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Time for a Cool Change

Category: News Column - Phuket Gazette. Posted: 8th Sep 2012

All too often, a long stretch of hot, humid island weather finds me sticking my head into the nearest refrigerator. No, I'm not going "Kevorkian" and trying to end it all; sometimes I simply just need to escape the savage heat.

Last week I headed up to the hills north of Bangkok, on a fasttracked, two-and-a-half-hour ride from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

My driver went retro, flipped in a CD and out-bounced Bananarama with that quintessential 80s tune - Robert De Niro's Waiting. Ah those soothing girl sounds singing that line "talking Italian" seemed timely as I head upcountry.

With altitudes generally ranging from 400 to 1000 meters above sea level, Khao Yai has taken on a decided Tuscan vibe over the past few years. Sprawling hills, vistas, a mountainous forest and soaring national park, all before tea time from the nation's King metropolis.

Traditionally, both Cha-Am and Hua Hin have been the hot spot for Thais looking to escape the craziness of the city on weekends and holidays, but the times are indeed changing.

As the mass market is finding it's way down to the Eastern Seaboard with its high-rise condos and fast and furious expressway, the upscale segment has taken on a distinct liking to the cooler climes.

While Chiang Mai laid claim to Thailand's mountain getaway for decades, changing tastes and destination fatigue are creating a new roll call. Now Porche Cayannes, Ferraris and tinted window Range Rovers are common sites on the trek north to Khao Yai.

Indeed arriving in the rolling country hills, with white fences, stately Italian-like villas and some pretty cool weather, even in August, is a pleasant welcome.

And yes, even vineyards start to crop up, which certainly had me looking for Bobby De Niro out of the corner of my eye.

One of the landmark developments in the area is Kirimaya, which plays host to a 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. This was opened initially some 18 years ago, but a Thai entrepreneur, Kitti Thanakitamuay, took over the site, expanded it to now include luxury residential homes and two upscale hotels.

Aside from tasteful hotel units, with lovely, large day-beds on spacious balcony, are a select few luxury tents. These are large units which have oversized balconies overlooking a lake, and feature an indoor Jacuzzi and simply ooze charm. A bit of adventure and the themed furnishing make it very unique.

Another option is the Muthi Maya pool villas, which are part of the destination resort and look out over the golf course and nearby forest. These are large, liveable and provide a good degree of privacy.

One of the area's most stunning hotels is the small boutique Sala Khaoyai. Set atop a hill, with 360 degree views of the valleys and mountains, this has to be one of the best located properties in Thailand. Suites, pool villas and a restaurant perched high up make this a very special retreat.

It's part of the chain that own and operate Phuket's Sale resort in Mai Khao.

Residential property is alive and well in Khao Yai, mainly with wellheeled wealthy Thai buyers, and perhaps the most high profile project being the Toscana Valley. Both foreign buyer and tourists are starting to flock to the area, with hoteliers this year seeing seen strong demand from overseas visitors.

For me, the location and product is creating a new element for Thai tourism and property. Perhaps the next decade isn't all about the beach, and going upcountry may well see a new revival of broader interest.

I loved beating the heat for a few days and lazing in the cool shade of the afternoon, checking out a panoramic technicolor skyline. If you find yourself stuck in a rut, take a few days off and head north up to Khao Yai. You might even catch yourself speaking Italian, if only in your sleep.

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