Tag - songthaew

Chaiyaphum, Thailand

 

Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.
Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.
Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.

Though not as rich in attractions as its neighbouring provinces, barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks, and has a few worthy spots of its own too. CHRIS WOTTON gets under the skin of this undiscovered slice of Isaan.
 
Never heard of Chaiyaphum? That’s little surprise, as few people have. Tucked up in Thailand’s north-eastern Isaan region and bordered by Khorat and Khon Kaen, this largely untouristed province barely registers a foreign face. Still very Thai in appearance and character, the main industries here are rice and sugar production, while the province is also renowned as a silk centre. The capital city of an otherwise largely rural province shows the signs of some limited urban development, but venture here and you will still discover somewhere pleasingly quiet and low-key, the perfect antidote to the Bangkok lifestyle.

The primary attractions here, the Jao Pho Praya Lae monument and Prang Ku, are largely unimpressive and at most worth a passing glance. In fact, you will probably pass the former several times before even realising what it is. Jao Pho Phraya Lae was the eighteenth century Lao ruler of Chaiyaphum, and this statue in his name is the centrepiece of a roundabout in the centre of town on Bannakan Road. He switched sides to fight with Bangkok when Vientiane declared war on Siam at the start of the 1800s.

Jao Pho Phraya Lae lost his life in the ensuing battles, but was kept in high esteem in Chaiyaphum and today has two annual festivals celebrated in his name in January and May.

The Khmer Prang Ku further along Bannakan Road past the entrance to Siam River Resort, meanwhile, is really equally disappointing as a sight. Poorly preserved and not much to look at at all, in its heyday it was a temple on the route that connected Angkor Wat with the (far more impressive and better restored) Prasat Muang Singh just outside of Kanchanaburi.
Today, if nothing else it serves as a reminder of just how small Chaiyaphum proper really is – particularly at night, by the time you’ve walked just a short way east to this site, you feel like you’re well out of the city and into Isaan village life.

Tat Ton National Park makes for far more of a reason to visit Chaiyaphum. Twenty-three kilometres away and easily reached by 30 baht public songthaew share taxi from a stand at the north end of the city on Non Muang Road, it boasts amongst other sights an impressive waterfall that stretches to 50m wide in the rainy season – take care as it is easy to sip by the water’s edge. Group tours aside, you are likely to be almost alone in the park, and pretty much certainly the only foreigner. The 100 baht entrance fee gets you access to the whole park, which also includes the smaller Tat Fah waterfall.

The park as a whole is the perfect spot for a dose of back-to-nature relaxation sure to enliven the senses, and if you want to drag it out a little longer there are bungalows to rent too. The return journey to Chaiyaphum is a bit more of a pain than getting there, since songthaews don’t take this route after the morning – but you can hitch a ride back to Chaiyaphum quite easily. If all else fails, walk some way along the road you came down, make yourself look tired and wait for a few women to start shouting, asking if you need a lift back to Chaiyaphum (for a price). They came to our rescue, so they’re bound to for you as well.

Back in Chaiyaphum proper, picnics are the order of the day at a secluded, peaceful spot at the side of a small lake in the streets behind the Tesco Lotus supermarket on Sanambin Road. Roll up on a bike or on foot, having stopped at food stalls on the lanes nearby for giant Isaan-sized grilled chicken skewers and fresh pineapple with dried chilli and sugar, and soak up the goodness of some fresh Chaiyaphum air from the shade of the many trees lining the lake. As is the beauty with so much in this city, aside from the odd local fisherman you will likely have the place to yourself.

GET THERE: Buses run by at least three different companies connect Chaiyaphum with Bangkok’s northern Morchit bus terminal in about six hours. On the return leg, the three companies unhelpfully all have their own departure terminals dotted around town, but there are also local bus connections to Khon Kaen and Khorat, both linked to Bangkok by trains and planes.

WHERE TO STAY: Most western tourists stay at the five-star Siam River Resort, towards the far end of Bannakan Road, where 990 Baht will bag you a plush room with balcony and breakfast, and access to the pool. There’s free wi-fi and bike hire and staff are excellent. The Deeprom Hotel is also worth a look, with its pleasing pastel exterior, though staff speak little English. Expect to pay 800 Baht for a double air-con room.

MOVING ON: Khon Kaen is two and a half hours away by local bus – great for foodies, it also boasts the Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake which makes for a great walking spot. Buses to Khorat take two hours.

CHRIS WOTTON is a twenty-something crazy about Thailand. After a first visit in 2008, he fell in love with the country and has since travelled its length and breadth, searching out local life – and local food! – while writing and researching for SE Asia travel guides and magazines. When not discovering and writing about Thailand, Chris studies French and German in his native UK, and runs an online shop selling authentic Japanese and Thai cooking ingredients.

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Famous for its lively full moon parties at Haad Rin Beach, Koh Pha-ngan has a chilled-out hippy atmosphere that combines nightly hedonism with day time water sports and lazing on the beach. Situated in the south of Thailand 20 kilometres north of Koh Samui in Surat Thani Province, this is an ideal destination for travellers who enjoy less crowded, more private beaches. The best way to reach Koh Pha-ngan is from Koh Samui and the boat trip takes about an hour.

Haad Rin is Koh Pha-ngan’s most popular beach. Lined with beach bars playing a wide assortment of music, the white sands can get pretty crowded. Luckily, Koh Pha-ngan offers many more secluded stretches of white sand for those who prefer a little privacy. Ao Thong Nai Pan is perhaps the second most beautiful beach on Koh Pha-ngan reachable by boat or songthaew from Thong Sala Pier.

Another extremely beautiful and tranquil beach is Ao Si Thanu, whilst the nearby tiny island of Koh Tae Nai can be reached just 5 minutes by chartered boat. This island offers jungle-covered hills, a long stretch of golden sandy beach and colourful coral reefs, perfect for diving or scuba diving.

Koh Pha-ngan has some extremely pretty jungle waterfalls waiting to be discovered including Than Sadet Falls, Phaeng Falls, Than Prapat Falls and Than Prawet Falls. A great way to see the falls and the rest of the island is to take a guided boat tour. Boat trips usually take around 10 people, last all day and include snorkelling and lunch. The boat trips are also a great way to meet fellow travellers and exchange tall tales and travelling tips.

Wat Khao Tham is a cave temple located on the hilltop of Khao Kao Haeng. There is a monastery here that is ideal for meditation amidst the well-preserved nature. The monastery offers 10 days meditation retreats and can be found near the pretty village of Ban Tai.

Another interesting temple is Wat Madio Wan, where a replica of Lord Buddha’s Footprint is enshrined on the hilltop Mondop, whilst jungle trekking up to the island’s largest mountain of Khao Ra is a great way to see the island.

Many people stop at Koh Pha-ngan for a day or two before heading on to Koh Tao, which lies 45 kilometres north of Koh Pha-ngan and is known as the best diving site in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao, which means Turtle Island in the Thai language, is very small and covered with palm trees and pristine white sand, the perfect exotic island.

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

“I think I’ve spotted one!” Mr C gives an ecstatic gasp, before plunging into the undergrowth, leaving my new friends and I feeling confused and bemused. Suddenly, we hear hooting and whooping noises as our guide trying to communicate with a white handed gibbon. Next thing we now, Mr C appears, beaming broadly. “I’ve found a gibbon,” he announces in awe. “Come and see, quick!” We quietly follow Mr C into the undergrowth, where he has set up his tripod and binoculars. Sure enough, through the binoculars we can clearly see a group of gibbons playing in the treetops. I have traveled to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park for some relaxation and a much-needed break from the city.

Khao Yai is Thailand’s most popular nature reserve, and it is easy to see why. With 2168 square kilometres of lush forest, the park is a real Eden for the 300 bird species and 20 species of big mammals which shelter within its boundaries. Khao Yai means Big Mountain and the name refers to the Phanom Dongrek Mountains that make the park so special.

I had left the neighbouring town of Pak Chong early that morning, expecting to explore Khao Yai on foot. Catching a songthaew from the center of town, I arrive at the park just before 8 am. I am dropped at the park checkpoint, where I pay my 200 baht entrance fee and wait for a lift to the visitor’s centre.

After a couple of minutes, a jeep rolls down the road towards me. The driver greets me warmly and agrees to take me to the visitor’s centre. The two passengers, Fiona and Henry, also greet me warmly.

Along the way, the driver stops several times to point out macaques, kingfishers and other interesting wildlife. He introduces himself as Mr C, but it is not long before I have dubbed him ‘Mr Crazy’. Mr C is like the Thai version of Steve Irwin; he is incredibly passionate about wildlife and sometimes his enthusiasm seems a little goofy. Still, you couldn’t hope for a more knowledgeable guide.

It takes nearly an hour to reach the visitor’s centre. Once there, Mr C offers to take me along on the tour for just 400 bhat for the entire day. He explains that many of the park’s features are as much as 20 kilmetres apart, making it impossible to cover them on foot. As I am already captivated with Mr C and Fiona and Henry seem happy to have company, I gratefully agree.

After a short break, Mr C Provides long, white canvass socks, which we put on over our trousers, feeling rather silly. They are to protect against leeches, and I notice most of the other visitors are also wearing these latest fashion accessories.

Back in the jeep, Mr C takes us on a short ride along beautifully forested roads. Suddenly, he pulls to a halt. “Did you see that?” he asks, before plunging into the undergrowth once more. This time he has spotted a hornbill. “Khao Yai is one of the best places in South East Asia to observe these golden-beaked beauties,” Mr C tells us proudly, before demonstrating their call.

There are four species of hornbill at Khao Yai. On a neighbouring tree we spot a pied hornbill. Fiona suddenly notices we are standing near a ‘Tiger Zone’ sign and expresses her concern. Mr C simply laughs; “I have been visiting the park for seven years and I have never seen a tiger,” he confesses.

After a few minutes, Mr C drops us at the edge of the forest where we are to begin our trek. We walk for three hours, but the pace is fairly gentle. Mr C stops every few minutes to point out woodpeckers, yellow-browed warblers and an extremely beautiful red-breasted flycatcher.

Just as my energy is beginning to fade, we reach the edge of the forest. It takes a minute for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight as we walk across a grassy plain. After a few minutes, we pass a small lake, which is a watering hole for many of Khao Yai’s birds and animals.

A short distance away is Nong Pak Chee observation tower, and we are all quite relieved when Mr C announces we will stop here for lunch. We climb a wooden ladder up into the observation tower. Already inside are two Thai men who are camping out, hoping that their patience will be rewarded with some animal sightings.

After lunch, Mr C directs us along a neat path leading away from the observation tower. Suddenly, he orders us to crouch down to the ground. Just in time; a swarm or big black bees cross our path, hovering above our heads for a moment before passing on.

Once we reach the waiting jeep, Mr C drives us to a caf?, where he buys us drinks to cool off. The four of us sit relaxing and talking for awhile. When we have rested, Mr C leads us down a short path, at the end of which lies the Haew Suwat Falls. This 25 metres high waterfall starred in the film The Beach. There is currently not much water flowing down the vast rock face as it is the dry season, but during the wet season many travelers take the plunge, fancying themselves, perhaps, as the next Lionardo Di Caprio.

When we have admired the waterfall from all angles, Mr C drives us to Khao Lem hill, where there are spectacular views over the park. Another short drive and a wander through the jungle, and we find ourselves perched at the very top of Khao Luuk Chang (Baby Elephant Mountain). As we sit on a rocky perch, we are actually above the highest treetops of the surrounding jungle, and the view is breathtaking.

Finally, it is time to leave Khao Yai, although I find that I am very reluctant. Mr C has one more surprise for us. On the drive back, he suddenly pulls to a halt. His sharp eyes have spotted a large scorpion sunbathing at the edge of the road; another trophy for our photo albums.

Getting There:

Khao Yai is 120 kilometres north east of Bangkok. It is best to make the journey to nearby Pak Chong first as the town can be reached by bus or train.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Transport in Thailand

Transport in Thailand
Transport in Thailand
Transport in Thailand
Transport in Thailand

Outside Bangkok, there are fewer transport options and in many places you need to have your own transport. However, motorbikes and bicycles can be found in most places and are cheap to hire.

Motorcycle taxis are usually available in most parts of Thailand, even in small towns. Look out for clusters of young men wearing orange jackets with numbers printed on the back in Thai. Remember to agree the price before you get on the back of the motorbike.

Meter taxis are usually only available in large cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket. In the rest of the country many interesting alternatives are available.

Buses are available throughout Thailand. However, outside Bangkok the destinations are rarely printed in English and you cannot expect the conductor to speak English. The best way to make sure that you arrive at you destination is to ask someone (preferably at a travel agency or tourist cafe) to write the address in Thai and teach you how to pronounce it correctly. Also, most buses fill up quickly and are crammed to bursting point. In order to guarantee a seat, get on at a bus station.

Intercity Coaches are a fine, cheap way to travel around Thailand. The good road system means that they are quite comfortable and travel between most cities, large towns and tourist destinations. Much cheaper than the train (a journey of 220 kilometres costs around 90 Baht) as with local buses it is best to embark at the bus station to guarantee a seat.

Songthaew means ‘two rows’ in Thai, referring to the two rows of wooden benches that line the walls of these small, open-backed mini vans. Very common in small towns and villages, songthaews follow a designated route which is not always obvious. It is best to flag down the driver, state where you want to go and add the word ‘mai?’ to the end. Fares typically cost between 6 and 20 baht.

Saburus are a more modern and comfortable version of the songthaew, with padded seats. Expect to pay about double the price of a songthaew, although many people say the comfort is worth the extra few baht.

Known as Samlaews, these are the same as the bicycle rickshaw, which can be found all over India. Not exactly the fastest or most comfortable form of transport and only recommended for short journeys, although they can be a nice way to get to know a place or enjoy a romantic sunset ride.