Where monsoon is awesome
Bucket-list ideas for the first half of September from Pongpet Mekloy's archive.
Is there life after death?
Does God really exist?
These are some of the age-old questions which nobody has ever been able to come up with an answer for that everybody agrees on. As if that weren't enough, during these times of the Covid-19 pandemic, there seems to be another one haunting people's mind: When will I be able to go somewhere on vacation again?
Well, while waiting for the day when the good news will be announced, let's go on with our bi-weekly series of travel ideas from my experience. Last time, we finished the list for August. Today let's take a look at the places that are good to visit in the first half of September, the peak period of the wet season.
Despite rainfall, September is one of my favourite times to hit the road. Not only that it rarely rains all day or every day, but also the sun is not so harsh and, in my opinion as a photographer, the sky is most beautiful. In several of the pictures shown in this article, you'll see various types of clouds. They make the images more interesting.
While people, in general, avoid going to the sea during this monsoon season, believe it or not there are folks who wait all year for these weeks of strong waves to visit Phuket.
I also went to other islands in early September, like Trat's Koh Mak and its neighbours in 2014 and Chon Buri's Koh Lan in 2018. To many people, Koh Lan may not sound exciting, since it is a well-known destination just a short ferry ride from Pattaya. But trust me, not everybody has seen the breathtaking part of the island featured in this piece.
In 2017, I also made a day trip to Koh Kret. The river island, which is bordered on three sides by the Chao Phraya and on the remaining side by Lat Kret Canal, may not have a sandy beach, but its rich history and culture can easily make you forget about that.
In the collage, you'll see a photo of a nang talung shadow puppet master. That's national artist Suchart Subsin. I visited his family's shadow puppet museum in 2012. Sadly, he passed away three years later, at the age of 77. The museum is still in operation, run by his children, who aim to preserve the dying art as well as their father's legacy.
Also in the collage is a praying mantis I found at the Royal Rose Garden in Hang Dong. It wasn't there to admire the blooms but rather to catch smaller insects attracted by the fragrant flowers. Apart from the roses of numerous varieties, there's another important thing about this place that compels me to drop by every time I visit this part of Chiang Mai.
To keep this introduction short, I will not mention all the destinations listed today. As usual, I hope you enjoy the selection and maybe find one or two that inspire you to go see them for yourself on your next vacation, whenever that's possible.
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.
Hua Hin, the famous beach resort of Prachuap Khiri Khan boasts a wide choice of tourist accommodation as well as shopping and dining options. From the town, if you follow the coastline southwards, you’ll find quieter beaches such as Suan Son Pradipat, Khao Tao, Pran Buri, Khao Kalok and a couple more in Sam Roi Yot National Park. Along the way, you can also check out fishing communities and a well-preserved mangrove forest at the mouth of the Pran Buri River.
Initially, I intended to include in this series only domestic destinations. But since Thailand is a gateway to neighbouring countries, please allow me to make just one exception. In 2007, I made a couple of trips to visit some of the waterfalls on the high edge of the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos. That September my friends and I and our local guides from a coffeegrowing Lao village called Ban Nong Luang trekked to Tat Nam Phak (the waterfall in the picture) and Tat Sakkara, which is also massive. Ban Nong Luang is in Pakxong, about a one-anda-half-hour drive east of Pakse, which is the largest city in this part of Laos. Pakse can be reached by road from Ubon Ratchathani via the Chong Mek border checkpoint. I just found out that these days you can conveniently contact the villagers via Facebook. The URL of Ban Nong Luang page is www.facebook.com/Tong5533.
Nakhon Si Thammarat boasts a history that goes back much further than that of Sukhothai, which is regarded by many as the first Thai capital, hence it also has a rich culture. In the city alone, there are several places of interest, including old temples and museums that focus on different topics, from archaeology to folk art like nang talung shadow puppetry. If you love food, Nakhon Si Thammarat can be your heaven. The southern province also has a beautiful and interesting coastline. In Khanom to the north, for example, if you leave the relaxing beach and take a boat trip into the sea, you might be lucky enough to spot the pink Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Suasa chinensis). Usually, the tour also includes stops at some of the islets in the area. In Pak Phanang, the charming city that sits at the mouth of its namesake river, 37km southeast of the provincial capital, you will find a centuryold riverside market and many windowless buildings built for edible-nest swiftlets. For more information, contact the local office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand via the TAT: Nakhon Si Thammarat + Phatthalung page on Facebook or by calling 075-346-515.
The monsoon season is surfing season in Phuket. The waves here are not as big as those in Bali but are still good enough for international competitions. Beaches frequented by surfers include Kata, Kata Noi, Kalim, Kamala, Nai Han and Surin. In Kata and Patong, there are surf machines that, except during this pandemic, allow you to learn and enjoy the sport safely at any time of year.
Situated off the coast of Trat province, Koh Mak and nearby islands sit between the larger Koh Chang to the north and Koh Kood to the south. Unlike on the more popular Koh Chang, tourism operators on Koh Mak have made serious efforts to preserve the local way of life and be environmentally friendly. They minimise their carbon footprint using solar energy and several other measures. Close to the northern tip of Koh Mak is Koh Kham, an islet with a beach of fine white sand and a sandbar. A short boat ride east of Koh Mak is the flat Koh Kradat, where a large number of hog deer (Axis porcinus) roam freely.
Apart from irrigation, which is its major purpose, Pa Sak Jolasid Dam and the adjacent aquarium for freshwater fish also serve as must-see attractions in this part of Lop Buri province. For a bird’s-eye view of the lake created by the dam, you have to go to the top of Khao Phya Doen Thong, the hill standing on the west side of the reservoir. The hilltop can be reached by car. But if you are a mountain biker, I bet you know a better way to get there.
With the excavation of the Lat Kret shortcut canal in 1722 during the reign of King Thai Sa of Ayutthaya, the area inside the sideways U-shape curve of the Chao Phraya River became an island called Koh Kret. Over the past centuries, this river island of Nonthaburi has been home to one of the most well-known Mon communities in Thailand. On Koh Kret, you’ll find several temples with Mon-style art and architecture. At Wat Poramaiyikawat, you can pay respect to Phra Nonthamuninin, the principal Buddha image of the province, and the leaning Mon-style pagoda that is a symbol of Koh Kret. The temple also has a museum showcasing pottery works that Koh Kret has long been famous for. During normal times, the communities around Wat Poramaiyikawat turn into a market every Saturday and Sunday with numerous local goodies on offer.
The Huai Phak Phai Royal Rose Garden is located on Hang Dong–Samoeng Road. The place, which is part of a royal project, lures visitors with roses from many parts of the world, but what keeps me going back is the food, made of fresh organically farmed ingredients. My favourites are sautéed mushroom and gaeng liang soup. I usually complete a meal there with carrot cake and an avocado smoothie.
The northern province of Phrae, once home to a flourishing logging industry, is a great destination for those seeking to avoid mass tourism. The city area is blessed with many century-old teakwood houses and mansions. Some of them, including the residence of a former Phrae ruler, now serve as museums. The province also has many beautiful temples of different styles, both in downtown areas and nearby districts. Lovers of arts and crafts will enjoy natural cloth-dyeing workshops offered at several places. To contact the local office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, search for tat.phrae on Facebook or call 054-521-118.
You haven’t seen all of Koh Lan if you cannot tell where on the island these locations are. Let’s start with the easiest one. The beach is the south-facing Hat Nual. The paragliding launch site is near the hilltop Guanyin Temple. And the scenic biking/running trail is located a stone’s throw from the Windmill Viewpoint.
Like Hua Hin on the other side of the Thai Gulf, the resort city of Pattaya is waiting for the day visitors can return. For us holidaymakers, there are many reasons to choose this world-famous destination. Once that happens, it’s likely that several hotels and resorts will offer interesting promotions to attract local tourists. Who knows: a room with a fantastic sea view may be cheaper than you expect. To me, the thought of fresh seafood in the adjacent town of Na Klua is already enough to make me want to go back, not to mention the city’s art museums and numerous other fun attractions.