Our last week in Thailand before taking off on the big RTW 3.0 was a week full of celebrations. Tuesday was our 2nd anniversary. After proctoring for final exams all day, we went into Bangkok and had dinner at Peppina, a new(ish) trendy pizzeria that we’d been wanting to try which we’d heard has the best pizza in Bangkok (it was good but in our opinion Bella Nepoli where we went for my birthday in November was better). Thursday we officially ended the semester after turning in all of our final grades. That afternoon, we met up with one of Dave’s good friends who was visiting Bangkok with his wife on their honeymoon. We took them around Siam to see all of the fancy malls (and they returned the favor by taking us to the very nice pool at their very fancy hotel, right behind said fancy malls) and then to Khaosan Road for drinks and dinner. Then, Friday, as the grand finale, we headed to Khao Yai for the weekend to celebrate Dave’s 35th birthday.
As some of you may recall from our posts over the past semester, this wasn’t our first time to Khao Yai. Known for having one of the largest National Parks in Thailand, our first trip there was to see that. We spent that weekend exploring and camping in the park. On our first visit, however, we quickly realized that in addition to having a great National Park, Khao Yai is also a very fancy area filled with wineries, great restaurants, and beautiful golf courses. After not having enough time to really experience that side of Khao Yai on our first visit, we decided we’d come back for Dave’s birthday. He’d been thinking about playing golf for a while, so what better time than his 35th.
We took a two and a half hour (160B pp) van early Friday morning from Victory Monument in Bangkok and were all set up with our motorbike (which you really need in order to get around this area) by noon. Since we had been here before, we already knew the drill and even went back to the same motorbike rental place as last time. We got delayed about 15 minutes when it started pouring literally as soon as we drove away from the rental place, but luckily the rain only lasted a few minutes and then we had clear weather for the rest of the weekend.
Since it was Dave’s birthday, we had booked a nicer hotel to stay at for the weekend (and by nicer I mean about $30 instead of the $15-20 that we usually pay). It only took us about 30 minutes to get there from Pak Chong, the town where the van drops you off. Before checking in, we made a couple of pit stops. The first was for lunch at a restaurant roasting whole pigs and chickens on the side of the road. There are tons of places that do this all along the way from Pak Chong to the national park. We had eaten at one of them the last time and after having a great meal, we decided to stop again. Coincidentally, we ended up at literally the exact same place. We had a little misunderstanding with the order (we wanted a small plate of chicken and a small plate of pork, but they brought us out a whole chicken – obviously way too much for us to eat, even without the pork), but in the end it all worked out and we ended up with a delicious lunch. Our second pit-stop was at one of the golf courses that Dave had been considering playing at. Even though he’d made a tee time at the one he thought was the best, of course he still wanted to check out the rest and make sure he’d made the right choice. For those of you that know Dave well, you know he is the king of FOMO (fear of missing out), so this was a necessary step – we couldn’t have any FOMO on his birthday. So, our plan for the rest of the day was to check out all of the local golf courses to make sure that didn’t happen. As an added bonus, since it was low season, many of the courses were offering huge discounts to play there.
After checking out the first golf course, which was right by our hotel (the Khao Yai Garden Lodge), we went to check in and drop off our bags. We immediately loved the place we were staying at. The women working there all made a big fuss over us as soon as we told them we were teachers at ABAC. They even promised Dave a surprise for his birthday the following day. Not only that, but our room was great and they even had a really nice pool, which was a huge bonus.
After quickly dropping off our stuff, we got back on our motorbike to make the most of the 4 hours or so of sunlight we had left. As I mentioned before, our plan was to check out some of the other golf courses and then maybe hit one of Khao Yai’s famous wineries (and one of Thailand’s only wineries) on the way back.
We had about a 45 minute drive to the next golf course and after seeing that this one was twice the price of the one Dave had reserved ($200 instead of $100, and they weren’t offering any discounts), we quickly crossed that one off the list. There was one more course he wanted to see before making his decision. We drove there and it looked like a really beautiful course, though it looked like it could also be really hard (very narrow fairways lined with huge trees). Since Dave hadn’t played in a long time (2 years in fact, the day of our wedding), he wasn’t sure that this was what he wanted, but he didn’t rule it out. After this golf course, we continued on our drive and ended up at one of the wineries on our way. The first one we passed was GrandMonte, the 2nd largest winery in Khao Yai. As we may have mentioned in previous posts, one of the only things that’s really expensive in Thailand is wine. A bottle of something like Jacob’s Creek or Yellow Tail which typically don’t cost more than $6-7 in the US cost $20-25 here. It was cool to see one of the only wineries in the whole country, though we decided not to partake in their free tasting since we knew we probably wouldn’t buy anything. Just seeing the beautiful scenery was nice enough though.
After finishing up at the winery, we asked them how much further it was to the golf course Dave was scheduled to play at the following morning. They told us it was another 25 minutes or so, and since we’d already been driving around all day, we decided to head back instead of spending an extra hour on the road. Dave was still unsure of where he actually wanted to play in the morning, but he wasn’t sure his original place was the right choice considering how far it was. We drove back to our hotel, took a dip in the pool before it got dark (of course I could only stay in for about 5 minutes before getting too cold) and then had a nice, relaxing night and a great Thai meal at our hotel. During our dinner, Dave spoke to the ladies working there, who seemed to know a lot about the golf courses. They all seemed to think that Sir James, the course he had originally booked for the following morning, was the best one. That helped Dave make his decision and we decided to stick with the original plan. We decided that if we got there and didn’t like it, we’d just leave and go to one of the others that we looked at the day before; that way he wouldn’t have any regrets.
We woke up on the morning of Dave’s 35th, and after checking email, having a quick video chat with out parents (who happened to all be together because my parents had stopped in Chicago on their way to meet us in Japan), and eating the great breakfast that came included with our hotel room, we headed off for the bday golf round. Getting to the course only ended up taking about an hour (we had thought it would be more like an hour and a half) and as soon as we saw it, we knew we’d made the right decision in sticking with that one. It was beautiful and because we were there in the low season, we pretty much had the whole course to ourselves. Dave hit the driving range for some practice before heading out (with our caddy – all of whom are female in Thailand) on the course. Dave had a great time and played pretty well for not having played in a couple years (his short game which is typically his strong suit was rusty but he drove the ball really well and his iron play was pretty good too). The course was beautiful, our caddie was great, and all around we had a really nice time (even I enjoyed it!). After the round was over, we had a snack and beer at the club house and then headed home to relax. On the way, we stopped at one other winery (PB Valley) and this time we partook in a three course wine tasting.
We had a couple of hours to spare before our dinner reservation, so we hit the pool and opened up Dave’s birthday cards. I had spent the past couple of months getting all of his friends and family to send cards to his mom in Chicago (who would then send them to me in Thailand). I gave him all of the cards before we left for Khao Yai, but he had decided to save them and open them all up on his actual birthday. I had been hoping to make sure Dave knew that even though he couldn’t be celebrating at home with all of his loved ones, they were still all thinking about him. I think it worked, as he said it was one of the best gifts he’d ever received.