After our break in Railay we decided to get back on the travel wagon and head for the great outdoors of Khoa Yai National Park near Pak Chong.
We took a brief research detour to the city of Patong, which is on Phuket Island. The one night stay was enough for us to know we didn’t want to stay there in the future with my family. Patong is VERY touristy, the most we’ve experienced so far. And with that comes the frustration of saying “no, I don’t want a taxi or tuk tuk, no I don’t want a suit, no I would not like a massage” over and over again. We booked it out of there the following day and heading up north and then east to the city of Pak Chong.
Pak Chong is a smaller city that doesn’t have many tourist come through. It’s always refreshing to stay in a town like this. The people are more curious about you and very willing to help without expecting you to visit their shop or buy something from them. Dave and I have come to realize we enjoy towns like this much more than any touristy town out there. The lonely planet guides usually do a really good job of creating touristy towns, so these small gems are a lot harder to find.
We were both exhausted from the 13-14 hour overnight bus to Bangkok and the 3 hour bus from Bangkok to Pak Chong, so we decided to stay in the closest hotel we could find. The hotel was called Pak Chong Hotel and was right across the street from the night market. We indulged ourselves in the best Pad Thai we’ve had so far in Thailand, these crepe type things, waffles, and Happy Milk shakes. All of these were a total of 160 Baht ($5.20), which is what Dave and I spent on dinner or lunch in Railay. These night markets or even the day markets are perfect for us and our budget.
The following day we decided to book a tour of the national park with one of the companies that offered it. We decided to go with Bobby’s Apartments and Jungle Tours rather than Greenleaf, which was the only other option, for multiple reasons.
- The cost of the tours was the same 1500 baht/person, BUT, the rooms were only 200 baht per night vs. 300 baht for Greenleaf
- They included free Wi-Fi – not sure if Greenleaf does, it’s not on their website
- Hot water showers
- They both have 5 stars for reviews
- And to top it all off, we had called Greenleaf the day before when we were undecided about doing a tour or not and they told us “no tour, then you can’t stay here, bye” which we didn’t appreciate at all
The tour was split into two days. The first included a swim in a natural spring, a tour of a cave where a bunch of bats live, a yummy fruit and cracker snack, and then watching millions of bats leave the cave at dusk. When I say millions, I am not exaggerating. It was amazing. They started to come out around 6:15pm and were still coming out when we left around 6:35pm. We were told it takes about an hour for all of the bats to leave the cave. It was an awesome experience that I know pictures won’t be able to capture.
The second day was our trip into the Khoa Yai National Park and consisted of a visit to the visitors center, a hike through the jungle to look for animals and have lunch, a short walk to the biggest waterfall in the park, a swim in a smaller waterfall, and a never ending search for monkeys, birds, and elephants. Guess what? We got lucky and got to see all three plus a very poisonous viper and the pincers of a scorpion. Our guide did a very good job finding the animals and sharing the experience with us. I would recommend Bobby’s Jungle tours alone for the guide we had, of course, I didn’t experience other tour guides they might be just as good or better. I’ll never know.
The day after the tours we decided to go further east to Surin by train. We were told that the trains were a little unpredictable, but decided it would be easier than buses. Well, the train showed up 2 hours late and took about 45 minutes longer than we thought. But, it didn’t cost much and we were in no real rush, so it worked.
When we got off the train we walked into a festival happening in the square. We were told it was a Chinese Opera, but to us it seemed like a lot of singing, dancing, and carnival like games. We didn’t find the Chinese opera until the last night and it was very hard to hear and understand them. We think this was all for the king as it was the King of Thailand’s birthday the day after we arrived. The festival lasted the whole time we were there, which was very lucky for us as Surin is a small sleepy sort of town. But we did enjoy all of the food that came along with this festival. We did get Pad Thai again, but we tried some different things that looked like egg rolls and these cake type things with different toppings. We also got to see the whole town stop what they were doing and sing happy birthday to the king, or maybe it was the national anthem, either way, it was a cool experience. But this was only an added bonus for coming to Surin, we didn’t actually know that was happening until we got there.
The reason we did come to Surin is the nearby silk villages. The experience to and from was more exciting than we had expected. Our hotel recommended we take a tuk tuk to and from the village as it would be easier. It was also going to cost an estimated 300 baht ($10), most likely both ways. In our book it says you can take a local truck for 15 baht or 30 baht ($1) total for both of us, a tenth of the cost. Being budget travelers we went with the cheaper option, we’ve taken local trucks before anyway, no biggie. We set off with only the name of the truck we were suppose to take and the town it was going to. We stopped in a local store where the 3 people working deciphered what we wanted from our poor rendition of the Thai words for truck and the town name. Eventually they pointed us in the correct direction, which was the market down the street. We managed to find the market from the direction they gave us, but there was 10-20 trucks all with Thai writing parked around the market. Again, we asked some locals using the same Thai words as before. This time they laughed after we mentioned the town, Ban Tha Sawang, and pointed us towards a street that held most of the trucks. Still not knowing which truck to take, we proceeded to ask every truck “Ban Tha Sawang?” and were pointed in the general direction of the trucks behind them with a laugh afterwards. Finally we found it, but people from other trucks were still yelling out “Ban Tha Sawang” and then laughing afterwards. We were amused by the whole experience and still not fully sure we were on the correct truck. I don’t think many non-locals opt to take these trucks.
Anyway, we were on the correct truck and made it to the village. We checked out how they make the silk and shopped around for a couple of hours. Finally decided on a silk handmade scarf for me and a silk scarf that we’re going to use as a table runner whenever we get a table back home.
After this, we went to the location we were dropped off at and waited for a return truck. Thirty-five minutes into the wait a nice, older gentleman on a scooter asked us if we were waiting for a truck back to Surin. We said yes and he proceeded to tell us that sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t, so he was going to try and tell someone that we were waiting. We said thanks, both slightly confused as to what he meant. He went over to the side of the road and started to wave his hand, the equivalent of holding up your thumb, to hitchhike a ride back to Surin for us. Both of us kind of chuckled and wondered if this was 1. allowed and 2. normal practice. There was no stopping him, so we went along with it. Well, no luck and he said he was very busy. So we thanked him and waited another 10 minutes when we decided that after a total hour of waiting we would walk the 8km (5 miles) back if there was no ride. Another 10 minutes went by, 5 minutes before we decide to hoof it, Dave gets up the courage to start to wave at people. We had decided we would have better luck with pick-up trucks and we got lucky, there were three in a row and one of them actually stopped! Lucky us! Two nice young ladies in a pickup brought us back to town and wouldn’t even allow us to pay them. All in all, I’m glad we didn’t opt for the tuk-tuk, because the experience to and from the silk village ended up being better than the silk village itself.