My next proper stop was Khao Sok National Park, with a one night pit stop in Krabi to break it up, where I was meeting up with Mark and Isabel who I'd met on Koh Lanta.
I got to Khao Sok National Park on 8th December and the minivan driver was a little speedy Gonzales, are there not loads of Thai rally drivers? Judging by this guy if not, there should be! I checked into my little wooden shack at Palmview Resort and it was amazing. Set just outside the park grounds but surround by forest my hut was a lovely stilted thing with my own personal hammock. I'd be happy chilling here for a few days. As the weather was pretty terrible when I arrived, I met up with Mark and Isabel and the first afternoon/evening was spent playing cards and finding a little outdoor bar with a campfire whilst one of the parks guides was showing off a scorpion he had just found. I took a beer back with me to enjoy in my hammock and listen to the night sounds of the forest before heading to bed and exploring the area properly.
The next morning I spent it, very lazily, in my hammock looking through the forest and over the limestone cliffs with a flask of coffee for a couple hours. It was beautiful with so much greenery and colourful flowers and with the other huts being spaced out enough to enjoy the nature. Eventually when I moved I went to explore the little town and came across a 'monkey hole' - a river running alongside the limestone cliff so went for the obligatory paddle in the cool clear waters. Before continuing the walk through town amongst the valley and limestone scenery before stumbling up a monkey temple - Wat Tham Panthurat. This place surprisingly killed some time by climbing the precariously placed steep steeps/ladders up one of the limestone cliffs to a bat cave, I went to pull myself up and grabbed a bit of rock...of course it was covered in bat poo. Lovely. Followed by being absorbed in watching the frolicking monkeys chasing each other and playing in the massive water tank. They are smooth swimmers and you almost get tempted to join in. Looked like the life! Ito maximise my time here I booked on to a lake trip to explore the national park for the following day.
Up bright and early to head to Chieow Laan Lake, a massive man made lake surrounded by the huge limestone cliffs. And my group jumped on a long boat to cross the lake to the floating bungalows where the water so perfectly clear. After some tasty grub it was time for a jungle walk, but didn't see any wildlife, to a cave for some, well, caving. It was brilliant, I was a bit nervous about how deep the water would get in the cave and being in the pitch dark and at parts I couldn't touch the bottom. But it was a great experience and I was impressed the dry bag worked as it was the first time it was put to use so the passport was saved. The day having gone so quick, we headed back across the lake to start making our way back to the resorts. But a great day trip out in the national park. That evening was spent with a few beers around the campfire with Mark and Isabel.
Time to move on again, this time over to Surat Thani for the night. As Mark was heading in the same direction we got the minivan over and stayed at Hip Box Hostel. Where you sleep in converted shipping containers which were pretty basic but did the job and had a swimming pool. Once in Surat Thani, which is a small town with not much to do, but enough to pass one evening. We walked along the river to the City Pillar Shrine. Along the river the locals were playing a range of sports like badminton and one game where they were trying to kick a wicker ball into a hop placed high up on a wire. The shrine was a brilliant white temple which gleamed as the sun went down. Then it was a quick pizza, a swim and bed.
And that's Surat Thani done. On 12th December we hopped on a train from Surat Thani to Hua Hin. At 490 bahts (£10) for the 6 and half hour journey and including free food, which was all mackerel based so I had to leave it, thank god I had done a 7 Eleven run beforehand, it was a good journey up through the countryside. But as expected did not run on time but only about an hour and half delayed. Once arrived checked into Hua Hin Euro City hostel which I figured was more how I imagine YMCA's would be like, a little on the shabby side. But it did the job. So Hua Hin...hmmm a different kind of town to what I have already visited in Thailand and certainly more on the seedy side of things. Went to explore the city and the sea was a lot rougher and the beach less picturesque as the southern islands/coast but was fascinating to see the military boats out to sea but all brightly lit like a cruise ship. Stopping in a bar in Hua Hin makes for fascinating people watching and seeing just how many old white men (usually pretty hideous) are 'with' young Thai girls. And the town seems to have a strong Scandinavian feel / influence to it. Not really a city I wanted to hang round in for long but still long enough to observe the going on's. For the one full day I was in Hua Hin, despite being very overcast, I went for a walk along the beach for a few hours watching the kite surfers soaring the waves before booking my train back to Bangkok for the following day. Having felt like I had exhausted the city of things to actually do, the rest of the day was spent milling about, eating and drinking until it was time to get an early night ready for the train.
As is standard, I got to the train station with Mark at 5.50am for our train to find it had already been delayed by an hour and half...time that could have been spent sleeping. But it arrived at it's new time and again back to a chilled few hours watching the country go past, but being in third class I had the window down so could hang out now and again to see what was going past. Made it to Bangkok for lunch and checked into Loftel 22 which seemed a pretty decent hostel. Once sorted went to China Town for a really cheap tasty lunch for a catch up with Sarah and Chris, who I hadn't seen since I was in Nepal. It was lovely to meet up with people I had previously met and where our paths had crossed over again. That evening I went to Lumphini Park to watch the mass aerobics class (not to join in!) but instead there was a large street festival going on. This consisted of various stages of performers such as mime acts, balloon artists and my personal favourite a youth drum band, man these guys had rhythm!
The next day my mate, Paul, was landing In Bangkok for a few days. We spent a couple of days catching up and sightseeing with our first stop, bars in Sukhumvit and in particular down Sukhumvit Alley 4. It is an interesting spot to do a bar crawl and an eye opener in the true sense of Bangkok but also a great laugh and this was just mid-afternoon. After some food and few more drinks, mainly the vile Hong Thong whisky, which we failed at making into ice cubes, I made Paul take a tuk tuk to Khao San Road. His face was a picture in the tuk tuk and was pretty much white knuckling it to our drop off. Ah Khao San Road, you have to love it. We had a few Hong Thong whisky and coke buckets, which are lethal, and joined everyone else dancing and having a laugh in the street and pretending nothing was going on when the police passed through. I think it was a good introduction for him to the world of Bangkok.
The next morning, reasonably hungover we headed out to do some sightseeing around Sukhumvit and Siam but a bit bored of shopping centres, we plodded off for a walk to the Benjakiti Park, and on the way down one of the back streets we found a couple of lads testing out their fighting c*** in the street, wish I had watched and got a photo of it. When we got to the park it was closed because of the King’s birthday celebrations so instead we found the pedestrian walkway, which ran along and over a bit of a grim smelly stream, luckily the smell didn’t linger for much of the walkway, which took us over to Lumphini Park and watched a monitor lizard scratching about and a few turtles cooling off in a fountain surround. Paul, Mark and I had tickets to see some Muay Thai Boxing up at the Lumphini Stadium way north of Bangkok for that evening, so we jumped on a train up to Queen Sirikit Park for a chill out in the sun before continuing on to the stadium, on the way we randomly bumped into Mark. I made the mistake of suggesting we walk to the stadium but it was bloody miles away so we grabbed a taxi there. The stadium was pretty busy with loads of local men gambling on who would win each fight. The actual fights were amazing to watch, even a couple of knock outs and half way through the night a couple of lads fought bare fisted. Absolutely brilliant night and so glad I went here as barely any tourists compared to what I had heard about a few other stadiums.
For the last evening that Paul was in town we booked to have dinner up the State Tower (Lebua) at the Sirocco restaurant which is the highest open air restaurant, we arrived just before sunset and the views over the city as the night fell were actual stunning. And the food and wine up there was incredible. A really really amazing treat, followed by a couple of cocktails at the Sky Bar to make the most of the views before heading back down and showing Paul some of the seedier streets and bars for some final beers.
It was sad to see him off but afterwards I had a couple of days left in Bangkok before flying on to the Philippines, which was spent with a day sightseeing visiting the likes of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), a look in at the Grand Palace but it looked to chaotic for me to bother paying and going in. I spent two of evenings out for drinks with Mark, one night down Sukhumvit where I won a Chang beer t-shirt playing ‘Wheel of Fortune’ meh it makes for a good pyjama top and another night down Khao San Road, where living up to its reputation, memories are all but lost.
Bangkok, I think I’ve learnt to love you, but it’s time to take a break whilst I pop over to the Philippines for Xmas and New Year.