Sunday, November 30, 2014
Bad wine, good roads and great local food in Khao Yai
Last week we took two days off and went to Khao Yai for a bike trip. Khao Yai is about 2 hours from Bangkok, has a huge National Park and is also famous for it's wineries, dairy farms and cool weather in the winter. We booked the tour with Spiceroads, a well known company offering all kind of bicycle tours in Thailand. We did one already in Chiang Mai with them and enjoyed it a lot.
We got picked up at 7.30 am at Ploenchit, and although we booked a group tour it was only us. It took 2 hours to go by minivan (unfortunately no seat belts provided) to go to the drop off point at a temple. From there, we wen up and down hill, usually on small and empty street, sometimes on dirt roads. Spiceroads provided us really good equipment, brand new Trek mountain bikes with sophisticated brakes and helmets. No complains.
The ride itself was about 30 kilometer for the first day - way more than advertised in the program. Also, it was advertised as "This tour has been designed for the discerning traveler; someone that enjoys the countryside, likes to ride a bike and has a penchant for good wine and good food. It is also a really good tour for families."
You actually need a good condition, mainly because of the heat. Although we thought it might be cooler already, it was quite hot. That doesn't make it easier to climb the hills. They weren't steep, but it was enough for my wife to call the van quite a few times. I can't imagine doing this with children.
We then made a stop at PBValley, the oldest winery in Khao Yai. They are open for tourists, but that doesn't mean they provide a good service. The restaurant is old, the set menu was awful (western food), and the they didn't even tell us what kind of wine they were serving.
We then made a tour through the vineyard and the production facility. That was well done, well organised and well explained. The wine tasting was a disappointing: only three wines (red, white and rose), and the cheapest ones. No wonder the taste was not up to any standard you expect for wine. They sell this crap for 600 baht, and that is cheating. They got awards for some wines they sell for 1500 baht, but you can't try it and we didn't take the risk to buy it.
Biking in Khao Yai is a real pleasure. Despite the hot weather, we had a lot of fun, passing by dairy farms, small villages, riding along Marigold flower fields and Tapioka farms. Our overnight stop was the Cabbage and Condoms resort. It has seen it best days, we were the only guests, but the room was clean, the food was really good and they have a nice pool.
The second day starts with a steep ride uphill, we opted for the van to have enough energy for the remaining 20 kilometer. We stopped again at a small winery, where the wine wasn't good, but they make nice juice and candies from the grapes. And they were really nice people to chat with (there is a white Buddha statue behind, you can climb up 1000 steps to enjoy the view. We did that 12 years ago, so we had a good excuse).
From there we went back to Bangkok, arriving before the rush hour and were dropped off at a BTS station. Yo, our Spice roads guide, did a really good job, explained a lot, took care of us all the time, was watching traffic and pointing out every pothole that was in front of us. No complains at all. Virot, the driver, is a bit old style: slightly to fast and risky, but a nice and very polite guy too.
The downside is that the tour is quite expensive: 9000 Baht is a lot, even with guide, transport and accommodation provided. But you basically pay for the guides knowledge of a nice track.