THAILAND

A FEW YEARS AGO WE RENTED A CAR AND SPENT ONE MONTH DRIVING FROM BANGKOK SOUTH TO TRANG AND WEST TO KANCHANABURI- IT’S NICE TO BE BACK!

 DECEMBER 2007– BORDER CROSSING DETAILS.

We have been told that the Thai border staff do not stamp your carnet as a matter of course but we presented ours anyway and they happily stamped it. Just past the immigration area on your left you will see the insurance office- a 3 month 3rd party policy costs £9.84. Also worth a visit is the duty free shop where you can buy some decent wine at almost half price. We had planned on spending our first few nights in Songkhla—but after being told that the locals have renamed it ‘boom town’ due to the bombings– we decided to stick to the west coast and spent our first 2 nights in Pak Bara.  Ko Tarutao National Park is reputed to hold 25% of the worlds tropical fish so we left Nessie parked up at the Bara Resort and, against our better judgement, took the ferry over to Ko Lipe. Just to explain– the last time we were in Thailand we went on a live aboard dive boat for a 4 day trip to the Ko Similan Islands. Less than 24 hours after leaving shore Rose almost drowned and we had to negotiate a seat on a high speed boat (who’s skipper seemed to be on an amphetamine high) back to the main land.

We swore NEVER to do a boat trip again in Thailand! So here we are on a ferry that is meant to take 2 and a half hours but in actual fact took 5 on the way out and 4 hours on the return trip including the skipper asking all the passengers to sit on one side as the boat was listing so badly and a breakdown!!! Will we ever learn?? The snorkelling was great but the journey takes so long you have to spend a minimum of 2 nights on the island– it cost £100 for the trip and to be totally honest– we enjoyed it but it wasn’t worth it.

We drove to Kantang and followed the coastal road north. From Hat Yong Ling to Hat Pak Meng  is bush camp country with lots of choices for your perfect beach spot overlooking the islands. We only spent one night here as we were forced to leave in search of a supermarket and it was just after the Amari Trang Resort that we discovered the bridge was being repaired. We reckoned we would fit under the diversion route so Rose jumped out to guide me under the bamboo poles which at first seemed to be high enough, the only problem was that the further we drove along the bridge the lower they became. In the end we let the rear tyres down and removed the solar panel in the vain hope we would fit under the last 3 poles– no luck. We had to reverse all the way back again and follow the detour.

ARRIVAL DATE: 3rd DECEMBER  2007

EXCHANGE RATES:

61 Baht= £1.00

$2.01= £1.00

CAR

INSURANCE

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ISLAND

TRIP

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BUSH

CAMP

HEAVEN

ROBBERS

&

SHOT GUNS

on

KO LANTA

IMPORT

NOTES

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CUSTOM

PROBLEMS

TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF VERY CLOSE SHAVES!!!

    PAK MENG VIEWS                     &            CAMPING AREA in KRABI

        LA YAN in PHUKET           

          XMAS in KHAO LAK

On Boxing day we decide to move again and take the beautiful drive along the southern boundary of Khao Sok N.P. It would have been very easy to have spent a couple of nights near the park entrance but time’s moving on and so must we. We stopped at Praphaphiram Dam for lunch before hitting the east coast and driving the horrid stretch between Pak Nam and Chumphon. We couldn’t find anywhere that was half decent to stay and in the end had to pull our last card– we asked at a monastery if we could stay. The monks were genuinely delighted to see us and even appeared with a video camera to capture the moment! Dave asked a monk if he could take a photo to which the monk said no and ran off– it was just as we began to wonder it we had caused offence that our monk reappeared resplendent in new robes and very happy to pose for us! We stick to the highway until we get to our turn for Hat Bang Burd, which was not easy find but worth the effort. It’s a beautiful bay with a fishing village, a handful of guest houses and the Krua Khanthong sea food restaurant owned by Mr Arame who is happy for overlanders to park next to his place overlooking the beach. If you want a room he has a couple at only 300bht a night– bargain. We stopped for lunch and could easily have spent a week here just chilling but force ourselves to keep moving north –we end up on the beach at Hat Ban Krud just a few kilometres north. The next morning we drive up to the gorgeous temple and Buddha that sit on top of the hill overlooking the beaches. Well worth a visit. Again we try to follow the coast line as closely as possible and decide to visit the military camp at Ao Manao beach. It’s  a Thai oddity– if there’s a military base on a beach they open it up to tourists, it’s only after you drive through the main gate you see signs suggesting that not all is as you expected. There is a camp ground but we would not recommend it– it’s better to pop in to visit the langurs at the historical site, take a swim in the waters near the golf club, then drive out and find a spot on the beaches nearby to sleep. We stop in Hua Hin to shop at Tesco’s before settling down for the night on a powdery beach near Hat Chao Samran where it seems that all the wealthy Bangkok residents have their beach villas.

We leave our friends and drive toward Phuket searching the coast line for camping opportunities– there were none so we pushed onto Phuket and another beach bush camp experience on Nai Yang beach. We had a safe and quiet night there but were looking for somewhere special for our friends to spend Xmas, so the next day we left and found La Yan beach– perfect. Katha island is off shore and you can walk there at low tide, the water is crystal clear, there are no pubs or clubs nearby and you can watch the longboats head out each day to fish. We woke early the next day to see a monk walking over to the island where they have some accommodation– he appeared to be walking on water as the sea was only just covering the sand. Our friends join us for a couple of nights before we leave them and drive further south. We discover a few beach camp potentials and spend a couple of more nights on the island before stumbling upon another superb beach just before we cross the bridge to the mainland. Hat Mai Khao. We were seriously tempted to stay there for Xmas but that would mean a 3 night stop in one place and we’ve learnt  that 3 consecutive nights in one place makes you a target– so we move on. We are trying to push ourselves north for New Year as we only have 3 months in Thailand and have spent one whole month just revisiting old sights! We met Klaus and Erika Darr, fellow overlanders who kindly invited us to join them for Xmas, but we are determined to spend Xmas on a beach, not in a guest house, we thank them and leave trying to find a good spot near Khao Lak. There were a couple near the tourist area but a large stage was being assembled for the Tsunami anniversary service, so we drove a few km’s north and spent Xmas on a very quiet beach. We had a huge bottle of red wine, 4 fillet steaks, 2 Xmas pies and a couple of water buffalo for company– superb!

MERRY

CHRISTMAS

EVERYONE

  MONK and friend near CHUMPHON                       BAN KRUD BUDDHA                             LANGUR  at  AO NOI  air force base

THAI

AIR FORCE

BASE

The following day we visit the temples of Phetchaburi– a town packed full of temples, wrapped up in a awful one way system. It seems like only yesterday since we were here last but we wanted to revisit as we lost all our previous photo’s when our camera got stolen in Bangkok. We continue north stopping to visit the floating market at Amphawa for lunch before arriving in Kanchanaburi by early afternoon and settling in for New Year.

SURPRISE

We decided to drive up to the Myanmar border at the Three Pagoda Pass which took us past some lovely scenery of pampas grass fields, floating villages and tribal areas. Sangkhlaburi was a particularly pleasant tiny town with a great choice of places to stay and what is rumoured to be the longest hand-built wooden bridge in the world– relax and watch everyday life of Karen and Mon tribal residents. Our auxiliary battery has gone ‘belly up’ so we head back toward Kanchanaburi after spending the night in beautiful landscaped gardens near Thong Pha Phum, we considered sneaking a bush camp down by the river here– thank god we decided to find some-one to ask– as the gardens are owned by the Chief of Police!!!

TOP TIP– Visit Hellfire Pass– this is where the POW’s built the famous railway line linking Thailand to Burma (take a water bottle and mossie spray) then stop off at Tham Krasae to watch the train pass over the trestle bridges by the river approx. 11.30 am.

              FLOATING MARKET at AMPHAWA                                                          YOUNG STUDENT MONKS in PHETCHABURI

        THREE PAGODA PASS for MYANMAR                                                                    BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI

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The following day we drove to Nakhon Pathom– the home of Thailand’s most revered chedi which stands at 120 metres in height, before continuing north to Ayutthaya- a beautiful ancient town strewn with temples and moats. With so many temples in town it becomes a bit of a problem trying  to decide which ones to visit– but there is one ‘must visit’- Wat Yai Chai Mongkol. Beautiful. Rose is able to drive for the first time in almost 6 months– Yahoo- I celebrate by instantly falling asleep in the passenger seat! The plan is to drive to Khlong Lan N.P and cut straight through to Umphang. Unfortunately we arrive at the park to be told the government have shut the road permanently and we have to take the long way round– that’s a 200 mile detour! BUGGER. We are allowed to camp for free at the  park entrance and get to Umphang the next day after driving the ‘Sky Highway’- a road that has over 1,200 bends, 2 ridge top sections and you never get higher than 3rd gear! Now that’s a drive!! Umphang is a tiny isolated village where almost no-one speaks English– word gets out that  we are in town and a local appears who speaks English– he is absolutely dumbfounded that we are here and claims the village has NEVER had an overlander before. It’s nice to be a first.The next day we set off to Thi Lor Su falls which are a further 90 minute drive and situated in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary—so it’s 200thb per person and 30thb for the car outrageously expensive and ten times the price that locals pay– it’s like being in India. It’s a hell of a drive down a dirt track that is only open for 5 months of the year and we began to wonder if it’s going to be worth it. These falls are the largest in Thailand and some of the biggest in the world. Absolutely gorgeous.

TOP TIP– The camping area here is very busy and noisy with Thai tourists- visit the falls then drive back to the half way ranger station to camp for the night. And watch out for snakes– Dave had to pull me out of the way as one tried to drop onto me from some bamboo!

A

HUGE

DETOUR

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol AYUTTHAYA

Back on the roller coaster road, past a refugee village and with a visit to Highland Farm Gibbon Sanctuary- a great place to see gibbons up close but full of heart breaking stories of their previous lives– before arriving at Mae Sot  and setting up camp in the gardens of Ban Thai guest house where we finally find wi fi to download our webpage.

     THI LOR SU FALLS

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Onto Ko Lanta and a superb beach camp island experience. Two short ferry rides take you over to the island but be sure to stock up with food first as the local supermarket is VERY overpriced. See our camp page for details of beach camp sites.We spent our first night on a quiet beach surrounded by palm trees, watching huge lanterns being set aloft from the beaches further up the coast with a large G&T in our hands. BLISS.The following day we set off to explore the beaches to the south and struck gold with the last beach on the island– it was an absolute paradise– white sand, crystal clear water and very quiet. As with most beaches in Thailand it is a working beach, locals come down to fish, hunt in the surrounding jungle with a catapult or set up bird catching nets at night– everyone was extremely friendly yet unobtrusive but no-one spoke English.On our 2nd night there a group of locals appeared in a Toyota hilux with the aim of stealing sand and within 20 foot they were up to their wheel arches and stuck fast– oh dear. A quick phone call and a 4x4 mitsubishi appeared to help, Dave gave them our tow rope and was trying to explain with hand signals where they were going wrong when the ‘rescue’ car ended up axle deep– it was going to be a long night and we had more sense than to drive nessie over there! Everyone was in a big panic as what they were doing was obviously illegal and no-one wanted to put lights on in case they were seen. It took over 2 hours of digging in the dark to get the cars free- they won’t be trying that again! It was on our 4th night that our luck ran out. We had met a lovely german couple who have shipped from Korea after driving through Russia and are now on the island in rented accommodation 2km’s from our beach– they had just left after spending the afternoon having coffee and cake with us when they passed 3 men on the road. Dave was having a sea soap wash and I was with Nessie. Instantly Dave got a bad feeling about the way they walked toward the beach, normally I don’t acknowledge men if Dave is not within sight but I thought these guys were dodgy and wanted to gauge their response so I said hello– they wouldn’t make eye contact. They were trying to look like normal locals working the beach but gut instinct told us better and we got nessie ready to leave. Sure enough as dusk fell we saw shadows watching us from the  undergrowth– time to go. We drove to our friends place and spent the evening with them thinking we were hearing shots down by the beach but explaining it as ‘bangers’ - it wasn’t until later that night that the owner of the rooms appeared with a pump action shot gun– he had been firing shots into the air to warn off the bad people that have arrived on the island!! Next day we say goodbye to our friends and drive to Krabi to meet up with Frank and Sue– we haven’t really camped with them since coming back from Sarawak so we join them on a quiet field behind the massage huts on the beach in Krabi and spend a couple of nights catching up. Rose went to Gita in hut number 7 who worked wonders on her back after a couple of massages. We checked our emails only to discover that a fellow overlander has sent us a warning note about Thai customs. Apparently you should be given an import note that is valid for 30 days, free and can be re-issued from any customs office. We find Krabi customs and enquire about the need for this form– we are reassured that because we have had our carnet stamped we should have no problems on exiting the country. We’ll see. Last time we were in Thailand we visited Nakhon Si Thammarat– a lovely town with superb temples, but we just don’t have the time to go again which is a great shame as the beaches on the east coast are lovely and much less touristy.

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