Khao Yai is one of Thailand’s most popular places to visit as it’s easily accessible from Bangkok. This region is home to Khao Yai National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many farming plantations. However, anyone planning to visit this area will quickly realise that public transportation is not well developed. There is no Grab, Uber or public taxi plying in this region. Thus, engaging a local driver is the norm for most visitors. Where the trip involves an overnight stay, the costs increased as the driver’s accommodation and meals have to be factored in.
This Thailand self-drive vacation to Khao Yai and Ayutthaya was organised to assess the feasibility, which allows more flexibility and lower cost. With the notorious Bangkok traffic jams hovering in most readers’ minds, the thought of self-driving in Thailand can be a non-starter. But this travelogue will serve to clear some doubts for a better experience of this laid-back region with many beautiful attractions.
Brief insight on Khao Yai
Awarded with UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Khao Yai is Thailand’s third-largest and one of the most visited national parks. It spreads across four provinces, namely Saraburi (west), Nakhon Nayok (east), Nakhon Ratchasima (north) and Prachinburi (east). The region’s mountainous landscape is blessed with fertile valleys, gorgeous waterfalls and rich biodiversity. In 1984 the park was made an ASEAN Heritage Park and on 14 July 2005 the park, together with other parks in the same range and in the Dong Phaya Yen Mountains further north, was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name “Dong Phaya Yen–Khao Yai Forest Complex”. This destination is northeast of Bangkok and can be visited the whole year round via an easy 3-hour drive.
Thailand self-drive vacation – Khao Yai and Ayutthaya travel tips
- Tip #01 – Deal only with a reputable car rental company for peace of mind and superb service. I strongly recommend Hertz car rental.
- Tip #02 – Driving on Thailand roads are generally safe as the road condition is good and the cars are right-hand drive. Local drivers generally drive fast but courteous (I seldom hear any horning during my trip). The route from Don Muang International Airport to Khao Yai via Highway No.1, is straightforward and will not involve Bangkok traffic jams. Parking is generally complimentary in Khao Yai (except for certain attractions).
- Tip #03 – An international driving license (IDL) is not required* for drivers from ASEAN countries (for other nationalities, please refer here.) But you must bring your original local driving license as it will be required for verification by the rental car company. You might like to check out this video on driving in Thailand. *IDL, while not mandatory, is preferred should unforeseen circumstance arises on the road.
- Tip #04 – Use a dedicated GPS unit for an accurate and smoother driving experience. Google Map frequently confused the ground-level roads with the overhead highways over it during our trip. In open areas the smartphone GPS app performed well, indicating junctions where heavy traffic may be.
- Tip #05 – Avoid travelling to Khao Yai during the Big Mountain Music Festival, which is held annually around early December. Unless you want to attend the music festivities, the chockablock traffic at the main roads serving Khao Yai will greatly affect your movement around Khao Yai.
- Tip #06 – Pump prices are on averagely 26bht (S$1.10)/litre ( RON91- as of Feb 2019) – Our 4D3N trip petrol bill was about 1950Bht (S$82).
- Tip #07 – Do standby some spare small notes or coins for the toll gates – you would need to pay toll via cash for @30 baht each entry. A total of 2 toll booths per way from Bangkok to Khao Yai. (Via Route 9, 1 and 2)
We arrived at Don Muang Airport on the 9am flight. The Hertz booth can be easily seen upon exiting the arrival gate. The paperwork took about 15min before we were accompanied to our rental car, which was just a short walk away from the open-air car park.
As expected of a reliable car rental firm, our car came nicely maintained with a cleaned interior. It was a great start to our self-drive trip. Incidentally, we chose to arrive at Don Muang airport for quick access to Highway no.1, which is easily located upon exiting the car park.
Road users on the highway are well cared for, with plenty of rest stops sited with convenience stores, food courts, snack shops, pop-up stalls and coffee chains like Amazon. Just look out for the petrol kiosks with the PTT logo (see bottom left of pic). A 5-min toilet break may turn into a 20min affair when you get intrigued by all the F+B options (it always happens to me).
The restrooms are generally clean, bright and well-maintained at the PTT petrol stations. I did not check out other petrol brands as PTT stations met and exceeded my expectation.
PB Valley Vineyard – Home of Thailand premium wines
We arrived at this renowned vineyard after about a 3-hrs drive. PB Khao Yai Winery sits amidst a lush 320-hectare plantation, of which 80 hectares (500 Rai) are dedicated to growing grapes with a full annual capacity of 600,000 bottles. This vineyard has become the home of Thailand’s premium wines. You can see me in the picture conducting aerial videography of the vineyard. On a side note, drone owners should be advised of the complexity and tedious process of obtaining approval for registration. See Tip #08 under Self-drive travel tips.
Thailand has pioneered wine production in a narrow band in the north between the 14th to 18th parallels after years of research and testing, opening up new frontiers in viticulture in ‘New Latitude Wines’ premium wines made from grapes grown in the tropical latitude of 14.3º north.
All the grapes varieties you will find on the vineyard. Do take note that harvest is conducted only once annually – from January to about the middle of March. Plucking grapes off the vine is subject to a 1000bht fine, so it’s best to avoid the temptation and buy the grapes from the vineyard retail shop.
The vineyard shop stocks a wide range of curated quality farm products to bring home. There is also a restaurant that carries a good menu with dishes paired with the estate wines. But if you are driving, do refrain from drinking and opt for grape juice instead.
Granmonte Vineyard – The “Best fruit of Thai soil, Bottled”.
From the PB Valley, we drove just 12-mins to another vineyard – the Granmonte Vineyard. Located 350 metres above sea level in Asoke Valley, the 40 acres plantation has the ideal micro-climate for growing high-quality grapes for wine-making in the wet tropical regions.
The scenic vineyard is adjacent to the Khao Yai National Park and you can see different varieties of grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Semillon, Verdelho, Durif and Grenache. The winery has the maximum capacity to produce 120,000 bottles of wine annually.
A visit to their cellar door, Montino, is a must, as you may taste and purchase their wines and other homemade products to replenish your wine chiller and kitchen.
The shop offers tasting of wines, grape juice and various homemade products. A selection of local and imported coffees and teas are available to be enjoyed with homemade pastry and cakes. The six-pack Shiraz grape juice (420Bht/S$17.50) is a star-buy.
Vincotto – the vineyard cosy 120-seat restaurant that is perfect for the family or couple, with Western dishes adapted from the Lohitnavy family recipes.
Palio Khao Yai – Italian-themed shopping village (permanently closed – update Apr 2022)
Our next stop brings us to Palio Khao Yai, which is a Tuscan village-themed shopping venue after a 20-min drive. It is also one of the few attractions that open till late in Khao Yai (weekdays 8 pm, weekends 10 pm). There is a TOP supermarket in the village for those looking to buy groceries for cooking, should they be staying at serviced apartments with kitchenettes.
Visitors looking to buy Khao Yai souvenirs will find many bargains here as it’s not so touristy. During our weekday visit, the village was decidedly quiet with many shops not opening. The uneven ground and layout are not conducive for those with mobility issues. The car park entry fee is 20bht (the only car park fee we paid throughout our entire trip).
Sculptures and decor items abound to transport visitors to Italy. Challenge yourself to get the best feel of Tuscany here.
Heaven for the souvenir hunters as all kinds of quirky and fun stuff compete for the wallet. The village is surrounded by many good eateries within and outside the perimeter, so shoppers will be well catered for.
Accommodation for the trip – Dusit D2 Khao Yai
Our accommodation for this trip is the Dusit Thani Group. Khao Yai has a wide range of resorts to choose from but this 79-room resort certainly fulfilled the lofty standards we come to expect of the premium Dusit brand name. Chic, modern, classy and cosy, we certainly enjoyed Khao Yai better because of this resort.
The resort’s infinity-edge pool faces the scenic Khao Yai National Park mountain range which is just about 15-min drive away. One of the key reasons for selecting this resort.
If you don’t want to do too much and just laze at the resort, this would be a great spot to do so.
Cocoon Tree-pod private dining on 1-day advance request (additional fee applies), is one of the unique features of the resort.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and what better place to dine than Musi Grill – the resort’s beautiful all-day dining restaurant.
The plush and spacious 385sg.ft deluxe room ensures a superb night’s sleep, so that you get well-rested for the adventures ahead.
With complimentary WiFi, cable TV, comfortable bedding and luxurious fittings, you will want to stay here again on future Khao Yai trips.
The low-light pollution at Khao Yai means you can enjoy stargazing when the cloud condition permits.
After a nice breakfast at the resort, we make our way to Maneesorn Sunflower field. But a “mistake” on the Google Map led us to a beautiful mirror lake fronting the Phuphatara Villas, just at the Dusit resort fringe. Sometimes, mistakes are not that bad after all.
Rai Maneesorn – Spectacular Sunflower Field
After a 17-min drive from the resort, we arrived at Khao Yai’s most spectacular sunflower field at Rai Maneesorn. But do take note that the sunflower season is annually from late November to early January. Our visit was already out of the season where instead of vistas of blooming sunflowers, we were greeted with mostly dried-up sunflowers.
There was a small patch of sunflowers that bloomed late, so we make do with what was left of the season.
On a visit to this same sunflower plantation with my family a month ago in December, the glorious sunflowers were in full bloom. With it, hordes of tourists from all over descended on the plantation, where the farmers charges an entry fee of 80Bht/pax, and several pop-up stalls selling farm-related products.
A picnic atmosphere at the farmers’ stalls selling various farm produces and local snacks. Worthy of attention were the fried sunflowers seeds and farm-harvested pure honey. The late November to early December period is the ‘happiest’ time to visit Khao Yai, for the beautiful photos you can shoot at the farm.
The freshly harvested sunflower seeds are fried by a farmer. You can buy three flavours – original, sweet or salty. Sunflower seeds are rich in B-complex vitamins, which are essential for a healthy nervous system and are a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin E.
Chocolate Factory – Chocolate Lovers’ Heaven
From Maneesorn Sunflower, we took less than a 10-min easy drive to The Chocolate Factory – Khao Yai’s hub for chocolate lovers. You can expect premium quality chocolate and fresh produce every day made with the best ingredients imported from Belgium, France, and Switzerland. There are more than 30 entries created by internationally renowned Chef Eric Perez, who is ranked 2nd in the world for dessert-making. There is no entry fee to this venue.
The shop has two levels with air-conditioned as well as al fresco seating. Basically, visitors can shop, eat and see all things chocolate.
The centre of attraction is the large glass room in the restaurant, which is divided into a chocolate production room that has a chocolate-making machine and a Chocolatier to show the steps and processes of chocolate production all day long. The other part of the room is a Chocolate Workshop that caters for visitors keen to attend the scheduled timetable set by the shop.
I would strongly recommend anyone to try the shop’s bestseller lava cake with vanilla ice cream and a cup of latte. They also have a restaurant serving Italian cuisine for a full meal.
Don’t forget to bring home their wide range of chocolate snacks, especially their signature Dark Brownies Crackers, which is so good it may entice others to visit Khao Yai.
Farm Chokchai – Asia’s largest award-winning dairy farm
After a 15-min from Chocolate Factory, we arrived at Farm Chokchai, which is one of Khao Yai’s key attractions. This is the largest dairy farm in Asia, with a lot of trophies and awards, like the best farm in Thailand 4 times since 2002. The picture shows the first station on the 2-hours guided farm tour, which introduces us to their renowned ‘SuperGene’ cow. Entry fee to the farm is 300Bht (adult) and 150bht (kid -90-140cm).
The gadget in the picture is what the farm helpers use to harvest the cows’ sperm for insemination. The dairy farm has over 3,000 head of dairy cattle, a breed bred exclusively by Chokchai Farm. The species is Chokchai Friesian which was developed by their in-house R&D team, by crossbreeding Holstein Friesian (about 93%) and a native Thai species (7%).
The 2nd station shows the milking station at the farm. The cows are milked daily and undergo twice-daily showers. Some visitors will be invited to experience milking the cow manually, with the session lasting only a few seconds.
Milk can’t get any fresher than this but it’s not suitable for immediate consumption (by human beings) as we may get seriously sick if there are any bacteria..
The cows’ udders are disinfected with iodine prior to milking. This is a farm certified with GMP 44-17/2551 in manufacturing pasteurized milk, ice cream, yoghurt, milk candy and milk tablets.
The 3rd station shows the farm milk packing and ice cream-making assembly line behind transparent glass for all to see.
Free farm-made ice cream is passed around for all to sample. Wet tissue dispensers are also thoughtfully set up around the station for wiping our hands.
The farm also cultivates fields of beautiful flowers that freshen the ambience and also provide spots for lovely photo memories.
The final segment of the farm tour culminates in a sheltered barn for a short experience of cowboy showtime. However, don’t expect too much entertainment though.
You might like to volunteer to be a part of the show for the cowboy to whip the flower out of your mouth. Would be advisable to check if your travel insurance covers a missing nose.
There is a gaming station at this sheltered barn where you can try your hand to win various prizes. Perfect for kids or the young at heart.
The farm transportation returned to pick us up and send us to the endpoint, where the restaurant and souvenir store are. The ride lasted about 10-min, traversing a section of the huge farm, with the smell of cow dung wafting through the air.
At the souvenir store, you can purchase a wide range of farm and cowboy theme merchandise. The restaurant with a farm-based menu like beef steak, dairy ice cream and salad etc, are perfect for western food lovers. Do buy home the farm-made sausages (especially the pork sausages) as it’s fresh and reasonably priced.
Ban Mai Chaynam – Spectacular Toys+Art Museum Restaurant
After Chokchai Farm, our next stop was the amazing Banmai Chaynam which is just 15min away. Described as an “art-museum” restaurant, you will be enthralled by the eclectic mix of toys all over the place. Certainly a spectacular underrated riverside restaurant by the Lam Takhong River.
Almost like entering a “dreamy toyland” rather than a restaurant, with so many toys and figurines all over the place. Colonel Sanders, Betty Boop, The Blue Brothers or Ultraman? the list goes on. A throwback to the ’90s kids’ dreamland.
Feel safe as you will be protected by Superman or have your future secured and in good hands as The Terminator time-travelled here to make things right.
Have not seen Betty Boop for a long time. For the younger generation, Betty Boop is a 1930s animated cartoon character created by Max Fleischer. Regarded as one of the first and most famous sex symbols on the animated screen, it’s still very much a part of America’s pop culture today.
There is a certain charm that emanates from the ‘clutter’ of antiques and junk-like stuff. It’s like, there is a “method in the madness” but I think Marie Kondo will go berserk in this venue.
The dining area with plenty of seats and tables just beside the Lam Takhong River. The restaurant owner even has a resort just across the river, making Banmai Chaynam a “Restaurant-Museum-Hotel” 3-in-1 venue.
The red curry with minced pork was very delicious and so were all the dishes we ordered during lunch. And the prices were very reasonable.
The fishcake is pretty good too. Our lunch of six dishes (enough for 5 person) with rice and drinks came to about 1300bht (S$54).
Panorama Farm – Get to know your Mushrooms
Our next destination took us to the Panorama Mushroom Farm after just a 16min drive. This pit-stop is perfect for nature lovers or even city-folks who are keen to know how mushrooms are farmed.
The farm offers 4 options on how you can enjoy the visit. My recommendation is the 60bht package which includes an entrance fee, a guided tour on the farm, a cup of mushroom prepared in tempura style and a bottle of mushroom juice. The mushroom juice tasted somewhat like a slightly sweet liquidy glue. Not too bad but not something you drink to quench your thirst.
Interesting to see baby Black Ears fungus growing out of its base culture. It’s considered by the Chinese as elixirs and touted to reduce free radicals and cancer cells, nourish the liver, flush toxins in the liver, strengthen the uterus, reduce fat in the blood vessels and increase leukocytes. Other benefits include treatment of fatigue, coughing, hot sputum in dry throat, diarrhoea treatment as well as bleeding in the vagina and haemorrhoids.
Notice the flies on the growing mushroom. They are called Phoridae, which is a family of small, hump-backed flies resembling fruit flies. Phorid flies can often be identified by their escape habit of running rapidly across a surface rather than flying off, giving them their nickname – Scuttle fly.
A Lacquered Lingzhi Mushroom, which I believe is the key money-spinner of the farm. It’s considered by the Chinese as elixirs that can help to lower blood pressure, control the formation of platelets and reduce the amount of sugar and cholesterol. It is also much sought after for various allergy symptoms relief as well as inhibiting cancer cells to relieve pain.
Abalone mushrooms in the midst of spreading its spores. Mushroom spores dispersal is usually described as a 2-phase process – active ejection of spores clear of the gill surface by surface tension catapults, followed by a passive phase in which the spores are carried by whatever winds are present beneath the mushroom cap.
Amazing experience to witness spectacular nature’s way of survival right before our very eyes. Those with sensitive nose or pollen allergy will not like this visit.
Midwinter Green – Dining in a Medieval Castle
Our day two dinner took us to the famed Midwinter Green Khao Yai, a European-themed restaurant designed like a medieval castle. It is just a 3-min drive from the Panorama Mushroom Farm. Many foodies visiting Khao Yai list this restaurant as a must-visit for its superb farm-to-table cuisine, featuring international and Thai dishes.
Many will remember Midwinter Green for its ambience and beautiful set-up. Try to imagine you are in Europe as you stroll along the interior. There is also a snack and groceries store where you can buy quality food and souvenirs.
The slick interior is ideal for fashion or wedding photographers looking for that European theme.
While you can dine in the air-conditioned interior, al-fresco is the way to go if you like an outdoor setting with an unblocked view of the Khao Yai National Park on the horizon. Midwinter Green is decidedly more enjoyable at night, so plan by arriving at late noon and enjoy the skies changing hues while watching the place get busier.
I generally stay away from sausages but this dish was one of their signature dishes and it was fabulous! You can taste the freshness and quality of the meat.
Another highlight of the restaurant – was their smoked ham pizza. You will simply adore the cheese and smoked ham, wrapped with the crispy pizza dough. Certainly one of the most unique pizza I have eaten to date.
The outdoor entertainment kept diners happy with local singers providing “ear food”. The venue gets a healthy crowd when night falls, so do come early.
Khao Yai National Park – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
On day 3, we make our way early to Khao Yai National Park, just a 20min drive from the resort. This is Thailand’s third-largest national park and probably the most visited. Established in 1962, the park covers an area of 2,168 km² with the 1,351 meters Khao Rom as the highest mountain. Apart from mammals like elephant, macaque, barking deer, sambar deer, gibbon, porcupine, civet, etc the park is home to about 300 resident and migratory birds and has one of Thailand’s largest populations of hornbills.
Khao Yai is part of Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO, covering 5 protected areas from Khao Yai to the Cambodian border. Most foreigners might have know this park from the waterfalls scenes immortalized in Hollywood Danny Boyle’s film ‘The Beach.” Entry fee is somewhat pricey at 400 bht/adult (S$17) which excludes levy on car at 50 bht (S$2).
At the Visitors Information Centre, you can start on a round trail after a cup of nice latte at the al fresco cafe, overlooking the park river. You should be able to pick out the sounds of the resident primates and birds among the thick forest, though seeing one will take some luck.
Depending on where you forage in the park numerous trails which are from 500m to 8km long, most are kid-friendly and ideal for city folks to reconnect with nature.
We spotted a red-wattled lapwing bird near the reservoir but not much else as the best time to visit for bird watching is during the dry months and during March-April when the big bird migration happens. For reptiles lovers, March-April would be the best month with a still good activity until October.
The park Sai Sorn Reservoir would be more scenic when visited during sunset as well as during the bird migration season in March-April.
A stream along the first waterfall route. The trail to the waterfall was quite challenging (with path blocked by fallen trees at a few junctures). I ended up just shooting part of the stream and returning to the start point (after almost an hour of trekking).
We were rewarded with some unique butterflies, like this “Common Map” which is a species of nymphalid butterfly (the largest family of butterflies with about 6,000 species) found in South Asia and Southeast Asia. When resting on the ground, its wings aligned along the ground, looking like a piece of paper.
The butterflies are plentiful in the park but were fluttering about non-stop. This little butterfly, rested about 2-3 sec on a branch, just enough time for one shot and it’s off again.
The Heo Suwat Waterfall, the park’s famous waterfall cascades from a 20-meters high cliff. This was made famous after being featured in the movie The Beach with Leonardo Di Caprio. It can be reached by walking about 100m from the parking lot.
Farms visit – Siam Ruby Queen and Melon farms
A day earlier at the mushroom farm, we had the pleasure of meeting with Bernard Ong ( a retired Singaporean staying in Thailand ) with his Thai wife Niki. They were tending to their pop-up stall selling their Siam Ruby Queen corns. It was an opportune meeting that set up a visit to one of his contracted farms to understand their super-grade corn better, as well as visiting some authentic working farms in the suburbs.
An ear of ripened Siam Ruby Queen, ready for harvesting. The ear of corn is grown from the female flower.
The”hairy” part of the corn kernel is called the Silk (or style). When the strands of fibres are fully black, it’s ready for harvesting.
Khao Yai has a huge farming community, but it takes a boutique farmer with passion and disciplined farming skills to be able to successfully cultivate this fussy crop. This super corn is full of vitamins, fibre, carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin and anthocyanins.
The Siam Ruby Queen is best eaten raw. It’s crunchy and sweet but if you don’t like raw stuff, then seven min in the microwave oven at 800watt will do the job nicely.
We also visited a rock melon and honeydew cultivation greenhouse. It is a refreshing experience for city folks to be able to see the source of the fruits we eat.
It’s eye-opening to see how honeydews are cultivated and finally understand the intensive effort and space needed to grow this lovely fruit.
A rock melon looking about to be ready for harvesting. Part of the eco-tour includes sampling the fruits in the season with a farm-to-table concept.
Rarintarn – Thai, Italian and European Dining in a cosy setting.
Eateries and cafes are plentiful in Khao Yai but you will find Rarintarn, a gem of a find. Cosy, classy and refined, this place serves Italian, European and Thai cuisines. As we were still full from an earlier meal, we did not manage to sample their food. But from the desserts and drinks that we tried, we believe this diner will be one of your faves in Khao Yai.
The interior is very clean and has a cosy area to enjoy its range of confectioneries and ice cream desserts. During the daytime, the al fresco dining section at the back of the restaurant has a nice view of the Lum Takong River where you can look out (the same river that flows by Banmai Chaynam).
Day #4 – Movement back to Bangkok
On Day 4, we explore a little more of Khao Yai as we make our way back to Bangkok. We spotted this tree plantation beside the road and relish the photo opportunity of capturing autumn colours. This is one of the advantages of a self-drive trip – flexibility in stopping at scenic spots when you spot them.
A vertical panning technique transforms the plantation into a dream-like feel from the normal.
Naipol Farm Ice Cream Shop – Farm fresh products
Anyone who loves freshly-made ice cream or yoghurt should not miss this Naipol Farm Ice Cream shop, conveniently located along the main road of Mittraphap Road.
The cosy and inviting ice cream shop is perfect for a pit stop to enjoy the fabulous fresh dairy products in air-con comfort.
The dairy ice cream and the yoghurt are two of the must-try at the shop. Just 30Baht (S$1.25) per cup of pure heaven.
Suwan’s Corn Farm – Freshest Sweet Corn and Milk
The sweet corn heaven at Suwan Sweet Corn Farm is another interesting venue, especially for those who love sweet corn.
This is a non-air-con supermarket, the popular items other than vegetables, are of course their freshly harvested corns (60 baht/ 8pcs), and freshly cooked harvested corn (40 baht/4 pcs) and freshly made corn milk (20 baht). You can see many locals buying the corns in bulk.
If you like fresh produces and local snacks, this is a good place to stock up before heading back to Bangkok.
The farm helpers unloaded heaps of corns harvested just hours before, into big baskets for the factory.
Staff hard at work in the factory preparing the corn kernels for making it into sweet corn milk.
The sweet corn plants in a section of the huge plantation are watered with farm machinery.
The corn milk is 97.8% pure with just natural sweetness in it, was really fresh but the taste was somewhat ‘raw” and slightly pungent, as it does not contain flavouring or additives.
The freshly cooked corn is sold pipping hot with a minimum order of 4 pieces in a bag (40bht). Big and juicy, it’s the freshest corn you will ever taste.
Ayuttaya – the Capital of Siam
En route to Bangkok, we scheduled a short visit to Ayuttaya, as it was just about an easy 2-hr drive away. Located about 80 kilometres north of Bangkok, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. The ruins of the old city now form the Ayutthaya Historical Park, an archaeological site that contains palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries and statues.
Devotees offer prayers and seek blessing at Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit, which houses the large bronze (gilded) Buddha statue, which is close to 17 meters high. The temple is adjacent to the ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet (see pic below) and therefore both venues can be visited within steps away.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet (Temple of the Holy, Splendid Omniscient), was the holiest and most beautiful temple on the site of the old Royal Palace in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya until Burma destroyed the city in 1767. It served as a reference for the construction of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. The entry fee to this place is 50bht.
Wat Mahathat (the Monastery of the Great Relic) located on the city island in the central part of Ayutthaya, is the temple that houses the renowned “Buddha head in tree roots”, which is the most photographed subject and the key reason visitors flocked to the spot. It’s about a 15-min walk or 5-min drive from Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The entry fee is 50bht.
How the Buddha’s head became entwined in the roots of the tree remained a mystery. One theory was that the tree simply grew around the Buddha’s head during the period when the temple lay abandoned. Another theory is that a thief moved the Buddha’s head away from the main temple to hide it. This may have happened in the early 1900s when one of the remaining areas of the temple collapsed and consequently led to treasure hunters foraging in the area. After moving the stone Buddha head away from the ruined main temple, it is possible the thief never returned for his treasure or couldn’t move it any further beyond the walls that surround the temple.
This Thailand self-drive vacation – Khao Yai and Ayutthaya travelogue highlighted just some of the highlights that Khao Yai has to offer. For nature and cafe lovers, this region certainly has all the right ingredients for a great vacation. Visitors typically stay an average of 3-4 days, which is just about sufficient to cover less than half of what Khao Yai has to offer at a leisure pace. The lack of easy accessibility can be a blessing in disguise as you can still enjoy a laid-back ambience while getting better mileage out of your Thai bahts.
Self-driving to Khao Yai and Ayutthaya would definitely let you enjoy flexibility and freedom. If you have the time and want to explore more, you can also consider merging a Khao Yai trip with Khao Kho (northern Thailand) for an even more immersive experience. You might like to check out my Khao Kho travelogue. Many thanks for coming along on my pixels journey. For other Thailand adventure ideas, you might like to check 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.