Monday, 20 August 2012

DISCOVERING THE OTHER SIDE- South-eastern Thailand



SURAT THANI

We were very relieved to return to the mainland from Ko Phangan. The journey back to Surat Thani was a dreaded one due to the horrible outward ferry trip, but this time we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves on a large vehicle ferry, with only a handful of other passengers (Thai and farang), lots of room to walk around, and it didn’t stop at Ko Samui as the other ferry had, so it was quicker. It was a very pleasurable trip, and if anyone is interested- the company going out was Songserm, and coming back was Raja, and they were the same price.



Thong Sala pier, Ko Phangan


Ferry from Ko Phangan to Don Sak



Another day was spent in Surat Thani, making a point of taking in the sights- with the river walk and Lamphu Island being highlights to add to the lovely people and good food we had found last visit.




Lamphu Island, Surat Thani

Lamphu Island, Surat Thani




KANOM

A little birdy had mentioned to us that the beach area half way between Surat and Nakon might be worth checking out, so we took the spiffiest mini-van ever to the small town. Not knowing what to expect, we jumped out of the van in the centre of town and set off looking for a place to stay. After some time we found a “resort” a couple kilometres out of town, with beautiful rooms, complete with air-con and fridge for 400 baht (AU$13) and decided to splurge. The catch was making ourselves understood at the Thai only speaking reception, but we managed this, and to hire a motorbike for a couple of days, and set off exploring the coconut groves, back roads, harbours and national parks of the area. Some of the beaches are simply gorgeous, others not so hot. The addition of some simple bamboo huts would greatly improve the vibe for us- there were generally expensive resorts presumably aimed at rich Thai people (there were only a few other foreigners in the vicinity), or nothing at all on the beaches. We did enjoy the motorbike riding, although the hot dry weather saw us stopping for plenty of drinks. The hospitable man at reception got us organized onto another swish mini-van, this time bound for Nakon, and we were on our way.


Kanom beach

Kanom beach

Power plant on Kanom beach

Protector of the dragon fruit, Kanom


Fishermen, Kanom


Fishing boats, Kanom

Fishing boats, Kanom

Kanom



NAKON SI THAMMARAT

We were dropped at the train station, and found our way to a cheap hotel. Most of the budget hotels in  less touristy towns of Thailand are big old Chinese places, with large, clean rooms, bathrooms, toilet paper, fan, towels, with a well-worn feel, but cheap price (usually about 250 Baht or AU$8). Our hotel in Nakon was just this- with one exception- it seemed newly renovated.

Nakon really surprised us. It is definitely not the typical Thai town. The area around the train station is mostly a chaotic market, quite a lot of rubbish, not the cleanest food stalls, and people looking suspicious. Despite its scruffy appearance, we instantly liked it. The people were happy, but only once we had smiled and made contact first. The only negative for us was no fantastic night food market- only a few pathetic looking stalls.

The main attraction in Nakon is the biggest and most important temple in south Thailand- Wat Phra Mahathat. We spent most of the day wandering around the many parts of the complex, with numerous Thai visitors. We found the temple to be different from others we have visited in Thailand in style, and we enjoyed poking around the little museums. Hopefully the prayer to the Buddha who is reputed to help back pain will have some effect for Rich’s back.



Wat Phra Mahathat, Nakon

Wat Phra Mahathat, Nakon

Wat Phra Mahathat, Nakon

Wat Phra Mahathat, Nakon





Another day saw us visiting the attractive little village of Ban Kiriwong, a mangosteen growing area on the outskirts of Khao Luang National Park. Usually in Thailand, we avoid the national parks, as they mostly charge a steep 400 Baht fee for foreigners, but as Kiriwong is located outside the park, we were able to walk the picturesque surrounding area, and out to a beautiful waterfall (even in dry season) for free.



Waterfall, Ban Kiriwong,


Coming back from Kiriwong with the vegetables


PHATTALUNG

It’s been years since we’ve taken a train in Thailand, so we decided to jump on the slow train from Nakon to Phattalung- another new town for us to visit. The scenery was stunning, with limestone cliffs and rice paddies dominating. 



Train from Nakon to Phattalung

Tiny station, Nakon-Phattalung train


Arriving at sunset, we found a small, quiet town, with a stunning setting surrounded by limestone hills and a lively night market in full swing. Hiring a motorbike was a foreign concept in Phattalung, so we opted to walk to the nearby sights, and take songtheaws to the ones further afield.
There are some amazing natural sights in Phattalung, with Khao Ok Thalu being one of the best. It is an unusual hole in the limestone mountain reached by 1040 steps (we counted them in agony), with views stretching for miles. Wat Khuhasawan is a forest temple close to town, with some very unusual wooden human figures, that reminded us of parts of Indonesia, and Tham (Cave) Malai was riddled with steps, caves and stupas. 

 


Wat Khuhasawan, Phattalung

Wat Khuhasawan, Phattalung

Wat Khuhasawan, Phattalung


A snake eating a bat, Wat Khuhasawan, Phattalung
 

Phattalung


 

Phattalung is very close to Thale Luang, the biggest natural lake in Thailand, and we spent a morning looking around the “beach” area (actually just the edge of the lake full of rubbish and weed that has been turned into a surprisingly nice park), and the nearby Wat Wang- a very special temple with murals inside and an exquisitely beautiful courtyard with carved stupas.



Ban Lampam Park, Songkhla Lake


Wat Wang, Ban Lampam

Wat Wang, Ban Lampam

Wat Wang, Ban Lampam

Wat Wang, Ban Lampam


Phattalung was by far the most interesting place we visited in these two months in Thailand, and a pleasant surprise, as we had no expectations of it. That is the lovely feature about traveling.

SONGKHLA

We left Phattalung vowing to come back, perhaps with a Songkhla-hired motorbike next time. Our next plan was to make it to Songkhla for the weekend to experience the most amazing market we’ve seen in South-east Asia. As seen in this blog post, we’d loved the massive walking street market on our last visit, and this time we had the opportunity to explore what must be the biggest second hand market in Thailand. It is mostly clothes, which was a great chance to update our travel wardrobe at rock bottom prices. We visited Koh Yo, an island in Songkhla Lake, which is home to the biggest and best folklore museum in Thailand's south. Unfortunately, the day we visited,there wasn't a sole about and most of it was closed. We did, however get a magnificent view of the lake.



Coconut grater, Ko Yo museum, Songkhla

Coconut grater, Ko Yo museum, Songkhla


Ko Yo museum, Songkhla


Our 60 day Thai visa was finished, and it time to leave for KL, Malaysia on the best seats we've ever had on a bus- up the front of a big double-decker, with panoramic windows and masses of legroom.



Loving the luxury- Hat Yai to KL