If you want to feel like you are in Italy (or Europe) in this part of the world in Asia, Palio is the place to go! Palio is a shopping centre housed in a picturesque village on the way to the entrance of Khao Yai National Park, about 2 hours drive from Bangkok. This cluster of strikingly coloured Baroque-style buildings built like a little village will be hard to miss on the drive. There is no entrance fee, just 20baht for parking.
Palio gives me the feeling that I get in Disneyland – free and happy – complete with accordion music in the background. Maybe because for Asians, being in Europe is associated with being on a holiday, so all Thais and tourists appear very happy in this ornately designed town. It also helps that Palio is elevated at higher altitude so it is usually at least 5 degrees cooler than in Bangkok. Even if you feel warm, you will be welcomed by rows of cool juices and food booths pathing the way from the carpark to the back entrance of Palio. We tried the iced carrot juice which was refreshing especially after the drive up! We also tried lavender and floral tea at one of the pretty organic food stalls – very light and cleansing. (TIP: A lot of these stalls only open on weekends so do try to visit on weekends to have the FULL Palio experience, which includes the crowds.)
I am impressed at the effort to recreate the full Mediterranean feel with angel statues, fountains, pots of pretty flowers, arched cobble stone bridges, boulder castle walls and country-like decor instores. At the centre of Palio is Piazza Palio. In real Italian villages, a piazza is a public square or marketplace, and this is quite well replicated in Palio, complete with a clock tower, huge block with roman numerals fountain, nicely trimmed rich green shrubs with lots of benches for tourists to rest and take self-shots. And you will not look out of place being trigger happy here; every turn is littered with people taking self-shots.
There is an eclectic mix of big brands (Clark), niche purchase items (health products and tea), souvenirs, jewelry, food and stationary. By the way, bargaining is difficult here, as I think the shops are pampered with tourists! I tried the Chatuchak-bargaining-style of asking for a price and walking away, and they did not try to call me back, so I ended up empty handed! TIP: If you are willing to buy an item at the stated selling price, try once but don’t try the walk away technique like me, as they probably won’t call you back! Shopping aside, Palio is the first, and probably only, place I will see MK Steamboat in an orange cobbled Mediterranean building. One would quickly forget you are actually in Thailand.
We tried lunch at Black Canyon at Khaoyai, on the second level of one of the corners of the village. I find the food quite sloppily prepared compared to other Black Canyons in Thailand but the first two dishes were still pretty decent. TIP – If the Special 20th Healthy Anniversary menu is still available when you visit, please DO NOT try this menu; I tried the Stir-fried Angel Hair Noodles with Veggie Chicken and Cashew Nuts, and little did I realize that the dish is vegetarian; I thought it meant vegetables and chicken with noodles. Anyway, the vegetarian part is not the problem because I have had yummylicious vegetarian food. But like N aptly described, this particular veggie chicken tasted like bloated cardboard paper. Eat from their usual menu – safe and decent!
We visited Palio twice, once on a Saturday afternoon and once on Monday afternoon. Though I enjoyed the space to linger on Monday afternoon, I must say all the energy and activity on Saturday made the village feel more living and buzzing like a real town. There are many organic food stalls that only open on weekends as well, so I would suggest visiting on a Saturday or Sunday if you are driving into Palio.
Definitely a place to stop by if you are in the Khaoyai region! Take a moment to explore the world and be filled with its wonders like the statue of the boy below 🙂