Ready to roam
The last batch of bucket-list ideas for the rainy season from Pongpet Mekloy's archive
For a lot of travel addicts residing in Thailand, with the fourth phase of the easing of pandemic control measures the situation is good enough to return to fun mode.
The curfew has been lifted.
Public transportation for interprovincial travel -- from buses and vans to trains and planes -- have resumed operations. Hotels and resorts, especially those in destinations popular among domestic vacationers such as Hua Hin, Pran Buri, Pattaya, Kanchanaburi and Phetchabun's Khao Kho and Phu Thap Boek, are now back to life with the return of visitors dying for a getaway. A large number of attractions across the Kingdom, once again, have opened their doors to visitors.
The best news of all for nature lovers is perhaps the National Park Office's announcement that 127 of its 155 protected areas will start welcoming tourists from July 1 on. However, please note that in half of the reopened parks, not all attractions are ready for visitors. The full list of fully and partially opened national parks are available on the office's Facebook page (search for National Parks of Thailand). If you already have specific parks in mind, just look for each place's own page. In case searching in English fails, simply seek help from somebody who knows Thai.
As getting around within the country can now be done freely, it's time for this special series to come to a close. In this final article, you'll find travel ideas from some of the trips I've done in October of the past decade-and-a-half.
The list covers a variety of destinations in different parts of the Kingdom, including national parks, namely Namtok Chat Trakan, Doi Soi Malai and Ob Luang, all of which are among the first batch to be reopened next month.
Together with the previous articles (link provided in the sidebar), this Travel Diary series presents a plethora of trip ideas that can keep your travel schedule busy throughout this rainy season, and maybe that of the following years as well.
No matter what destination you pick for your next trip, make sure you bring face masks. They do more than just protect you from catching and spreading germs. Without one, you will likely be denied entry to many places. You may feel uneasy leaving your home without a mobile phone, but these days life will be even more difficult when you are out there without the simple cover for your nose and mouth.
Over the past two weeks, I've been to places in Nonthaburi, Ayutthaya, Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan. Trust me, the locals I met, from street food vendors to homestay operators and monks, are doing their best to protect themselves from the virus. Show them an outsider like you also cares for their well-being simply by wearing a mask.
Also as important when travelling is the use of the Thai Chana platform. The check-in and check-out records will be crucial in rapidly minimising the impact should the feared second wave of Covid-19 outbreak happens. Unless you can make a profit from the pandemic, starting the lockdown all over again will not benefit you or your loved ones.
Enjoy the rainy season!
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.
In October of 2005, I made a long road trip to the South to explore the areas in Ban Ta Khun and Phanom districts of Surat Thani as well as Ao Luek and Muang districts of the adjacent Krabi. The Rajjaprabha Dam (also spelled Ratchaprapha Dam) was my first stop. At the dam, you can enjoy the beautiful view of its reservoir. But if you wish for more, you can take a boat tour of the man-made lake from a nearby pier. In the remote parts of the lake fringed by the limestone mountains of Khao Sok National Park, there are quite a few floating resorts. On Google Maps, zoom in on the lake and you’ll easily locate them. The park’s headquarters is an hour’s drive from the dam site. In its vicinity are several rustic resorts, some of them offering tree houses. The park is one of those to be partially reopened on the first of July. For an update on which zones can be visited, search for KhaoSokNP on Facebook or call 077-395-155. If you still have a couple of days more to spend, take Highway 415 south as I did. Not far off the highway in Phanom district, you’ll find Ban Tham Phueng, which offers homestay service with several activities and attractions including a scenic lookout point and a natural pond where water gushes out from holes in the sandy bottom every time you clap your hands with force. The southern end of Highway 415 connects with Highway 4, which can take you to Krabi’s Ao Luek and Muang districts. These areas are rich with interesting sites. If you venture along the coastline, you’ll find fishing villages (Suppose you run into a fisherman boiling his freshly caught crabs, don’t be too shy to ask if you could buy some) and mangrove forests with limestone hills and caves. Deeper inland you can find Than Bok Khorani National Park (which unfortunately remains closed until further notice) and Tha Pom, an inlet of clear emerald-colour water with a fascinating ecosystem plus food stalls offering yummy giant cockles. Of course, a journey like this is best made with a private vehicle. If you don’t want to drive all the way from Bangkok, you can fly to either Surat Thani or Krabi, depending on your itinerary, rent a car from one airport and return it at the other one. Another option is to hire a van with a driver.
Merely 150km or so west of the capital, Suan Phueng district is a popular weekend destination for Bangkokians. This part of Ratchaburi province is rich with hip attractions and chic resorts amid natural surroundings. The rainy season is the time when several plants in Suan Phueng flaunt their blooms, and the area’s Kao Chon waterfall is most active. The nearby Bo Khlueng hot spring is also a must-visit. On the way to Suan Phueng, from Ratchaburi’s Muang district, use Road 3087 instead of Road 3208, and drop by Khao Bin Cave and Khao Prathap Chang Open Zoo of Chom Bueng district.
Doi Soi Malai National Park is named after the 1,629m-high mountain widely regarded as the “roof of Tak province”. The place has long been known among off-roaders for its rugged mountain track. I visited Doi Soi Malai in October when the wet season was losing its strength, the dirt road no longer muddy, but leeches in areas with higher moisture in the ground were still happy to have another meal of blood before hibernation. In drier months, much of the trail surface will be dusty and loose. The national park is not yet officially designated, and that is perhaps a reason the 9km trail is kept unpaved. If you are a mountain biker, you should go ride there at least once before things change.
Namtok Mae Tia is part of Chiang Mai’s Ob Luang National Park but it is a lot closer to Chom Thong downtown (15km) than to the park’s headquarters (62km). Despite its proximity to an urban area, this majestic fall is not much known. Even the local cyclist who accompanied me had never visited it before. I have seen Mae Tia at different times of the year and found that its cascade was always lively. The difference was more obvious along the way than at the waterfall itself. In the rainy season, the dry dipterocarp forest that the narrow mountain road zigzags through is lush with thick foliage. In the beginning of the dry season, around December, the trees on both sides of the road change colours of their leaves to beautiful hues. At the height of the dry season, most of the leaves are shed, revealing the steep hillsides that are so bare you could see all the way to the bottom of the valley down below. As someone who is not so fond of heights, I find that a scary sight. I think it was late March or early April when I first visited Mae Tia over 25 years ago. I still remember that at every bend of the mountain road I couldn’t help but imagine that the pickup truck I was riding in shot off the course and tumbled into the abyss. Personally, unless I trust the driver I’d opt to go to this particular waterfall by bicycle. (Photos by Natchapol Pramuankul)
To most people, the name “Khao Dan” may not ring a bell. But to paragliders in Thailand, this hill in Ban Lat district of Phetchaburi is one of their few playgrounds. The east-facing open hillside that is the launch site also offers a vista of the lowland. The 4.2km unpaved access road is often used by 4X4 enthusiasts to test their machine and driving skills. Of course, it’s great for mountain biking, too. To find your way to the site, follow these co-ordinates: 13°02’03.56” N 99°47’55.30” E.
Apart from its namesake waterfall, Namtok Chat Trakan National Park in Phitsanulok also has a few trails for you to explore. Two years ago, I revisited the park in October, walked one of those trails, and got to see something I had never known about before. It’s a mysterious rock in a small cave. What makes this rock special is the carvings on its flat surface that seem like an inscription. Nobody knows whether it is an ancient language, a map, or just age-old graffiti with no serious meaning. The site, known as Tham Pha Kradan Lek, can be reached via a 3km hiking trail from the park’s visitors’ centre. To visit the cave, you need to be accompanied by a guide provided by the park. (Photos by Kajondej Thongmee)
Located 55km north of the ancient city of Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai is the other historical park of the province. The park boasts several highlights. Wat Chang Lom features huge elephant sculptures at the base of the pagoda. Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo has a large collection of stupas built in various styles. Wat Nang Phya, a short walk from the two temples mentioned, still has remnants of beautiful stuccoes from centuries ago. About 3km from those three temples is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat Chaliang which is known for beautiful architecture, including the iconic Ayutthaya-style prang (corncob shaped pagoda). In its heyday, Si Satchanalai produced and exported a variety of ceramic products. Some of the numerous remains of old kilns found in the area are well preserved and served as museums.
With several new sites of interest, the city of Kanchanaburi has become popular among the younger generation of Thai travellers. Wat Tham Suea with beautiful architecture packed on top of a hill has become one of Kanchanaburi’s new landmarks. The coffee shops on Road 6607 with a view of verdant rice fields and Wat Tham Suea in the background are also popular check-in points among tourists of the social media age. A picture with the giant rain tree not so far away is also a must-have for visitors to Kanchanaburi nowadays. Meanwhile, some of the city’s original attractions, like the Bridge on River Kwai (actually it’s Khwae Yai River) are still popular.
Khon Kaen is one of the largest and most developed cities of the Northeast. It may not be famous as a tourist destination but the city does have several places that are worth checking out, such as Wat That which houses Phra Lap, one of the city’s most revered Buddha images, and Phra Maha That Kaen Nakhon, the religious tower overlooking the city’s Kaen Nakhon Lake. Khon Kaen also has a national museum, a science museum and a walking street that is now open as usual every Saturday evening.
If you are one of those who are not ready to travel out of Bangkok, there are numerous areas in the capital that you can roam around and enjoy. Klong San district on the Thon Buri side of the Chao Phraya River is full of beautiful places of worship such Wat Thong Nopphakhun, Wat Thong Thammachat, Wat Anongkharam and Wat Pichaya Yatikaram as well as mosques and Chinese shrines. All these places are linked by small roads and alleyways that run through old neighbourhoods, which make the area fun to explore.