A true golf adventure is a journey to “The Land of Smiles”, as the culturally diverse tropical destination of Thailand offers 260 golf courses, sporting activities, amazing dining and so much more. Most popular golf destinations by travelers are to a fancy destination with a resort golf course. However an international golf adventure to Thailand is more pleasurable, as the caddies (most are women) are very knowledgeable of the course layout and pin placement. They wisely advise in club choice, yardage for each shot, and putting evaluation, even if they are not fluent in the English language. Additionally, the setting is absolutely stunning, native birds and flora are abundant, and you never know if a resident monitor lizard will make a showing. There are many gorgeous regions to choose from in Thailand, however one of the most enchanting and quaint is Khao Yai. Less than 2 hours from Bangkok, Khao Yai offers a nice selection of top hotels and resorts with Spa/Wellness, amazing golf, culture, wineries, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Khao Yai National Park. Since this region is at a higher elevation, the climate tends to be cooler than Bangok, where golf and sporting activities are much more enjoyable.
Khao Yai is surprisingly rich in farming, agriculture with vineyards and wineries that contribute to exceptional culinary and wine tasting. Crops yield a variety of fruitful harvests filled with colorful and flavorful vegetables and fruits, including sweet corn which is manufactured into a delicious corn milk. This is definitely a foodie paradise, as there are so many dining options, food tours, and even culinary classes to choose from that can be arranged by a local tour operator. The fresh farm to table culinary experience in local restaurants completes a day spent on the course or any other activity. Wineries in the region are up and coming, however the largest winery, PB Valley Winery offers tours of their vast vineyard, barrel rooms, and wine tasting room. Wines served include a crisp Chenin Blanc, a delicate light Rosé, and a rich reserve Shiraz. Unlike traditional wineries, this property has a passion and dragon fruit orchard along with a small farm and botanical gardens. Also onsite is the Great Hornbill Grill, where Western and Thai dishes are offered created with farm fresh vegetables. Weekly cooking classes are offered for those wanting the whole experience. Paula Mullins-Worster, Tour Operator and Owner of First Tee Travels LLC, says, “The wine experience has a whole new feel for those vetted wine travelers. The Thai add a new twist to your traditional wine outing.”
The terrain of this region is hilly and rural with lush vegetation and jungle areas. Golf in Khao Yai is definitely a different experience compared to the mainland or other countries, and there are 10 challenging courses to select all within 20 minutes from the center of the region. A centrally located and hidden resort, is the Greenery Khao Yai Resort, and amenities include swimming pool, restaurant, gym, Spa, and close proximity to a conference center and other dining options. The first recommendation for golf on arrival is at the Kirimaya Golf Resort and Mountain Creek Golf Resort. The property offers an adventurous golf and stay experience, as the course is set next to the vast Khao Yai National Park and has panoramic views of the majestic mountain from most holes. The terrain of the course rough is dense, and “hidden” undulations create challenges, especially with surrounding jungle areas where your ball will disappear. This lush paradise golf course with generous fairways was designed by Jack Nicklaus. He considered every 7,115 yards of this course, by sculpting tropical trees and vegetation, along with smart placement of bunkers to create a secluded feel with playability for all skill levels. Caddies advise against fetching any stray balls that land in the “jungle” rough, as there have been sightings of a variety of reptiles and animals that may not be so friendly. Don’t let that deter you from playing, as each hole of the course varies in layout and hazards can be avoided with more attention to the pin. After play, indulge in a body treatment at the Kirimaya Spa. Highly recommended is the corn scrub or forest honey body wrap for rejuvenation for the next adventurous golf round. Consider an overnight in one of their luxury “tents”, which is furnished like a suite complete with a king bed and top amenities with sounds of the “calls of the wild” during the night.
For a variety of terrain that interest from tee to pin, golf at the Mountain Creek Resort. Designed by Seve Ballasteros, the championship 27-hole golf course is exceptionally maintained and groomed for professionals but tame enough for amateurs. Divided by natural environments, each 9-holes are named according to the terrain it is built on. The Highland Course (South), the Creek Course (North) and the Valley Course (East) are contoured, with not so forgiving fairways that are hilly and undulating, blind pins, and bunkers that may make you curse. While each course has its aesthetic hole, the Valley Course Hole 7, a par-3, is the most beautiful and most challenging as the large pond in the middle of the fairway and surrounding the green which may distract from even flow of play. Not to fret, as the Highlands course fairways are a bit wider, however more trouble is lurking, especially rock formations and bunkers the deter your ball from the green. The aesthetics of this course carry over to the clean and well-decorated golf club house, pro shop, restaurant, and locker rooms. Plan to play the course a couple times during your stay, as a second round may be redeeming, although schedule a day of culture and hiking in between.
Spend an adventurous day in the Khao Yai National Park, as there are 5 hiking trails to choose from in the dense jungle with views of waterfalls and panoramic views of Khao Yai below. Trails are marked however there may be fallen trees and obstacles which can make the hike more challenging for the inexperienced. However trails are marked, and a map provides recommendations for the variety of skill levels, and for those wanting a true adventure, hire an experienced guide. While the park is home to over 300 elephants, according to Asian Golf Tour Guide, Woody, “many elephants are rescued and transferred from Bangkok due to city sprawl, and there are over 250 species of birds, deer, cougar, monkeys and other animals indigenous to the region you may see.” The jungle foliage and canopies of tropical trees create an umbrella like covering on part of the hiking trails which protect from occasional tropical rain storms, and can be a welcome relief from the heat during summer months. After a rain, elephants tend to search for reprieve from the mosquitos in the roadways and away from the dense jungle. Therefore, it is advisable to apply mosquito repellant and heed warnings to allow elephants the right of way. One of the most spectacular hikes is to the Haew Suwat Waterfall, where 180 steps will take you to the base of the falls for amazing photographs. The waterfall, made famous by the movie, “The Beach”, is one of the most visited of the waterfalls in the park. For the ultimate adventure, camp in the park in the summer months where you can hear songs of the birds and monkeys, and may even see elephants checking to see who is visiting their home. You never know what you might see after dark!
After adventures in Khao Yai country region, venture back to the city, central region of the country, for some additional cultural activities and amazing golf. Golf course locations are approximately a half hour to 45 minutes out of the city, and the Avanti Riverside hotel is an ideal culturally located property to stay at. With the riverside market and amusement center directly across the river, and dinner boat cruises in the evening, activities are limitless. Jump on a water taxi to get to other properties along the river as well. If you want a little bit more excitement, then choose to stay at the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel in downtown Bangkok. There are a plethora of restaurants, shopping, massage studios, and lively entertainment. The city is very colorful, especially at night. A must do, is to get a drink at the Sirocco Sky Bar at State Tower, made famous by the move “Hang Over – Part II”. China town, a ride on a tuk tuk, and dinner at the Thipsamai Restaurant for their famous Pad Thai is also in order. A tuk tuk ride through the city will provide a view….and thrill that memories are made of.
There were many more adventures, golf and dining during this trip, however they are to be published in the future....stayed tuned!