Top: A view of the Khun Dan Prakarn Chon Dam reservoir in January.
Photos by Jintamas Saksornchai
Two hours by car from Bangkok is a slow-life town where a huge dam watches over sun-soaked roads lined with yellow cotton trees. It’s an easy road-trip destination from the capital to a place where one can cruise around a reservoir shaded by mountains and waterfalls before grabbing a hearty lunch.
Nakhon Nayok, a fortress-town province since the Ayutthaya era, isn’t likely to be a first or fourth recommendation for a weekend getaway, but the 10th smallest province is just right for a low-key weekend for those bored of Hua Hin’s beaches but without the gas or time to zoom all the way to Korat.
From northern metro Bangkok, Pathum Thani actually, head out northeast on Route 305 via the Rangsit-Nakhon Nayok Road. After about an hour and a half under clear road conditions, look for Nakhon Nayok city, a familiar-looking cluster of markets with a Tesco Lotus where the highway meets Suwannason Road.
Most lodgings are found either in the city or on the 3049 and 4016 roads near the dams and waterfalls to the northeast of the city, with bookings available via the usual online services for anything from 500 baht to 600 baht for a simple 2.5-star room to 2,500 baht for a private bungalow with a river view.
Things to Do
Much Dam Water
Head out northeast from town along a 20-kilometer stretch of road to find the trove of falls and the reservoir.
It took 10 years to build the Khun Dan Prakarn Chon Dam, but when it opened in 2009, it was an engineering marvel 2.6 kilometers long. It holds the claim of being the longest dam in the world to be made of a particular blend of concrete and generates about 28 million kWh of power annually for the province.
Taking advantage of this artificial lake presents several options – cruise, golf cart or tram – for everyone from active adventurers to seniors with limited mobility. The dam is open 6am to 6pm daily.
For the boat tour, the first cruises depart about 7am with the last heading out at 5pm. To find the pier, follow signs leading to the dam to find the welcome center. Look for a shack with large signs advertising reservoir cruises by the parking lot.
Tickets are, unfortunately, set at dual pricing. Up to seven Thais can rent a boat for 1,500 baht, with 200 baht for each additional person. Five foreigners however must pay 2,000 baht for the same boat, plus 400 baht for each additional. For mixed groups, Thais and foreigners pay the separate rates.
There, staff lead visitors down a flight of stairs to boats docked by the reservoir’s shore. Take a minute to admire the breathtaking view of the dam that reaches across the vast blue expanse of water. Once aboard, settle into a wooden plank seat while the boat operator sits at the back and maneuvers the boat propeller. The waters are calm and ride smooth here.
In the morning, catch clouds of mist rolling across the flat, calm water. As the day progresses, light glints across the wind-dimpled emerald surface. As the tour continues around the reservoir, see slope after slope of jungle appear. In the dry winter month of January, low water levels leave a dry strip of grass near the shoreline. Oriental darters, a species of water bird, glide across the surface, diving to snatch fish before alighting on the shore to sun, wings outstretched.
The boat makes several stops at different waterfalls, including Khlong Kram and Chong Lom. Expect to trek across boulders and exposed mud beds for a few hundred meters to get to them (do it barefoot or with washable hiking sandals). Although the waterfall’s stream is quite weak during the dry months, the weather isn’t too hot and the cool streams are fun to splash around in as neon butterflies dart around you.
Depending on how fast or slow one goes, the tour will run a little under or over three hours.
Alternatively, skip the boat fees and ride a golf cart up and down the long dam. A four-person cart costs 350 baht for an hour, and a six-person cart costs 500 baht for the same amount of time. Riding a tram around the dam is by far the cheapest option, costing 30 baht for a 30 minute trip.
More Water to Fall
Not enough waterfalls? Stop by the Sarika Waterfall or Wang Ta Krai Waterfall, the latter of which has ample space for picnics and sunning on rocks or dipping tired toes into rushing waters. Eager swimmers should rent or bring their own inner tubes to float merrily downstream.
Entry to Wang Ta Krai is 20 baht per person on foot. Cars with eight people or fewer pay 150 baht. Thais and foreigners pay the same price.
On the way back to Bangkok, be sure to stop for some plum mangoes – mayong chid – for snacking or souvenirs. For quick eats, any number of the folksy, roadside eateries should do, usually Thai restaurants with names and menus on big cola brand signs.
Those hankering for Western food can have at least a dish at Bee’s Cafe and Fika where plates of pasta are under 200 baht, quality kho-khun T-bone runs 479 baht or the unmissable grilled kho-khun beef with homemade jim-jaew Isaan sauce (399 baht), open since 2011.
Or check out the photogenic Montreux Cafe and Farm, near the border between Nakhon Nayok and Pathum Thani. Avoid the too-sweet drinks, but do take a walk around the interconnected bamboo walkways over water and muddy rice paddies which connect an open-air cafe, boat dock, activity areas for children, a greenhouse, a chicken pen and a duck pond.
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