In a way, the six days we spent on the island of Koh Tao felt like six weeks. Some daily events became a ritual and we were sad at the thought of leaving. However, the rest of Thailand was waiting!
Initially, the idea was to catch an early ferry and take a northbound train, hopefully reaching Damnoen Suduak by evening. An early morning visit to the well known floating market there followed by a journey by train towards Kanchanaburi seemed like a good plan. Sadly there was no way to get onto the last northerly train on time after disembarking the ferry from Tao. We thus opted to book a joint ticket to Hua Hin, travelling by “VIP Bus”. At first, we figured that the front row seats were great (added legroom etc) but soon discovered the horror of being able to see the road ahead from the drivers perspective. A proverbial gauntlet as obstacles appeared from all sides. Scooters loaded with Thai families happily hogged both sides of the narrow road all the while other buses and trucks competed for the little tarmac spread out between potholes. Our driver seemed particularly adventurous as he overtook on blind hills and sent children and all types of animals scurrying.
Apparently decades ago Hua Hin became a popular destination for affluent Thais due to its close proximity to Bangkok. (Even the royal family still has a summer palace there). Big hotels and resorts line the beautiful 15km beach (the main attraction) and potbellied American retirees are everywhere. It was immediately apparent how different the average visitor to Hua Hin was compared to Koh Tao. Where in Toa the average age was probably 22, in Hua Hin, it was closer to 55!
On the pier at our guesthouse in Hua Hin
First thing was to find a place to stay. We decided to scope out the area on foot and if we found something nice perhaps we would stick around for an extra day. In the end, Hua Hin provided us with accommodation in the most spectacular setting of our trip – unfortunately, it was also the dodgiest of the trip! The place we stayed at started its life as a proper wooden pier. It stretches from the street out into the ocean with waves lapping underneath. Someone thought it would be a great idea to convert the pier into a ‘guesthouse’. The nice part was the amazing view from each window and the soothing sound of the water washing underneath. However, the place was very old and severely dilapidated. Still – it was well located and cheap. Seriously cheap!
Hua Hin proved a bit of an enigma. A proper holiday destination in every sense with beautiful beaches, large hotels, outdoor restaurants and western coffee shops abound. But not a single backpacker in sight! The night market close by was great and we sampled loads of weird and wonderful Thai delicacies while perusing the extensive array of name-brand knockoff merchandise. Lisa found it hard to contain her urge to do some serious shopping! Unfortunately (for her) our deal was NO shopping until we hit Bangkok. As a consolation, I pledged to give her free reign once there. This was one deal which was sure to come back with a vengeance!
Apparently there was a temple (Khao Takiap) at the bottom end of the stretched out beach with a giant Buddha and roaming monkeys. It sounded interesting and we decide to walk the length of the beach there. Once again we managed to overestimate our abilities and underestimate the challenge! Our walk turned out to be a 12km marathon in the blistering sun with NO monkeys and just another temple. At least we found some cold beer close by! Still, the views were spectacular from the mountain temple and the return journey by taxi bus gave us some well-needed rest.
As great as taking a train seems in concept, the reality is that it always takes more time than what you might imagine. We got an early start the next morning and made our way to the historic Hua Hin train station at 5 am. Our train was due to depart for Nakhon Pathom around six and would take a couple of hours to get there. However, rather than jumping straight onto the connecting line towards Kanchanaburi, we decided on spending some time exploring the local sights at Nakhon Pathom.
On coming toward the city, the first glimpse of the towering Phra Pathom Chedi is overpowering. It’s one of the largest pagodas in the world and by far the holiest of all Buddhist structures in Thailand. The original pagoda was constructed more than 2,000 years ago in the ‘stupa’ design of an upside-down bowl shape and really is quite a sight. At the four corner points in the outer courtyard are four halls containing images of Buddha in various postures. It also contains a fairly large gold sleeping Buddha statue.
Language proved to be a huge hurdle in Nakhon Pathom as we made our way around the area trying to find transport to the Sampran Elephant Grounds and Zoo. Our rescue came in the form of a public bus driven by a scrawny chap and conducted by an iron-fisted but gentle-looking Thai lady. The 12km’s to the zoo took more than an hour and proved arduous to the extreme. For some reason, the bus stopped wherever, whenever it wanted and we made spectacular slow progress.
Not knowing exactly how the rest of our trip would progress we decided to take everything as it comes and try to experience whatever comes across our path. The Elephant Park was famous for its re-enactment of ancient war battles in which elephants played a large part. This, however, was not to be as our advance planning failed us miserably this time around. The next show was only due to start in another couple of hours and waiting for it would mean missing our train to Kanchanaburi. Disappointingly we had no choice but to leave without seeing the show. A consolation prize came in the form of a bunch of friendly elephants asking for bananas. There were also some budding elephant artists producing interesting ‘elephant art’.