THE vibrancy and excitement of what Bangkok has to offer can leave you both energised and exhausted.
If it is the latter, respite is just a short hop away.
BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW: PB Valley Khao Yai Winery, which has been around for more than a decade, produces about one million bottles of wine each year. [Photo: PB Valley]
Rent a car or hire one of Bangkok's multi-coloured cabs for a day or two, and head 150km north-east into the province of Nakhon Ratchasima - a smooth and easy two-hour drive away - which is also affectionately known as Korat.
I skip the town of Korat, opting instead for a country experience - at Farm Chokchai.
Upon arrival, I roll my red suitcase across a little bridge suspended over a small river and head to the reception of Farm Chokchai Camp.
I am excited at the prospect of checking into my 'tent' for I have fond memories of roughing it out in my childhood years.
But Farm Chokchai Camp offers boutique camping instead and it is specially designed for 'softer' city folks.
Its carpeted tents fit in two single beds, a dresser, a closet and an air-conditioner. Common showers and toilets face a garden.
The campsite has 50 large tents and all the amenities you would require for a night, so there is no need to take along towels, soap and flashlights.
At 404.7ha, I would rename the estate Chokchai Ranch. Though a tad commercial with group tractor-wagon rides, ice cream-making workshops, animal shows and cow-milking demonstrations, the experience is still fun and educational.
The ice cream-making workshop is particularly enjoyable. Instructions are in Thai but I manage to keep up. And though I'd never dream of cheating on Ben or Jerry, the cookies and cream version I make offers stiff competition.
Feed animals for a taste of what farm life is about
But responding to a rooster's wake-up call at 5am for a hike up Khao Noi (Thai for 'small hill') may be a shock to your holiday-mode system.
By the time I reach the top of Khao Noi, however, I am awake enough to enjoy the view and balmy morning air. Things get a lot better with the picnic breakfast and coffee waiting for us at the foot of the hill.
The day brightens up much more when I spot a beautiful field of sunflowers just around the corner. I have to restrain myself from pulling out a plant to lug home.
I check out of Farm Chokchai, sans sunflower, to head to a cluster of wineries reportedly a mere 20 minutes away while eating my dry ice-packed self-made ice cream from the day before.
Farm Chokchai is on Friendship Highway, Pakchong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130. A two-day, one-night package, including tours and accommodation, costs about 4,000 baht (S$186.60).
Make your own ice cream at Farm Chokchai
Wine and dine
I HAVE been to wineries in Mendoza, Hunter Valley and Napa but this is my first time checking out others in a tropical setting.
Which means as we drive along a winding road towards the foothills of the Dangrek Mountain Range, we pass by banana trees, buffaloes, shrines with offerings and villagers going about their daily kampung lives.
Our destination is the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery. The estate of over 300ha has a breathtaking backdrop - the Khao Yai National Park's mountain range.
The grapes thrive during the cooler months of November and December and the winery, in existence for over a decade, now produces about one million bottles of wine a year.
A variety of products, including wines, juices and body products, are available at the in-house gift shop at the entrance.
If the curiosity of visiting a vineyard in the tropics is not alluring enough for you, PB Valley's very own Great Hornbill Grill should win you over.
With exotic dishes that blend Thai and Western (particularly German) styles, you are in for a yummy adventure.
The Grill has the best seat in the house, with a view of the vineyard and mountains. You could almost think you are in Tuscany instead of being someplace a mere 90 minutes from Bangkok.
PB Valley Khao Yai Winery is at 102 Moo 5, Phaya Yen, Pakchong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30320. A guided tour, wine tasting and a set lunch at the Great Hornbill Grill cost 700 baht.
TENT POINTS: Rough it out and still keep your hair in place with the luxurious, airconditioned tent at Farm Chokchai Camp. [Photo: Farm Chokchai]
Take a hike
JUST a short drive from the winery is the well-known Khao Yai National Park. It lies mainly in Korat province but is also accessible from three other neighbouring provinces.
At over 2,000 sq km, it is one of the largest protected parks in Thailand. Famous for the 80m-high Heo Narok Waterfall featured in the movie The Beach, the park is also highly regarded for its wildlife.
With its variety of birds, bears, elephants, gibbons and deer, some visitors opt for a night tour to spot these creatures although most are unsuccessful, given the chaos of noisy pick-ups and spotlights.
But you are likely to spot at least a few species along one of the many hiking trails. One of the most frequented is that from Kong Kaew to Haew Suwat which offers opportunities to observe gibbons.
Foreigners pay 400 baht to enter the Khao Yai National Park.
Soak up some culture
FOR a cultural experience, head for the ancient town of Phimai, 60km north-east of Korat city.
The architecture of the ancient ruins here is Ankorean and religious in nature, and both Buddhist and Hindu motifs are discernible in the temples - from carvings of a meditating Buddha to scenes taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
The history behind this blend in religious art supposedly started with Jayavarman VII, the first of the Hindu Khmer kings to become a Buddhist. He adopted an inclusive approach to both faiths in his empire.
Entrance fee to the ruins is 40 baht per person.
AS I daydream on the two-hour drive back to Bangkok, I notice the changes. The air becomes a little thicker, the noise a little louder and the traffic a little heavier.
But I am rested enough to take on the challenge of immersing myself once more in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.
SUNNY SIDE UP: Wake up at dawn to climb Khao Noi and you will be rewarded with the sight of a field of sunflowers.
Photos: Shaan Moledina