Koh Chang and Ban Phutsa

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January 13th 2018
Published: January 16th 2018
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After the sess pit that was Pattaya we drove south near the Cambodian-Thai border to Trat. Along the way, we stopped at the seaside town of Rayong for the best seafood lunch we've ever had in Thailand. Yummy fish and huge prawns in the Tom Yum soup. Rayong is popular with Thai tourists and much much quieter than Pattaya. We then got to Trat and boarded the barge to the Island of Koh Chang. Luckily our mini van was the second last car to get on! A short 30 min whizz across the ocean we were at Koh Chang. This is only the second time I've been on a Thai island ( the first was Koh Samui when I was 15). A different look to say, the picturesque Phi Phi island down south. No limestone casts jutting out of the water or turquoise blue water, but calm waters for as far as the eye can see. We drove around looking for bungalows and finally settled on accommodation on the beach. The resort was full of Russian tourists – the girl at reception said Russians were generally rude! We had dinner and watched the fire twirling from afar that was at another resort.

The next day Leung drove us to a nearby national park where we walked half a kilometre to the waterfalls. It was a rocky climb, but in the heat and humidity the waterfall was refreshing! The falls had fish in them and I didn't like the idea of swimming with fish so I just dipped my feet in! There were lots of tourists swimming though. We then had a little drive around the island and stopped for coffee. The lady owner if the coffee shop and her husband are from Cambodia and have been living in Thailand for 4 years – their Thai was perfect! She was delighted we could say only one word – Orkun (thank you)! Me and Bill then got dropped off in the main town and walked around the shops, had a swim in the mild surf and then a couple of beers. So many tourists its like little Russia! Lueng then picked us up, and back at the resort we swam with my parents. The water was warm and delightful - it wasn't especially deep so we went way way out and swam for over an hour. I remarked to my mum even tough there are a lot of Russians here, at least they come as a family so its more family oriented, rather than the seedy old Russian men that go to Pattaya! After dinner, we stayed up with my dad and drank the giant 1.5 litre of red Australian wine we bought!

The next day we went back to the mainland and were driving up to Isaan – the North-East of the country. Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima) is the province where my mum is from. She is from a Village called Ban Phutsa near the provincial town of Phimai. Along the way we visited Wat Khao Chakan– a monkey temple with a huge cave where you can walk up 300 stairs to the top to see a huge Buddha statue and little shrine along the way. There are hundreds of monkeys too and they are well fed with bananas and chips type things. They were so cute and scratching each other, pickings nits out I guess. Me and Bill walked to the top, and back down below we got a blessing from the monk. So on the road again, we stooped at one of the massive malls in Khorat and had dinner. Bill was flabbergasted that the door was opened for him at the entrance and he got saluted!! We finally arrived to Ban Phutsa at about 8pm. My aunty Pontip lives by herself (she is disabled) but always has a flurry of people visiting. The next day was a rather relaxing day – spending time in the Village, meeting with other aunties. Its only been two years since I was there last but it feels like yesterday! Later that day we went into Phimai to visit the old Khmer style temple of Prasat Hin Phimai but I wasn't allowed in because I was wearing shorts even though they let in a Thai lady wearing shorter shorts! I’ve been there dozens of times wearing shorts too! My mum got so outraged she demanded her money back and we didn't go in. Instead we went to see the Banyan trees of Sai Ngam. It is said this 350 plus year old extensive interlocking branches spread from just one tree and there are little shrines at Sai Ngam too. Afterward we went to the supermarket then picked my cousin Nee - Leung's wife- and went for food and drinks to a funky hipster-ish cafe and sat outside under the trees.

The next day we went on a road trip to a neighbouring province of Buri Ram and visited Phnom Rung Khmer temples. Set on a rim of a volcano at 402m elevation, it was built in the 10th-13th century dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. I had been here when I was little and remember the photo of my dad and grandad out the front. As we entered from the back it didn't seem to be many people only a school group, but as we exited from the front there were so many more people and school groups. Smaller than Angkor, it is just as impressive but redder in colour and with less carvings. The front is grand with a huge entrance and stone stairs. Heading back home, we went to the Khao Kradong Forest Park, which is the site of a former volcano. Me and Bill opted to climb the 297 stairs to the top to see the big Buddha statue of Suphatthara Bophit while Leung drove my parents up. Apparently I had a photo there when I was two years old! My dad walked down the stairs with us and we beat the car! We had lunch at the local mall. Back in the village, me, Bill and my dad went for a walk to the pond and along walk around the village to the rice fields and temple. Its changed a lot over the years with big new houses replacing old timber houses, and fences going up making the old village lifestyle of knowing all your neighbours and freely visiting them a thing of the past. We saw lots of old family friends along the way and talked to new people – the interesting ‘Farang’s' (westerners) I could converse in my minimal Thai. Bill has been here 10 years ago on a fleeing visit but it was raining the whole time.

The next day we went to another province, Chaiyaphum to visit the big rock formations. Developed by erosion over thousands of years, the park resembles a Thai stone henge. No one knows how exactly they got there, and its fantastic for photography and wandering around making out shapes and seeing animals out of the giant rocks. We then drove to the Phahounak view point to view Chaiyaphum from atop a giant cliff. We walked around the rocks taking lots of lovely photos. We then went home via a lovely restaurant along a dam and drove home, picking up Nee along the way and had drinks at dinner at home.

The next day was a lazy day in the village, We had a visit by head monk Pra Wee, who is my mum's cousin. We were at his monk ceremony when I was young (my dad helped shave his head) and today he is the head monk. He chatted with us and had lunch and afterward he took us for a big walk to the temple along the backroads through banana plantations to the temple. At the temple, Pra Wee showed us two big temple halls with big Buddha statues and we payed respect to my grandparents whose ashes are at the temple. We thanked Pra Wee and wished him well on his travels to Sri Lanka. Later that afternoon, Lueng drove us to Phimai and me and mum had our hair washed and haircut while the two Bill's went walking around. My mum wasn't feeling well with really bad rashes and it turned out to be shingles! Lucky she visited the doctor when she did! We then picked up Nee, had some beers at a restaurant near to the night market. We then opted to eat at home for our last dinner in Ban Phutsa so my mum got some yummy food at the night market so we ate at home with a few beers and I bought Aunty Pontip her favourite whisky. Me and Bill also gave aunty Pontip some money to help her out. Then before we knew it, it was today. It was sad to say goodbye to Aunty Pontip but we will be back! I really love visiting Aunty Pontip so I am always coming back to Thailand to see her. We are currently on the road to Bangkok, first visiting my aunty, uncle and cousins then we are staying in Bangkok for 5 days while my parents fly off tomorrow night back to Australia.

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