The long road to the quite deep south

For the next two weeks I will be traveling to the south or Thailand, with a short one night return to Chiang Mai. In 16 days I should see five football matches, cover some 3,000 or so kilometres and see parts of Thailand that I have not visited before.

So why not keep a short diary of my travels – and post a few pictures as well.

Day 1. Friday 11 September 2011. Chiang Mai to Nakhon Sawan

Kilometres on departure – 42,370.

I did not leave until 9am – slightly later than planned. And for the most part it is a fairly easy drive. Four hour to Khampaeng Phet – a coffee stop – and a detour onto quieter country roads, through rice and banana fields following the Ping River, into Nakhon Sawan.

The 42C hotel must be named after the temperature – the car recorded 38C in the late afternoon. But the room is big and fairly modern and the staff friendly and efficient.

I arrived about 3.15pm and then went out to sightsee. Where else but the Nakhon Sawan sports stadium – which is actually very pleasant – surrounded by hills and trees and stands on all sides for 15,000 people.

There were plenty of local youth teams there – training and playing. But I do wonder about a local teen side showing Pornhub as one of its shirt sponsors. I suspect they are not a sponsor and this is just the team being cute. But it is not a great look.

After that excitement some temple viewing on the hill close to the town centre.

Dinner was strange. It tasted fine. It was the experience was strange.

“9 Pints” bills itself as a gastro-house- and you can walk to it for the 42C hotel. Someone has spent a good deal of money on the premises – and they have a good selection of expensive draft and imported beers.

The food seems ok – portion controlled! But there were many things that were not so much quirky as annoying.

As a single they wanted me out of the way. No big table allowed. It was already 9.00pm – the rush was never going to come.

Wine – only be the bottle; not by the glass.

I suspect that the restaurant does not readily deal with, or encourage visits from, people who are on their own.

And no hot coffee. “The machine is off. ”

It does seem expensive for this town. I ate and left. There is a noodle shop between the hotel and 9 pints. A far better and more welcoming option I suspect. Even the local 7-11 was friendlier.

Day 2. Saturday 12 September. Nakhon Sawan to Ayutthaya and onto Bangkok.

Football is back!

Breakfast at the hotel and then down Highway 32 to Ayutthaya. This is not a road that I want to drive when I am tired which is why the Nakhon Sawan night stop makes sense. It is only about 2 hours 15 mins further to Ayutthaya – but traffic is faster and there are many more trucks on the highway. Much of the highway is a three lane carriageway  but the nearside lane is almost completely ignored.

First stop was the Ayutthaya Province Stadium to pick up my pre-ordered ticket for the night’s game. Then onto the old historical city. I had planned to simply walk around but there was a tuk tuk driver sitting optimistically near the tourist office. 200 baht for one hour and he would take me around the main sites. I was he said, and given how few people were around this was probably all too true, his first customer of the day.

He proved to be a lovely guy – and 90 minutes later we returned after seeing sites that I had missed on previous visits to Ayutthaya – and after taking some nice pictures. People were welcoming with an easy smile or hallo – the city, even on a Saturday was quiet. It was a very pleasant afternoon.

A quick late lunch (it was 4.30pm!) and coffee and then onto the stadium for the 17.45 kick off.

The match report is here so it is not worth repeating any of the details.

Then after the game a 70 minute drive into Bangkok – busy roads and some rain made that interesting.

Days 3 and 4. Sunday 13 and Monday 14th September. Bangkok.

Nice to have a quiet day where the furthest that I went was Fortune Town and Central Rama IX. Who pays Baht 60 for a small sized sausage roll? Criminal.

Day 5. Tuesday 15 September.

There is a bit of catching up to do here. Tuesday was a Bangkok day out – and a hot, sweaty and fun walk around Talad Noi.

Talat Noi is a small, historic neighbourhood adjacent to the river in Bangkok and located on the edge of Bangkok’s Chinatown. Talat Noi has been home to various ethnic Chinese communities since soon after the foundation of Bangkok. Several historic buildings are located in the area, including the Holy Rosary Church, Talat Noi Branch of Siam Commercial Bank, the first headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank, and the So Heng Tai, an old Chinese mansion built around a courtyard and pool.

There are coffee shops; duck noodle houses; art galleries; Bangkok’s largest collection of scrap metal merchants; old mansions, some but not all-renovated. It is an old community that feels as though it has been lived in and handed down by generations. A far cry from the steel and glass of Sukhumvit.

There is an excellent walking guide to the area here:

Talad Noi: A Walking Guide to the Secret Bangkok Chinatown

Dinner was an outing to the relocated Hemingways on Sukhumvit soi 11. It is over six months since I was last here and the economic damage caused by the Covid lockdown is all too apparent. For years this soi has been the centre of young tourist and expat nightlife. Now bars, restaurants, clubs, massage shops are shuttered. Hemingways has survived and was reasonably busy. Yet the best seats outside on the terrace all allow smoking and we non smoking pariahs are banished inside or we can sit outside and get irritable!

You would think that a restaurant would be looking to win and keep customers. Not Hemingways. There was an attempt to try and upgrade the wine we had ordered by bringing a more expensive bottle. No apology when this was rejected. And crispy skin salmon is not supposed to be soggy. Chocolate lava cake is supposed to have melted in the centre not have lumps of solid chocolate – guess the microwave needed longer.

For a reasonably expensive meal this was pretty mediocre.

Wednesday 16 September.

My first flight in over 6 months was a lunchtime ThaiVietJet A321 (ex WOW Airways) to Chiang Mai. It was a predictably average experience not helped by having to throw someone out of my pre-booked and pre-paid for seat.

I did take the Airport Link to Bangkok Airport – a first for me. Quite possibly the most uncomfortable seating ever on a train.

The rental car was a Nissan Almera (I would never buy one) from National. Quick trip home and then to the municipal stadium for Chiang Mai FC v Thai Navy.

My match report is here.

Home. And it was good to be home for a night; even if dinner came from 7-11.

Thursday 17 October

A mid morning return to Bangkok. Again on VietJet. Unremarkable. Though both flights were surprisingly busy.

Late afternoon wandering around Siam and ramen for dinner; the Thais have long been good at recreating Japanese food and the Japanese style of fast food restaurant.

Friday 18 October

A six and one half hour drive today. Leaving Bangkok at 6.25 am and arriving at the beach near Chumphon about 1.30pm – with a late breakfast stop in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Home for the night is Thung Wua Laen Beach – it reminds me a little of Dolphin Bay near Pranburi. A single road running along the beach front.

But this was not a great success and I should probably have stayed somewhere in the city. The beach was dead. It rained all afternoon and evening. And the hotel decided to put me in a back room that was dark and had a delightful view of an outside wall. The saving grace was Netflix on the tv.

I walked around – checked out the temple with a large golden bull statue; had a look at the local fishing pier, found a mini C – and later in the evening found a place that had some food.

Saturday 19 September

A long drive morning from the Gulf to Andaman side of Thailand. Chumphon appears to be the nation’s roadworks capital – and just after half way across to Ranong the heavens opened and let forth chaos. I have never driven in rain quite that bad. It was an enormous storm and was to continue on and off for the rest of the day.

Back to the Sook Hotel where Tai and I stayed back in February in very different weather.

An early visit to see the Ranong Province Stadium They were pumping water from the pitch – and they were convinced that the game would go ahead.

Check in – a walk around town. Some coffee – an Thai/English conversation about Ranong’s old tin mining industry. Interesting.

And so to football: the match report is here. The conditions were simply awful.

This, however spoiled the celebrations: someone deciding to reverse into the rear offside door while I was in the stadium and the car was in the car park. There is video from cctv. It is hard to tell whether it is deliberate, astonishingly incompetent or fueled by alcohol.

By the time the insurance assessor had been to the ground and done his assessing (!) it was late; and I was cold and wet through.

Sunday 20 September

Another near 3 hour drive this time to Surat Thani – or more accurately a junction in the vicinity of Surat Thani – closer to Surat Thani airport.

Some repercussions from last night.

I had left the following message privately on the Ranong United messenger account. Along with a couple of pictures:

I have to assume that one of your fans did not like the result and saw my Chiang Mai number plates in the stadium car park last night.
Really disappointing.
Insurance will deal with it but football is just a game. This is inexcusable.

The person who replies to this account appears to be the club owner:

Now, this has never happened before. I want to know why you think football fans do?

My reply:

Find another likely explanation. The car was parked in a car park by the stadium. The damage occurred during or at the end of the game where i was one of the last to leave.

No note. No insurance details. Only people likely to be there in last night’s weather were football fans.

If you have a better explanation do share it. Insurance will take care of it but it is not something I expect at any ground in thailand.

To which he said I want you are telephone number.

This clearly prompted him to look at cctv coverage and he found some video of a pick-up truck reversing into my car. His English is as poor as my Thai so I had Tai call him for details. He was by all accounts quite angry and difficult accusing me of damaging the reputation of his club and posting on the Ranong United Facebook page. I did not. I sent the message to their private messenger.

It was a group of three people in the truck who had been to watch the football. There is a picture of them. Given how small their crowds are and that to comply with Covid restrictions they are likely season ticket holders I wonder if the club already knows who they are.

An apology would have been nice. Just a simple sorry that one of our fans did this to you. Exactly who is it that is damaging the reputation of his club?

Even the insurance agent said there is no point in involving the police and I have no plans of heading back to Ranong.

Meanwhile in Surat Thani a visit to town late in the afternoon. The night market was busy. A stop at the town’s new Central Plaza – looks much like every other Central Plaza. Khao Soy Gaai for dinner as I was feeling homesick. Back to the hotel. Early night at the Meet Boutique Resort. Pleasant enough and convenient for the airport.

Monday 21 September

I thought this account of a longer road trip would be fun to keep going. But honestly – it’s not. Writing it suddenly feels like a chore. It must be even worse reading it.

Breakfast – the Meet Boutique Hotel’s American breakfast bares little resemblance to anything that you might eat in America – and you had to pay for coffee separately.

Off to the airport to meet Tai who was flying in from Bangkok. And then a 95 minute drive to Khanom Beach to the south and east of Surat Thani. We arrived early afternoon. The Aava beach resort and spa was to be home for two nights. You can see Koh Samui from the beach.

It is a pretty and quiet location. The resort is a bit hit and miss.

The bar and restaurant area are pleasant and with great beach views so that was our base for happy hour. Dinner was later at Khanom Seafood – a few minutes drive south. Busy. Big plates of food – but they eat very spicy in the south of Thailand.

Tuesday 22 September

Breakfast by the beach. Then a few hours spent exploring the coast south of Khanom Beach. It is a pretty coastline – more rugged than many in Thailand – as the road goes like a roller coaster up and down the cliffs.

We were as far south as Sichon Town then came back via Phlai Dam beach, Huu Laa Beach Club for lunch, and Moon Coffee and  Roti.

Dinner at the hotel in the evening. Nice to be eating by the beach.

If you do go to the Aava Resort please say hello to Gella – she is one of those people that you meet and you know that she will go far.

Wednesday 23 September 

So apparently I lack skill as a photographer and one of our neighbours has much better pictures from her husband/photographer than I take of Tai.

This has led to something of a falling out and means that there are no pictures here of Tai during our stay at Khanom beach.

I took her to Surat Thani airport – arriving about 3.15pm before I set off on a near 4 hour drive to Ban Saithong Beach Resort – a nostalgic trip back to where Tu and Marko married a few years ago.

It is a nice resort – not close to anything at all other than the ocean and a stone covered beach. It is old style – wooden furnishings in big rooms that all have a sea view. There was one small group of five staying there. And me. How do these hotels survive through a low season and Covid?

Thai drivers from Surat Thani up to Chumphon may be the worst I have seen and that highway 41 is no fun at all to drive. Too many trucks. Too many people doing 30 something in the outside lane and too many people in too much of a hurry.

Thursday 24 September

Up in time to see a nice sunrise. Then breakfast at Ban SaiThong and about 6hrs 45 minutes drive into Bangkok. I am really too tired to write anymore.

Friday 25 September

Quiet day in Bangkok. The usual stroll around Central Rama 9 and Fortune Town. And dinner back at our apartment.

Saturday 26 September

An eventful day that started with a near three hour drive up to Uthai Thani arriving early afternoon.

What a lovely town Uthai Thani is. A throwback to days gone by. Set on the Sakae Krang river – a tributary to the Chao Phraya – it is a small market town, low rise, colourful, laid-back. The people are welcoming. Some are able to live on houseboats on the river. There is much to like about the town.

Checked into my small rural hotel/homestay – and then went to watch the football at the province stadium. Uthai Thani v Chiang Mai United.

A 4-0 win for Chiang Mai United was a little flattering. The away side scored three times in the last 10 minutes after Uthai Thani’s right back was given a straight red card.

There were so many bugs in the stadium that it really was not a whole lot of fun.

Then – another crisis. The car is parked in one of the parking lots that has been scraped out of the hill behind the stadium. It was dark. And unwise to go forwards due to the car parked next to me. So I reversed and promptly got stuck in the mud. Trying to move the car only made it worse.

I was pretty muddy by now. But this is where Uthai Thani started to shine. One guy calls the police. He then asks another guy with a pick up to see if he can help – but his tow rope was never going to be strong enough. The police called out a recovery truck with a winch on the back – number one recovery truck they told me. And sure enough he winches up the rear axle and tows the car to firm ground. He did not want and cash – so I contributed anyway.

I swear that if we had been stuck there until early morning the police would have stayed with me. They were pleasant, sympathetic, a little curious and very helpful.

By this time most things were closed so dinner came from 7-11. But that was OK. Went back to the hotel and slept.

Sunday 27 September

Last day of this mad trip. The day started with an early departure and a 6 hour drive to Chiang Mai. I had to nurse the car a little – I suspect the wheels were not properly balanced maybe due to some mud from last night…so there was vibration at higher speeds. The drive is easy enough – just long. Was even able to talk with Alex over in San Francisco as I drove. Always a good source of technical advice!

More football in the evening. Chiang Mai FC at home to Chainat Hornbill FC. An entertaining 5-0 win with two of the craziest goals that you will ever see and one of the very best.

Journey over – 3,378 kilometres in two weeks. One return flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Seven different hotels, our apartment in Bangkok and home in Chiang Mai. Five football matches. And I have seen the very best of and very worst of Thailand.

Home has honestly never felt so good!

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