One place I had not yet visited was Hua Hin, a small town four hours south of Bangkok, on Thailand’s east coast. I travelled there by train, which certainly had no shortage of on-board catering: dozens of men and women selling various food like sausages, rice crackers, fruit, sweets, drinks and complete meals, yelling their inventory and price as they walked past. “Sapparot yii-sip baht khaaaa”, emphasising the last, polite word that usually concludes every sentence. Although its script is still a mystery to me, I find myself recognising words in the Thai language as they are spoken, and sometimes I can even understand the subject of a conversation. It is such a melodic language, words can usually be pronounced in five tones, each one giving a different meaning to the otherwise same word.
Hua Hin is a touristy town, home to the royal family for most of the year. It has a wonderful beach, quite crowded in some places, and a plethora of souvenir shops. Several nightmarkets, some clearly adapted for the tourists, offer just about anything you can think of, plus food and drinks, and it is lovely to just browse around or sample some of the delicious food. South of the town is a hill overlooking the city, with beautifully old temples, and dozens of Buddha statues, alongside ponds with hundreds of catfish. Between the trees on top of the hill, monks have small and very basic wooden bungalows, with beautiful views of the sea in the distance.
Phetburi, also known as Phetchaburi, is an hour north of Hua Hin, easily explored on a short daytrip, and it features Khao Wang, a hill with a restored King Mongkut (Rama IV) palace, and several beautiful temples overlooking the city. You would think that a hill could provide some breezy relief from the heat, but no. It was just after nine in the morning, the sun scorchingly hot, no wind to speak of, yet quite a number of steps to climb, which I did bathing in sweat. What did provide some relief was a series of caves on the edge of the city, hordes of monkeys playing, grooming eachother or begging for food on the parking lot and along the path leading to the entrance of the caves. Inside the caves, hundreds of Buddha statues in all shapes and sizes. Displayed in rows along the cave wall, solitary ones in small chambers, a large reclining Buddha on the other side. The largest hall had an opening in the rock ceiling, sunlight filtered through the smoke of incense, the rays touching the Buddhas. It was cool and quiet inside the caves. You wondered how long some of the older Buddhas, carved out of stone, must have been there. Offerings had been placed in front of some of the Buddhas, including a whole collection of children’s toys in front of one.
After several days in Hua Hin, I went further south to Chumpon, where I took a boat to the tiny island of Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand. I had visited this place two years ago, but lots had changed. It was much busier now, many new buildings and additions to hotels, and a new moron element: lots of young, male tourists, speeding on their rental motorbikes or trikes or even motorised skateboards on the narrow path in front of the beach. Or perhaps it’s just that I’m getting older. The beach was still wonderful, and the scuba diving still magical. I visited the same dive sites again, and was again amazed at the underwater beauty, the thousands of brightly coloured fishes, the beautiful coral.
Four days later, I found my way back to Bangkok, a couple of days before the national elections would take place. However, an unexpected trip awaited me to Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand, where I would find myself enjoying the humbling hospitality of strangers.
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