I decided to include Nong Nooch Gardens in my trip to Thailand after hearing good things about it from plant lovers. An 18 km drive from Pattaya, and there I was, right outside its stately entrance.
Drive straight in, on a road dotted with innumerable palm trees, to arrive at the main gates of the garden. Buy an entry ticket at 400 baht and explore all day! The garden is well kept, with signboards in English and Thai that give you details about its 520-acre area. The place is extremely popular among Thai locals and school children who visit it on picnics. Busloads of tourists throng the spot by noon, so if you want to enjoy the gardens in a cooler, more peaceful atmosphere, try to reach earlier in the day (the garden is open from 8 am to 6 pm).
Walk around if possible, but if you want to conserve energy then the buggy, which takes about 20 minutes to show you the garden, is a good bet. Its driver doubles up as a guide and stops twice en route, for five minutes each. For the enthusiasts, there's also a skywalk that allows for detailed examination of this vast tropical land.
Left, right, left, right, left
With so much to see, you're never sure of where exactly to look; there are tall trees, manicured lawns and topiary and stone sculptures all around. The landscape is pleasant to look at and the blue sky in the background makes the huge scale of the garden seem like paradise. Don't be surprised if you pass by an elephant strolling around with a couple on its back; there are animal rides too.
The first stop on the buggy is the cacti garden where you see cactuses of all shapes, sizes and colours. A short distance later are the European gardens, which feature designs of landscaped gardens from all over South East Asia. Stop two is a Thai pavilion built at a height so that you get a panoramic view of the entire garden. From up there, you see cycads, bromelias, orchids, bonsai and cacti all neatly arranged in their own zones.
After you're done, head to the cultural show. For 50 baht, it acquaints you entirely with the culture of Thailand. There are dances performed by graceful women dressed in Thai attire, followed by mock kickboxing and an elephant show where you get to feed elephants bananas. There's also a mini zoo with a tiger, a herd of deer and a host of amiable pythons. At the end of this excursion, you can treat yourself to an Indian thali at the recreation area.
Initially slated to become a fruit plantation, the garden is now entirely the enterprise of Pisit and Nong Nooch, who acquired the entire piece of land.
However, while travelling across other countries, Mrs Nong Nooch became inspired by the landscape of their gardens and decided to turn this land into a tropical garden of ornamental flowers and plants. And I must admit, she's done a good job of it!
Aruna is a freelance writer who's always looking for her next getaway.