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khao yai, thailand
Railroads have long been a source of fascination for travelers, allowing them to experience slower-paced travel and revisit a time when packed planes and crowded airports weren’t the norm.
Thailand has a unique railway history that dates back to the early 1900s. Bangkok city dwellers rode steel wheels to get out of town for beach holidays and cool weather.
Over 100 years old, the one-of-a-kind Bill Bensley-designed new resort immerses guests in the essence of this era.
Comprised of over 65 suites and villas, InterContinental Khao Yai includes a series of upcycled Thai rail cars converted into luxury accommodations.
About a 2.5-hour drive from Bangkok and outside Khao Yai National Park, the design of this resort dates back to the early days of the Thai Railways and as a gateway to northeastern Thailand during the reign of King Rama V (1868-1910) inspired by the history of the region.
Guests are immersed in the past as soon as they step into the reception. Housed in a separate building resembling a classic Thai train station, it is filled with travel trunks, wooden benches, classic train parts, illustrations and historical photographs.
As you’d expect from a property bearing the Bensley name, the attention to detail is exceptional.
Whimsical and fantastical terms are often used to describe the work of the Bangkok-based American. Bensley is second to none in his ability to let his imagination run wild. The result is a property that tells a story, with every detail added to the page as a clever anecdote.
For the InterContinental Khao Yai, Bensley says his lifelong passion for rail travel inspired the design. He has traveled on many major luxury trains on various continents and during the summer months he took groups of seniors on Canadian coastal rail journeys.
When he came across a Thai railway yard full of decommissioned trains, he had to act.
“I was looking at all these rusty old carriages and thinking, ‘Oh my god, they’re just sitting there rotting … really, they have to do something with it,'” he recalls. do.
“After six months, we bought as many products as we could, without having to build everything from scratch,” he adds.
Now came the hard part. Hauling a heavy, rotting old train across the hills of the resort proved to be a predictably difficult task.
“We were going to put them on rails,” he says. However, a sharp bend at the end of the road within the resort where the carriage had to be positioned meant calling for extra help to complete the job.
“We hired this huge crane that had to climb to a height of about 70 meters. Then we flew the carriage down the slope. But we did it all in one day,” says Bensley.
In addition to the luxury suites, the resort’s upcycled carriage also houses a spa, kids club, and three dining options: Poirot, Papillon, and Tea Carriage.
“Originally I was thinking of making all the carriages accommodation, but once I started working with them I fell in love with the whole idea of Murder on the Orient Express. That’s where Poirot comes in. ’” he says of the French restaurant overlooking nearby Swan Lake.
Papillon, right next door, is a jazz-themed speakeasy serving strong cocktails and live music on weekends. The Tea Carriage is located in another beautifully landscaped area of the resort where guests can try a variety of drinks such as iced his coffee and a lovely afternoon his tea set.
Breakfast is served at Somying’s Kitchen, a spacious all-day dining restaurant featuring dining car-style booths and bright blue and white interiors. Outside the restaurant is a small pool and a Terminus bar with a traditional Thai railway motif.
If you can’t check into one of the upcycled carriages, the other rooms and suites are no laughing matter. Designed to look like a classic rail car, each car is unique and features beautiful wallpaper with dramatic panels and framing.
For larger groups, there are connecting suites with bunk beds, and others with lake-view balconies and private plunge pools.
We encourage guests to venture into the national park (more on that later), but it’s worth spending time enjoying the resort.
InterContinental Khao Yai’s 19 hectares are home to over 30,000 trees and several lakes, the largest of which is home to multiple black and white swans, hence the name ‘Swan Lake’. is attached. Free bikes can be signed out on the lake trails, but there are plenty of places to sit and watch the swans waddle.
Khao Yai is incredibly popular among Bangkok residents looking for a weekend getaway to escape the city, but the trend is toward Chiang Mai, the gateway to Thailand’s beaches and northern mountainous regions. is not very popular with foreign tourists.
The prestige of having InterContinental manage Bensley’s estate is sure to give the region a boost on the international stage.
The scenery outside Khao Yai National Park is often compared to the Italian countryside, and some of the resorts, cafes, restaurants and wineries blend into that atmosphere.
There is only one internationally branded resort in the area besides Mövenpick’s InterContinental, with its sprawling castle-like hotel and 18-hole golf course.
Visitors who really want to pursue that Italian vacation fantasy can head to Tuscan Valley, a multi-purpose project complete with a replica of the Leaning Tower.
But Khao Yai at heart remains a prime destination for nature lovers. Part of the UNESCO-listed Don Phayaen Khao Yai Forest Complex, it is Thailand’s oldest national park and comprises over 2,000 square kilometers of forests and grasslands.
Hiking trails cater for a variety of abilities and many offer access to beautiful waterfalls. The most famous is his Haew Narok, which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character jumped from in the 2000 movie The Beach.
Wildlife includes elephants, bears, gibbons and tigers (although humans rarely spot large cats). Park officials offer nightly wildlife viewing tours that can be booked at the visitor center.
Bensley says InterContinental’s location near national parks was the first thing that attracted him to the project.
“I love virgin forests so I’m really excited to be so close to them and to be able to walk into that park and see one of the few wild elephants left in Asia…that’s for sure my My favorite place.”
Most guests arrive by car, but you can take the train from Bangkok to Pak Chong Station. Pak Chong Station is approximately 40-45 minutes from the resort.
In the future, Bensley says he hopes to arrange weekend train trips for costumed guests to play Murder on the Orient Express.
Whether you travel from Bangkok to Khao Yai by car or by train, you may find elevated tracks being built. These are part of the delayed Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima high speed rail route, which will eventually head to High Speed Rail. to China via Laos.
According to recent media reports, the 250km Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasmia line is scheduled to open in 2026.
Travelers are beginning to dream of years to come when high-speed trains will make it easier to travel through Thailand’s countryside. It’s nice to know that there is a resort that pays tribute to this country’s railroad history.
InterContinental Khaoyai Resort262, Pong Talong Sub-District, Pak Chong District, Nakhon Ratchasima 30450; +66 (0)44 082 039; rates from 8,700 baht ($265) per night.