Ok, still in Thailand…Our little excursion in and around Khao Sok National Park left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, so we had to give another national park a fair shake. This would also increase our chances of seeing elephants, elephants, elephants in the wild! To get there, we ate our way through Surat Thani, flew back to Bangkok, bussed it to Pak Chong, and landed in a rural, yet elegant accommodation called Ma Villa on the outskirts of Khao Yai National Park.
We took a bus from Khao Sok directly to the Surat Thani train depot, thinking we’d immediately jump on a train back to Bangkok, only to discover that the only trains available were, um, dare I say, not the most comfortable (i.e., no overnight cabins available and no A/C – I know, I know, first world problems), and it would be a long jaunt. So, we bagged the romantic train idea and the search began – all six of us on our phones – three of us looking for flights back to Bangkok and three of us looking for hotels in Surat Thani. Bingo. Found a flight two days out and a hotel near-ish to the airport. This gave us time to decompress, do some laundry, and once again enjoy complimentary breakfasts and walkabouts to markets and temples, and feast on street food.
Surat Thani, known as the city of good people, is a large, sprawling city in the largest southern province in Thailand. This was evident as we embarked on hours-long walks looking for – wait for it…coffee and, of course, food. It took some tenacity to find our way to the Si Tapi Park floating/night market, but we prevailed and enjoyed tasty (coconut donut-like things) and not-so-tasty (bbq squid-on-a-stick) morsels. The food highlight for me was the vegetarian restaurant (aptly named Surat Thani Vegetarian) that Randy found. Brenda, Randy, and I took a walk, a tuk-tuk, and another meandering walk to get there – and it was well worth it. If not only for the food, but for the beautiful space and garden it offered its patrons. Definitely a highlight. After filling up on street and vegetarian food for a couple of days, letting our laundry dry, and getting some work done, we were off to Pak Chong and the Khao Yai National Park.
After a quick flight back to Bangkok, a quick street-food snack out in front of the bus depot, a not-so-quick bus ride to Pak Chong, and a moderately bumpy ride to Ma Villa, we were once again in search of food. This time it was a bit more challenging because Ma Villa, which was a wonderful little rural hideaway, was out in the proverbial boonies. It was dark by the time we got settled in our rooms and set off afoot on a 2+ mile walk to the nearest dwellings, hoping something would resemble a restaurant, be open, and be serving food. Bingo! After asking around a bit, we found a teeny family-run place, where two kids, no more than 6 or 7, were helping take orders and serve food. Just watching them dance around, complete with wardrobe changes, was worth the walk. The proprietor even shared some Thai whiskey with the table.
Recognizing the distances we would need to cover to find food and to get into the park, we decided we should look into renting some wheels – either scooters or a vehicle. A vehicle it was, albeit not quite big enough to seat all six of us, so yours-truly was relegated to the cargo hold (without a seatbelt – gulp!). It was a bit too close to park closing time the first day, so we decided to explore the neighborhood instead. Having wheels enabled us to wander at will, so we went to The Chocolate Factory between Ma Villa and Pak Chong, which was a welcome surprise and necessitated a taste test. Despite all efforts, there was no consensus on a favorite and, believe me, we tried many varieties. Then we nudged into a parking spot on the main road in Pak Chong and headed out on an extended walkabout.
Pak Chong is not what we would consider a tourist hot spot; it serves largely as a throughway to Khao Yai National Park. As we wended our way through the streets, the locals offered friendly, yet curious smiles that said to me they don’t see many tourists in their neighborhoods. The best part about Pak Chong was observing real Thailand in which street markets and temples are still prominent fixtures that we took in willingly. One of the most memorable sights was a small temple where there were several monks’ tunics (cīvaras) hanging to dry amongst the trees in a yard lined with spirit houses. A serene sight.
Then we were off to the park in search of elephants, elephants, elephants! We opted not to hire a guide and ventured out on our own to one of the observation towers, took a hike along a leech-infested trail, trudged down and back up some stairs to the Haew Su Wat Waterfall, and took one last look from the same observation tower, only to see large flocks of great hornbills heading to their roost for the night, but no elephants. Wah wah. It was a fabulous rainy, sunny, no-elephant kind of day, and a wonderful stay at Ma Villa.
After a couple of beautiful days in the Pak Chong/Khao Yai area, it was off to Ayutthaya!
Surat Thani and Pak Chong Gallery
Khao Yai National Park Gallery
And now for S/V Adventurer’s vid!