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March 10th 2012
Published: March 10th 2012
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To break the journey to Bangkok we had decided to stop overnight Surat Thani in order to catch the train to Thailand’s oldest beach resort: Hua Hin. Booking 2nd class train tickets, on the express train to Bangkok, on-line suddenly made train transport so much easier and worked a treat. The train ride was relatively comfortable and the free lunch and afternoon tea and cake were a pleasant surprise; maybe a lesson for British Rail!On arrival at Hua Hin Chris was pleasantly surprised to see a rather lovely looking 18 hole golf course, which had apparently been expanded from the original 9 hole golf course commissioned by Rama Vi in 1922.

Hua Hin has a couple of claims to fame, which sets it apart from other Thai towns. The first is that the Thai royal family were the town’s main visitors at the start of the 20th century and, in fact, the present King used to spend most of his time here until recent ill-health made that impossible. His choice of residence when in town is the summer palace erected by Rama VII in 1926. In 1932 Rama VII was in residence here when a coup was started in Bangkok against the system of absolute monarchy. Even though the present King is not in residence at the moment there are still a number of Thai naval ships off the coast and a larger than normal presence of police in the town: all making for a feeling of safety. Secondly, the town’s most distinctive attractions are the squid pier restaurants and guest houses that stretch out across the sand and into the Gulf of Thailand. One of which, The Chaolay, has the added distinction of being frequented by the royal family when they were in town. Well if it was good enough for royalty then surely it would be good enough for us, but more of that later.

Hua Hin took me by surprise, it was much bigger and more modern than a lot of Thai towns we had been to recently. Arrival at the station, however, didn’t give us any clues as to how developed the town would be. Apparently the station was constructed in the 1920s and didn’t look like it had changed much at all: cream and red wooden buildings with pagoda-shaped roofs. Lots of photos of the royal family adorned the inside of the main station building, reminding everyone of the favour that had been bestowed upon the town by them choosing to reside there.

After a quick look round, our first evening saw us in an Italian restaurant with some ex-neighbours from Koh Phangan, John and Linda, who had kindly driven us to Surat Thani the day before. At breakfast in a local restaurant the following morning we found ourselves trying to figure out how we knew the guy on the table next to us and, after a lot of surreptitious glances from both sides, we got into conversation and found that his ex-in-laws used to live on Bowleaze Coveway. What a small world we live in. He also informed us that Hua Hin has 7 very good golf courses, which put the town high up on Chris’ list of places he would like to live in.

We had decided to spend the day just walking round the town, exploring it’s hidden alleyways and seeing what had appealed to the royal family as well as many weekenders from Bangkok. We were pleasantly surprised by the mix of modern and quaint, even though some of the modern additions were in the form of tacky hostess bars which came alive during the evenings. Whilst having a cup of tea at the end of one of the squid piers we realised that, although the idea of spending a night in one of the picturesque guest houses on the pier would be interesting, the noise from the lapping waves would put a stop to any sleep as we were having to shout to hear each other speak. We had thought about booking accommodation on the pier so we were very pleased we hadn’t in the end. After walking through the alleyways we headed off to the beach to see what that had to offer and were surprised by how nice areas of it were. Some stretches of the long beach were congested with parasols and sunbeds stretching the complete width of the beach right up to the sea edge, and in some areas into the sea, but other stretches were left as nature intended for the delight of those sunbathers keen on just laying peacefully on the soft white sand. A nice cooling onshore wind meant sunbathing would be a dangerous thing but a good surf would be cooling for the slightly overcooked. We finished the day off with another lovely evening with John and Linda at the squid pier restaurant favoured by royalty: Chaolay. Chris and I ordered grilled rock lobster and sea bass which turned out to be absolutely delicious. Slightly more than we were used to paying for our Thai meals, but oh so worth it. The service was slick and the food deliciously prepared and the word was obviously out on how good it was, as the whole end of the pier was packed with satisfied customers. Well worth the experience.

Some slight trouble getting a reasonably priced scooter meant we had to change our plans for the following day but, after successfully getting transport, we headed off to the 272m high headland Khao Takieb, or Chopstick Hill. The hill is also known as Monkey Mountain and on arrival the reason for its name was apparent. The usual lounging dogs by the side of the road had been replaced by relaxing Macaque Monkeys. Rumour had it that they were thieves, although not aggressive: so getting things nicked was okay as long as they did it in a non-aggressive way! We parked the bike under a tree, hoping the monkeys hadn’t learned how to hotwire it, and made our way up the numerous steps to the white temple, Wat Khao Lad, precariously perched on the rocky mound. We were greeted by a monk who quickly slipped brightly coloured bracelets on our wrists and then requested a donation – we were both far too polite to refuse. From the top of the hill modern Hua Hin stretched out for as far as we could see, it’s high rise hotels lining what was left of its white sandy beaches. There was also a Chinese temple on the site decorated in typical Chinese fashion, with brightly coloured dragons and motifs, surrounding a large rotund Buddha with a hole in its corpulent stomach. Apparently it is considered good luck if you can accurately throw your donation into his stomach. Not sure good luck for who mind, especially if it takes you a number of tries! All around the site there were Macaques of all shapes and sizes lounging in the shade, grooming each other and even taking a bath until holidaymakers bought some of the monkey food on sale and then it was a total free for all as the unsuspecting benefactors found themselves besieged by grabbing hands and squabbling primates. So funny to watch, but definitely not something that we were interested in especially as some of the big boys had rather impressive sets of sharp teeth. The young ones were particularly endearing, as all young animals are, particularly the one we watched taking a long cooling bath. On returning to the bike we found that the rumours of them being adept thieves was in fact true, as a nun called to us and presented Chris with his mobile phone which one particularly light fingered chap had lifted from the scooter. Amazed, but grateful, we decided it was best to check our pockets to make sure we hadn’t lost anything else and, after ascertaining that we still had everything, we made a hasty exit.

Our last day in Hua Hin, and a Buddhist holiday, we decided to once more mount our trusted steed (although the engine did run a bit fast and it wasn’t as comfortable as other scooters we had hired in the past) and head out to one of the nearby National Parks, Kaeng Krachan, and hike up the Pala-u-Waterfall. The park, the country’s largest, was established in 1981 and is Thailand’s 28th National Park. It has a dam in the middle of the eastern border of the park which is the first earthen dam constructed in Thailand.

The park is about 63 km away from Hua Hin, on the border with Burma, so quite a long way to go on the bike, but as it turned out the journey was okay, we only had to swerve once to miss hitting one of the many Thai dogs with absolutely no road sense whatsoever. The landscape was a mix of lush forested hills and pineapple plantations with a sight now and then of monkeys sat by the side of the road. On arrival at the park we had to pay the normal entrance fee for ‘farangs’, which is about 20x more than locals, but the fee seemed relatively reasonable. The start of the Pala-u-Waterfall was a short walk from the car park and with 15 tiers we figured it was going to be a long trek in, what was steadily becoming, a really hot and humid day. After an easy climb up a couple of levels we misunderstood the directions of a local and ended up climbing half way up a flipping mountain rather than just off-roading a bit to get to the next level. After 30 minutes, or more, of pulling ourselves up the steep terrain on tree roots I admit to having a total temper tantrum and refusing to go further leaving Chris to find the path to the summit. After another 5 minutes even he admitted defeat and we proceeded to make our way gingerly down to where we found the route we were supposed to take! Eventually we made it up to tier 7 of the 15 possible tiers where I fell in the water and we gave up, sat on a rock in my underwear to dry off and then slowly headed back down to the start. We both decided if in the area again we would like to try and get to the top as the view is supposed to be stunning, but next time we would get to the park earlier and definitely not try mountain climbing. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the larger local inhabitants, monkeys and elephants, although there was a lot of elephant poo. What we did see were thousands upon thousands of beautiful butterflies and in some places it was like standing in a cloud of fluttering delicate wings. When fluttering around became too tiring they were not shy about having a quick rest on you before delicately lifting off to go about their business – really lovely. The pools had huge numbers of carp in them and, although the water wasn’t that clear, some intrepid hikers were cooling off under the small water falls whilst the carp nibbled at them in search of a tasty bite to eat! They seemed to be enjoying it, but not my thing at all! Even though all the guide books say take your own food to the park, but we stopped off at the base of the waterfall and had a delicious bbq chicken and rice for just over £1, which replenished some of our depleted energy reserves.

We made a slight detour on the way back to Hua Hin to visit Wat Huay Mongkol, which houses the largest Buddha image of Luang Phor Tuad in Thailand and sees thousands of Buddhist pilgrims visiting to pay homage every weekend. It was the home of the monk who was famed for the miracles he performed. The site is not just a place of pilgrimage though, as we found out, it is also a place where people can just go and relax as it has a number of lakes, streams and waterfalls and a surprisingly peaceful vibe, despite the large numbers of chattering pilgrims. The huge Buddha image of Luang Phor Tuad, which was commissioned by Queen Sirikit of Thailand, sits on a pedestal and standing guard at the bottom of the steps leading up to the statue are two huge wooden carved elephants. Up close you can see how intricately and beautifully carved these elephants are, each with carvings of other elephants all over their huge bodies. Each of the elephants’ three heads was festooned with garlands and ribbons and pilgrims were walking under their huge bodies 9 times. As they were walking they were praying for things like happiness and good luck. A number were also rubbing the elephants’ genitals, which were very worn and shiny from the amount of rubbing they got, those pilgrims were praying for good luck in the baby-making department I imagine. Only the possibility of an international incident and incarceration in a Thai jail stopped Chris from partaking.

So Hua Hin turned out to be a surprise for me. It was much larger than I expected and more modern, but still with charm. Although I have felt safe everywhere I have been in Thailand, there is that extra safety factor due to the conspicuous police presence. Areas of the beach were much nicer than I had expected, the town had absolutely everything we could want and more and the 7 good local golf courses made it an interesting return prospect for Chris. I was very glad we stopped there to break up our journey and would definitely consider going back.

After just over a 2 hour minibus ride before we knew it we were back in Bankok and very happy indeed because of a free upgrade at the Royal President Hotel to a suite which was, quite frankly, larger than some of the villages we had visited. So, time to enjoy a comfy bed, and inclusive free breakfasts for a few days before heading into the unknown: Sri Lanka.

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