Palio is a picturesque shopping centre, 220km north-east of Bangkok, themed around a Tuscan village where visitors are treated to an out-of-the-ordinary combination of clothes and gift shopping, gourmet snacks, live entertainment and an eclectic mix of independent shops and stalls.
The grand idea has been to bring the charm of Tuscany to the green heart of Thailand. Both places share a cool, sunny climate and both grow wine – although not to the same distinction. From this fairly tenuous link, the developers of Palio have produced something truly unique and unmistakably modern.
Palio is nestled in a forest landscape in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, just 20km from the entrance of Khao Yai National Park. Owing to its higher elevation temperatures are noticeably cooler than in Bangkok and a clement breeze is consistently blowing along the paved streets and piazzas. During my latest visit the thermometer clocked in at a pleasant 24°C at 14:00.
Upon entering the village, the striking terracotta-toned buildings resonate with an unmistakably Mediterranean vibe. A plethora of potted flowers, baby ferns and creeping ivy add to the sensation. Everywhere you look you can see hanging baskets, ornate railings, medieval-styled castle walls and an overstocked supply of benches for visitors to sit and enjoy the sights.
As you might expect from a market on the edge of a national park, there is a clear emphasis on ‘green’ living. From restaurants to confectionary and even clothes, there has been a clear push to encourage local produce and the efficient use of resources. Khao Yai is one of the few regions in Thailand where vineyards can be found and this fortuity is represented by all manner of grape products – grape juice, sun-dried grapes, grape cake… the list goes on. One handbag and luggage shop, Sida, uses recycled plastic to produce the yarn found in all their products, gourmet chocolatiers use milk from the surrounding dairy farms, and beauty products utilize many of the fruits and vegetables grown nearby. Even Jim Thompson – think silk – has a farm shop in Palio selling produce from its nearby farm and tries to educate everyone on the importance of sustainability.
Along with the bespoke products on offer, there is the same ubiquitous array of souvenirs, ornaments and fisherman pants found at other markets throughout Thailand. Prices are a little higher than say, Chatuchak Market, but are still competitive and everything is clearly priced and labelled. A “Khao Yai” printed T-shirt sells for 180 baht with no opportunity for bargaining.
As for what to eat; there is a range of options to suit different budgets. Tempi Felici is an Italian restaurant serving a mixture of pasta and rice dishes in a style they call, ‘(con)fusion food’. Dishes start from 150 baht. There is also a food court serving perennial favourites such as pad thai, som tam and noodle soup for around 50 baht. However, part of the enjoyment consists in strolling around snacking on the sausages, macaroons, chocolates, fruits and pastries in stalls found lining the walkways.
The real charm of Palio comes from soaking up the atmosphere and trying to capture it on film. Sketch artists, clowns, musicians and masquerading Venetian ladies stroll around the market and are happy to have their picture taken with visitors. The carnival atmosphere is best felt in the central Piazza Palio, where a number of bars and coffee shops surround a fountain, characters perform for the amusement of the visitors and classical music is piped in through hidden speakers. It’s an enchanting experience.
The success of this market is exactly what has been the downfall of other, less-successful themed ventures; namely, execution. From the initial creative stage, throughout planning and construction, the vision has been consistent and no expense has been spared. The entire village complex is wheelchair and pushchair accessible and the multitude of iron sculptures and water features scattered along the paved pathways are appreciated by all visitors - especially photographers! In fact, as well-planned as the market is, it can, in places, get clogged due to the sheer amount of photographers trying to snap that perfect picture.
Ultimately, Palio is as entertaining and unique as a market can be. Sure, the contrived theme isn’t traditional Thai, but if you want that then you should visit the excellent Ampawa floating market. This is unashamedly Thai-Italian fusion, and fusion in itself defines modern Thailand. Combine a visit to Palio with a day in Khao Yai National Park and it is an ideal option to see an alternative side to Thailand away from the beach – especially for those sweltering in the heat of the city.
- Address: Thanarat Rd, Mu Si, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, 30130, Thailand.
- Tel: 044-365-888