Some of you know that Sean and I recently launched Go Digital, a bespoke digital agency and as a reward, we booked a little trip to Penang. It has been months of setting it up and what better way to celebrate this new venture than a trip to Penang. Originally we were gonna be good and just stay in Kuala Lumpur but… We couldn’t not go to Penang which is considered the ultimate food lovers destination. So we went for it and I am SO freaking glad we did. It was a short trip but we had just enough time to fall utterly in love with Penang.
A whole other country ago (I am currently in Kuala Lumpur) I found myself one Saturday morning getting up at an ungodly hour. Okay, 6 AM isn’t that bad but still… and to make it worse it was a downpour. Yet, somehow Sean and I were out the door in time (I’ve learned that I need to tell Sean an earlier time in order to leave by the actual time we need to leave). It was the day we would be zip lining in the jungle at the Flight of The Gibbons in Thailand.
Nerves and Anxiety
Waiting for our transport at the Au Bon Pan having a mediocre croissant, I felt myself getting more and more anxious. No, not about the fact that I was gonna be very high up in the middle of the jungle zip lining. I was getting anxious about the harness. Despite knowing I met the weight limit with quite a difference between me and the number, I was scared the harness wouldn’t fit around me. I was re-living my fear that I talked about in my MIC essay.
Ah finally, I am able to write Part 3 of my little Northeast Thailand trip. Sorry for the delay but if you’ve been following along with me then you understand. For those that have no idea why there was a delay… I got engaged… IN BALI. You can read all about the proposal and see adorable pictures of Sean and me here. I love some temple chasing so when I discovered there were Khmer Temples to explore in Buri Ram, I knew I needed to go.
There is something about temples that no matter the shape they are in, they are breathtakingly beautiful. Last year, I was extremely lucky that I got to see Angkor Wat in person. A childhood dream of mine and I loved all 70,000 steps explored over 3 days. In Vietnam, a visit to My Son Sanctuary also had my eyes wide open as Sean and I explored what is affectionately known as Vietnam’s Angkor Wat.
The Khmer Region has a very distinct style and they build everywhere. Some preserved quite well and others have been destroyed. Angkor Wat is by far the biggest area of them with varying levels of condition. The Buri Ram Temples are gorgeous. I don’t know why this isn’t on more peoples radar!
The Khmer Empire was the predecessor state to what is known as Cambodia. It was considered the most powerful Hindu-Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia during its heyday. The Empire at times ruled over most of mainland Southeast Asia with its greatest legacy being Angkor Wat. As such, the Khmer Empire to show off their power, wealth, as well as their culture, was to build in a particular technique. Thus, the distinct characteristics of the Khmer temple no matter where they are.
Many of these buildings were religious in nature with only temples of religious buildings constructed by stone. The religious architecture of Angkor has characteristic structures, elements, and motifs (Thanks Wikipedia).
Phanom Rung Historical Park
The temples are about a 30-40 minute drive from Buri Ram on a beautiful drive. There are guesthouses you can stay in nearby though but you don’t need more than a few hours at both temples. Don’t be an idiot like me though and go exploring at peak of the afternoon. The sun was blaring and the temperature was close to 100 degrees.
Also just like Angkor Wat please make sure to dress appropriately. That means no knees showing and shoulders covered. When in doubt bring a scarf to drape over your shoulders as shown below.
Entry for both parks cost a whopping 150 baht aka $4.80. There are no English-speaking guides sadly but the free brochure is pretty good. It tells you some insightful information as do the plaques outside. And when in doubt Wikipedia does a trick.
About ten minutes drive away is the second temple and it doesn’t have the grand entrance as Phanom Rung but don’t let its outside exterior fool you. Once taking a few steps in you will be in awe of the water, details and vast amount of rooms in this seemingly small temple.
This one does not have as many plaques. Full disclosure, I had some kind of feeling when I was walking around this temple. It wasn’t just the mild-heat stroke but honestly, you could feel the history when walking around. It was just an incredible feeling to have walking around and seeing similarities to temples that I saw in Vietnam and Cambodia. Since there was basically no one else around it was quiet, relaxing and beautiful. You are also able to sit by the water which you can’t do in Angkor Wat on steps that have been around for a very long time.
The Buri Ram Low Down
We stayed in Buri Ram the major city and not only is it super affordable but the food is incredible. If you are there on the weekend make sure to go to the night market with an empty stomach. Try local delicacies like Isaan Chicken, Papaya Salad and taste other favorites like dumplings, smoothies and more. Best part? It is even cheaper than street food in Bangkok. The night market is two long lanes. One side sells the normal night market stuff and the other is all food.
Personally, we stayed at the Green at Buri Ram Hotel and it was cute. Only twin beds but my god those beds were comfortable. No seriously. It was the most comfortable bed I have slept in a VERY long time. It was clean and the breakfast was ON POINT. Better yet, it was cheap. Making it budget friendly and is about a 20-minute walk to the night market. Though, honestly after a day of exploring I’d recommend just driving to the night market. The first part of the walk isn’t that nice. Parking is easy enough too, even during busy times.
How To Get To Buri Rum
If you are wanting a bit of an adventure, I say do the drive from Bangkok. Break it into sections like we did in Part 1 and Part 2. The roads are easy to navigate and fairly good to drive on. Plus, you get to see parts of the country you otherwise would miss, which I personally love. Also, make sure to stop at all the Cafe Amazons along the way and get Fresh Milk Iced Lattes.
If you don’t feel like driving… Buri Ram does have an airport. There are also daily flights from Bangkok for as little as $40 roundtrip. If you just want to visit the temples and have a proper Issan meal then a night and day are all you need. I saw advertisements for hiring drivers. You can also rent a car at the airport for the night.
Buses are frequent from Bangkok but you will need a car to get around Buri Ram or to hire a driver. Needless to say, there are a variety of ways to get down to this not so busy area of Thailand.
If you love temples and going off the beaten path then I highly recommend visiting. It also is a quick alternative to Angor Wat if you can’t make it there or afford the steep entrance.
Anyone who knows me knows that ya girl loves a good Vineyard. I also love all-things Rose. I love Rose in any weather. Cold, warm, morning, evening, I am all for it. Which is why when I learned about Gran Monte in Asoke Valley, Thailand I knew it had to go on my road trip itinerary of Northeast Thailand. Better yet, I also visited Farm Chokchai Bulakul one of Thailand’s first cattle ranches and home of the best local steaks. So if you’re looking for something different to explore when in Thailand this is the post for you… Steak, Wine and a heck of a good time!
Wait, There’s a Vineyard in Thailand?
I know what you are thinking. When one thinks of Thailand the word vineyard does not normally come up as the top 10 things we think about.
Yet, there are a few Thai Vineyards and I have made it a mission to visit them all if I can. Today though, I talk all about Gran Monte. It is one of the smaller vineyards but from my research seems to be the best in actual taste.
I have been spoiled with wine living due to my lucky ducks of my mom owning a stunning home there. As such, I still know nothing about a good wine or not. I go by taste. What I do know though it is really hard to grow grapes. The climate is a major factor in the success of a vineyard. It’s no wonder there are only a handful of vineyards in Thailand. It costs money and the care that must go into it is massive.
Driving down the road at Gran Monte felt like a deja vu moment. I knew I was in the very hot climate of Thailand yet, it felt like I could be in Napa, Italy or even France. The winery is located in Khao Yai (thus the main reason we were able to have a visit here. Make sure to read Part 1 here!). The atmosphere is serene and the natural surroundings are gorgeous with the grandeur of the mountain range surrounding you. Making Gran Monte an ideal name for it.
Due to being at 350 meters above the sea level, this is the idea “microclimate for growing high-quality grapes for winemaking in wet tropical region.” Best yet, Gran Monte has this to say about how they curated winemaking techniques for the climate:
“Our viticulture and winemaking techniques are tailor-made to suit the soil and climate conditions particular to Thailand, leading to GranMonte’s unique and high-quality products which we dubbed “‘The best fruit of Thai soil, bottled.’” We pride ourselves on our sustainable viticulture practices which are important in preserving our environment and ensuring health and safety of our workers, and are necessary for producing excellent quality wine grapes in our vineyard.”
You Had Me At Rose
Tours at the vineyard are available and come highly recommended. They do last about 2 hours and cost money. I’ve been told the information you learn is valuable… Full-disclosure I did not do the tour as we hit some traffic and all we wanted was wine and food. The first two sentences come from my 60-year old wine-loving father.
The restaurant is great. Nothing to go on and on about though. You eat there for the view and cause, wine. I would actually recommend either fully embracing the pasta section of the menu, local dishes or sticking with the wine. I was trying to be good and ordered scallops. It was eh. I enjoyed the fried Thai food appetizers much more. Make sure to order the cheese tart with grapes for dessert. IT WAS SO GOOD.
Wine like most alcohol in Thailand is heavily taxed. As such, it can be expensive to get a good bottle of wine. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the prices of the wine and sparkling wine. Bottles started at just under 1,000 baht. They also have INCREDIBLE grape juice for all you mocktail lovers and or children. Do what I did… Started with a cold glass of grape juice, transitioned with sparkling wine and ended with Rose!
A bottle was ordered but I had to go with a Rose. Was it the best damn Rose I’ve had? Nah, not at all but was it the best Rose I’ve had from Thailand? You better believe it! The location and fact that the wine was used from grapes in the vineyard that surrounded me, was pretty cool.
Look At Them Vines
We went on a Sunday in the late afternoon and had the vineyard essentially to ourselves. As such, we walked around in the heat, slightly tipsy and I made Sean do a photoshoot for me. It was also my brother’s birthday so Dad and I made a silly video to send to him. Again, I can’t reiterate how strange it is to be walking through the vines but knowing you are in Thailand. It was a surreal moment and one of my favorite memories so far of our trip here.
The Legend of the Thai Cowboy
Beef is expensive in Thailand. Good beef is very very expensive in Thailand. Much of the beef comes from Australia, Japan or New Zealand. So I was slightly skeptical when I heard that I could get a good steak from beef in Thailand. Yet, I did.
Chokchai Bulakul is in one word weird.
It is really weird and I loved every weird moment at it. Located just outside of Khao Yai it was one of the first kinda mini-western places in Thailand. Now in Khao Yai, you can now see lots of “cowboy” places but this was THE original one. The owner went to the US and fell in love with the cowboy culture. As such, he bought this untouched land (now worth millions) and created not only a tourist attraction but provides great local beef and ice-cream. Farm Chokchai has been around for over half a century and is popular with upper middle class Thai as a day trip.
Half-Attraction and Half-Western
The Farm is massive. They have everything and anything. From a massive multi-story museum that talks history of the farm to just a floor of hella expensive cars. There is a petting zoo where you can pay to feed baby cows and sheep. Fancy riding a pony? No worries, you can do that too. Want to shop and buy a cowboy hat or genuine leather cowboy boots, you are sorted. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said this place was weird. There is something super surreal about walking around haystacks whilst being surrounded by wooden cows as Johnny Cash plays through the speakers. Did I mention it is also like 100 degrees out? In Northeast Thailand?
Side Note: I have to warn you they also offer elephant rides. Which was hard for me to see. I don’t support elephant riding like that and I hope that Chockhai ends elephant rides as an attraction. The petting zoo area where the baby cows and sheep are kept are just open a few hours a day where they are then returned to bigger facilities. I had mixed feelings about this but they seemed happy and very well fed. So do what feels comfortable to you. You can easily bypass this area.
Get Yourself A Steak
It’s not cheap but it’s not gonna break the bank too much if you get a steak. I would recommend eating the steak first and then opting to feed the baby cows… Again, not the best steak I’ve had but the best steak I’ve had from Thailand. Top tip, you can buy fresh jerky in spicy beef, sweet beef, and sweet pork. GET THEM ALL. IT IS SO GOOD. Well worth the money and in my opinion, I’d go out of my way to get that again. In fact, I almost made Dad do a detour so I could pick some up at the end of our road trip.
Of course, if you have vast amounts of cows you gotta do Ice Cream and let me tell you. I saw the light when I had Umm! Milk. Highly recommend all the flavors but you have to get the original flavor, fresh milk. You just gotta. It is so familiar yet different all at once. Make sure to take an artsy photo like this and then enjoy.
Wine, Steak And A Different Time
It seems fancy and it is but if you go to Khao Yai make sure to add these two detours to your list. If anything do it for the gram! But really, you should go and enjoy yourself. It is cool seeing how two different families have created a business for themselves starting with a basic land plot.
One of the best parts about staying in one place longer is we get to not only hear about more off the beaten track places but go to them. Thailand is truly one of my favorite countries because every time I come I always learn and experience something new. There is something for everyone which makes it a perfect. You can find yourself on a beach one day and then the next day you could be hiking a jungle or exploring rice fields.
Stay tuned for Part 3 and my final installment on Northeast Thailand. I’ll be talking about Khmer Temples, Buri Ram, and Essan culture!
You can find Gran Monte here.
You can find Chokchai Farm here.