Thailand and it's National Parks

From Koh Kong to Khao Lak 07.03.- 02.04.2014


Upon entry we use for the first time our Carnet (for those who do not know, it is a customs document that guarantees the individual states that the vehicle is going to be exported again). Some countries require this document as guarantee - Thailand however, is not among them) - so that officers are quite overwhelmed at this small border crossing and eventually get the head of the department to deal with us and our unusual paperwork. This turns out, however being a godsend for us because after explaining to him how to handle and stamp the document we end up with 2 months visa and our motorcycle gets half a year. I can’t believe my eyes, because at the last entry into Thailand our Liza only got a month and we would have had to extend this in the country (associated with effort and cost) if we wanted to stay longer. Overjoyed, we grab our paperwork and Kev whispers: don’t say anything – just go before they change their minds. The next stroke of luck is the ATM at the border - it tells me, the highest note I can select is one thousand Baht and I get a maximum of 25 notes - well let’s try out whether we get 25000 Baht (I always get mad if I only get small amounts from the machine because both at this end and in Germany we have to pay fees and that adds up ....) - at least this ATM keeps its promise and spits out the desired amount and I start to think that today is our lucky day. So we decide to ride a bit further and then look for somewhere to camp at the beach. We are as it were in a part of Thailand that sticks out like a sore thumb – a strip  wedged between Cambodia at the top and the Gulf of Thailand below we have really landed far out in the sticks here and must definitely take a photo of the sign: "Narrowest Point of Thailand". The Bangkok Post has published an article about this area, which states that at this point the country is just 450 m wide, but there is apparently yet another contender for this claim in the part of southern  Thailand where the country is like a bottleneck between Myanmar and the Gulf.... However, I think the point at which we find ourselves at the moment  wins the title if one is fair.

After a while we find the perfect spot for our tents - it seems like the grounds of something like a community center. There is a soccer field, a closed hall, a toilet and shower building, an observation tower, a table and benches made of concrete, and a sandy beach. Oh great - here we stay. The bike is unloaded quickly and when we want to build our tent there’s a problem .... We can’t find our tent pegs anywhere and eventually Kevin seems to recall having taken them out of the back box when servicing the bike in Siem Reap and put them down to one side - Johan has a good laugh, it's the same error he made, but he had (as mentioned in the last blog) already noticed it in the next town, went all the way back to pick them up and has his now - while we still scratch our heads Johan’s tent is standing and ready for the night. We have a think and consider to secure the tent with 4 screwdrivers again (which has worked in Kazakhstan) when a man on a moped arrives. He is laughing and friendly and in lots of words of which we don’t get a single one he seems to signal that we are allowed to spend the night here and after we have managed to make him understand our problem with the lack of herring, he opens the door of the guard tower for us and makes an inviting gesture to let us know we can sleep in here. He also shows Kevin the toilet block and the hose shower, which we may also use. Meanwhile, a couple has joined us, she Thai, he Swede and now we can have a three way conversation: we talk with the Swede in English he translates everything for his wife into Swedish, who then in turn translates it all into all for the villager on the moped and vice versa - so we end up with a deal as it turns out that the man has a friend who can make us new pegs. Quickly he jumps on his bike and disappears and then returns with his mate who carries a suitable piece of iron rod, from which it can bend the pegs. With the help of the Swedish couple we negotiate a price for 20 pegs and get the promise to get them the next morning before our scheduled departure at 9 o’clock. Throughout this discussion I have started the preparations for our supper: we have supplied ourselves with rice paper in Cambodia and also some vegetables – we just have no meat, because that would have gone bad on the bikes and in the heat anyway and so we are going to have vegetarian Vietnamese spring rolls cooked on the camping stove tonight. While Johan rides with the man from the village to buy some beer in a small shop I get busy with my new chopping board and cleaver and start cutting the vegetables for the spring rolls, and promptly cutting off the tip of my thumb because I am no longer accustomed to such sharp tools –well now the spring rolls are not quite vegetarian after all ....... To fry with camping stove and pan is not as easy as it looks and wants to be learned - the spring rolls are not as beautiful as the ones done in a Vietnamese Wok but they are tasty and for our supper we have the beach with a picturesque sunset all to ourselves again –first however the friendly and helpful local helps himself to some of our beer and does not forget his friend either then he tells us that he has to leave - fortunately, because in Johan the Boer is short of breaking out. Quickly I jump on our bike and get some replacement  - after all, the self-service action was because of us leaving our pegs behind. The next morning at 9 we are packed and ready to leave and already start to wonder whether it was a good idea to have paid the pegs in advance when our new friend appears on his scooter - without pegs but with the news that they are now a little more expensive – he wants another 50 Baht (1.25 €) - well that won’t break the bank and we just don’t have the nerve to discuss the matter without an interpreter so we give him the money and he says something about 2 and points to the fishing boats, from which we make that it will take 2 hours because his friend has gone fishing and still had no time for the pegs ..... After two hours have gone by, which we use to have breakfast and several cups of coffee and do some reading on the beach there is still no tent peg in sight – we start wondering whether he meant 2 o’clock and not 2 hours. It turns one when our friendly helper eventually returns - with 18 instead of 20 pegs and without the one that Johan gave him as a pattern  - we try to ask for it but give up quickly there is just no chance to get this through to him and we’ve had enough we only wish to get a move on. So we just write off that tent peg and hit the road. We drive on that day to 60 km before Bangkok and slowly it's time to familiarize ourselves with the thought of parting as tomorrow our paths will separate once and for all. One last time, we look for a hotel, where we share a room and go out for dinner together around the corner. Although this is our last evening we go to bed early because we’re tired. Johan tries again half-heartedly to convince us that we prefer to go to India instead of Australia but we do not believe him and so we forget for now the fact that the end of our time together is looming. Nothing can be put off forever so we leave the next day riding together until shortly before Bangkok and before the junction where we finally turn south we stop again and make it official here and now. I have to pull myself together hard to keep from crying – some big hugs and then we make it short and sweet: get on the bikes and go. After a few hundred meters we turn left waving and honking while Johan drives straight ahead. I certainly have not much time to grieve because now I have to get best mates with the navigation program really quickly.... Against expectations this is a lot easier than anticipated and it looks as if our plan to sail around the southern outskirts of Bangkok is working. We ride directly under the Express Highway when suddenly we hear a loud horn and here comes Johan zooming past us. We all stop on the hard shoulder and learn that his idea of going directly to the city center did not work - his road ended on the Express Highway where motorbikes are not allowed on. We have a short chat and a fag then we all start off again - everyone on   their own merry way but this time with a grin and the idea that we are destined to meet again sometime either on this trip or at home. We continue to follow my route planning, while Johan turns for the 2nd time off on a different route and suddenly we are faced with the Express Highway. Since we cannot use it now good advice is scarce. I try all the possible alternatives, and must in the end give in and just navigate through the city center right through the madness - there is no other permitted route for us... Oh great – me the navigation novice (at least with anything that is not made of paper) now has to find a way across this mega city. Of course all fantasies you can have on this topic come true. We circle through Bangkok always end up in front of the Forbidden Highway, in dead ends, have to retrace tracks, lose the GPS signal and no longer know where we are. We are screaming at each other, try to ask for directions, but even in this huge city it is difficult to have luck and meet someone who speaks English even just  a few words of it ....... We need a several hours until we finally drive over a bridge which is not actually allowed for bikes but the locals seem do not seem to care so we follow their example and then we are actually out of town and glad for it. We drive until dark through the suburbs and at some point we've reached the point where we are absolutely knackered, done in, finished … and only want to stop, eat something and go to bed. But how to find a hotel here? The Thai seem to be confident enough to assume that each person moving around in this country also knows the language and can read the squiggly writing and of course we are the odd one out who can’t speak or read Thai.

 Again and again we stop and ask for a hotel. Zealous and nice people point up the street, give us direction indications showing 2 or whatever with their fingers (do they mean 2 meters or 2 kilometers or 2 hours?) with much yes yes but what means hotel in squiggles? I slowly but surely get pissed off start to curse and would love to beam us to the next border and out of here but all the cursing does not help us and so we struggle on until we eventually stop at a police check and ask the friend and helper for support - the laugh and point to the opposite side of the street:” Noah's Garden Resort “- I will neither forget this hotel nor the sign ever! This resort is really worth mentioning - there are apartments, all with private parking separated by walls from the next one and at the entrance of each parking slot there is a thick curtain that is pulled shut behind our motorcycle. At the entrance is a hatch - later I find out it's for drinks which you can order by phone and are then delivered there by employees. Everything inside is decorated in red and white and all the walls and the ceiling are full of mirrors. The huge bed is covered with artificial leather (washable) and next to the bed is a control panel where you can dim the lighting and regulate the TV(with many porn channels)  - of course I play with the thing until it’s broken and have to fetch the caretaker because nothing works anymore ..... how embarrassing. After the long tiring day we only want something to eat and then to fall into bed (at least the artificial leather will be nice and cool). The next morning we sift through our navigation program and since it proposes to us only one campsite which is in the enormous nature reserve Keach Krachan we decide to drive there. Navigating outside the big cities works quite well and we are relatively quick in getting there even though it’s  quite off the beaten path and end up before a lowered barrier - Motorbikes are not allowed in here so now we need a plan B. Not far from the entrance to the reserve are a few resorts and some of which advertise camping so we look for the one with the most shady places - Samarn Bird Camp wins the toss: a good choice. We are the only ones with a tent here, but are made ever so welcome.

There is a restaurant where you get breakfast and dinner at reasonable prices and apart from us, the resort is full of "birders" -  people who travel to the remotest corners of the world, to see birds -  they are equipped with super zoom cameras and / or binoculars and note each spotted species in a little book. On the first evening, we meet three birders from Yorkshire. We start talking and have a nice evening exchanging stories and experiences and after looking at our pictures from Mongolia the 3 bird lovers  restore the image of the Golden Eagle for me again - what we have seen in Mongolia were black vultures - the largest bird of prey in Europe and definitely scavengers. I hereby officially apologize to all Golden Eagles for my ignorance. The three birders from Yorkshire invite us to go with them the next day in their rental car to the reservation, it turns out that there have been problems  with tourists and the wild elephants here and a woman was killed by one of them, therefore, the prohibition for motorcycles in the park. Fortunately it is not too hard to wake up the next morning at sunrise as it also begins to be uncomfortably warm in the tent and so we manage to actually get up and off with the guys and spend a wonderful day with them. There  are many different bird species to see and for quite a while after Kevin snaps everything that has feathers and I fear already, I need to buy a notebook for  him now. We spend 5 really nice days here - without internet  but with lots of nature and tim, in which I actually get our Vietnam Blog started -at least in German - and even get some of the pictures for the website sorted.  We also manage to make trips in the area and on one of these trips I find wifi in a cafe and the message that we should get in touch with my parents urgently. Immediately put on alert (you never know  what's going on) we decide to go back towards civilization so that we can call home. We drive back to the coast and look for a small affordable apartment with Internet and stay there a whole week since this saves us 100 baht a day. Immediately, we make use of the opportunity to call home - luckily nothing bad happened we just have to clarify a few organizational issues with my parents. We also get a message from Johan, who by now has everything sorted in Bangkok and is now waiting for his India visa. He says he is bored and hates the place. Without further ado, we invite him to us - it is only 300 km from Bangkok and the roads are good. Johan does not need talking into this idea and the next day joins  us and we all are only too happy for the opportunity to see each other again and we spend a very lazy week together which we then extend for another few days to celebrate Kevin's birthday together. The apartment has a balcony which opens directly above the river and so the men spend the afternoons fishing and I make further progress with the Vietnam blog which is growing and growing and growing. I'm just through two weeks of our 2 month trip through this country and I have written 9 pages already – I  begin to doubt whether I can really expect anyone to read this incredibly long blog. But I find it hart to decide what to delete - so I'm ploughing on hoping for the best.

Kevin's birthday party turns out quite modest (apart from a nice fry up for breakfast) - a feast at a street fish restaurant which then is abruptly ended by a downpour, a birthday cake from the market which looks delicious but if you are used to my mothers gateaux it is quite a disappointment and a couple of Chang beers to wash it all down . Our third farewell with Johan is then quite unspectacular - practice makes  perfect. While our friend and companion first heads for Bangkok and then India we dawdle along the coast. Wheel bearings must once again be changed along the way and finally we have crossed the narrow part of Thailand and can now drive towards the west coast. Again and again we come across incredibly nice people who like our unusual vehicle and the journey that we have done with it. We get valuable advice on routes which are particularly beautiful and what we should not miss along the way. We are also often invited to dinner which is brilliant, because we cannot read the menu and it’s hard to get understood. This way we finally get to enjoy the specialties of the local cuisine. Thanks to the good advice of a couple who is also on a motorcycle we finally land in Khao Sok National Park. We have often found that national parks are the best places to camp: they are usually very nice, cost almost nothing, have good sanitation, mostly affordable restaurants and usually also access to a power outlet ..... what else does one need? Maybe Internet here and there - but in general you find Hot Spots for internet connection quite often in Southeast Asia – for example at  petrol stations or cafes where you can quickly (well – that is an exaggeration as usually it’s more pixel by pixel) go online to upload what you have written down or snapped in beautiful places.  So we are in Khao Sok  and one day as we  spend  the hottest part of the day next to our tent in the shade Ronald  arrives on his bike, spots our Liza and  naturally comes across to look at our bike and we start talking. It turns out that he is one of 20000 people from Liechtenstein, but lives and works in Thailand or better near Phuket. He is waiting for his friends (the owner of Tamarindbar in Rawei, his staff and Lek, Ronis girlfriend) who are following in a car to spend the weekend here. Roni offers us a cold beer and while we finish it getting nicely merry in the heat of the afternoon finally the others arrive too and after we can actually help them finding accommodation, we are invited to the barbecue party - well how you could we refuse this offer? Here we learn how to grill in Thai style .... Not so much different than at home, but the side dishes and salads are on fire. We spend a nice boozy night together and after we tell them that we want to travel down the West Coast to Phuket next, we are immediately persuaded to stop by the Tamarindbar - we can’t make any promises of when we will be there because we want to take our time along the coastal route but we do promise to call in when we get there.  The next morning the cheerful gang moves on and we rest another day in the shade of the forest before we pack up and make our way in search of the sea. It is not far to the Andaman Sea - the Thai part of the Indian Ocean, which was plagued almost 10 years ago by the terrible tsunami. The coast is beautiful and surrounded by white sandy beaches. Once again we are looking for a campground, but everywhere  is full of  resorts and private beaches so it is difficult to find a suitable place. Before the tsunami this part of Thailand was more frequented by hippies and it was cheap beach huts, but now package tourists in the middle to advanced age and a corresponding travel budget fill everything - which has corrupted the prices – which is a bit of a bummer for the budget traveler – ie us because a( we don’t like resorts and b) we can’t afford them anyway. We try a few times to get on small country lanes to find lonely beach corners, but we always end up back in the woods and everywhere is full of the deserted ruins, devastated by the huge wave and then not rebuilt -it all slowly gets covered by vegetation and somehow there is a spooky atmosphere in which we do not feel comfortable. We drive to Khao Lak, also package tourist stronghold and already want to move on as we discover just outside the town a small National Park. Asking costs nothing and lo and behold, they have a campground it costs 60 baht per night and we do not even have to pay admission. The campsite is right on the sea front in a small beautiful bay with a portaloo, a cold water tap, a socket and a bamboo frame with inset shower heads – what else does one need? This is a little paradise.  Every morning, a few employees clean the beach and otherwise we have, with few  exceptions a dream beach mainly for us. The only disadvantage of this  most beautiful campsite in all-Thailand is the fact that the car park is at the other end of a mile-long walkway with quite a few wobbly steps and we have to hump everything there and back - but hey - a small price to pay for such a place to live after all – nothing is perfect!  After a night of thunderstorms, we wake up early, our battered tent has amazingly kept up well and dry and now it's a bit overcast so that the temperatures are finally halfway bearable for once. For breakfast we make sandwiches with toast, egg, cold meat and crisps as a topping and then a quick dip in the crystal clear sea -glorious. I almost feel guilty that we are doing so well here. We spend the day doing laundry and mend some of my trousers (slowly all our clothes are a bit faded and full of holes) every now and again I have to get the camera out, as there are quite a lot of animals here: a young water monitor lizard, seabirds, crabs, which at low tide sunbathe on the rocks and lots of cute hermit crabs that carry their home around with them and are looking for shade - slowly we mutate to Mr. and Mrs. Attenborough. From time to time we have to leave our little paradise - we go every once and then in a cafe where there's free wifi to see if there are any news for us also we need something against mosquitoes, some water, food and a little bit of fruit which we get from a street stall - Fresh watermelons, pineapples and bananas will never be the same for us again. We also buy 2 cold beer each and return to our beach asap - as it is much nicer than mixing with the many tourists and although there are some people and children here now it's still lovely and quiet. We enjoy our cold beers before they have time to be pee warm and watch the world go by. Thai, like all Asians love to take photos and selfies in all sorts of poses and it is quite amusing to watch them here, especially if they try to take pictures of themselves in the sea, because on the one hand, the smartphone must not get wet and also they have an amazing amount of fear of the water and only a few can swim - you rarely see someone who dares venturing further than waist deep into the water. Before it gets dark they are all gone and we can go swimming in the moonlight again beautiful. After 4 days in this paradise we decide to move on - after all, we still want to see a little more of Thailand before our visa expires and it now goes to Phuket as promised to visit our new friends in the Tamarindbar.