Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Farm Chokchai

At kilometre 159 on the Friendship Highway, Farm Chokchai springs into view with huge signs, restaurants, ice-cream shops, and quite often large crowds of people. These are clues to its status as the largest and most advanced dairy farm in Asia. It is also one of Nakhon Ratchasima’s most dynamic tourist attractions.

Started in 1957 by Thailand’s first homegrown cowboy, Chokchai Bulakul, Farm Chokchai has evolved from raising beef cattle to breeding dairy herds. It welcomes visitors by the thousands, and is the only dairy farm in the kingdom to open its doors to an inquisitive public.

Farm Chokchai covers 20,000 rai, or 8,000 acres, in five locations around the Pakchong-Khao Yai area, and has 5,000 head of dairy cows, primarily Holstein-Friesian stock with their familiar black and white hides. These are bred for sale and for producing the raw milk that is pasteurized. Other products from the Chokchai Umm! Milk brand include yoghurt, ice cream and milk candy.

Agro tours began in 2000 after Chokchai’s son Choak took the innovative decision to try agro-tourism. He felt this was the best way to satisfy the many requests for farm visits from people who wanted to find out what makes the place tick. Since then, visitors have been enthusiastically riding around the farm in tractor-driven wagons on two-hour tours. Guides offer fascinating details of dairy farm life mixed with a bit of cowboy entertainment. There is also plenty of time to get up close and personal with some very friendly animals.

So what do you get to see and do? A video history of Farm Chokchai and a peek at the pioneering machinery used in the early days gets the tour under way, moving on to the more intimate details at the centre of every successful dairy farm, such as artificial insemination, calf rearing and milking. The need for hygiene is stressed at every stage. Children get the opportunity to try their hand at milking, and can ask questions about the bull’s activities and role in life.

Cows are milked three times a day, contributing to a daily production of over 36 tons. This is automatically moved into the next-door collection centre ready for pasteurization and turning into ice cream.

Next comes a tour around the farm to show cows being fed and grazed, water treatment, hay making and silage. Plenty of clean water, rich feed and waste treatment ensure the animals remain healthy and high producers of milk.

For entertainment, the farm’s cowboys put on a wild west show featuring horses, cattle, lariats and guns, coupled with opportunities to enjoy pony and buggy rides. Last but not least, the petting zoo allows visitors to touch and feed deer, goats, rabbits and calves. At the end is a comical animal show that makes everyone leave with a smile.

The agro knowledge tours have proved such a big hit that more than 400,000 visitors a year come to enjoy the feeling of life on a farm. From Tuesday to Friday, tours (maximum 80 people) are offered at 10.00 am and 2.00 pm, price 235 baht (half price for kids). At weekends and holidays, the fee is 250 baht with tours conducted throughout the day. Be warned that the weekends can get very crowded with as many as 18 tours a day. Advance booking is advised and essential for groups requiring English-speaking guides.

For visitors who want a more intimate look at farm life and a very relaxing back-to-nature experience, Farm Chokchai’s Boutique Camp opened in 2004 as a secluded place for city people to enjoy the great outdoors. The one-night two-day package includes a definitive farm tour, a workshop where you learn how to make your own ice cream, a BBQ dinner under the stars, sleeping in luxurious, air-conditioned tents in a very quiet, private forest, and a picnic breakfast before checking out with the ice cream that you made..

Rounding off any visit, at the farm entrance are outlets selling cowboy souvenirs, meals at the renowned Chokchai Steakhouse, steak and burger huts, plus lots of ice cream and Umm! Milk products.

Little wonder that Farm Chokchai is a multiple winner of the Thailand Tourism Awards for Agro-Tourism.

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