48 Hours in Chaiyaphum
Surrounded by Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Petchabun and Lopburi provinces, Chaiyaphum sleeps in their long shadows—a mere pit stop, but never a destination in its own right. But come June, when the rains fall on this humble Isaan province, it enjoys a brief spell of popularity thanks to its fields of blossoming dok krajiew flowers at Pa Hin Ngam and Sai Thong national parks. The blossoms normally last from Jun-Aug, but do check with TAT Chaiyaphum (044-213-030) before heading up here. Here, we’ve concocted a little itinerary for your weekend escape to this natural wonderland.
Noon: Welcome to Chaiyaphum
If you leave Bangkok around 7am, a five-hour drive will get you to Chaiyaphum’s Amphur Muang (provincial capital), just in time for lunch. Too dainty for street somtam? Head to Nontanakhon Road, near the central bus terminal, where you’ll find a few restaurants. Although not exactly local, our pick is Vietnam Kitchen (60/1 Nonthanakhon Rd., 086-878-6767), which is located near the night market and the bus station. Try its nam nuang (B70-130), spring rolls (B30) and pak mor yuan (stir-fried minced pork with vegetables stuffed with rice noodle B25).
2pm: Water Walk
Another 20km drive from the provincial capital gets you to the nearest national park, Tat Tone National Park (entry fee B40 per person for Thai residents, B30 per car), where Tat Tone Waterfall is the main attraction. From the parking lot, it’s another 400-meter climb on a forest path—don’t show up in heels or flip-flops. Your reward is hidden in the lush jungle, where the Tat Tone Waterfall drops from a six-meter-high cliff onto a 300-meter bed of rocks. There you can swim in the cool water.
3pm: Pre-historic Pillars
Remember the TAT TV commercial where Bird Thongchai runs through rock pillars at night as if he were in a Bollywood movie? That was shot at Mo Hin Khao, here in Chaiyaphum (Phulankha National Park, 044-810-903. Free). Although located in another national park, Phulankha National Park, Mo Hin Khao is actually very close to Tat Tone waterfall. Too bad the road to Mo Hin Khao is under construction, so expect a bumpy 10km ride.
The highlight is a group of five light-gray rock pillars carved by natural erosion over some 175 million years. The best time to be there is during twilight so you can enjoy the stunning sunset, and at night, the starlit sky—but you’ll need to camp on-site. If you’re not camping, it’s a very, very long and dark road back to town.
7am: Flower Power Part 1
You really need to reach Pa Hin Ngam National Park (Route 205, Thepsathit, 044-890-105. Entry fee B20 per person for Thai residents, B30 per car) no later than 8am. There are two main spots to see fields of dok krajiew (Siamese tulips): Pa Hin Ngam and Sai Thong national parks. Pa Hin Ngam is the closest and easiest place if you’re short on time. A 1km paved pathway leads you into a two-rai field of pink dok krajiew flowers. The morning mist add to the romantic scene. Trust us, despite the many photos that have been taken of this place, nothing quite compares to the real thing.
Nearby is the Pa Sud Paen Din viewpoint, perched on a 846-meter-h igh cliff overlooking Petchabun. It’s called Sud Paen Din [the end of the land] as this is the point where the Isaan plateau meets the central plains. The weather can be cool and wet so dress accordingly. If you stay close to the park (which we recommend—see Essentials), go back to your camp for the included breakfast.
11am: Flower Power Part 2
Not ready to head back to Bangkok just yet? Head to Sai Thong National Park (Route 225, Thepsathit, 089-282-3437, 081-877-8485. Entry fee B20 per person, B30 per car), another popular dok krajiew spot located 40km away from Pa Hin Ngam to the North. Getting to Sai Thong’s flower fields requires a lot more effort and a much better car than Pa Hin Ngam. Not driving a 4x4? You can hire a shuttle service (B60/person roundtrip). The drive is 10km of dirt tracks until you reach the parking spot. From there you need to trek into the jungle for at least 300 meters to the nearest field (also the least beautiful) or over 1km to the largest field (the most beautiful). There are five dok krajiew fields here, one of which is covered with the rarer white variety.
Along the way to the dok krajiew fields don’t forget to stop at Pha Hum Hod (the Shrinking Ball Cliff) for a photo session. It’s a thin slab of rock jutting out from a cliff. The idea is that if you stand on it—and have balls—fear will shrivel your manhood. Once you’ve been suitably emasculated, get ready for the 300km journey back to Bangkok, a four-hour drive.
Car: Chaiyaphum is next to Nakhon Ratchasima and around 260-350 km from Bangkok, depending on which district you are heading to. If you are following our trip, use Phahonyothin and Mittrapab roads, then turn left to Route 201 at Dan Khun Thod intersection to get to Chaiyaphum’s provincial capital.
Bus: Get a bus from Mochit Bus Terminal to Thepsathit District or Chaiyaphum provincial capital. Try Phetprasert Tour (B189, 02-936-3230, www.phetprasert.com); the trip takes around 3 hours 45 minutes to Thepsathit and five hours to Chaiyaphum. Thepsathit’s buses pass Pa Hin Ngam National Park’s entrance so you can just jump off and hop on to the shuttle service there (B20, Sat-Sun only).
Where to sleep
There are a number of small resorts and farm houses along to way to Pa Hin Nham National Park. Try Baan Rai Thepkraiwan (www.baanraithepkraiwan.com), which features three choices of rooms: log houses, minimal contemporary rooms and tents. Rates are B600-1,200 per person, inclusive of breakfast and dinner. Also, Sa Le Te Chalet (081-815-1543, www.deedy.pantown.com) has three Mexican-cum-Balinese bungalows painted in warm yellow hues. Rates are B2,000-2,900 with breakfast.
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