Thailand Fling - 17... Too Hot to Handle
Ban Krut and Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand March/April 2023
They may not have the most “user friendly” website in the world, but I have to hand it to Thai National Railways, their trains are extremely well managed. With uniformed guards to assist you with your luggage, comfortable air-conditioned carriages and even a complimentary meal and drink, they’re better than most of the airlines we’ve flown with and definitely preferable to travelling by minivan.
It was only a short hop to our next destination of Ban Krut (or “bankrupt” as my spell check keeps insisting – and what we’ll probably be after a few months back in the UK!). An hour’s journey further up the coast, this sleepy seaside town was home to a few ex-pats, but mainly locals and holidaying Thais. Dragging our large and heavy bags across the tracks (they were building new stations along the line, but had apparently forgotten to build underpasses or bridges to connect the platforms!), we were never more grateful to be rescued from the heat by Frank, our friendly German host who’d come to collect us.
Boon’s Bungalow was a real “home-from-home” – a raised Thai-style house with a lovely veranda, well-equipped kitchen and use of a pool. The nearby, virtually deserted beach was long and exceptionally beautiful, overlooked on the hillside by a huge golden temple and Buddha. That evening, with the help of Google translate, the obliging chef rustled me up a delicious veggie fried rice at one of the restaurants that dotted the beach. We were definitely off the traditional tourist route now, and enjoying the relative serenity, if not the weather, which was turning fiercer by the day.
We spent afternoons sitting by the pool which was the temperature I have my baths at home – so only marginally refreshing and ventured out in the evenings when it had cooled down a couple of degrees. We managed a snorkelling trip to the nearby island of Koh Thalu which has an impressive natural rock arch and thousands of small jelly fish as we painfully discovered when jumped in for our first snorkel. Quickly moving on, we were rewarded on the next stop by the sight of a huge parrot fish, a massive shoal of yellow snappers, some amazing corals and giant clams.
Our only other foray was to the imposing temple at the top of the hill (Wat Thang Sai) which was less than 30 years old, but incredibly beautiful and offered stunning views of the coast. Guarded by two huge guardian demons, intricate tiled dragon shaped stairs lead up to the main complex with its giant golden stupas, reclining buddhas and stained-glass windows depicting the “noble truths”. We’ve seen quite a few temples on our travels, but this certainly ranks as one of the best.
Later that afternoon we took a ride further down the coast to Ban Saphan Yai, which only seemed to consist of expensive villas, a German beach bar and a very long, but incredibly dirty beach.
Ban Krut remains one of our favourite places, along with Chumphon, and we vowed to return as we said our goodbyes to Frank and Boon.
Becoming slightly tired of lugging our bags over railway tracks, we decided to make our next destination our last stop before hitting the big city lights of Bangkok.
The broad bay of Prachuap Khiri Khan, with its bobbing fishing boats and mountain outcrops almost encircled this provincial capital. Few Bangkokians make it down this far, usually stopping in the heaving tourist hubs of Cha Am and Hua Hin, so it remains relatively quiet despite being one of the larger towns we’ve encountered on our travels up this coast.
Again, we’d found a very friendly little guest house and after cooling off for a few hours, strolled along the long promenade in search of a drink. The sign advertising “steak and kidney pies with mash, peas and gravy” caught Ian’s eye and we found ourselves in “The Timber Hut” run by a British/Thai couple. It seemed to be full of elderly European men, which did put me off slightly, but we were persuaded to join in their monthly “Quiz Night” and ended up winning first prize of a couple of meal vouchers! At least it helped to “acclimatise” us to our return to the UK which was looming ever nearer.
Feeling slightly worse for wear the next day, I left it until the late afternoon before taking a long stroll around the bay past large troops of monkeys scrounging for food from the picnicking families along the sea wall, to another long shady beach. Sadly, the tide was out, so I had a quick paddle and a cold drink before winding my way back.
That evening we found a great little pizza place run by a mad Belgian! The humungous and amusingly named cocktails, along with his insistence on everyone participating in his bar games made for another entertaining evening. The night life here was certainly exceeding our expectations!
One of the other “attractions” of Prachuap was Manao Beach which was reached by driving through a military installation cryptically called “Wing 5”. It all sounded very cloak and dagger, but just involved registering in a “guest book” with our names, passport numbers and nationalities. We were politely turned away from the first “guard post” after following Google maps’ directions to the monkey viewing area. After surrendering our passports (go figure!), we eventually found a charming little shrine where dozens of friendly – but fussy – dusky langur monkeys appear from the treetops to accept offerings of fruit from the eager tourists.
Moving on, we found the area first invaded by Japanese forces in WW2, where the local Thai forces fought bravely but finally conceded (after a hard-fought game of Jenga by the look of the local monument). I have to say the beach looked splendid, with the usual range of souvenir shops and cafes, but after a quick pineapple shake, we’d decided it was far too touristy (and hot) for us and returned to the hotel for a cool down.
I’d read good reviews of the two nearby National Parks, so we hired a car for the day to visit both. We were getting used to the driving here now, and we’d just look at each other and sigh, rather than scream in horror when yet another local pulled out in front of us! We made it to the Khao Sam Roi Yot NP in one piece, which was just as well as we needed all of our capabilities to make it up to the main attraction. Thon Praya Nakhon is one of Thailand’s most famous caves and has been visited by several Thai monarchs over the years. All I can say is they must have been pretty fit, as climbing up almost 500m to reach the cave in 40+ degrees of heat certainly took it out of us. However, the sight of the sunlight streaming down through the open roof onto the centrepiece Royal Pavilion (Thailand’s smallest temple) was impressive.
Recovering over lunch, we then drove on to the Khlong Khao Daeng river for a relaxing boat ride through the mangroves for a spot of bird watching.
I’d been looking forward to our next stop at the Kuiburi National Park, as I’d read that this was the place you were most likely to encounter elephants in the wild. We’d passed many elephant sanctuaries on our travels, but I prefer to experience animals in their natural habitat without human manipulation. The tension mounted as we climbed on the back of a truck with our guide/spotter. We’d rented binoculars and Ian glimpsed a couple of interesting birds (the feathered kind!) as we set off.
I’m usually the last person to spot any wildlife on these kinds of trips, but my hopes were high as I figured elephants are pretty hard to miss, and don’t usually hide out in trees! We caught sight of a solo elephant through the forest, but he had his back to us and resolutely refused to turn around. We stopped off next at a viewing area overlooking a wide plain, and there to my delight were a mother and baby – again, showing us their rears with tails swaying – but at least we’d seen some! After a few minutes, we were rewarded with a whole herd emerging from the forest – one of the most fabulous sights I’ve even seen.
On our return we passed herds of gaurs (Indian bison) at the watering hole. These massive creatures are featured on cans of Red Bull (the energy drink originally developed in Thailand), although they look black rather than red!
By now the sun was going down, and we returned to Prachuap hot, tired and achy, but having had an interesting and memorable day.
Next Stop: Bangkok for Songkran