Khao Kho – Northern Thailand’s Hidden Gem in the Highlands

Thailand is a big country – 513,120 km² to be exact. Most travellers would know or have visited Bangkok, beach resort of Phuket, seaside town of Pattaya or the northern cities of Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. But the name Khao Kho may draw a blank as most people may not even heard about it at all. I hope with this travelogue, readers will get know Khao Kho better and plan a vacation to this lovely place that’s off the beaten track. 

Khao Kho is a district of Phetchabun province, which is about 392km north of Bangkok. It’s a mountainous region with cool weather all year round and called the “Little Switzerland of Thailand” for its gorgeous highlands scenery and its ”sea cloud’ which are a beautiful sight to see. But sighting is not guaranteed as the sea cloud forms only when ideal conditions are in place. If sea clouds are your key objective,  then the rainy season from July to September would be the best period, followed by November to January, when you can expect it to be the coldest and which is also the bloom of sunflower fields. Nonetheless, the region has various attraction that’s worth a visit as I will share in my pixels journey below.

Travel Route from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Khao Kho

Currently, there is no developed tourist infrastructure supporting this region and its only accessible by private car or tour agencies plying the region. Thus for this trip, we hired a local driver as I was travelling with my family and preferred less hassle. Engaging a private driver on such trip are usually more expensive as the driver’s accommodation and meals have to be factored in. Although the Google Map indicated that the journey is about 5hr 38min, our actual journey took slightly over 7 hours including one meal and three toilet-stops along the highway. We commenced  our journey at 10am after arriving 920am at Suvarnabhumi Airport and reached Khao Kho shortly after 5pm.

Day #01 – Movement to Khao Kho

A ‘ritual’ that I do on my family oversea trips is to take picture of my wife pushing my two daughters on a trolley at the airport departure lounge. From toddlers to now teens, lining up the pictures over the years certainly bring back fond memories and adds fun to our vacation album.

The rest-stops along the highway PTT petrol stations featured clean toilets, convenience stores, cafes and also local snacks promotion. A 5-min break can drag into a 15-min event. So three rest stops can add almost an hour to the journey time. But as we were on a free and easy schedule, we moved on a leisurely pace with our driver never exceeding the road speed limit.

Our driver brought us to a diner called Tapae 2 Roasted Chicken that is famous for free-range BBQ chicken and Thai cuisine. The smell of the roasting chicken and healthy crowd will naturally attract you to this eatery located beside the highway, about 3.5hr from Suvarnabhumi Airport along Route 1.

Bustling eatery with clean dining ambience. When there’s a good crowd, it’s a sign of good food.

Our lunch of roasted chicken, fish and pork, spicy papaya salad, tom yum soup, drinks and dessert came to just about 850bht (S$36) for 5 person. The tamarind-based dipping sauce for the chicken was exceptional. The diner also serves delicious Khanom Tuay (a steamed coconut custard dessert) on every table. But it’s an optional item that you are not obliged to take.

Khao Kho Wind Farm

After about 7 hours on the road, we finally reached the Khao Kho Wind Farm at Phetchabun district. Located 1,050 meters above sea level, the wind power station consists of 24 windmills which can supply 140 million units of power or about 20 percent of the province total energy needs. This would be our only attraction visit on day one as it was getting late. There is an entrance fee of 60bht per adult at this venue.

The wind farm is best visited as an end of day activity as the blue hour during sunset are spectacular. I had originally planned to visit the wind farm as a 2nd day activity but having our experienced driver take over the visit planner certainly helped a lot.

The venue has beautiful lookout points of the surrounding highlands and small floral gardens. Recommended duration of stay here is about 1 hour.

Locals camping at the area with views of the mountains of Petchabun and Phitsanulok region. Understood from my driver that tents with basic amenities are available for rent about 500bht per night with pay-per-use toilets and shower facilities at the camping site.

The cool weather meant wide range of colourful flowers can thrive in this area, like this patch of beautiful lavender plants.

One the best experiences at this attraction is taking the shuttle bus and enjoy the view of the windmills silhouetted against the setting sun, as it moves towards the entrance.

The wind farm transportation are open-deck shuttle buses that ply the route from the entrance to the wind farm in a continuous 10-15min interval loop. The path are sandy which can get dusty when the wind blows.

Accommodation in Khao Kho – The Blue Sky Resort

After a quick dinner at a nearby eatery, we check-in at almost 930pm at our resort. This is one of the best resorts in Khao Kho and ideal for couples or those with kids. The Blue Sky Resort Khao Kho was built with a rural English countryside theme, designed to make guests feel as though they were really in Europe.  

Our family suite with loft was cosy and nicely furnished. The bedding and linen gave great sleep quality but we would have preferred carpeted floor. The resort complimentary WiFi signal were somewhat weak and erratic as it was in a highland area. But we loved the resort nonetheless.

My children beds at the loft area. The super-single size mattress meant an adult would have enjoyed sleeping here too, which also has it’s own air-conditioning.

The washroom does not come with bathtub but has rain-shower faucet and good water pressure for great shower time. There is also plenty of hooks for hanging towels and clothes. The set-up is not stellar but functional.

The room patio is very spacious with a daybed and you will fall asleep here too. You can see my tired wife and younger daughter resting after a long day out as I was quickly taking pictures of the room.

Day #02

Day 2 morning saw my wife and myself (our daughters could not get out of their warm toasty beds) waking up early for a 1.15hrs drive to Phu Thap Berk peak, which is a 1,768 m high mountain famed for sea fog and numerous cabbage and strawberry farms along the foothills. The villagers at this mountain are the Hmong hill tribes, who are migrants from the northern part of Thailand. This mountain peak is a must-visit for anyone visiting Khao Kho region.

Phu Thap Berk

Instead of the anticipated ocean clouds, we were rewarded with a lovely sunrise instead. The drive up the peak took about half an hour from the base on a relatively steep windy road.

Camping site with tents for rent starting from 500Bht per night (2-men tent with pillow, mat and blanket) and pay-per-use toilets (5bht) and shower (20bht) facilities. 4-man tent costs 900bht/night.

There are also basic lodges or chalets with better furnishing for those who preferred more luxury. An ideal arrangement would be for visitors to have a one-night stay-over upon arriving here, have a good rest, watch sunset on arrival, do stargazing at night and enjoy sunrise the day after.

Vistas of cabbage plantation as far as the eyes can see. Phu Thap Berk is indeed the “cabbage bowl” in all of Thailand. Other popular crops include strawberries, bananas, carrots and the small crisp Thai apples. Flowers are also grow widely with roses being particularly a favourite.

While the sea cloud did not appear, the sunrise was nevertheless breathtaking, piercing the early morning mist.

A Hmong stall owner with her grandson at one of the many eateries facing the mountain valleys. All the restaurants here have al fresco sitting area that looks out to the splendid highlands scenery.

One of the cabbage plantations. It’s highly possible that the cabbages in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand originated from here.

A few of the local produce stalls along the road leading to the peak. Most sell similar products which are really fresh and just off the farms.

The Phu Tub Berk strawberries are a must-buy. Some may looked whitish or not deep-red but it is certainly one of the sweetest I have ever tasted.

Other than Japanese melons, the locally grown melons are the sweetest I have eaten in a long time. The whitish honey dew that is much sweeter than the rock melon. Sold at 100 bht/kg. I could not resist buying one.

Certainly not the usual carrots we have in our supermarkets. These little carrots are sold in bundles and the leaves can be eaten like a vegetable.

A beautiful view of a local mountain lodge with unobstructed view of the surrounding region. Can you spot the Khao Kho Wind Farm on the right in the background?

On the way back to our resort, we spotted a group of kids wearing Hmong costume. It seems to be one of the tourists “traps” but we didn’t mind paying the 20Bht each kid for a picture. Their parents could use the money for their school fees and milk powder.

The Hmong children appeared in great health and not being forced to work against their will. Otherwise, I would not have supported such child exploitation endeavours.

Breakfast at The Blue Sky Resort

I have to include this part of the day as the breakfast at the Blue Sky Resort with the beautiful view was a definite highlight of the trip. With the delicious breakfast spread , this is one resort where you will want to take it slow. The resort restaurant is also a popular culinary destination, especially during dinner.

The resort has one of the most unique and sweetest function rooms I have come across. The creatively placed flowers (though fakes) at the ceiling certainly make the room a very instagrammable place.

The view of the resort ground among the valley was refreshing and peaceful. For once in Thailand, you can breathe in good clean mountain air and don’t hear vehicular noise.

The resort renowned garden, is an end destination by itself with many non-guests and wedding couples dropping by to take pictures at the beautifully manicured sanctuary..

The garden attracts many honey bees here which in turn, helped in pollinating the flowers. A perfect example of symbiotic relationship.

Macro photographers will adore the photo opportunities at the garden, as the bees goes about doing their work.

The resort thoughtfully set up cosy little tents among the garden grounds for visitors to experience picnic in the garden.

The beautiful wild grass along the garden walkways will tempt and entertain visitors as well. Looking at my wife and daughter (and many other guests) blowing the seeds, I realised why the grasses grow so well here.

The resort also sites cafe conveniently at the garden ground so that you need not walk far when feeling thirsty.

A view of the resort from the garden. The property is still under going expansion, where foreigners or locals can also buy units there for time-share arrangement.

One of the resort tea rooms, transporting guests to typical quaint English countryside.

One look and I know why they named the resort Blue Sky.

The resort is low-lying with 2-story being the highest so that the English village theme and view of the terrain are not compromised.

Pino Latte Cafe

The Pino Latte cafe was just a short 20min drive from our resort. This is the most popular and famous cafe in Khao Kho and seems everyone converge here at some point in their trip here. 

There are many area to sit and enjoy the cafe wide range of beverages, snacks and light meals. But there may be a waiting time as crowd of visitors keep streaming in.

Even the cafe wooden landmark is a must-photograph point of interest at the location.

The best seats at the cafe are those by the edge, offering sweeping view of the mountain valley. Little wonder they call Khao Kho the ‘Little Switzerland of Thailand”.

The cafe also has limited accommodation which requires booking months ahead due to their popularity. The rooms are tastefully refurbished containers with each offering unblocked view. When the conditions are right, guests can also enjoy the sea fog right from the room.

Chose your photograph angles at the cafe, where the modern architecture lends itself to some nice interpretation.

Grandma Noi 

While we had a coffee break at the Pino Latte Cafe, it was this quaint local food diner short walk from the famous temple that attracted our attention. The eatery is nothing fancy but its reasonable priced dishes and a great view just by the table will win your vote.

You will want to try the Khnom Jeen, a multi-coloured twirled rice noodles accompanied by three types of fish-based sauces. This type of noodle originated from the Mon people who inhabited the region which is now central Thailand.

The ever popular Phad Thai. Perfectly prepared and not too sweet nor salty, with the right amount of crunch at this restaurant.

One of the spiciest but most delectable Som Tum (papaya salad) we have tasted so far. Even our Thai driver sweat eating this dish but could not stop eating.

Moo Ping (skewered BBQ pork) and meat balls. Perfectly prepared and memorable. When my fussy daughters finished the entire plate, I know it’s done right.

Wat Pha Son Kaew (Temple on Glass Cliff)

This is one the most unique Buddhist temple you will visit anywhere in Thailand. Located on an 830m peak, the temple is likened as an Antoni Gaudi-inspired architecture. Photographers will especially have inspired moments trying to frame each unique angle to project the temple in its spectacular setting. Entry is free but ladies wearing above knee apparels will have to put on the sarong available on complimentary loan.

The temple is designed with so many angles opened for interpretation that you may need more than 1.5hours to complete a cursory visit. The five sitting Buddha statues take center stage at this temple. The main Wat exterior, gardens and adjoining buildings are completed and open to visitors.

The amazing five Buddhas in increasing size is like an optical illusion, defying the usual Buddhas statues you see elsewhere. Front, side or at an oblique angle, you will not see Buddha in the same way again.

The mosaic tiles pattern will appeal to artists and designers looking for creative inspiration.

The main pagoda and surrounding buildings are adorned with over 5 million colourful mosaic tiles and pottery items, challenging your perception of what a Buddhist temple should look.

Observe closely and you may detect a marine theme among the artwork.

The builders of these temple certainly put in an immense amount of handiwork in the construction. But it also looked like they had fun doing it.

Tanrak Talaymok

A visit to Khao Kho is never quite complete without a visit to this beautiful restaurant that serves delicious Thai cuisine with a vantage view to match. This eatery is consistently ranked among the top ten restaurants in Khao Kho. The restaurant name bears the nature spectacle the venue is famous for – Talay is Thai for Sea and Mok is Cloud.

Many visitors to this eatery frequently exclaimed the “view is worth the meal”. Certainly so but it’s good that the food does justice to the ambience of the mountain range. We simply love the green curry with rice (90bht), deep fried chicken midwings (80Bht), fried pork with garlic (160Bht) and the Thai milk tea was superb (70Bht). I am sure their other items on the menu are just as great.

Day #03

On day three morning, we were finally rewarded with the gorgeous sea fog that we travelled so far for. The fog forms when cold air travel over a warmer surface. I understand from our driver who in his recent visit here just two weeks before, his client did not have the fortune to see the sea fog although they stayed almost a week hoping to see this beautiful sight.

The sea fog slowly engulfed the entire valley below, giving it a dream-like feel. Looks almost like a Chinese painting too.

Imagine those visitors staying at the bottom of the valley soon to be totally immersed in a ‘misty soup’. Definitely an interesting experience indeed.

The valley disappears under the heavy sea of fog, making us feel as if we were above the clouds at high altitude during a flight.

The fog may come thick and fast but the with the heat from the rising sun, it will slowly dissipate and be ‘refilled’ again the next day. It is estimated the sea fog will be a regular occurrence for at least two to three months between December and February.

A farewell shot at the venue before we return to our resort prior departing for our next destination at Khao Yai, about 5 hours drive away. With us is our friendly and experienced Thai driver cum guide, Khun Jackie (right of photo). Our elder daughter elected to keep sleeping and missed the nature spectacle.

A mommy and daughter’s moment enjoying the fabulous scenery. For once, my daughter willingly put aside her hand-phone.

The Moai Cafe, an interesting cafe that you won’t miss on the route from Khao Kho to Khao Yai. This cafe is good for a coffee break. Their local lychee honey is cheap (150B for a 1L bottle) and you can also buy pickled tamarind (the region’s famous produce) and various other local snacks at the cafe. 

The cafe comes with verandah overlooking the Nam Chun Yai River. This is one of the final view of the highland region that you will see when departing Khao Kho.

Conclusion

This travelogue is just skimming at the surface as to what Khao Kho has to offer. For nature lovers and travellers who prefer off the beaten track location, this northerly location in Thailand is ideal for reinvigorating the soul and avoid the hordes of tourists. The lack of easy accessibility and the fact that this region is not ready for the international tourists can be a blessing in disguise. You get to enjoy prices that are cheaper than Bangkok and the locals are friendlier. One main requirement is to engage a driver or rent a higher capacity vehicle (to better handle the mountain routes) so  you can really have an adventure of the highlands. Do check out my Khao Yai travelogue, which you can arranged to visit on a same trip. For my other Thailand adventures, you might check it out here.

Footnote: All pictures used in this travelogue are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and all rights reserved. The opinion expressed is factual, objective and that of the author. 

Comments

  1. Peter says:

    1)APPRECIATE contact details for the resorts .
    2)Is Dec a good time to visit?
    TKS

    1. Jensen says:

      Details all on the blog.

  2. Shirley says:

    Hey Jensen, you booked the accommodation yourself? How about meals? The best month to travel Khao Kho?

    1. Jensen says:

      hi Shirley, yes, i booked accommodation myself, other than bkfast at the hotel, our driver/guide brought us to the best places. But you can book with Jetabout Holidays and have it all settled for you.
      Khao Kho is famous for the ocean clouds, if you’re visiting Khao Kho for the view of the sea of clouds, they are the most apparent during the rainy season from July to September. Followed by November to January, you can expect it to be the coldest and which is also the bloom of sunflower fields!

  3. Jane says:

    Hi, may I know Khao Yai or Khao Kho has more natural sceneries for family with kids? Tks!

    1. Jensen says:

      Hi Jane, Khao Kho has nice natural sceneries and should be good for family with kids. Just have to mind the long drive. Khao Yai is more like a the farmland for Thailand, with lots of cafes. Depends on what u like… my kids missed Khao Kho more than Khao Yai, for the beautiful mountainscape and relax pace. This is my Khao Yai travelogue for reference – https://www.jensenchuaphotography.com.sg/thailand-road-trip-khao-yai-ayutthaya/

      1. Jane says:

        Thank you very much for your reply!

      2. Jane says:

        Hi, may I know whether the road to Khao Kho is as winding as Cameron Highland? My kids are prompt to motion sickness. Tks!

        1. Jensen says:

          Hi Jane, thanks for your message. I find the road to Khao Kho is not that windy, quite smooth really. But going up Phu Tub Berg is more windy. That said, i think its cause my driver is skillful and also is larger vehicle and so I dun feel the road that bad. I last drove up Cameron more a decade ago…I think its more windy. Best get your kids to look out into the distance and dun look at book or handphone while in car.

          1. Jane says:

            Thanks, Jensen! Good to hear that!

  4. Tots says:

    Hi Jensen

    Nice trip, especially best companion… did u engage the same driver the entire trip, from bkk till back to

    Are the things there expensive?

    Thanks in advance…

    1. Jensen says:

      Hi there, yes, same driver for entire trip. Prices in Khao Kho, like meals and resorts are cheaper than in Bkk. About 20-30% lower.

  5. Jessica.k says:

    Hello there! It is such a beautiful post and both my boyf and i are interested to visit this place in April. We would like to know if you could share your driver that drove you from the airport all the way there? Thanks in advance! (:

    1. Jensen says:

      Hi Jessica, u might contact Jacky at +66 83 0759558 via WhatsApp. Do let him him know “Jensen Khao Kho” recommended him, so he will give u special rate.

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