Photo: Small falls near Pak Chong.


Serving as the northern gateway to Khao Yai National Park, the small city of Pak Chong and surrounding area has over the last few decades transformed from a dusty rural outpost to one of Thailand's most touristed areas. While foreign travellers remain relatively few here, the Pak Chong area is a major destination for Thais on holiday, and it's also the place where many a rich Bangkokian has their mountain vacation home. Don't be surprised if you see a crowd of youngsters snapping photos of an especially good-looking man or woman -- it's just another Thai superstar passing through.

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After spending some time in Pak Chong and surrounds, it's not difficult to see why so many Thais are eager to be here. The region is home to splendid mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, picturesque parks and farms, and vineyards that produce some of Thailand's best wines. The air is cool and comfortable on most days, and there are endless resorts, campsites and activities to keep you occupied. And that's all before entering Khao Yai, arguably Thailand's best national park.

With so much to offer, it comes as a surprise that foreign travellers haven't embraced the area like the Thais have. Most foreigners who come to Pak Chong simply pass through on their way to a guided tour of Khao Yai without thinking twice about what attractions might exist outside the national park boundaries. Upon entering the actual city of Pak Chong, one doesn't see the usual travel companies, guesthouses and restaurants catering to foreigners that many have come to expect in Thailand's mainstay tourist destinations.

Making things more difficult, the area is too spread out to be suitable for walking or casual bicycling, no taxis or tuk tuks ply the streets, and there are only a handful of motorcycle taxis that have just arrived on the scene in recent years. Songthaews are plentiful but these only traverse the main roads, so to reach the attractions and explore the fabulous countryside, you'll need to rent a motorbike or car, or charter a songthaew or private taxi for the day.

Indeed, exploring the Pak Chong area takes a little more effort -- and more baht -- than many of Thailand's top destinations, but it's well worth it if your budget allows. If you love mountains, nature, wildlife, farms, beautiful countryside, and some cooler weather that makes for a welcome escape from the heat, then give Pak Chong a try.

The city of Pak Chong is clustered along Mittraphap Rd (aka Rte. 2), which cuts the city in half as it runs southwest to northeast. At the city's epicenter you'll find a curious and colorful art deco style sculpture of three giraffes. This is the main area where songthaews and mini buses congregate, and nearby are several hotels, restaurants and shops, all reachable on foot. This is also where the night market comes to life every evening.

Although it's not noticeable at first, the small Lam Takong river also cuts through the centre of town, and there are some picturesque restaurants and resorts set along its banks. Heading out of town to the north is Route 2243, which leads to a bunch more restaurants and resorts, and some of the area's most pleasant countryside. There's no sign for this road on Mittraphap and judging by the road's entrance it appears to be little more than a small side street. You'll know it by the plethora of blue signs pointing towards resorts in that direction. If coming from the west (Saraburi), it will be on the left just before the Rimtarninn Hotel. If coming from the east (Nakhon Ratchasima), it will be on the right just after the Rimtarninn.

Near the Tesco Lotus towards Pak Chong's southwest end, Thanarat Rd (aka Rte. 2090) shoots due south to Khao Yai National Park. There are also a good number of attractions, restaurants, resorts and campsites along this road. If you head southwest on Mittraphap Rd towards Saraburi you'll first hit the Muak Lek area, which is home to the best farms and vineyards -- a perfect setting for a leisurely country drive, motorbike ride, or cycling tour if you're up for it.

Banks are plentiful in and around Pak Chong, and there are even a few ATMs located close to the Khao Yai gates.

The district police station is towards the northeast side of town, right on Mittraphap Rd, just after the Phuyapa Hotel.

The prestigious Bangkok Hospital is just beyond that on Mittraphap, and the smaller and cheaper Pak Chong Memorial Hospital is closer to the town's centre.

The main bus stops, train station, and songthaew congregation point are all also in and around the town centre.

While many of the hotels and local caf├ęs offer free WiFi, a few internet cafes may be found at the centre of town, including one in the Tae-Wa-Da Plaza building, located right where the night market sets up.

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