Thailand – Drifting South

One of Thailands religious festivals has just ended, it cumulated with a night of fireworks that would make the UK's bonfire night a few weeks later look rather tame. It has a build up over a few weeks with school kids letting off bangers all over the place, it reminded me of my childhood when a "tuppny canon" would make your ears ring, shortly followed by the local bobby making them sting if he caught you. My friend had invited me to accompany him on a quest to find somewhere to live by the sea but I had put it off until after the firework night. I usually buy the local shop's biggest firework, if it doesn't sell, and this year I ended up with a 25 shot two inch mortar cluster about the size of a crisp box. For those of you not familiar, these are the ones that fire a missile up to about a hundred feet before it detonates. It sure was noisy but at £12 a bargain. Thai countryside The other thing that happens is people set off the "Chinese lanterns", they are a small hot air ballon that everyone who can gets a hand to the ballon to hold it and make a wish before letting it soar up into the night sky. I sat with the shopkeeper sharing a beer watching the people opposite lighting a lantern and all holding it prior to take off, "not good" my drinking companion said but before I could ask why it all became apparent as they let it go. For some reason they had not noticed that they were standing under the overhead power cables. The lantern had a very short journey before getting tangled in the wires and going up in flames, what followed would make a good Flanders and Swan song somewhat akin to "the gas man cometh"! The lantern caught the insulation on the wires alight before falling off to one side into a tree which, with this being the dry season, caught fire dropping burning leaves onto the thatched outhouse. Of course the garden hose wouldn't reach so a bucket chain was quickly formed and all extinguished. We returned from the bucket chain to finish our now warm beer and I asked "why have lanterns?" "Ah, lucky for life and further they go the more luck" the shopkeeper replied. Not much luck going to happen across the road I thought!

I left the next day to my friends house on the motorbike, it was a six hour ride but I was trying out my new sheep skin bum pad so hopefully not too uncomfortable. I arrived without the usual sweat rash induced by sitting on plastic in hot climes so the investment worked. After a brief planning session over a beer or two it was decided to "head South" or keep heading for the sun. Fishing haven We left at early o'clock and by lunchtime my navigation had got us lost on the outskirts of Bangkok! The driver mentioned "should we be passing the airport?" And I realised we'd, for it's a blameless society, had missed the outer ring road by a lot. The usual "U" turn options were not about so a hard left and an illegal "U" turn and at least we were facing the right way. I mentioned my previous "note to self" about not driving in Bangkok to the driver who agreed with me and added I was bad enough at navigating! After an hour we found the coast just south west of Bangkok where there are vast salt pans and bags of sea salt for sale on the side of the road. I have never managed to get close to the beach at this point but having studied it many times from an aircraft window and approached from the sea it appears to be muddy. Our plan was to follow the beach and see where it took us. We stopped the first night in Cha Am, this is the local weekend destination for people who live in Bangkok and I was staggered by the amount of umbrellas and recliners on the beach. We travelled for a couple of kilometers along the beach road and it was busy. I don't understand a populace that spends a fortune on creams and lotions to make themselves white, for they hold that attractive, who then spend a weekend on a beach. The town is close enough to Bangkok to still have all its western style bars with the hostesses as well as Thai eating houses. Very commercial and the hotel prices reflect this. I paid the same for a hotel room as I would have done in Bangkok. The only plus side for me was the option of a good full English breakfast before we set off again. The next place being Hua Hin and again very commercialised we just drove along the seafront and carried on.

Quiet fishing cove We soon found a proper unspoilt beach and stopped by a small fishing boat haven for a coffee break and a leg stretch. It was fabulously quiet with wooden boats being worked on next to us and a tranquil sea, oh I could wax lyrical about this. The beach went on for unspoilt miles although there were signs of development starting in various places but we found ourselves stopping more and more to take the glorious vista in. We came across a resort that had a private beach and was surrounded by a wall with access by a swipe card to keep some threat out although one only had to walk along the beach and you were in. I met a very nice Swedish man as I dodged the security and spent an interesting hour sat on his veranda on the beach side sharing tales of travelling, he let his two bedroom villa for £1600 a week which is a bit expensive for Thailand but there was a selection of decent swimming pools and it was quiet, very quiet.

Prachuap Khiri Khan showing temple Onwards and southwards we went and habitation got less and we ended our second day in Prachuap Khiri Khan. A beautiful place with a huge temple built atop a steep sided outcrop into the sea. Drying fish on racks were everywhere and it was only when we stepped out of the aircon of the car that the smell hit us but fortunately those senses get used to aromas like that and soon I didn't notice it. A decent aircon room with a usable swimming pool for half what I had paid the night before and as much free coffee or tea as I could drink in the morning, sorted! We sat on the balcony of a first floor restaurant looking over the bay illuminated by a full moon that night and were much amused by one of the local stray dogs that we watched trotting down the sea wall only to stop opposite us and howl seriously at the moon for a couple of minutes before seeming to have got it out of his system he trotted on.

Thailand is at its narrowest here with the distance from the sea to the Myanmar(Burma) border less that 12 miles so the next morning a small detour to the border was taken a disappointing border crossing but at least it was obvious what it was, unlike the ones up north on the Lao border that had caught me out. Back to the beach and it was more and more uninhabited causing more stops to take it all in with rugged rock formations just inland it reminded me of Krabi without the tourism. We stopped for lunch on a small headland with a temple blaring out too loud music for some reason. Dream beach south The music was turned down and I feasted on local caught squid barbecued with a fried rice and my feet cooling in the sea, fabulous. Having finished eating I walked/climbed to the outer bit of the headland and was surprised to see a huge new port with large ships being unloaded just round the corner, but no pollution on the beach. Suddenly the beaches got more tropical looking with palm trees and white sand that hurt to look at it was so bright. We pulled into a resort right on the beach and asked the price which was the most expensive yet " ah but we have a French chef" was the reason given. Ok we try next door, it was half the price with an ordinary Thai cook who knew how to make a stunning Pad Thai noodle dish, and the same beach!

We travelled no more than ten miles the next day before we stumbled on the best beach I have seen in ages. It was empty except for the odd little beach bar and cafes. Stopping for a cold drink we met a Belgian guy who lived local and asked if there where any places for my friend to rent. Three hours later my friend had his dream villa across the quiet road from the beach for £160 a month ,yes that's right a month,on a ten year contract, perfect. It was so perfect we just chillaxed for the next few days. If you see the pictures you will understand why.

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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