Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ban Krut

Ban Krut was recommended to us by two separate Thai people, so we felt it was probably worth checking out. It also happened to be a couple of stops further down the train line and turned out to be a relaxed little beach town full of resorts, seafood restaurants and beach bars. Most importantly, it had a 7/11 and a pancake man.

It was here that we happened upon a delightful new snack, green tea flavoured Sponge Crunch - which turned out to be very tasty little crunchy sponge rings. They also come in chocolate and strawberry flavour, but the chocolate wasn't up to much and who likes strawberry flavoured anything?

We spent a week in Ban Krut. There's not a lot happening in the area - local attractions include a temple on a hill, a big gold Buddha on a hill, a cave full of buddhas, a couple more temples, the beach and some very pretty scenery. However, there is a lot of seafood to be eaten and we did our best, falling into a daily routine of swimming, bike rides, tasty food and hiding from the midday sun. The beach was lovely with nice sand, gentle waves and incredibly warm water.

We went up the hill to see the Buddha - the resort had free bikes which were single gear and often in quite a state - you'd be lucky to get one brake, let alone two, so while going up the hill was hard work, coming back down again was plain scary (also, very squeaky). However, it was worth the trip - the Buddha statue was very impressive and we got some lovely sunset views over the surrounding mountains and coconut plantations.

Coconuts and mountains

Big gold Buddha

Another ride took us south along the coast towards Bang Saphan and then inland through some beautiful countryside - we saw cows, fields, coconut trees and also found some baby pineapples.


Dgym marvels at a pina colada plantation

I really wish I had a better picture of this - this guy rode past us carrying two enormous long poles, each several metres long. We were busy being impressed by that when his passenger came into view. You see that on the back of the motorbike? That's a monkey.

Monkey on a motorbike

More pictures from Ban Krut:

Beach bar

Temple lit up at night

Beach swings

Stormy day

Squid snacks


Cow and bird

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Prachuap Khiri Khan

We previously spent a week in Prachuap before went to Vietnam - seeing as we were headed back that way and it was so lovely the first time round, we couldn't resist stopping in for another few days. Unfortunately we had hit the start of the long weekend for Makha Bucha day, a Buddhist festival. Being a nice bit of coast a few hours' drive from Bangkok, long weekends transform this area from a sleepy seaside town into party central and all the hotels fill up.

After a long hot sweaty walk around town we had no room, and realised we probably should have pre-booked. I sat on the sea wall to use the wifi of a hotel we'd previously stayed in and search some booking sites, while Dgym headed to the bike shop to try and rent a scooter to look further afield.

It turned out the bike shop owner had a contact with a spare room in a cheap guesthouse near the station so we reconvened and were tuktuked over there. The guesthouse turned out to be a small cottage with kitchen and living areas, owned by a German-Thai couple who had lived in Germany for 40 years and then moved back - neither spoke much English so we found ourselves thoroughly confused by trying to recall scraps of German while also trying to use and expand our Thai vocabulary.

Still, we enjoyed spending another three days in Prachuap - despite being kept up at night by trains, dogs and on the last morning woken by some kind of heavy duty blender being operated on the other side of the wall from our heads at 8am! The pier and temples were all lit up, the seafront was full of people and there were sand sculptures and a fire spinner on the beach. There was also an interesting looking market on the seafront but it turned out to be mostly wooden furniture and plants, neither of which we are looking to take home as souvenirs.

We spent most of our time in the Ao Manao area, which is where Dgym was bitten last time we stayed. We revisited the monkey area (with Dgym keeping a healthy distance from the offending furballs) and "walked" up Khao Lommuak, a 275m high hill on the headland between the Prachuap and Manao bays.

There is a reason for the quote marks around the word walked. The path up the hill started out as steps. They were quite steep and we found ourselves quite hot and sweaty after no time at all. The steps stopped about two thirds of the way up and the route continued as a roped rocky path. No worries,we were wearing reasonable shoes and can handle a bit of rough terrain!

It got steeper and more technical as the "path" continued up. The rope was strong and well secured but there came a point when we realised that we were going up pretty much vertically and in any sane situation we'd be double roped and wearing helmets, climbing shoes and harnesses. That and other things like we probably should have set out with more water and also it was going to be even more interesting getting back down. Fortunately we both did a few sessions of indoor climbing a few years ago so obviously knew exactly what we were doing.

Well, we made it to the top. There was a little pagoda and some smashing views over the local bays. There were some little oranges on the pagoda which would have made an ideal hilltop snack, but they'd been offered up to the Buddha and it probably would have been bad karma to eat them.

We made it back down again, with some abseiling and careful use of footholds - Dgym's legs were trembling by the time we reached the bottom, at almost exactly the same spot where he'd fainted a couple of weeks previously! Can't take him anywhere... well, at least not there apparently.

Apart from that, our two beach days were pretty relaxing. Ao Manao is really a very lovely beach - the water is warm, the waves are gentle and it is owned and controlled by the Air Force, meaning it's kept nice and clean and also is unlikely to get overdeveloped. The northern end has pretty little pink seashells and tiny digging crabs:

North end of Ao Manao

Digging crab

Also, feet-sized seashells

At the southern end there are plenty of deckchairs, umbrellas and little restaurants serving delicious seafood.

Check out those suckers!

The Air Force run some kind of activity sessions for teenagers at weekends which seem very popular - we saw hundreds of kids running back and forth along the beach and playing silly games like bottom shuffling races down to the sea, everybody lying end to end, and getting spun around several times then seeing if you can still run in a straight line.

End to end
Ao Manao is a couple of miles out of Prachuap. We really enjoyed the town itself which has some lovely sunrises and sunsets:

Sunrise over islands in Prachuap Bay

Sunset from Wat Thammikaram (Monkey Mountain)

It also has two populations of monkeys - the nice monkeys, one of which bit Dgym, and the mean monkeys, who didn't actually do anything wrong.

"Nice" monkey

Guilty looking "mean" monkey
Prachuap also has morning and evening markets, some great restaurants, bicycle rental and some pretty cheap hotels. It is very popular with Thais on long weekends and otherwise has a low level of non-Thai tourism A lot of the restaurants have a translated menu and there's even a couple of pizza places but most visitors seemed to be there to have a quiet time and appreciate the place for what it is. We'd definitely recommend it if you want to go somewhere genuinely Thai, eat nice Thai food and relax for a while!

We first heard about Prachuap just before we left the UK, my dad sent me a Guardian article about Thai beach hotels - so thanks Dad!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Pak Nam Pran

We're back in Thailand now. Whereas Vietnamese food is very nice and the coffee's way better, Thai food still wins hands down, and that includes the awesome snacks. One of the first things we did on our return to Bangkok was to hit 7/11, where I found an appropriately-named (and also very tasty) snack for Dgym:

It's true.
(His injections have all gone well, one more to go and he hasn't started foaming at the mouth yet).

We have spent the past couple of weeks train-hopping our way south to explore the Gulf coast some more - before we headed out to Vietnam we'd spent a very enjoyable week in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a pleasant and sleepy little seaside town, and we decided to explore that stretch of coast some more.

Riding 4th class

Our first stop was Hua Hin - we arrived about 8pm, our train having been due in at 5 (not at all unusual with Thai trains) and after wandering around and finding a hotel we made a snap judgement that this wasn't our kind of place.

A little hasty perhaps but expat bars and burger joints everywhere isn't a good sign for us - not to mention very few Thai people in sight - and wherever Thai people go, good Thai food is never far behind! So we weren't too keen to hang around and made a "swift" exit next morning by means of sitting around for a couple of hours waiting for the next train to show up.

We got off at Pran Buri, a small quiet town which was actually too quiet and so untouristy we actually had to use hand gestures to get a drink from a street stall - which is fine, we're gradually learning Thai at a rate of about one word per day, but we saw no sign of anywhere to stay... so we found a taxi to take us to Pak Nam Pran, a nearby seaside town which we'd previously noted on the map and looked as if it may have some potential.

Pak Nam Pran turned out to be to be the dried squid capital of Thailand, with racks and racks of flattened squid drying in the sun all the way along the seafront. The smell was quite something - I was quite delighted to see so many squid in one place, although Dgym was less impressed.


Dried squid on a string makes a lovely decoration and won't add much to our baggage weight, so our friends and family will be delighted to learn we are bringing one home for everybody!

Squid shop

The town centre lacked our kind of cheap & comfortable hotel so we ended up in a resort about a 10 minute walk away from the centre and we took the day off from hot sweaty travelling to use the lovely swimming pool, catch up on laundry, explore the town a bit and figure out what to do next.

It seemed like a nice little town with plenty of cheap street food, a nice clean beach and a big 7/11 which made us most happy (I won the find-the-weirdest-food contest by picking up a packet of chocolate bacon flavour sunflower seeds). We weren't the only tourists but felt like it at times - we were stared at and waved at quite a bit and although there are quite a few resorts nearby, either they were quite empty or their occupants weren't venturing into the town much.

Lovely beach and broken pier at Pak Nam Pran

Beautiful wooden houses

One of the nice things about being here at this time of year is that it's spring - back home that's when we get lambs but apparently around here it's baby gecko time! I found this tiny fella trying to sneak into our room:


We spent two nights in Pak Nam Pran and then decided to move on. While waiting for the train out of town we stopped at a food stall and, by the tried and tested means of "pointing at yummy stuff", we obtained these lovely dumpling-pancake things - the orange one was shrimp flavour, the other contained some kind of leafy vegetable

Dumpling things