1. As we prepared to depart Hotel Briza at Khao Lak, we had our first hiccup with the Pajero: the back door could not be opened. If this was not solved, getting things in and out of the car would be a real hassle. After many minutes of trying, we gave up. Called up Ben Khoo in Singapore and he said he would study the Pajero there to see what might be the potential problem. The hotel staff at Briza was helpful and got us the address to the nearest Mitsubishi service station at Chumphon, which was a good 250 km away to the North, on the way to Hua Hin, our next destination. We decided to get on with our journey and look for the service station at Chumphon.
2. We chose Khao Lak to stay because it was one of the most devastated areas of the end 2004 tsunami. Based on what we could see, life seemed to have return to normal. Many of the resorts along the coast looked new. The hotel we stayed in, Hotel Briza, for instance , opened only one year ago. The monument on the right reminded us of the tragic event in which many people died. It was commissioned with the Swedish embassy, as many Swedes died here in Khao Lak. In the background of the picture, one could see a Police patrol boat washed inland. Also, visited the Tsunami Museum. With more resources, this museum could be expanded into a better facility to remind us how the world had come together to respond to this human tragedy.
3. Travelling North, we decided to take the scenic route along Highway 401, from Takua Pa towards Surat Thani, about 150 km long, through the Khao Suk National Park. Like our earlier drive through Khao Lak Lamru National Park, this was just as beautiful. A nice casual drive, not many cars, really enjoyable; winding road through the mountains. Along the way, we decided to visit Khao Suk Rainforest Resort, which appeared interesting in the Lonely Planet guide book. This resort had 11 units built into the forest, and from here many activities could be organised in the National Park. Other resorts were also located nearby in a cluster. Took a picture with the family that looked after the resort. On the spot Sunny printed out the picture for the family using a portable colour printer and they were elated. A stop at the Chiaw Lan Lake, formed by a shale-clayed 95m dam. At its widest the lake is 700m long. The scenery is captivating. We wished we could have got out our stove to cook our packets of instant noodles there.
4. A couple of observations after driving in Southern Thailand:
(1) The roads are really good, no worse than those in Malaysia. Any saloon car would have been driven in Southern Thailand without any problem. No need for 4 by 4. Also, auto service workshops are everywhere in the towns and cities, major brands like Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan etc and petrol stations are many along the major roads.
(2) The roads are still mostly flanked by rubber estates, unlike Malaysia. More than 10 years ago, when I used to travel up Malaysia, there were as much rubber estates as oil palm estates, but in this trip, I could see that the rubber estates along the N-S highway were all gone. Wonder why South Thailand has not changed.
5. Reached Chumphon in the evening, after dark. Decided to check into Suriya Hotel, and called it a night. A very basic facility, more like a rest house, which we paid 280 bahts (about S$12) for the night; reminded me of some of my stays in Taiwan in Ping Tong - Chi San area which I used while on exercise there nearly 20 years ago. Good thing was that we could park the car in the inside compound of the hotel which was very secure. In the evening, we tried glutinous rice with mango in the nearby stall. Sunny loved it, even though he does not like sweet stuff. Speaking in Teochew, the stall lady told us that she had been operating the stall for 18 years and in the first year was already mentioned in a local paper (i.e very good).
6. The next day, early morning, with the help of the hotel staff, we got a motorcycle taxi to bring us to the Mitsubishi service station at Mitsuchumphon, Phet ka-sem Rd. Strangely, could not locate this in our GPS. You could see the motorcycle taxi in red in the picture to the right. When we got there, we were in for a surprise. It was May 1, also a holiday in Thailand, and the service station was closed. Luckily, Miss Lien (she asked us to called Ah Nee), was there.
Her husband (also in the motor trade) was able to magically open the back door. Conversing in Teochew, they were very helpful, and gave us a Mitsubishi travel brochure for Thailand which showed the locations of all the Mitsubishi service stations in Thailand. Apparently the door dropped a little when opened which might have caused the problem. There and then, Sunny and I, were able to open the backdoor and we decided to move on. As of now, the back door is still behaving erratically and giving us headaches.
7. Driving up North, we reached Hua Hin about lunch time, but was disappointed. Unlike what I saw 15 years ago, the place is now very developed and commercialised (much like Phuket along Patong beach), and very crowded, probably due to the May 1 holiday and the long weekend. Checked a hotel and it was fully booked. We decided to move to a smaller resort town to the North, Cha-am, and checked into Long Beach Cha-am Hotel (2200 bahts a night). Cha-am is very much a domestic destination. We hardly see any "faran" here, which is how the locals call the foreigners. We had some time to relax at the pool and had a beer (thats how we appeared in the picture) and a wonderful dinner at the seafood village on the beach.