs with mustard sauce, fresh salads and wood oven pizzas. For a more authentic Thai experience, relish a rustic highway meal of khai jiaw (layered omelette), crisp-fried sea bass, Thai curry and stir fry chicken with cashew nuts.

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Pamper your senses at MuthiMaya Resort
Part of the award-winning KiriMaya chain of hotels, MuthiMaya Forest Pool Villa Resort is ranked among the Top 10 most romantic resorts in the world by Reuters. Nestled at the base of the Khao Yai hills, each lavish villa comes with a private outdoor pool and wooden deck. Get a rejuvenating massage, play golf at the Jack Nicklaus designed course, try Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine at the open-air Myth restaurant or opt for a private barbecue with the resort’s personal butler service. +66 (0) 44 426 000 http://www.muthimaya.com

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Do reverse bungee at Life Park
Try bungee with a twist. Strapped to a seat, the X-MAX catapults you 60m into the sky before you slowly bounce back to the ground like a crazy yo-yo. At Life Park adventure zone, live life to the max with crazy slides, swings and speedways, besides Nano Racing, Zorbing, Hi-flyer Balloon and other high adrenaline adventures. +66 02 661 299 http://www.mylifepark.com

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Tee off in scenic environs at the Royal Hills Golf Resort
If you’re a golfer, what could be better than walking out of your room straight onto the golf course? The scenic Royal Hills Golf Resort boasts a 7034-yard course spread over a mountain valley that blends into mist-laden hills in the distance. The 1351m high Khao Rom (Umbrella Mountain) dominates the horizon. +66 (0) 37385210 http://www.royalhillsresort.com

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Explore stunning ruins at the ancient capital of Ayutthaya
From its inception in 1350 to its destruction by Burmese forces in 1767, Ayutthaya or the Invincible City of King Rama served as the old Thai capital. The reclining Buddha statue at Wat Chai Mongkol and the weatherworn Buddha head entwined by tree roots at Wat Mahathat are stunning highlights. The best part – instead of the 85km road trip from Bangkok, take a leisurely longboat cruise on the Chao Phraya, the River of Kings.

For more adventures, visit http://www.tourismthailand.org

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 18 October 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online. 

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