24th - 26th April: Hua Hin

Accommodation:  Laila Food and Drink Guesthouse  -  £12 per night, double room

Even at 7am the humidity at the Hua Lamphong Station was stifling. I had some misguided urge to get a photo of the train arriving so left the comfort of the air-conditioned main hall to wait on the platform 10 minutes early, in no time I was absolutely sopping!

Normality was restored once on board in the spacious and reasonably comfortable 2nd class carriage. Given that the original intention was for this to be a train journey from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur, this was the only part remaining of the original plan. I’d decided to split the journey so an overnighter in Hua Hin, 3½ hours away, was included.

After the unpleasantness of Bangkok, it was a welcome relief that the countryside en-route is picturesque and the stations quaintly decorated and adorned with flowers, reminiscent of Littlehampton for those in the know. I knew the area I was staying in was a bit choice and the accommodation basic but I was just after a cheap bed for one night near the station so it was more than adequate. I just adopted a fixed smile and repetitive ‘no thank-you’ each time I ran the gauntlet of girly bars. I had to chuckle as I passed ‘The Ting-Tong Club’ after a comment left earlier by Notty on Facebook.

The beach area is altogether much nicer and very busy when the locals come out to gather in the evening. After grabbing some rays it was time for a few Tigers and a spot of people watching in one of the beach bars, then a bite to eat at the Sang Thai Seafood pier restaurant Rick Stein had featured in a TV series, and bloody delicious it was to, though my bravado in asking for my Tom Yum Goong spicy numbed the mouth and made the eyes water!

As the next day was ANZACS Day I was desperately trying to find a bar which might be showing the traditional ‘Collingwood v Essendon’ match, thankfully I stopped at the right café for my full English breakfast to be directed to El Murphy’s Irish Pub in time for kick-off, so began a 7 hour session on the Stowford Press, firstly while watching the match and then celebrating a fine Pies win. A real bonus to find and even better at £3.50 a pint, just what I needed before my sleeper train! A trip to Burger King for a whopper meal was in order as a soberer, a tad heathen but it did the trick!

Unfortunately, as is usual in Thailand, the train was 1½ hours late and the humidity unrelenting, even at midnight, so I was well & truly ready for my top bunk, very comfy it was to as I was rocked to sleep by the gentle lilt of the train as it slowly made its way to Surat Thani.

Hua Hin & Khoa Sok National Park

26th - 29th April: Khao Sok National Park

Accommodation:  Palmview Resort  -  £15 per night, double room

I’d read all manner of horror stories about the touts on arrival at Surat Thani but, apart from resisting the usual porters trying to carry your bags, had little problem as I was directed by a steward to the bus company for my trip to Khao Sok National Park. After booking my seat on the minibus, 250 Baht (£5) for the 1½ hour journey, there was time to grab some brekkie and freshen up before departure. I bunged the driver an extra 150 Baht for dropping me off at the resort, which was a real bonus. 

I was greeted by the delightful Mama, who sat me down with a bottle of water and plate of fruit for a little introductory chat before getting her neice to show me to my quaint & homely bungalow. After settling in I returned to meet her son Kang, who runs the place and produced a local guide book & waterproof backpack as soon as I mentioned hiking plus a torch for negotiating the forest track at night, he covered all the bases and nothing was too much trouble. 

A peruse of the nearby village confirmed there’s not much in the way of nightlife but what started as a passing conversation with an American having a beer outside the convenience store turned into a bit of a session. By the time we’d finished it was dark and the only place open for food was Pipino Restaurant where the pizza was good so it did the job. From that there was nothing left to do but climb inside the mosquito net in my abode to watch a movie on the tablet. 

Next morning I set off to the nearby National Park (entry 200 Baht) for a bit of a hike, the first 3km was easy, well defined track and it was amusing to have a variety of lizards scampering about your feet while taking in the striking surroundings. A crack of branches overhead revealed a small group of long-tailed macaques looking down at me, awesome! 

From the café at the 3km point the hike got more off-piste so progress slowed until I came upon Bang Neab Lam Waterfall. As I’d by now used half my water I knew I couldn’t go any further, luckily there was a beautiful, mozzy-free pool so I wasted no time getting in to have a good cool off, however I’d foolhardily laid out my clothes on some bushes in the hope they’d dry out, big mistake!!! After about an hour I came out refreshed to find them covered in bees, thankfully I quickly worked out they weren’t stingers but that didn’t make them any easier to get rid of and the effort to get my clothes bee-free meant I was totally drained as I wearily and, once again, sweatily set off on the return hike. Thank God it was only a mile to the café as my tank, and water, was empty when I got there and thirstily necked down a litre of water and can of Sprite. By the time I got back to Palmview I’d done another 1½ litres and a couple of ice-creams such was the dehydration. 

 A shower and short nap helped the return to normality and the realisation that the trip I’d arranged for the following day might be more than my depleted energy levels could manage so I traded it in for an elephant trek which, to be frank, is a ‘once done no need to repeat’ experience. On belatedly reading the guide Kang had provided, I discovered my clothes had been invaded by ‘sweat bees’ who, as the name suggests, crave the sweat of which I’d provided an infinite supply, in future I’ll pack a change of clothes! 

The rest of my time was spent enjoying the peace, quiet & beautiful surroundings of the resort before travelling on to Phuket.