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Published: September 14th 2014
The breakfast included in the night rate at Nantra Hua Hin Hotel was best described as basic but toast and fruit was enough to prepare us for the long days riding ahead.
We'd already seen enough of Hua Hin to want to get away and Lonely Planet suggested that things would improve if we headed south. Armed with a 8cm x 20cm map of a 250km area we headed down the road with absolutely no idea where we were going. We'd only gone five kilometres before my bike required a refill - the tank was tiny (less than two litres) and this would be the first of several refills throughout the day. Our "service station" came in the form of a motorbike repair shop that was selling petrol out of old glass coke bottles at a rate only a few baht higher than the pumps at the real gas stations.
We travelled a further few kilometres south, unable to hug the coastline as the chain hotels hogged all the good stuff. We were well out of Hua Hin before I saw an opportunity to see some sand down the end of an alleyway. A beachside cafe at Khao Takiab
was just opening up and I figured cold coconut would be the appropriate drink to enjoy while taking in the scenery. This was the first bit of coastline that we had scene on the trip and the change of pace from the hustle of Bangkok and the culture-seeking in Ayuthaya and Kanchanaburi was not at all unwelcome.
Further south we came across Khao Tao, a long strip of white sand with a golden buddha watching over from a hill at the southern end. An older couple were towelling off nearby but aside from them the beach was empty. Fishing boats moored just off the beach appearing almost stranded at low tide.
Our next stop was not on the map but a sign to Hat Sai Noi intrigued me and once again Jo and I rode off the main road and down a single lane street to the waterfront. Hat Sai Noi is a small bay on the southern end of Khao Tao, it's nothern end accented by the golden buddha we had seen from Khao Tao. At no more than a few hundred metres long, the bay curved around to another hill at the south. A cafe /
bar that looked like it had been built several decades before I'm sure it actually was provided our liquid refreshments. The home-made beer was tempting but probably unhealthy so a coke sufficed. We sat at a concrete table that needed some structural attention and checked out the rustic loungers that had been placed on the sand in the hope that someone might show up. The spot was magic and again we shared it with almost no-one. This was the coastline I had been hoping for but had been unable to find back in Hua Hin.
Our poor map caused us to take all sorts of wrong turns but, using the sun as a guide, we were able to figure out that we were still heading south despite having to return to the main road - a few kilometres inland from the coast.
We finally found a sign in English directing us to Pranburi Forest Park and followed it for several kilometres past brand new highrise apartments that stood empty... It is surely only be a few years before the coast south of Hua Hin is swallowed up by the city. Pranburi Forest Park was nothing but a carpark
and a few trees... possible a new unfinished product or more likely an attempt to make a tourist destination out of a lousy piece of coast by deeming it to be a park.
We came across the town of Pranburi by mistake... a few turns here and there with no real idea of our destination led us in to town. Our timing was spot on as just a few kilometres short of the town limits, a vibration from the front of my bike signalled a puncture. We took it easy and stopped at the first mechanics we found. The tyre repair was set upon immediately by the friendly mechanics and the charge of THB120 (NZD5) seemed reasonable. We rode north initially but on finding nowhere worth stopping for our lunch we headed back to the south, eventually finding a restaurant just off the beach a few kilometres south of Pranburi.
Khao Kalok was another beach we found that was more good luck than good management. Although fairly unspectacular when compared to the beaches we had seen earlier in the day, the coffee at the only cafe on the beach was as good as I've had anywhere. We enjoyed
a chat with an older British couple from the midlands who had upped and left with dreams of sunny days, beaches and warmth. We were sharing their dream albeit briefly. They ran a small number of rental properties around the coast south of Hua Hin and were doing well enough out of them to be able to afford lazy days at the cafe.
We were given directions to Dolphin Bay and promptly found them to be missing a turn or two although we eventually found the better known of the coastal spots in the area. While there were no high rises, the coastline was lined with hotels and resorts with infinity pools and bars. The notable difference was that, like in NZ, the beach and hotels were separated by the road so everyone could get a view. Dolphin Bay was not the prettiest beach either but good marketing had clearly made it the place to be. We filled up with petrol from a roadside stall where the bottles clearly were not the full litre. My two litre tank took almost four bottles. We had little choice as we were had no idea where we would find the next gas
We were within 20 kilometres of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and decided to continue southbound. A sign to Kaeo Cave perked my interest and we pulled in to yet another empty carpark about ten minutes later. Tickets were THB$200 (NZD8) but covered entry to all of the National Park. A small stall next to the entry rented head mounted lamps at THB50. I asked for one and was told that as there were two of us, we should take two. Sensing another rip-off I declined... a mistake. The nearby sign stated the cave entry was 130 metres away but the shouts of the ticket seller as we were no more than 20 metres away alerted us to the fact that that distance was up the limestone cliff - not along the flat path.
The climb in what must have been 30 degrees and 90% humidity was sapping. Some of it was downright dangerous as Jo and I gripped ropes, rocks and roots to help us haul ourselves almost straight up. To make matters worse, we missed a sign to turn off and found the exit just as an American came back out into the light.
"Howd'ya end up here?" he quizzed.
We had no answer and followed him back down 20 metres to where the path split off. On the way he told us of bats, complete darkness and difficult terrain. It seems we had our work cut out for us.
The cave was a hell of a challenge - even more so because I was too cheap to fork out less than NZD2 for another headlamp. After an initial drop of around ten metres we had to use tiny arrows placed at random distances in random places within the cave to stay on track. In fact, track is probably not the right word... with the exception of a few rusty ladders and stairs at the most dangerous parts, the cave was pretty much unchanged for visitors. Anywhere else in the world this would never have been opened to the public.
I loved it.
We climbed, dropped, stretched and clinged our way through. At one point we couldn't find the next arrow and I got a little claustrophobic but the challenge of just getting through was there and both Jo and I grasped it. I lost all track of time
but I suspect we were down under the mountain for around an hour. A second torch would have halved that time but we only had one to work with so we swapped places, one of us lighting the way for the other having negotiated the next obstacle on our own. We emerged with dirt and dust almost turning to liquid as it combined with our sweaty clothes.
The climb down the mountain was not too bad but we were shattered as we got on our bikes and found a shop. I downed two ice teas before the third one started hitting the sides. The female shopkeeper and an older bloke who was hanging around had a chuckle as these less than pretty sights showed up half dead and drank their way through the fridge. The bloke pointed me to a river where I applied water to my head rather liberally.
On the road south we came across a ragged looking troop of monkeys by the side of the road and amused ourselves by riding past a few times, snapping photos before arriving at the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park Information Centre just after 1600 to find only
a sign stating that it was open until 1700. The windows were closed and the doors were locked; our bikes in the carpark were the only sign of any life at all.
We had no idea how far south of Hua Hin we were and with the clouds beginning to look threatening we found our way back to the main road and headed north. When we were southbound, as we had been for all of the day, we made an effort to stick on the B roads but now we were on the main road we were competing for space with container trucks, cars, tuktuks, mobile food stalls and other motorbikes riding the wrong way up the two lane road. I was really enjoying myself and we were both managing to keep a steady 70 - 80 kilometres per hour.
At 38 kilometres south of Hua Hin the clouds opened up... properly. This was real tropical storm stuff, the raindrops were actually painful as we rode into them. We found shelter outside a house where we hoped to stay until the rain passed over and were soon joined by lady and her young son. I made hand gestures
to ask how long it may take to pass through and was told ten minutes. 20 minutes later they gave up waiting and left Jo and I sitting patiently.
20 minutes later it was obvious that the rain was not going to go away so we packed the camera and other valuables under the seats of the bike and headed off. We were soaked through within 30 seconds. Water sprayed up from passing trucks and the impending darkness made it difficult to see where the puddles were and what the road surface was like... one pothole and either of us could have been goners. My visor fogged up a few minutes later then my glasses followed suit. My head was bent forward to avoid the rain stinging my unprotected mouth and neck and I sat my glasses low on my nose, looking forward through the few millimetres gap between the visor and the glasses. I had to keep checking my mirrors to ensure that Jo hadn't disappeared down a pothole but she was putting in a mammoth effort to stay close to me.
It was almost dark, I was wet through, there was no sign of
any improvement. I must have looked completely crazy with a maniacal grin from ear to ear - this was fun!
We finally got a break in the weather ten kilometres south of Hua Hin where we stopped at a night market. My shoes sank into the mud and were twice as heavy with litres of water in them but we walked through anyway buying snacks on the way.
Once back in Hua Hin where, by all accounts, it had been a perfectly dry day. We splashed out on a fish spa/massage (where hundreds of tiny fish nibble away at dead skin on your feet and finished the night at Hua Hin Brewing Co. the only craft brewery I had seen in Thailand to date. Jo had the Sabai Sabai Wheat Ale and I had a pint of Elephant Tusk Ale with a small sampler of Dancing Monkey Lager. All were pretty good, if not a little sweet.
We were almost dry by the time we got back to the hotel and out for the count within a few minutes of opening the door to our room.
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