A week through southern Thailand
Schools were closed for half term so it was time to wrench the kids away from the wifi and get on the road. This was our first unplanned trip where we booked nothing and just rocked up from day to day at different places, stopping along the way if we spotted anything of interest. We headed south past Chumphon and took a right on the 4006 at Lang Suan, grateful to get off the notorious Petchkasem Road and the lunatics driving on it. Traversing the country and heading up into the hills our first stop was a little town called Phato where you can go rafting on the river.
Being wet season most places were closed or empty, the town was a nondescript collection of shops and nothing much was happening so we pressed on towards Ranong stopping at the raging torrent of Heo Lom waterfall on the way. I’d stayed in Ranong several times before so we headed for the hot spring area and stayed at Baan Rim Tarn, a family room at 750 baht per night, we were the only ones there though the hot spring area was crowded as usual with selfie snapping locals.
Next morning it was time to head south stopping at a much larger Phon Rung hot spring complex in the Ngao Waterfall National Park. I paid my 100 baht farang surcharge to get in and we spent the morning alternating from scalding hot baths to freezing cold streams. The tickets also got us into the waterfall itself a few clicks down the road so was pretty good value.
Next stop was Kapoe, another nondescript town on the road south. Just out of town we visited Baan Rai I Arun which touts itself online as a self-sustainable eco-farm with homestay accommodation. What it actually turned out to be was an expensive pit stop for hi-so Thais heading south from Bangkok or north from Phuket. There was an hour wait for food and the SUVs kept coming with the selfie snapping supermodel wannabes so we had a drink and hit the road again, destined for Bang Ben beach in the Laem Son National Park.
The idea was to stay in the park and take a boat out to the islands the following day. However the Travel God was against us this day as the only two resorts on the cape were run down and closed and the staff in the national park wouldn’t let us all stay in the same apartment claiming it was only for three adults. Refusing on principal to pay a thousand baht for a second apartment for a nine year old (the entire place was empty) we hit the road again heading south to Kuraburi as the afternoon drew on.
A quick search and phone call landed us at the quaint but a little run down Kuraburi Resort where we secured two riverside bungalows with a/c, fridge and hot water for 450 baht each and watched the sun do down over the Nang Yon river.
The next morning we headed inland to get on the river with the Tarn Morakot rafting outfit nestled in the jungle alongside a beautiful emerald green pool. The cost was 300 baht per head for an hour or so floating down the river on bamboo rafts which was great fun. On the way back they stopped at allegedly the only place in the world where the rare Thai water onion flower grows, loving tendered by the village elder.
From then it was south again to Takua Pa where we, well the kids, decided they wanted a pizza and Pokemon fix which meant staying the night in Khao Lak. I’d hoped to avoid anything uber touristy but it was only one night and I did furtively fancy the idea of floating around in a hotel pool and getting some farang food after living on khao man gai for the past 3 days.
A quick search on Agoda found us the Suwan Palm Resort on the beach with a pool at 1,600 baht for a family room. The only thing they didn’t tell us was that the place was a construction site, the beach bar they had was horrendously expensive (160 baht for a beer Chang), and the beach itself was littered with bottles (obviously no Trash Heroes here). Khao Lak has changed a lot since I last visited in 2005, vast rows of tourist shop houses now line the main road and overpriced restaurants and bars are plentiful, it is not a place to visit on a budget and a far cry from the sleepy hollow of Bangsaphan. It was surprisingly busy there though, many western couples and families, far more than you’d see in Hua Hin at this time of year.
After a night of relative luxury and a belly full of pizza we hit the road again, today’s destination Phang Nga bay. On the way we passed through a small town called Thai Meuang and took a right to see the beach. Why so many people go to Khao Lak is beyond me when just 20 kilometers south there are stunning empty beaches such as the one we found here. Our loose plan for the day was to get to the Samet Nang Chi viewpoint and camp there; however being low season with unpredictable weather we soon found out that this was not an option. We climbed to the viewpoint anyway for some fantastic vistas across Phang Nga bay and headed on towards the provincial capital where we would stay the night.
Phang Nga is a small Thai town, similar to Prachuap, with no frills. A quick search online found us two nicely appointed rooms in a Japanese style guesthouse called Phang Nga Cottage for 600 baht each. It was this night during our evening meal in town that the news broke of the death of Thailand’s King and the world’s longest serving monarch.
The next morning, feeling a little subdued, we turned north and drove on the back roads up to Khao Sok where we would stay the night. Khao Sok is a huge expanse of wilderness with some striking scenery, a little touristy town sits just before the official entrance to the park itself so we based there for the day and booked into the Morning Mist Resort with a river front a/c family room at 1,200 baht. For the afternoon’s activities we were back on the river, this time tubing down it. Rains lashed down but we were having so much fun it was barely noticeable, that was until the river started changing colour and picking up pace with all the additional runoff, it was time to get out and get dried before we ended up in Suratthani. Evening was spent on the balcony watching troops of monkeys playing on the far bank of the River Sok.
We’d been to Chiew Larn dam and lake before so drove east the next day back towards the highway and north to Lang Suan where we would catch a boat out to Koh Phituk and a homestay on the island. This place really is what they describe as “unseen”; Google searches throw up nothing and very few farangs have been to this island. It is primarily a Thai homestay destination where around 20 families offer out their homes, wooden affairs extended out into the sea, and kitchens for the night. The price is 600 baht per head which includes the boat ride, accommodation (a mat on the floor), and two meals, the kids were half price.
The family at the Kieng Ley Homestay was extremely hospitable and a relaxing afternoon was spent fishing and sinking a few cold ones watching the weather systems ebb and flow over the mainland. The next morning as the other visitors headed off back to Bangkok we had the place to ourselves and wandered around to take in the island life of the few families that call this place home. It is a million miles away from Khao Lak or Hua Hin in ambience and spirit and marked our sixth different place in as many days on the road.