Friday, February 12, 2016

Suan Phueng region (สวนผึ้ง)

The New Zealand garden of Thailand

Bangkok to Suan Pheung
Suan Phueng District is about 200km west of Bangkok. It is an area bordering Myanmar in Ratchaburi province. It has remained a well-kept secret for tourists visiting Thailand as no guidebook ever mentions this bucolic area. But Thais know about it as it has become a popular destination for affluent Bangkok citizens. This region does not have the usual paraphernalia that makes it a tourist destination to foreigners visiting the kingdom. In fact, it is a Thai favorite because it holds a definite western flavor due to its cooler climate and green landscape. There are many Mediterranean-theme resorts, making it exotic to Thais: Amante, Aristo, Bellissimo, Burano, Flora, Toscana, Veneto and also La Provence...
The name Suan Phueng means 'Garden of Bees'. It is an area of densely
Sheep Farm
forested high hills with some higher peaks serving as the border with Myanmar. The countryside is often blurred by a light haze. There are many agricultural estates as many essences can grow here: sugarcane, guava, banana trees, mangoes, papayas, dragon-fruits, pineapples, strawberries to name but a few. And since many farms are also catering for animals like sheep, horses, ponies, and even alpacas, it has been nicknamed the '
New Zealand garden of Thailand'. An appropriate label as the region north of Khao Yai (in the north of Bangkok) is known as the 'Switzerland of Isan'.
Enough flavor, to tickle my curiosity and my sense of discovery to justify a new exploration of this Siamese region. Once more, Thailand keeps proving to be a real treasure trove of endless sites.

1st day: Discovery tour of the region.

Boa Kleung hotspring
As the car GPS took me first to the wrong destination, I drove along a narrow valley to
Sirikit Forest Garden, where they have Som Maew rapids enabling kayaking.
Once back on track after inquiring, I drove along a pleasant country road as far as the Banyan Leaf
At Banyan Tree
, where we stopped for a light snack. There are many farms and resorts on this road leading to the Thai-Burmese border. This is where they have the alpacas farm [Alpaca Hills] but you must book a visit online before. There is also a sheep farm nearby as well as an orchid farm.
The third country road we took goes as far as a waterfall: Kaeng Som Meaw [น้ำตกแก่งส้มแมว] But you must hike to the falls and during the dry season, there isn't much to see. So, we simply had lunch at a local eatery. The next stop was for a hot spring: Boa Kleung. Quite pleasant to see (they ask for a 5-Baht fee). The water is lukewarm and crystal-clear. Further on, there is a nice viewpoint on a lake with lotus. In fact, it is a reservoir called 'blue lake' (even though it is of a green color).
The Blue Lake with lotuses
Around 2:00 PM, we checked in at our resort (Hi-scene Resort). It is located on a hill with modern bungalows set in a garden landscape. It was time to rest for a while since I had left Bangkok at 4:30 AM to avoid all the city traffic!
A bungalow at Hi-scene Resort
In the evening, we drove back on the last road we were on because they have an attraction called the Scenery Resort, which is a farm with sheep and ponies. I had coffee on the terrace while watching herds of sheep being fed by visitors. This accounts for the nickname given to the district. Then, in the evening, we had dinner at a lovely Italian-style resort called Stamp Hills Resort. It is only a few kilometers away from our own resort. 
Café & restaurant at Stamp Hill Resort
2nd day: Suan Phueng district

Balcony view from the bungalow
At 8:00 AM, it was 18ºC feeling very cool and hazy despite a bright sun over the surrounding countryside. Breakfast is served at the room on request. I had asked to get it at 8:30 AM and it was a real treat to have it in on the bungalow balcony with some fresh, ground coffee I had just brewed on my own. The garden seemed to be an appropriate place to go for a morning jogging and this is exactly what I did after breakfast enjoying the fresh morning air.
The day started with another coffee-break at Stamp Hill Resort. Then, I drove on to the end of this country road that passes in front of more resorts. I visited La Toscana, which is a copy-cat of an Italian resort set in a garden
La Toscana resort
filled with statues, a gazebo, and a mock well. At the next fork junction, we went back on yesterday's route towards Alpaca Hill. But first, I stopped to visit 
Suan Phueng Orchid farm.  It has hundreds of orchid species. Then, we drove past Alpaca Hill in order to continue on the road as far as the Thai-Myanmarese border. First, there is a military checkpoint and the road winds up along the mountain range until it reaches a large lake. After the lake, the country looks like it has a rich soil enabling many different types of plantations: sugarcane, rubber trees, vegetables, orchards. It goes up north to Kanchanaburi Province. But before reaching the next town, there is a vast, agricultural plain. We were never able to get to the border anyway! So, I drove back and, this time, stopped
The alpacas
to visit
Alpaca Hill. Actually, there is no need to book ahead online. There was no visitor and it was open till 5:00 PM. It is quite an interesting place arranged as a little open zoo. The alpacas are its raison d'être. You can feed them but I was too long to open the food container and one of them spit on me twice! Anyway, they also have chinchillas, ferrets, peacocks, cockatoos, giant tortoises, wallabies, prairie dogs, hamsters, guinea-pigs; and they also keep a collection of branded cats, geese, swans, ponies, and sheep.
So by the time, the visit was over, it was already the end of the afternoon: time to drive back to the resort and get a cold beer on the rooftop terrace at sunset.
Distance covered today: 150km
Mountain reservoir near Myanmar
3rd day: Ban Tha Yang district

Route to Ban Kha
This mountain area is just in the southwest of Suan Pheung, lying at the foothills of the mountain range that separates Myanmar from Thailand. Today the haze was thicker. From Suan Pheung the country road winds through the hills until it reaches the main road going southwards.
A personal observation leads me to think that the mountain range that serves as a border line is of volcanic origin. This range is known as Thio Khao Tanaosi in Thai. But its geographic name is the Tenasserim Hills. Most of the surrounding hills have the shape of low volcanoes. The soil looks particularly rich in minerals, enabling different types of agricultural varieties. And then, there are a few hot springs - a clear sign of telluric underground activity.
Today's resort is called Baan Rabeang Mok. It is a fresh place on a hill with
Baan Rabeang Mok Resort
nice accommodations, some with a view, a restaurant, a coffee shop on a large terrace, and also a fresh water swimming pool. This valley has a large reservoir and also a hot spring a few kilometers away.
It is a pity that the haze bars the view of the countryside. Ban Tha Yang is not a touristic area at all. The main agricultural resource here seems to be pineapples.
The White Temple
It is not as varied and interesting as the Suan Pheung District. But it is a quiet place to rest, very pleasant in the evening. The nearby hot spring is not as lovely as Boa Kleung hot spring. There are many monkeys and the tubs look like a local community open bath. Yet, near the village, there is a surprising hill temple. The lower part has a colorful Chinese temple. The Thai temple is on top of the hill and is entirely white with an intricate array of Buddhist sculptures. The interior is also very unusual and has some interesting murals.
Today's distance: 65km
Our bungalow
The resort pool

4th day: Return to Bangkok. 

Route back to BKK
Surprise! This morning, the haze has petered out! It is cool, despite a bright sun, and the scenery looks so wonderful. It is 9:00 AM: time for a hearty breakfast at the restaurant. And indeed, it is quite a nice American breakfast freshly cooked from the kitchen. I have learnt to bring my own coffee maker to avoid the inescapable instant Nescafé! Fresh milk too, in place of the ubiquitous instant powder creamer...
We leave the resort at 10:30 AM to go back to the main road first and drive for about 50 more kilometers to reach the expressway to Bangkok. The road goes through a nice countryside. No much traffic and good road condition make the trip very enjoyable. One section passes through a densely forested area. Once on the expressway, the traffic is heavier and it is not as interesting as the countryside offers nothing particular. After a coffee break and a gas refill, I was able to be back home at 1:30 PM. 

Today's distance: 175km.

Christian Sorand

Ratchaburi Province


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