We were travelling late so we checked into a hotel in Nak Kluea, an area of North Pattaya that is frequented by German holidaymakers. It is sort of out of the way but still a songthao ride from Beach Road. Songthao's are blue pickup trucks with two benches in the back and it costs 5 Baht to ride from anywhere to anywhere along his route. We had planned to visit a friend in Nak Kluea but unfortunately she was in England while we were in Thailand and as our prime reason for touring Thailand was to find great food I thought we could dine at the Seafood Restaurant in Beach Road. It used to have a reputation. But it let us down badly. Obviously in the heart of Pattaya it was full of farangs, most of whom were well behaved, but as usual there were those who wanted to show they can speak with an accent and one of these stood and shouted to the waitress "Haa sukha tee naa", which is inappropriate and caused the waitres to reply in English "Do you want the toilet?"
When talking about getting off the beaten track this is exactly what you want to escape. Add to that the food was expensive, rather poorly prepared, and not fresh, the only saving grace was the live music which was rather good. If not a little Carpenters.
I'm not trying to profess myself an expert. I speak Thai terribly and I keep forgetting odd words, then again I do that in English as well, but I have learned to read and write and most importantly I have learned not to say things like 'Oi find a toilet' to a baffled waitress. In case you do need to ask please say 'Cor torte hong nam you tea nye'. In English it is poor pronunciation but they will understand you and if you are a man you could end with the word 'crap' and if you are a woman end with 'car'. But like yourself I am an expert at restaurant food and know when it is good or bad. In Thailand food is never bad, it is either really good, or not very good. And here was not very good.
We walked back up Beach Road out of laziness. Pattaya Beach is a one way system and the walk to the North bound road is just as far as Loma Island. At the island I suggested we go and have a few beers across the road. I knew the beer bars in Naklua Road from my bachelor days. They had all closed down but now had been revitalised with new owners. The intention was to have a few beers; the result was a party because Waan befriended the owner, her sister, three cousins, a ladyboy, and a bargirl.
It was five a.m. when we got back to our hotel. To say I felt dizzy would be true. To say Waan was ratarsed would be an understatement. Sixty quid bar bill is testament to that and we had to get up, sober up, clean up, and move on. Not everything in Pattaya is poor quality or overpriced. We lunched at Yaitien Seafood a bit further down from the rather horrid Seafood Restaurant. This was more like the real thing. Only frequented by Thais, fresh seafood, outdoors, and yet it was right in the middle of Beach Road opposite MoomTalay but best of all, the food lived up to all expectations.
Unfortunately for seafood lovers Pattaya is probably the best place in the World to eat but this tiny spot in Beach Road is 'Off the beaten track' and well worth the trek to dine out.
We were headed for Chantaburi. It isn't a busy place for tourism and most head for Ko Chang, which is a very nice island, but they are oblivious to the National Parks inland except for the very obvious Chantaburi National Park which is then mixed up with Namtok Plio. Both these places are seriously worth visiting, have a look at Chantaburi105, and few tourists go there. When they do they tend to be people like Vasco Bartels on Google who instead of telling people how great it is complains about dual pricing. It is like complaining that Coke is more expensive than water. It is a stupid argument. The entry fee is 200 Baht for tourists which is money well spent to swim with tame fish and dive off waterfalls.
A little North of Namtok Plio is Wat Khao Sukim that is also worth a visit if you want to see temples. See Gallery. But we are going to Khao Khitchakut which is also a venerable place because Buddha set foot here and it has wierd shaped rocks at the top.
As we approached Rayong, which is about half way, we were overtaken by a truck with his fridge in the back. I commented to Waan that maybe his aircon is broken. I'm sure he had good reason but it isn't often you see someone doing 120kph with an upright, and besides, it gave us something to giggle at and break the motorway monotony.
Khao Khitchakut isn't for the feint-hearted. Climbing to the top and back is a day out and is some serious exercise. Paul Garrigan gives a good account of Khao Khitchakut and I agree with what he says about it. It is worth the visit. It feels authentic. You can sense how important this place is to Thai Buddhists. But trying to climb the Krating waterfall on the same day is brave if you know it and stupid if you don't. I was a don't. But boy is it worth it and is properly 'Off the beaten track'.
It was early evening but I was ready to sleep. We were heading for a road that runs alongside the Thung Phen river where there is a raft of homestays and resorts. You have to head back South and then left on Route 3035 until you get to Wat Thung and then turn left again on to a road with no name that goes to nowhere. It's a good hours drive by car but you see sign after sign offering accomodation and I don't think there is a bad one amongst them. The signage by now tends to be Thai only but many of them speak English despite never getting any English speaking visitors.
We plumped for the one called โฮมเตย์บ้านสวนริมน้ำ which spells something like Waterfront Garden Homestay although the sign outside read CabinCreek. It was cheap, it had everything you need, it had private river front with cabins that overhung the river, it had jungle and wildlife, it had food Thai style cooked to perfection, it even had a shop right outside the driveway. What it didn't have was tourists. There was only us two and a young Thai family of three. We loved it.
Everybody's idea of getting away from it is different. These hotels along this cascading hillside river are a treasure and we could see Thai children really enjoying themselves in the gentle shallow streams but the waterfalls and rapids make a noise so bring earplugs if you like silence to sleep. At the wrong time of year the mosquitos will be out in force, I got bit several times, and it was the quietest time of year for mozzies. Up in these hills the mosquitos carry less disease but you should take Dengue and Zika seriously, if you feel ill seek medical advice, do not wait till you get home. Zika has only just arrived in Thailand and is in the Southern regions below Phuket but you should not visit National Parks if you are pregnant because the risk is unknown. Streetlighting is nominal and there is nowhere to go for a night out, the TV is Thai channels only, you have to make your own entertainment. For a group or couple I think this place is really special so I plan to come back with friends and a great deal of beer.
Next morning I sat in the river and drank fresh ground coffee. I have never done anything like that before and I can recommend the pleasure. Ate breakfast on the deck. Then packed and left despite my not wanting and despite sounding like an Enid Blyton book.
Our first stop would be Khlong Pai Boon. No English I'm afraid, this really is off the beaten track, search for น้ำตกคลองไพบูลย์ and Google will find Khlong Paibun Waterfall. When we arrived I thought I'd taken the wrong turning as we were stopped by an army road block, what the military refer to as a VCP, I thought we'd reached the border to Cambodia. This bit of the National Park is used by the military for training but is open to the public. Being 30 Baht for an entire family it was inevitably full of campers and tents, but was still a pleasure to see and if roughing it is your thing, you'd love it here.
A couple of hours later we set off again. This place is serenely beautiful but it is a place of relaxation not exploration. We were headed for Khao Soi Dao via Kitchakut village. Although it is a tiny place it has big town stores. We stopped at Polpattana market to get water and ice creams and ended up buying cakes and hot coffee instead. Filled up with fuel, called nam man, and whatever number they ask me I just nod and say yes. After 15 years of travelling Thailand I still don't know which petrol is which and they're all lead free. You want 91 or 95? I don't know, shrug, I don't care!
The missus told me off for saying 'mai care' and off we went in the wrong direction. We wanted Route 3010, I was following Route 1030, and wondering why Tom Tom kept repeating "Turn around when possible". Eventually the sat nav realised I was right and re-routed to use the road I was on and brought us out at our main road to Sa Keao with the beautifull rolling hills of Nam Tok Plio National Park behind. We've been there before and recommend it. It is a very popular park but few if any foreigners go there.
This road to Sa Keao is a pleasure to drive on. Not another vehicle in sight. No villages, nor tourist buses, no HGVs, nothing but you and the road with the green hills of Kitchakut on your left and the mountians of Cambodia's border to your right. I felt compelled to stop and photograph them.
Soi Dao is easy to find and is a wildlife sanctuary which is why I wanted to see it. It is beautiful but also vast. I hadn't realised how much time you need to look round this place properly. It was my own fault for trying to pack too many places into two days. There is a resort nearby though I would describe it as an inappropriately placed golf club and you'd be better off in one of the hotels in Soi Dao town.
We weren't there at the same time as the volunteer group. I borrowed the image from their Facebook. Search Facebook for soidaoksd. Thailand has a better reputation for animal abuse than it does conservation and welfare which is undeserved. Too many westerners and NGOs think they know better but the truth is Thailand does more for wildlife conservation than any of the other countries in Asia and Australasia. If you're an animal lover this place is for you.
We headed North again on Route 317 for an intended stop at ถ้ำเพชรโพธิ์ทอง which is said something like Tham Phet Pho Thong. It is a mountain with a hole in it. And inside the hole has been turned into a shrine to Buddhism. I had been frustratingly looking at it from the main road for the last half an hour and when we got there didn't have time to climb because it closes at 4pm. Another time I guess but it looks like a place worth visiting.
Our next stop will be just a little drive to ตลาดจุดผ่อนปรนบ้านเขาดิน which is pronounced as near as can be to 'Talad Could Pon Proon Bahn Cow Din' and means, also as near as can be, 'The spot market at Khao Din'. This isn't a tourist place but I was curious to see the new border crossing that has been built to alleviate the pressure on Aranyaprathet.
It was on approach easy to see how much better this is than Aran. Aran is noise and comotion and contrived. I hope they soon add immigration to this new crossing because it is just like Aran except it is clean and fresh and uncluttered.
It has all new crossing services, though there are no facilities for visa applications yet so Aran is still the main port for tourists heading for Angkor Wat, while the route can be used coming from Cambodia to Thailand. The market is clean and bright and was still open when we got there at four o'clock in the afternoon. After a walk around the small market and the wife buying yet another genuine plastic copy handbag and a chat with the border guards with their sniffer dogs checking the wooden barrows from Cambodia for drugs it had turned to night.
If you have visas prepared you can cross from here turn next left and you will be on the road to Malai, which is the main route to Poipet and the AH1 that is signposted all the way from Ayutthaya and will take you to Siem Reap, the home town of Angkor Wat. But we weren't crossing, we're off to Aranyaprathet and the Wangprapa Resort.