A Year in Bangkok – A Visit to Cha Am

18 09 2010

Cha-Am is a typical Thai seaside resort and is on the south west side of the gulf of Thailand. It’s about thirty kilometres north of Hua Hin which is very popular with westerners. Cha-Am is largely undiscovered by our lot except for the Norwegians who flock there. There seemed to be one Norwegian for every four Thai people there and I can’t decide whether they’re an exceptionally ugly race or if they just send all their ugly folks to Cha-Am. I’ve never seen so many ugly people with only one head who, without exception, were also grossly overweight. Some of them were so bad I found it difficult not to stare. I had a long discussion about one woman with my wife. I thought she’d had a sex change operation (the Norwegian woman, not my wife) and it had all gone horribly wrong but my wife insisted she was a natural born woman.

Beach hawker in Cha Am

We left Bangkok early in the morning and took a taxi to the bus station which should have cost about two hundred and fifty baht. However, on the way there, the taxi driver offered to take us straight to our hotel for one thousand eight hundred baht – a little under thirty pounds. We quickly added up the travel costs, including the pick up from the bus station at the other end and that came to one thousand two hundred baht so, for the extra six hundred, we decided to go for it making it a nice easy journey and a relaxing start to our holiday. We arrived in time for lunch and spent the afternoon wandering around the town. It was thirty five degrees when we got there (and it’s not even summer) but there was a good sea breeze, a bit like being in front of a giant hair drier really but nevertheless it made the heat seem okay.

Cha Am beach.

Cha-Am seems to have two parts. One along the main highway with all the proper shops and one along the beach with all the beach shops. And boy what a beach, apparently it is the longest in Thailand. Even better, hardly anybody was on it as it was a weekday and we were told that Cha-Am only really gets busy at weekends when people flood out of Bangkok for some clean air and fun on the beach

The only road through Kaeng Krachan national park.

The next morning, our hire car was delivered and we set off for Kaeng Krachan, Thailand’s biggest national park. Sadly, we got there too late to see many animals without doing some serious trekking, which we weren’t dressed for. We did, however, see lots of poo. Elephant poo, of course, was easy to identify. We met a lovely couple who live on the edge of the jungle and who have been ‘adopted’ by a pair of hornbills. They have given them names (I mean the people have given the birds names) and when one of them calls either of them, the chosen bird dutifully flaps out of the trees and wanders round acting a bit like a domestic chicken. Anyway, the guy really seemed to know his poo and assured me that one particularly interesting pile was leopard poo. I couldn’t quite decide whether he was bullshitting me. There is certainly a wealth of animals here and I intend to go back with the right gear and maybe spend a day or two trekking through the jungle. There is a fairly healthy tiger population here – meaning there is more than just one pair of them, gibbons, bears and all sorts. According to Gray, Piprell and Graham’s ‘National Parks of Thailand’ “Kaeng Krachan….could become one of the world’s premier reserves if properly managed in the future”. The trouble is, how long will we have to wait for it to be properly managed?

One of those hornbills that seems to think its a chicken.

Just before entering the national park, we stopped at a beautiful reservoir created by Kaeng Krachan damn. Lots of islands in it and boat trips available. It took us quite some time to get here. The park is well signed from the main road so we diligently followed the signs and subsequently only got lost seven times. That meant enjoying some lovely countryside before going back to the last junction without a sign. Just as we left the park, there was a tremendous storm. I could hardly see the road in front of me but what I could see was littered with fallen trees, an amazing sight. Fortunately, we neither saw nor were hit by one as it was falling.

Kaeng Krachan reservoir.

In the evening, we drove to Hua Hin for a wander round and some dinner. We timed it just right to see the fishing boats landing the day’s catch.

Landing the catch.

The town itself reminded me a bit of St Tropez. Very pretty with narrow curvy streets. We didn’t find any equivalent to the Café Des Artistes but did get a nice Italian meal. Talking of the Café Des Artistes, my favourite Thai restaurant in Bangkok is owned by a French/Thai couple and he was the chef there before moving to Thailand.

And packing it!

On the Thursday, we went south to Khao Sam Roi Yot national park. The name means three hundred mountain peaks and it’s a beautiful coastal area. Also, it is supposed to be the best place in the world for watching dusty langurs. We didn’t see any. We didn’t even see any of their poo but we know where to go and what time of day to go next time. To see the langurs that is, not their poo. We did see monitor lizards and lots of birds and did a hairy trek up one of the mountains despite not having the right gear. Actually, going up was okay. It was coming down which was scary. The downside is that it’s a malarial area and I got some nasty bites. My legs weren’t just itching, they had weeping sores. King Rama IV contracted malaria here which killed him so I am keeping my fingers crossed. It is a truly beautiful area though, fairly compact for a national park, mountainous (as the name implies) with lovely inlets and lagoons.

Looking out to sea from that climb.

The barriers of the park were recently extended and now encompass a fairly large area where people farm shrimps. It is exactly the sort of thing people complain about as it despoils the national park but hey, the shrimp farmers were here first! There are also some accessible caves here, some of them now shrines complete with Buddha images.

Hat Sam Phraya beach inside Khao Sam Roi Yot national park.

Friday we visited King Rama VI’s summer palace between Cha-Am and Hua Hin.

The palace.

An amazing place, all on stilts and built entirely of golden teak. The palace was abandoned in the nineteen twenties when the king died but the present king has a palace very close by in Hua Hin where he spends most of his time. To reach the palace, you have to go through an army camp and leave some form of identity at the guard house. Good job it had all been clearly explained to me before we went.

One of the palace corridors.

After that, we wandered round a new mangrove plantation then went inland to visit one of the king’s research stations. He has set up four of these in very poor rural areas to help local people work out how best to use and manage their land. They have large demonstration areas for crops and for how to use the crops and the whole thing was very interesting. We’d only booked the car for three days so had to return it that evening. It was enough though and we spent our last couple of days chilling, flopping on the beach, swimming a little, wandering around, eating and drinking. All in all, a lovely little break but now I am back to reality and, yet again I will dream of moving out of Bangkok to somewhere more rural.

Mangrove trees planted to counter coastal erosion.

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7 10 2010
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