February, 2010

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One more idyllic tropical Paradise in Thailand, Sai Noi Beach!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

© Frank P. Schneidewind

 

 

An estimated 250 KM South of Bangkok on Phetkasem Road is another true beach-gem to be found. A nice bay for bathing and swimming with fine sand, hardly any tourists and virtually none of the side-effects, as found in the tourist magnets and hot spots. Developments are typically Thai style ad so are the prices asked here. Less than a handful of food vendors tend to the needs of the guests and provide basic Thai dishes, cold drinks and a bit of beach furniture, such as relaxing beach chairs, tables and umbrellas. Turn left, when coming from the North about 20 minutes after you passed Hua Hin. Just the same approach as to Suan Son Pradhipat, only a bit further South.

 

Even the TAT could give this treasured area no less than 4 stars in order not to loose their face entirely in public, despite the total lack of tourist developments. Accommodations are indeed difficult to locate, but first signs of tourism can be spotted. It will not gain Hua Hin’s fame, but the world famous seaside resort town makes a great stepping stone and for those staying in Hua Hin, these fabulous beaches are surely worth a day trip. On a rented scooter, moped or car, one can cover the distance on the sunny side of half an hour. Beachlovers just need to follow road number 4 towards Pranburi.

An idyllic beach for those with kids or seeking to chill out.

Sai Noi stretches from Khao Tao, the bold mountain with it’s rocky surface in the South to large boulders in the North. We were surprised by it’s cleanliness and found it in the same condition on subsequent visits.

No brochures can be had about Sai Noi, nobody needed to photoshop away sharp rocks or dirt here! Undiscovered yet by beachchair-blockers, umbrella-mafias or full moon DJ’s, great for us since 2001!

The back row under the shady trees is ideal for those, who wish to dine by the seaside or just enjoying the breezes. Beachwalks reveal a busy beachlife, predominantly in the northern section, where crabs have their homes and can be watched from a distance.

The waters are shallow and very suitable for children of all ages and water fun, good swimmers need to wade a distance before depth is sufficient. Even on a perfect day in High season, Sai Noi doesn’t count many visitors. This location seems to be near perfect for those, hunting for alternatives to overcrowded beaches elsewhere. Prices were found to be extremely moderate with drinks and snacks only slightly over main street market rural Thai charges. Use of the provided beach furniture was free for customers or charged a minimal daily rate for all day occupation.

The water quality was at all  times good enough for water activity, no questionable debris or trash was spotted here. Nature in general appeared widely undisturbed and the lush forests in the backdrop plus the near National Parks offer a variety. Sarm Roi Yod with it’s caves is worth a trip, so is the fishing village nearby.

Shells and occasional seaweed line the water’s edge, the tide and all features like waves and currents etc. seem to be much less dangerous and milder in the Gulf. A cow or water buffalo can at times be spotted, with the later one being a welcomed extra attraction to the guests here. Pastures border the northern part of Sai Noi and the farming never stopped existing here.

For all those, that enjoy lenghthy beach walks, the Sai Yai beach to the North stretches far and offers a similar environment. Minus the food establishments, beach furniture providers and drink vendors, I should add.

Sai Noi can be reached by train or public bus (from Sai Mai Terminal Bangkok) to Hua Hin (around 200 Baht). A taxi or Tuktuk to Sai Noi may cost you 300 to 500 Baht. Any southbound bus can take you for 20 Baht to the kilometer marker 244, from there it is only about 1800 meter to you beach chair. Southbound buses leave Hua Hin several times per hour.

 

 

Pak Meng Beach, Trang Province – Thailand

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

© Frank P. Schneidewind

 

 

Another Andaman Sea Beach Review: Pak Meng, Trang

South of the touristic destination of Krabi and North of Satun Province, Trang faces an existence in the attention shadow of the almighty TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand). Once given a 3 1/2 star review by questionable biased judges there; Trang never qualified for much limelight or exposure. Good for us, because we give a damn about their judgements and do or own assessment and judging. Fact finding, we call that and we enjoy doing that over and over again. Arrival with public transport was a real problem here. Whilst Trang City is connected well by train and buses and they even have an airport (domestic), their beach jewels remain difficult to locate and reach.

We arrived by scheduled minivan from Satun late in the day, having to change transport in the community in Sikao, a small township closer to Pak Meng. A long travel day ended for us at dawn time in Pak Meng, and we were rewarded by a nice sunset, that kept us from checking for accommodation until it was completely dark. A dimly lit beach road had a few restaurants, some beach gadget stores and a few guesthouses. Restaurants all extended their tables and plastic chairs across the road onto the part where the beach meets the road level. A minor embankment lined this and trees were fighting for their sheer survival in this small stretch of urban beach.

What we witnessed, was one of those spectacular sunsets on the Andaman coastline. Just like the ones in untraveled Burma or in Malaysia or on Sumatra. The Thai Andman coast is equaling Koh Chang in the Gulf or Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s coast in photogenic quality. Just the number of tourists per 100 square meters differs a lot. Nothing tops the much promoted Cape Promthep in Phuket Province, where the hordes of tourists bused in must have exceeded all capabilities of the over-touristed place by now. The nicest 15 sunsets in Thailand, we think are to be seen:

1.) Koh Phayam (entire West coast) (our SIAMPEDIA-Avatar!)

2.) Koh Chang (Trat), White Sand Beach (our SiampediaVISION-Avatar!)

3.) Pak Meng Beach, Trang

4.) Ao Nang Beach, Krabi

5.) – 15.) Koh Lipe, Tarutao, Lanta, Kradan, Racha Yai, Chang (Ranong) , Tao,
Phangan, Samui,  Phuket (all West facing Beaches or segments thereof!)

The Beach quality was tested by TAT years ago at 3 1/2 stars, lower than some of the dirtied-up resort area beaches we’d encounter over the years – but it doesn’t appear justified. The “trash” found here was significantly less than e.g. Khao Lak, Baan Krud or elsewhere. A lot of driftwood, shells and a few plastic items on a 4 km stretch of bathing beach, all public! No private maintenance as with some of the “exclusive” resort stretches of coastal sand.

The beach road was filled up with the catch  of the day, nowhere on the Andaman coastline can seafood-lovers indulge freshest product at such low prices! Thanks to the low foreigner-density here, most beachside restaurants have regular Thai prices, do not expect a lot of “Western food” here!

An impressive TAT-run “Information Center” was a long walk away from the community. Almost in the boonies, like we have seen them often before. It was open to our surprise, and large. TAT-style incompetent staff was extremely friendly and replied to each and every question with a nice smile, but no verbal answer. Communication skills are not asked for at TAT’s human resource hiring department, the friendly girl with the model smile was absolutely useless for any information foreign tourists may seek! We were given some brochures free of charge,  local maps were a total void here

Maybe one day, TAT wakes up and jobs or positions have to be qualified for. As per yet, the poorly educated staff has to buy their jobs for large sums – as they are “high-image”, so substantial rumors say ! I know that they hate me for telling the truth on destinations, rip-off’s and overpricing schemes – but there will be more and more truth uncovered, not only by SIAMPEDIA!

Amazing Thailand once again!

The great backdrop here was provided by the likes of Koh Kradan, Koh Hai, Koh Muk and Koh Libong – we were thinking about exploring at least two of them. A further hike to Pak Meng pier was necessary to find out about possible transport options. The so-called high season was already in the past this time of the year.

All “dirt” seen seemed natural or organic and wasn’t an issue of concern by me or Melona, we were ready for some island here, the snorkeling gear in our backpacks needed to get wet!

The few kids enjoying themselves here, were the only ones bathing on this day. We had to hike to the pier first, in order to find out about schedules of ferries or boats to hire. We could not walk bare footed on the beach here, there were too many shells and broken, sharp edged shells on the beach. We needed to retain uncut skin for the projected snorkeling pleasures.

The hike to the pier was 3 to 4 km one way!

The driftwood and debris brought in by the waves showed the flood lines, but overall we did not encounter any trash heaps or larger accumulations here, someone tidies this up here at least!

Impressive shells here in large variety! Some had a crab inside, that “borrowed” a shell for housing.

Any size, shape and color was there, and endless resupply from the waves.

After an exhausting hike in midday heat, we reached the pier at last. Here we faced a sign, charging a foreigner “admission fees”, pier fees etc., but no vessel was scheduled or waiting for a fare to haul.

What disturbed us, was the fact that again foreigners had to pay a tenfold charge to visit these islands?

10 times the normal price is not a little mark up, it is a full blown rip-off!

A family with young children really gets nailed here, as the “admission” for foreign offspring was still 5 times the adult Thai fare! We are people, not cows – waiting to be milked or ATM’s on 2 legs for the Thai nation or any of their posessions – no other nation does this to their visitors!  We have traveled other nations around and their marine nationalparks, never did we face this unjustified greed!

Our action was predictable! 2 days getting ripped off here, we decided – and then we just switch to the southern neighbor Malaysia, where we knew what paradise to expect in the Perhentians or on Langkawi Another week or so of snorkeling would do us nice! We get a nice cottage by the Coral Beach there for less than the daily rip-off fee for both of us! And we feel sorry for less flexible tourists, that get victimized here!

 

So we booked a passage and a first night in a resort with a local travel office, located 50m away from the pier, the friendly woman there borrowed us her moped for the 3 to 4 km way back to pick up our backpacks and gear at the guesthouse. It was check-out time there anyhow, the boat was leaving in a short while.

And then the unforeseen happened! We just reached the guesthouse  and slowed down to enter the driveway in front of the GH. A pick-up truck, piloted by his drunken driver at a parking bay backed out of the opposite lane. He hit a Toyota car, driven by a local lady into the side and catapulted her into us. Melona flew on the pavement, barely missing a concrete electric pole! My knee got hit by the headlight and my right foot got entangled in the airfoil, kicking out a fog light and separated the fiberglass part from the metal body as I flew. The drunkard checked the damage on his pick-up, saw my bloody foot and me lying on the road, the totaled moped and the damage he had caused. In typical Thai style, he escaped with screetching tires from the scene of accident and took off, swerving across both lanes.

The flesh of my foot’s back side was torn with visible bones, the scar left after 3 month of repeated surgery, measures 20 cm around the heel from side to side .   Melona had skin abrasions, a badly twisted ankle and a lot of painful bruises

The foot needed medical attention extremely bad. The cause had fled the scene and we arranged to meet the ladies after my first surgery in Sikhao at the police station. Our ambulance was another pick-up truck bed, the scene was crowded and full of helpful people. One of them (eyewitness) had memorized the plate of the black pick-up, that caused the accident. Noon in Pak Meng, here we were in a horrible shape, hurting badly. The empty bottle of Mekhong on the stone table by the sea side will remain pictured in my memory for long. That was where the hit-and-run dude had his party.

We sure had to rearrange once again, Melona looked like she took a bath in iodine and I meet my new friends (2 wooden crutches) for the first time. The Police fined me 2.000 Baht for driving an uninsured moped, but arrested the drunkard that same night. He was told to pay all vehicle damage plus medical bills. His insurance (covered all!) still owes me about a few thousand for transport to and from surgeries and wound treatments.

We now had no options left, but to stay in Pak Meng until our scheduled departure from Hat Yai airport back to Bangkok. The room was nice, with A/C for 400 Baht per night, refrigerator and TV. Our beach fun was limited to a small radius and we had to commute daily to the health station in Sikhao for treatments. Melona was back on bikes within days! The local food tasted good.

Not every trip goes as planned, but we were rewarded with dreamlike sunsets daily here. Pak Meng will sure see us again one day!