Prachuap Khiri Khan (a.k.a. Huh? Where?) Thailand – Sep 2014

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Our new friend Clogs found a little town on the map called Prachuap Khiri Khan.  We decided the best way to get there is to take the train.  Despite my brother being an engineer, I have never been on a real train before.  My first train ride! And Kristi’s too! When we arrive at the train station, we’re told there are only 3rd class seats available.  Guess we’re riding with the locals.  The train ride is approximately 6 hours in the late afternoon designed to be an ever night train to Bangkok, we should arrive in Prachuap Khiri Khan between 10:30-11pm.

The train is actually a nice way to travel.  Big windows that let the breeze blow through the train car to cool you down in the daytime heat.  The cars have decently comfortable benches and a surprisingly clean toilet.  People walk from car to car selling random snacks and drinks, including a big thermos full of hot water for coffee or tea.  Had I known this ahead of time, we wouldn’t have stocked up on food at the bus station.

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The only downside to the train is that it is very noisy.  We had to almost yell to each other to have a conversation.  We did manage to keep ourselves entertained with the random snacks we bought at 711.  The best ended up being a donut that the British Couple we had met in Khao Sok told us about.  It’s a green donut in a green package (presumably loaded with preservatives) and filled with Thai custard.  It’s delicious.  I’m addicted after the first bite and it’s hard to share with everyone else.  Everything else that we tried is irrelevant, my new determination is to find more of this Thai custard.

We arrive in Prachuap Khiri Khan around 11pm.  All that we know about our hotel is that it’s close to the hospital.  Walking around the seemingly desserted streets at 11:30pm and not seeing anything.  Someone asks us if we need help, but  when we say Palm Sweet Hotel, they have no idea what we’re talking about.  We go into another hotel and figure out where we are supposed to go.  Turns out we are only a 5 minute walk from the hospital… just on the other side of the train tracks.  We arrive just after midnight… doors are locked.  I try making a bunch of noise to get their attention.  Nothing.  There’s a bar next door, so we ask if we can use their phone.  We call and call and call… nothing.  Great.  We already booked and paid for the room and there’s nobody here.

We finally give up and ask the bar owner if he has rooms.  He looks at us surprised, “You want a room?”  Yeah man! It’s almost 1am and we just had a 2 hour bus ride, 6 hour train ride followed by an hour of walking around aimlessly.  I’m tired.  We walk past a bunch of scantily clad looking girls and a handful of creepy old white guys… did I just get us a room in a brothel?  Yes.  Yes I did.  No joke.  We are staying in a brothel!

Whatever, it’s 1 night and it’s $16 for the night.  I imagine they had a hard time figuring out how many hours we were gonna be there but I’m in no position to complain or argue.  We shared the room with Clogs to save money.  As we tried to sleep, some horrendous karaoke started up, luckily we were too tired to care.

The next day, the guy who owned the brothel came out wearing a “Canada” shirt and made us breakfast.  We sat a couple tables away from a very used looking hooker.  I may as well stoop to a new low where I eat too.  Surprisingly the omelet was quite nice.  We packed up and moved next door to our room.

The town of Prachuap Khiri Khan is very small with not a lot to do.  There is a temple at the top of a hill… I believe it’s about 394 steps up. Armed with full water bottles and a camera we head off to the temple. On our way, the area has a lot of macaques running around seemingly not caring about us walking by.  This is good.  A third of the way up the stairs there is a gazebo… full of about 50 macaques who all stop what they are doing to stare at us.  I make sure my pockets are all zipped closed. We reach the top and everything is closed.  You can walk around the area and take in the stunning views of the ocean on one side and Myanmar on the other. Prachuap Khiri Khan is one of the most narrow parts of Thailand where it’s only 8km wide and a popular destination to cross into Myanmar.  Though it’s big draw is a market along the two boarders and it is only on weekends.

DSCN0872 There was only one monkey up there and he was a big guy laying under a bench to get some shade.  Kristi put her water bottle down so I could take a picture and the monkey sees his chance.  He walks calmly towards us, grabs the water bottle and walks away.  So we’ve officially been robbed on this trip.

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As we start to go back down the stairs, a bunch of the monkeys are coming up.  They all have that mischievous look in their eyes.  Almost like they knew we would have to pass them again to get back to the bottom.  One monkey decided he was gonna make his move, heading for clogs, who didn’t know what to do… I quickly hand the monkey my water bottle.  He grabs it and leaves us alone.  As we pass the gazebo, you can tell there’s tension.  There’s one monkey standing on the stairs and the rest staring at him.  We have to walk right in between this stare down.  As soon as we pass through, we hear the monkeys start shrieking… we just run to the bottom.  Macaques have huge, sharp teeth and I am not in the mood to fight 50 of them.  We reach the bottom safely, hearts racing, we can’t help but laugh.  We were just robbed by monkeys.

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We found out later that we were lucky they just took our water.  A lot of tourists have issues with their cameras, phones, money all getting stolen and a bunch of them get bitten because they try to get their stuff back.  The police here are actually used to taking reports from tourists when wallets or other ID is stolen.  I’m glad I didn’t join that statistic.

“Yeah my wallet was stolen”
“Can you describe who stole it”
“Yeah he was about 1.5 feet tall, 40lbs, grey and had large canines”
“Were you robbed by a monkey?”
“Yes” /hang head in shame

The next morning, the three of us are up bright and early.  Our guide, JJ, is picking us up from our hotel at 8am.  So a quick breakfast of coffee with toast and Thai custard (omg it’s sooo good) will have to hold us until lunch.  JJ is very energetic with a vibrant personality.  She’s not actually a tour guide but really wanted to show us her country and loves any opportunity to practice her English (which is quite good).

Just over an hour north of Prachuap Khiri Khan is Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.  JJ is driving us to the highlight cave first: Phraya Nakhon Cave.  At the entrance to the hike, it has a sign saying the cave is 1km away.  JJ gets us a special student price at the national park of 100thb (half price) each.  She gives us a flashlight and her phone number in case we need it.  She says we’ll need about 2 hours… I’m not sure why.. it’s only 1km away.  The first path is very up and down, steep hills both ways and the path barely looks man made as you step on and around uneven rocks and dirt.  I’m glad we are here early because it’s already extremely hot.  We come to the end of the path thinking we’ve arrived at the cave.  We haven’t.  They have a big beach and “resort” here and it’s another 500m to the cave.  We stop to use the restroom before continuing.  I swear that last path was at least 1km.  We come across a sign advertising a rare breed of monkey that lives in these bushes, the dusky langur.  I haven’t seen these guys before, hopefully we will be lucky.  The next sign reads that the cave is 400m away.  This is one of the tougher paths I have hiked and I’m pretty sure the distances are measured in a straight line to the destination rather than the pathway we’re supposed to follow.  After what felt like another kilometer of steady climbing, we reach the mouth of the cave.  We scold Clogs for talking us into doing this hike.  She found it because she read an article about someone’s “Top 10 places to see before you die”  article and decided to pursue it.

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As we go into the cave, it opens up to a huge clearing where a temple sits in the sunlight.  It is stunning to see and pictures just don’t do it justice.  What makes this place even more special?  We are the only ones here! What appears to be a tourist attraction is completely empty and we can take it all in without having to take pictures carefully so we don’t have a bunch of random people in them.  Signs in both English and Thai are set up explaining things like previous Kings who have visited this location and just how the cave develops itself. There is also a small prayer area where you can light incense.  We did this because it felt like the right thing to do.  I dunno if this place is a top 10 place to see in the world but it should definitely be experienced.  The pictures we have, don’t even begin to explain the presence felt here. Also, because it is a bit more difficult of a hike, it’s much more rewarding to see.  We spent an hour walking around and taking it all in before heading back.

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On the back to the beach, I can feel my shoe rubbing funny and a potential blister forming.  I decide to take off ahead knowing there’s a bench area up ahead where I can adjust it.  Then I hear Kristi yell out, “Monkeys”.  I turn and run back up the hill to where her and clogs are.  Chilling in the trees that I ran by are a couple families of dusky langurs! So not only did we get to experience Phraya Nakhon Cave to ourselves, but no more that 15 feet away we get to see dusky langurs.  This day is awesome.

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As we arrive at the benched rest area, there is a group with a guide taking a break.  We let them know up ahead are some langurs.  The guide tries to correct us by saying, “You mean gibbons?” and Kristi’s like, “No they are definitely langurs”.  The guide perks up and tells his group they need to get going to see them because it’s a very rare opportunity.  They see gibbons every now and then but almost never do they see langurs.  This just made us feel even more special.  I secretly hope they don’t see the langurs so the three of us can be the only special ones.

My shoe is adjusted and we are good to go.

As we show up at the entrance, JJ greets us and shows us to her car.  She opens up the trunk to show us a cooler full of ice cold drinks.  She’s awesome.  She tells us if we want to cover lots of ground, we should leave now.  Into the car with the AC blasting and off to the next cave.

My information about where we actually went and visited gets a little bit blurry from here.  JJ takes us down a back road where a guard is, she bribes him with a cold drink and we go in for free.  This is clearly not the main entrance.  We rent a couple headlamps from him because he said it was too dark for the one that we had.  180m up a rocky hill with a rope to help your balance to the cave entrance.  I believe this is Sai Cave but I don’t know for sure.  We climb down a ladder into the cave and it begins to work its way up through narrow tunnels that we have to crouch and crawl through.  We do this twice before saying screw it and heading back.  With no shitty lights and no guide, we all agreed that we would go to the next cave.  It’s hard to top the Phraya Nakhon Cave anyways.

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On the way to the next cave, JJ gave us some basic Thai sayings that we can use while in Thailand.  We learned how to say “very beautiful” “very delicious” and “too expensive” which is “peng mah”  but you have to drag the “maaaaaaahhh” on and say it with a mix of surprise and disgust in your voice for it to be taken seriously.  We practiced it a lot in the car.  She also taught us “very cheap” but we were only allowed to say that to her unless we wanted to pay more.

At the third cave which I believe is Kaeo Cave, there is a lady at the front of the entrance asking to see our tickets.  She is also selling fresh crab that she caught right before lunch.  JJ gets us a price of 400thb per kg which is a really good deal here.  At most restaurants we’ve seen it between 800-1200thb per kg.  We say we’ll take it and JJ says it will be ready for us when we get back from the hike.

Up, up, up the rocky path like poorly built stairs.  I’m hungry, and thirsty and full from drinking so much water.  There really is no amount of water that can keep me hydrated at this point.  Despite that, I want to conquer this hike and get through it.  After about 20 minutes of steady climbing, we reach the top and into the cave we go.  Signs up saying “Don’t touch the scorpions” is not reassuring.  We go in and again there is a big opening.  We walk over and admire the light coming in and the growth it’s created.  Them monkeys threw a bunch of rocks down the hole and we decided that we shouldn’t get much closer to it.  We’ve done it.  We did three tough hikes all in one day and if you know me at all you’ll know this is a pretty big accomplishment for me.

Our lunch was almost ready as we arrived back at the entrance.  The crab was served to us “Thai style” with a Thai chili sauce on the side.  It was everything we wanted and more.  We also had a big fried rice to share and the girls had fresh iced coffees made for them.  Everything was delicious and reasonably priced.  JJ kept coming by us and whispering “toook maaaaaaah” (very cheap)

DSCN0970 Our last destination is Kui Buri National Park.  This is where Kristi and I really wanted to go because it’s the largest habitat of wild elephants protected in Thailand.  The park has been closed for almost a year due to 16 of the elephants dying from a virus. The park officials shut down to figure out what was wrong and opened up again recently.  Recently enough that JJ had to call to make sure they were open.

On the way there, JJ said she talked to the rangers and made them tell the elephants that we were on our way and they can come out.

We paid 1500thb for the 3 of us to go in.  You are not allowed to walk and you can’t take your own vehicle so you are forced to pay for a guide, a driver, and an armed guard (none of whom speak English) to take you on a ride in the back of a pick up truck.  The actual park is massive but the tour is only a small portion of it.  About 5 minutes down the road, Kristi spots elephants.  I don’t know how she does it but she sees everything.  Take her contacts out and she can barely see across the room.  I don’t get it.  We then get word that more elephants are bathing by the lookout spot.  We race off to the look out spot and are just in time to catch the last 10 minutes of bath time.  I can’t help but think about how weird it is to just sit around watching elephants bathe but when I tried to watch my neighbor bathe, I was violating her privacy.  Some people are so uptight.

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We got ready to go up to another look out point where we would wait for the bison to come through. The head ranger decided he was going to join us too.  I guess he found us entertaining. Kristi told JJ that we saw elephants because she prayed for them in Phraya Nakhon Cave.  JJ was confused because she thought it was because the ranger’s phoned the elephants and told them to come out.  She then asked if Kristi prayed for the bison too?  Kristi said no and JJ told us it’s Kristi’s fault if we don’t see them because she didn’t pray for them. She then looked at me and asked, “do you want to hold his gun?”  Caught off guard, I st-st-stuttered out a “yes”.  When Kristi took the gun, we all panicked a little.

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We waited at the look out point for well over half an hour.  To kill time, JJ forced our guide to speak with Clogs.  JJ would tell Clogs what to say in Thai and she would tell our guide what to say in English.  Turns out she is only 17 and very uncomfortable with her English.  Though it would have been nice to learn about the elephants in the park since we paid for a guide.  Clogs did a pretty good job with the Thai part of the questioning and I was kind of jealous she got to practice and I didn’t.  We saw lots of elephants stroll by but no bison.  So we took some pictures with the Rangers.

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Finally the bison came in.  Too far back to see without binoculars so we took turns using the head Ranger’s set.  When Kristi got the binoculars JJ walked in front saying she wasn’t allowed to see them because she didn’t pray for the bison.

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On the way back a storm rolled in and started pouring on us.  There’s no canopy on these trucks… guess it’s not in the budget.  We stop back at the ranger station where we first watched the elephants bathe to wait out the rain.  I dunno what we did to deserve it, but the elephants came back, hanging out in the pool of water.  We watched them for another 20 minutes and the rain showed no sign of letting up.  They came up with the idea to tie a tarp over the back of the truck and we all crouched underneath it.  The only issue is the tarp had a tear in it.  JJ came up with the solution to push up in the middle so the water wouldn’t pool.  In theory, this is smart.  But there was a small rip in our tarp… which turned into a big rip…. which turned into the tarp ripped in half and the rain pouring down on us.

A two day adventure that included getting robbed by monkeys, hiking to different caves and having them all to ourselves, cheap crab for lunch, dusky langurs, me holding a gun and seeing elephants in a national park.  This has turned out to be an awesome experience.  And we were fortunate enough to have a new friend to share it with.  I need another Thai custard donut.

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