Recently, I joined a friend for a daytrip outside Bangkok to the nearby province of Nakhon Nayok. Nakhon Nayok is about two hours northeast of Bangkok, on the edge of the Khao Yai National Park and just south of Thailand’s Isan region. The goal was to get out of town and enjoy a bit of nature, and Nakhon Nayok did not disappoint.
See, as much as I love Bangkok, it’s not exactly a nature-lover’s paradise. Sure Lumphini Park is lovely, but, c’mon, I’m from Montreal, a city that boasts three or four such parks. To truly enjoy the outdoors, one absolutely must leave the city. However, given that Bangkok is perfectly central, you don’t have to go especially far to hike mountains and explore jungle.
So, my friend and I made our way to the Mo Chit bus station, near the Chatuchak Market, where we hunted for, finally found and hopped on a mini-van to Nakhon Nayok. There was a time when most such vans left from Victory Monument (and many current travel guides still say that they do), but the city has tried to clear this more central area, forcing the vans to move to Mo Chit and other less frequented regions of the city.
Anyway, let’s just say I’m glad my friend is a local and speaks Thai, ’cause it still took us a while to figure out exactly which bus we should take, so I can’t imagine how long it would’ve taken if I’d been alone. Actually, I likely never would have made my way to Nakhon Nayok without her.
But we were eventually on our way. As mentioned, the ride takes about two hours, but could take as much as three, depending on traffic. You can also expect a transfer to another bus about half-way there and, if your new ride isn’t there yet, you may have to wait a few minutes.
Despite all this, the ride is comfortable, air-conditioned, and picturesque. Nakhon Nayok is a lovely part of the country and offers a glimpse into the lives of people living just outside the capital. The region isn’t featured in many (or any) travel guides, but it’s actually very popular with Bangkok residents escaping the city for some fresh air, like my friend and me.
Our first stop was to a small protected area featuring the towering, nine-tiered Sarika Falls. Here, you’ll find plenty of Thais lounging on the rocks surrounding the pools at the base of the waterfalls, enjoying pic-nics, and taking a dip in the fresh water. The waterfall plummets from the top of a cliff some seventy feet above (I’m estimating) and, though it was far from a torrent when we visited, in May, the water surges during the rainy season, beginning in June.
However, though the falls may be more impressive during the rainy season, note that many of the trails surrounding it will be closed during this period and any open trails will be wet, rendering them traitorous.
After some time enjoying the falls, we made our way to the Khun Dan Pragarn Chon Dam. The dam holds back a large reservoir of water, releasing more water during the dry season and mitigating floods during the rainy season. Like the falls, the dam is popular with Thai visitors, mostly from Bangkok. My friend even turned to me at one moment and said, “Notice anything?” After a look around, I realized what she meant: Though the place was crowded, I was the only westerner there.
Once again, without my friend, I never would have made it to the dam. For one thing, I didn’t even know about it. Secondly, we only got there because she chatted with the owner of the diner where we had lunch, and he offered to drive us there, from the falls to the dam. He took us all the way to the top of the dam, where we were offered spectacular views of the reservoir, the surrounding jungle draped over squat mountains and, far below, the town.
To get back to Bangkok, we once again benefited from the friendliness of local Thais. We had to hitch a ride back from the dam, so my friend approached a family getting into their truck and they agreed to drive us to the bus stop, about ten minutes away. We sat in the bed of their pickup truck, enjoying the scenery and the warm wind. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: Thai people are ridiculously friendly. If ever you spend more than a few weeks in Thailand, be sure to make Thai friends and they will go out of their way to ensure you enjoy their country to the fullest.
We made it back to Bangkok tired, hot, sweaty and profoundly satisfied and, having enjoyed some hiking and wonderful views, I was refreshed and ready for another week in the city.