On the right track
By Shaan Bajaj
My natural instinct is to head for white sand beaches and big blue waves whenever I am in desperate need of a break from Bangkok’s buzz. However, when Thailand’s cooler months roll around, I am tempted by Khao Yai’s sprawling mountains, serene natural beauty, and gentle breeze. This time was no different, and I excitedly boarded a three-hour train from Don Mueang Station to Pak Chong Station, a fitting mode of transport ahead of my visit to InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, one of the most unique luxury retreats the country has to offer. The 19-hectare property is modelled after realistic train stations, even taking their name from stations within the region, while rooms are designed to look like actual train carriages, or you can even stay in an upcycled train carriage that has been converted to a luxurious suite. For any Dilwale dulhania le jayenge (1995) fans, bring your best Raj and Simran outfits to re-create iconic scenes with these rooms.
The space was designed by award-winning architect and interior designer Bill Bensley, who has left no stone, or in this case no tile, untouched in bringing to life the storyline he created for the property, which centres around the train conductor, Somsak, who opened the resort as the first railway station in Khao Yai. He also pays tribute to King Rama V, fondly called the father of the modern Thai Railway system, who played a significant role in developing the first railway and much of today’s Northern line.
As soon as I stepped onto the property, my eyes were drawn up to take in the understated beauty of the lobby, coloured in a deep green and contrasting clean white. I walked up the few stairs to see a makeshift ticket box, old trunks stacked onto each other, and a chalk board with destinations in Thai. On the right, there was a bell to mark your arrival and exit from the station, an activity kids and adults alike are sure to enjoy; I know I did.
I was led to the check-in area, which looked like a ticket counter itself, fitted with a “show your tickets here” sticker on the counter. While they kindly checked us in, we were given cooling towels along with a heavenly welcome drink, made from pineapple and cinnamon, marking the beginning of our relaxing stay.
At this point, I was practically dying to see the inside of my room and explore more of the property. Hotel golf cars took us to the Ban Dai Mah guesthouse, where our lake-view room was situated, replete with a comfortable, classic King-sized bed. Each room looks like a train, with space for an indoor sitting area and balcony. On our second day, we shifted into an upcycled railcar, and to say I was completely in awe would be an understatement. While the aesthetics of each room deviate slightly, ours drew inspiration from Thai culture, with purple silk elements and a white interior. The carriage comes with a spacious outdoor living area, desk, sunbed, and tub to help you disconnect. Personally, I took advantage of their oversized robes and plopped myself on the outdoor couch with a book. As a big fan of trains, I relished my time in both rooms; I felt as though I had woken up in an extravagant train carriage that was cosy, comfortable, and opulent, on my way to adventures in far-off frontiers. The 64-key property can host up to 120 guests, all of whom can choose from a selection of villas and heritage railcar suites fitted for couples, families and friends. Oh, and your furry friend can also come along, as pets are welcome at the property.
DRINKING AND DINING
In addition to their upcycled suites, most of their dining outlets are located in upcycled carriages too. After settling in, I headed to the Tea Carriage for some afternoon tea.
Situated at the edge of the lake, guests can choose to sit outdoors, overlooking the swans
swimming in the lake, or indoors. We opted for the latter, as the bright yellow sofas and
old-time charm was calling my name. We sampled their Afternoon tea set with coffee &
tea (THB 1250 for two), which included three tiers of bagels, scones, pandan and roselle
macarons, brie crackers, and more. I ordered an Ayutthaya iced coffee, made from a local
Thai blend, vanilla milk, and 1883 orange syrup, which even came with cotton candy floss, aka sai mai, on top; and I have been dreaming of their coffee ever since.
I am not one for breakfast in my day-to-day life but it is an absolute must whenever I am on holiday in a hotel, and InterContinental Khao Yai Resort serves an exceptional spread. They have Western classics such as pancakes, waffles, English breakfast, and a selection of pastries and bread that you can have toasted on a classic Thai charcoal grill. The resort also has a live egg station and noodles station, along with other Thai breakfast staples. If that is not enough, they serve salads, cheese, and a number of fresh juices to quench your thirst. The breakfast is served daily at Somying’s Kitchen, an all-day dining restaurant specialising in Thai and international cuisine, which is also a great spot to enjoy an authentic Thai dinner.
Over the course of our stay, we had the opportunity to dine at their à la carte restaurant, Poirot, for an evening of fine French cuisine. The menu focuses on fresh ingredients, cooked and presented to wow guests, and I was delighted to learn that they also had vegetarian options. I would personally recommend ordering their Strawberry flambé for dessert. After dinner, we headed to their jazz-themed speakeasy Papillon Bar, adjacent to Poirot. The drinks menu features classic French cocktails, wines, whiskies, and champagnes. The resort also boast a second bar by the pool, Terminus Bar, which tempts guests with simple yet delicious bar bites and cocktails.
As I am always on-the-go and have a hard time sitting still for too long, I was worried about getting bored. However, when I heard about their 1.2km walking and cycling trail that wraps around the lake, I felt reassured. The resort has bicycles that you can borrow, alongside a number of recreational programmes spanning tours, stretching, hatha yoga, tai chi, and even a cooking class (the latter of which has an additional cost). During our visit, I went on a tour of the resort and even got to feed the lakes resident koi fish! If you are concerned about your fitness regimen, do not fear as the resort does have a pool for you to take a dip in, alongside a fitness centre for all your needs.
The resort had also kindly planned a visit to Khao Yai National Park, just a mere 30 minutes away, where we hiked to one of the waterfalls and saw some cheeky monkeys and dears. We also paid a visit to Baan Maak Muang, a mango farm nearby with breathtaking
views of hundreds of yellow trees, with Khao Yai’s mountains in the background. However, the real show stopper was their mouthwatering mango ice cream served with mango crème brûlée. The resort can help you book a number of activities like this, including visits to local wineries and attractions.
If you are travelling with little munchkins aged 4-12; the kids club, Planet Trekkers, hosts a jam-packed schedule of fun that will have your kiddos squealing with joy. These include, but are not limited to, koi-fish feeding, treasure hunts, Thai dancing class, model painting, and many more. The club is also located in an upcycled carriage right next to the spa, giving no excuse to skip on your own relaxation.
I saved their Back on Track spa for last, as it was the most relaxing part of my trip. I walked into an upcycled train carriage where my massage therapist awaited me. She informed me that individuals have an entire carriage to themselves when they book one of the treatments available. For my visit, I received a 60-minute aromatherapy massage. I was greeted with a refreshing glass of pandan juice and a cooling towel, while I cleaned my feet in a water bowl. I was then given a form, asking my preferences, and where I was most sore. Once I got changed, I slipped in what I can only describe as an hour of deep serenity.
INTERCONTINENTAL KHAO YAI RESORT
262 Moo 6, Pong-Talong, Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30450, Thailand
Tel: 044 082 039