It's going to be a while before we find out whether or not the easing of coronavirus lockdown measures, the mass scrambles for alcoholic beverages, and the exodus over the recent long weekend will reverse the trend of the pandemic control in Thailand that seems to be going well. Let's hope they won't. At the same time, let's not forget that in many parts of this small world, the Covid-19 situation is still not getting any better.
One thing's for sure, though, whenever people are free and confident to travel, readers of this special bi-weekly series will never lack for travel ideas.
In the previous article, I wrote about destinations I had visited during the first two weeks of August, from 2004-2018. Today let's get on with the other half of the rainy month.
Going through the photo folders on my hard disk, I was surprised that during those years I had spent even more time on the road, despite the wet and often slippery surfaces, in the latter half of August than on the first.
In 2005, for example, I took a long trip to explore Ranong on the Andaman coast and Chumphon on the other side of the peninsula. It was a fruitful journey, although I was dying for a back massage after days of spending long hours in the car seat.
Over the decade-and-a-half, this wet period also saw me in the northern, eastern, northeastern and western regions. While several places had changed a lot when I revisited them in the following years (usually in different months), others, especially in protected areas, remain pretty much the same.
Due to limited newspaper space, I can't include all my late August journeys here. A number of destinations -- namely the mountain biking tracks in areas under the care of the Royal Thai Navy in Sattahip, Chon Buri province, cycling-friendly parks in Bangkok, Khao Yai Thiang in Nakhon Ratchasima and Khao Yi San in Samut Songkhram -- have to be omitted.
Anyway, the list of selected places is quite extensive and there might be one or two that you find interesting. Several of them are well off the main roads and the best way to get there is by private vehicle, whether it's one's own or a rental. For many who have become so used to social distancing, this might be the preferred choice of transportation even after the pandemic is over.
For now, let's hope that next week there will be no rise in new coronavirus cases, which may lead to longer lockdown. But fret not: until the travel ban is fully lifted, I have plenty of resources for this series to continue. Next time, we'll go for the first half of September.
Nobody knows how long this pandemic will last. Anyway, let’s be hopeful. One day we’ll be able to travel freely once again. It doesn’t hurt to have some plans, does it? To make it easier for you, here are some travel ideas that — I’m keeping my fingers crossed — you might be able to use in case the coast is clear three months or so from now.
For previous articles, visit https://www.bangkokpost.com/topics/1896450/travel-diary.
With or without Covid-19, Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province may or may not be open before the rainy season ends. Last year it was closed for three months from August until October to give nature a break. Besides, there is no report about the progress of the project to repair the mountain road in the deeper parts of the park. Anyway, the nearby Kaeng Krachan Dam and the part of the Phetchaburi River just downstream from the dam are enough to make the area a great holiday destination. You can take a boat tour to islands in the reservoir and feast on tasty fish dishes at any of the several restaurants lining the shore. Meanwhile, along the river, there are many resorts where you can not only spend a night close to nature but also enjoy a rare chance to swim in a clean natural waterway instead of in a swimming pool.
There are a number of roads that link the east and west coasts of southern Thailand. The section of Highway 4 (Phet Kasem) between Chumphon and Ranong provinces is the northernmost one. Along this old route, there are several interesting places, from the lookout point by Kra Buri River that lends its name to the legendary isthmus, Ban Thap Li which is home of the famous Thap Li Chinese buns to the scenic overlook on Khao Fa Chi and the remnants of World War II railway in La-un district. This forgotten train facility, like the world-famous Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, was built by the Japanese Army. The locomotive you see in one of the pictures now has a roof that protects it from the elements. Further south in Ranong’s Muang district, there are many well-known sites, including Ngao Waterfall, which is full of life during the monsoon season. By the way, if you travel along this part of Highway 4 during this time of the year, you might find fishing boats sharing the road. Some vessels operate both in the Andaman Sea and the Thai Gulf, depending on the season.
A drive along Chumphon’s long shoreline is a vacation plan I highly recommend. The southern province boasts tons of beautiful beaches and other natural sites, many of which have not yet been transformed by mass tourism. In Pathiu, the northernmost district, you’ll be awed by tall coastal sand dunes. Further south, on the Sai Ri beach of Muang district (the province has another sandy strip of the same name in Sawi district), one of the most important shrines of the highly revered HRH Prince Chumphon, the Father of the Royal Thai Navy, is located. A few steps from the shrine sits the decommissioned warship HMS Chumphon. Keep exploring the coastal area and you will find the headquarters of Mu Ko Chumphon National Park which, apart from the many islands and islets nearby, also oversees some land areas including an adjacent hill known as Khao Phong Phang that has a scenic lookout point at its top. (To contact the park, search for its page on Facebook or call 077-558-144). Further south In Sawi, Thung Tako and Lang Suan districts, there are many tranquil beaches and other hidden gems you probably have never heard of, such as a lovely cove called Ao Kwan Thong, the fishing village of Ban Bo Kha, Ao Thong Khrok and Bang Nam Chued beach, for a few examples.
Before you read the rest of the caption, take a glance at the accompanying photo first and look for the lone man standing at the top of the cliff. The guy was a friend of mine who was asked to walk all the way there to give viewers of the image some idea about the size of this spectacular site Mother Nature has created using the forces of weathering and erosion. This place is called Pha Sing Lieo. It is located near Ban Tan southeast of downtown Hot, which itself is almost 90km south of Chiang Mai city. Despite its enormity, Pha Sing Lieo may not be easy to find. Just in case, its co-ordinates are 18°06’33.89” N 98°41’18.75” E. A short drive east of Pha Sing Lieo is a similar site called Pha Wing Chu. It is located by the Ping River, better known and thus easier to find. However, from Pha Sing Lieo ask the locals for the route they would use instead of following Google Maps’ navigation, which may tell you to make an unnecessary detour.
In the dry season, Mae Wa National Parkof Lampang’s Thoen district doesn’t seem so interesting. Even the waterfall, which the park is named after, can be lifeless. However, in the wet season, the waterfall and the entire forest spring back to life. If you’re a shutterbug, in August and other rainy months you’ll find numerous wildflowers and insects to capture onto your memory cards. For inquiries, visit the park’s Facebook page or call 081-112-2855.
Covering the forested area along the east bank of Ping River from the southern tip of Chiang Mai’s Doi Tao Lake all the way southward to the reservoir of Bhumibol Dam in Tak province, most of Mae Ping National Park is made up of mountainous terrain. However, there are still certain sites accessible to visitors such as Ko Luang Waterfall, Thung Kik grassland, Pha Daeng Luang scenic lookout point, Hom Saen bat cave, Ruan Phae floating school and Wat Phra That Kaeng Soi. The last three are deeper in the wilderness and can be reached by boat only. While many like to visit the park in a drier period when the boat ride is safer, I chose the rainy season to make sure the falls and the vegetation surrounding it were lively.
2006 & 2013
I never realised it until I dug through my photo archive for this Travel Diary series that I had been to Chanthaburi more often than I thought. In 2006 and 2013, I visited the eastern province in August. Chanthaburi is home to several important sites from different periods which are solid testaments to its importance in the Kingdom’s history. Wat Phlap Bang Kracha, for example, is believed to be the site where Phraya Tak, who later became King Taksin of Thon Buri, famously ordered his troops to destroy their cooking utensils and made it clear that there wouldn’t be another meal until they conquer Chanthaburi. The Noen Wong and Phairi Phinat fortresses were built during the reign of King Rama III when Siam had a long war with Vietnam over the right to rule Cambodia. The religious site on the top of Khao Phloi Waen also dates back to the times of the same monarch. The infamous Tuek Daeng (Red Building) and the nearby prison in Laem Sing were the legacies of the French during their occupation of Chanthaburi from 1893-1903, which was during the reign of King Rama V. The Chedi Issaraphap (Stupa of Liberty) in Laem Sing was built by the Chanthaburi people to mark their liberation from the Imperial power. These were some of the most critical parts of Thai history. They are good topics for further research in case you are looking for something worthwhile to do during the lockdown.
Mukdahan is a nice city by the Mekong River. Must-go places in the downtown area include the riverside Indochina Market and Ho Kaew, which serves both as an observation tower and the city museum. Not far away to the south of the city is Phu Manorom, a hill from whence you can get the view of the entire downtown area as well as the Mekong and the Lao city of Savannakhet on the other side of the river. A little further away is Phu Pha Thoep National Park, which is famous for its rock formation. In the southwestern direction, 42km from the city is Phu Mu, a hill used as a secret communication station for American troops during the Second Indochina War. Phu Mu is now part of Phu Sa Dok Bua, another national park of Mukdahan. Thanks to the Friendship Bridge, it is convenient to cross the border to Savannakhet. However, the closest Thai airport to Mukdahan is in Nakhon Phanom, 122km to the north. I was told that for certain destinations, local businessmen may opt for Savannakhet airport, which is located just on the other side of the Mekong.
Hin Chang Si, about 47km northwest of Khon Kaen city, is part of Nam Phong National Park but it can be reached without the need to visit the park’s headquarters 25km away. The hilltop area features several gigantic sandstone boulders and observation points overlooking the reservoir of Ubonrat Dam to the west. A camping area is available. Like in other national parks, Nam Phong’s attractions, including Hin Chang Si, are now closed to visitors. But that doesn’t mean the rangers and workers are sitting idly. Apart from forest patrol, they are also busy with maintenance work of facilities to welcome visitors as soon as the coronavirus situation is solved. For updates, search for namphong.np on Facebook or call 096-739-7290.
Wat Pha Tak Sua of Nong Khai’s Sang Khom district offers one of the best vistas of the Mekong River. From the temple’s glass-floor viewing deck, down below you can see not just the Mekong but also the town of Sang Khom and Ban Pak Ton of Laos on the other side of the international river. Within the 20km radius of Wat Pha Tak Sua are Wat Hin Mak Peng to the east and Wat Tham Si Mong Khon to the south. The first, which sits on the bank of the Mekong, is regarded as one of the best places in Thailand to study religious meditation. The latter, located in hilly terrain, has a cave called Tham Din Phiang. Since the narrow cave is flooded in certain sections, all visitors are required to be accompanied by local guides. Keep in mind that, for safety reasons, the cave can be closed without advance notice on a rainy day. To get to these temples, the most convenient way is to fly to Udon Thani and rent a car from the airport.
Covering a ring of hills and mountains that when viewed in satellite image look like the OK hand gesture, Phu Wiang National Park, which is famous for fossil finds, and the nearby Phu Wiang Dinosaur Museum make up a destination fans of the ancient reptiles can easily fall in love with. The national park is located 85km east of Khon Kaen city. Both the park and the museum have their own Facebook pages.
Sichon district of Nakhon Si Thammarat has much more to offer than beautiful unspoiled beaches. Its namesake town, 60km north of the province’s airport, is blessed with country charms and friendly, unpretentious people. The local morning markets, one of them is located right next to a beach, are fun to explore. Seafood is fresh and inexpensive. This is one of my favourite places.
The Muslim community of Ban Khrua, a short walk from Bangkok’s Siam-MBK shopping district, dates back to the early Rattanakosin Period. The residents’ homes line the banks of Saen Saep canal which their ancestors joined in the digging by order of King Rama III. The canal, which links the Chao Phraya and Bang Pa Kong rivers, helped facilitate the transport of supplies to Siamese troops in Cambodia. In more modern history, Ban Khrua decades ago was the production hub of silk fabrics for the legendary businessman Jim Thompson. These days a few families are still in the silk business. A stone’s throw from the Muslim community is Wat Borom Niwat, the sister temple of the better-known Wat Bowon Niwet in Bang Lamphu area. History aside, the temple is an exquisite work of Thai architecture.
Mae Sot and Phop Phra districts of Tak province may seem remote, but with a decent airport, these areas on the border with Myanmar are actually a convenient holiday destination. And the attractions are varied, from culture to nature and adventure. For more information, call the local office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand on 055-514-341—3.