Friday, February 22, 2013

Hua Hin

Thailand is a special country. It’s hardly an obscure destination for foreign travelers to go—they seem to be everywhere you look—but my second trip to the country was even better than the first, some ten months ago. Having been to Southeast Asia four times now, there are certain things I’m getting used to. Despite this, I enjoy witnessing many completely new sights, sounds and smells on each trip.

I first heard about Hua Hin from my lead teacher Katie this fall, as she traveled there over Christmas. With plane ticket prices going up and up for Chinese New Year, I decided to fly to Bangkok again, as it’s one of the closest major cities to Hong Kong. But instead of staying within the metropolis, I wanted to go a bit outside of the city, and Hua Hin seemed the best option, after talking with Katie. Beaches and sun galore. Sounds like the perfect escape from lackluster February in Hong Kong.

After a bit of a mixup in finding the bus to Hua Hin, Sharman and I departed southwest from Bangkok on the three-hour ride. And unbeknownst to me, our hotel was another 45 minutes south of the city center so we had to take a tuk-tuk from the bus depot to the resort. At the start, I was a bit skeptical of the hotel. It was far away, teeming with Western families and shut down the front desk at the strangely early hour of 9 pm. However, after a day or so, I realized that the hotel was pretty excellent after all.  The families were fairly laid back and most importantly, the hotel was right on a beautiful endless stretch of quiet beachfront. Unlike the Hua Hin beach, where you could hardly find a square yard without a sunbathing European. 

On the first day, we mostly stayed close to the hotel, soaking in the natural beauty. Our two excursions were both via boat; one on a fisherman's boat to a breathtaking cave called Phraya Nakhon aways down the bay, another on a rented kayak to so-called “Monkey Island.” When we got to the small island and went for a brief swim, hordes of macaque monkeys came towards us. It was a bit surreal in an uncomfortable sort of way so we rowed back to the hotel after a short time. Don’t worry; we had a more positive monkey experience later on the trip.

The next day was Valentines Day and we went for an elephant ride in the nearby elephant farm.  Thailand is obsessed with elephants and I figured this was a must do. I particularly enjoyed riding through the water at the end of the trek. Nothing more romantic than lifting your feet up to avoid floating elephant poo, right? We also expored the actually city of Hua Hin on this day and to be honest, it was fairly unattractive. It just felt like a normal city with a few thousand extra tourists. And as I mentioned before, the famous Hua Hin beach may have gotten a bit too famous with it's endless leathery old Caucasians, sizzling under the sun. The only highlight from the city itself was a shop called "The Family Tree" which sold countless items, all made by local community groups with profits going back to the people. The place was run by a lovely mixed Thai/English couple, as pictured below (6th one down). Sharman got some of her only souvenirs from this place and I got to try out a sweet Thai banjo-like instrument.

The following day we went on a Thai cooking course. This was a unique, rewarding experience where some twelve tourists got to learn how to cook four different Thai dishes with help from a local Thai lady named Beau and her Australian husband (seeing a pattern here?). I’m a very poor cook, partially because I have little interest in cooking, but this course was still a grand time, particularly watching Beau's mastery in the kitchen and her patience with all our faux pas. It’s hard to write about right now before dinner as I can still remember those divine aromas of green curry and tom yum soup!

The final thing we did on the trip was a guided bike ride around the area just south of Hua Hin. Though expensive by Thai standards, this excursion was a real highlight of the trip, much like the ride I took in Guilin six months ago. Bicycling through new places is very liberating to me, for whatever reason. We went all the way from the border shared with Burma, along beaches, by a majestic temple and near the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. It was also on this trip that we met a clan of dusky leaf monkeys. Unlike the pesky macaques, these creatures were very friendly, taking bananas from our hands and jumping around, undisturbed by our presence. Many of my best photos came from this bike ride.

Though hardly the point of the trip, one of the main themes of our time in Hua Hin was doing healthy activities. We kayaked, swam, hiked (to the cave), had a massage, biked and cooked/ate healthy local food. According to our free cookbook, Thai food is one of the healthiest cuisines as many of the spices either boost immunity or heal the body in various ways. I have no idea how but I trust the cookbook.

It was another enjoyable trip and further confirmation that I’ve got the travel bug and I’ve got it bad. Fortunately, I’ll be in Vietnam a month from now for my Easter holiday. See you in four weeks Southeast Asia!

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