We didn't fancy the minibus back to Bangkok but wanted to see a bit of the country so decided to hire a car. We spent the first day pottering around Phuket getting used to the car but mainly getting used to the nutty Thai way of driving - its quite scary the first (and second...) time you are overtaken by one car and undertaken by another on the bend of a single lane road but you get used to it. Had a quick stop at Phuket museum. Quick because there were only a couple of exhibition halls open and only one covered the history of Phuket - two sisters scared off a Burmese invasion in the 18th century. Apart from that the museum was dedicated to the history of Thailand and the geology of Phuket. After our fill of history for the day we went deserted beach hunting. We stopped at three beautiful beaches. The first was stunning - completely deserted; the second didn't have any tourists but some Thais were enjoying their Sunday afternoon and when we walked along the beach children ran out of the sea shouting hello and grabbed our arms with their wet hands - they probably hardly ever see tourists unlike the children selling orchid garlands in Karon and Kata; the third was perfect for a rest. For sunset we visited Promthep Cape in the far south of Phuket for a beautiful view - coachloads of people also thought it was good.
We were sad to say goodbye to Phuket, mainly worried about when we'd next get to lounge on a beach, but we were excited about hitting the
open road to drive 1000km through Thailand. We took a quick trip to a good viewpoint where we could see Karon and Kata beaches where we
had spent the last 5 ½ weeks and then we left Phuket for good. Our map wasn't great and we had a bit of a hiccup early on.
It wasn't that we didn't know where we were, just that we took the hilly road rather than the easier and quicker ring road. But it
meant we got to see the fantastic scenery through the mountains. Stayed the night in Chumphon. There's nothing really to say about
Chumphon. It was difficult to find somewhere to eat and drink with a menu in english and it was really just a place to rest our heads.
The Paradorn Inn was an ok place to stay apart from the breakfast - Richard had stone cold fried eggs and I asked for poached eggs and
got.... a raw egg!! Gross.
Next stop Hua Hin. A nice beach on the east coast with lots of life - joggers, pony treks, families, kiteflying surfers!
(even though there was a sign saying no watersports out of respect for the King) but with a rough and very, very cold sea - it didn't get
past our knees. Our hotel, Jed Pee Nong, had a swimming pool which was as cold as the sea - brrrr.
We wanted to get the train back to Bangkok but that meant leaving Hua Hin at 6am or getting to Bangkok at 8.40pm so in the end we got took the 4 ½ hour bus. Found a nice new place to stay - Sawasdee Khaosan Inn (500Baht a night). It was being built when we were here 6 weeks ago so hasn't had time to get too run down yet.
Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi
This was a really good day trip from Bangkok but if we did it again we'd stay at the River Kwai for a couple of days as it is a really peaceful place. Our trip took us to an Allied War Cemetery (picture) where English, Dutch and Australian POWs who died during the building of the bridge to Myanmar were buried. Some 16,000 western POWs died along with an estimated 100,000 Asians. When the bridge was bombed in November 1945, the Japanese forced the POWs to stand on the bridge to deter the allies from bombing it. It didn't work. We visited the Jeath War Museum and then took a trip on the death railway. A 2 hour journey took us over parts of the original track near where the bridge was and then over the new Bridge over the River Kwai.
That day we also visited Sai Yok Noi Waterfall where Thai kids were hanging out and had an unplanned ride on an elephant. Our elephant plodded along reassuringly steadily stopping occassionally to nibble some bushes (obviously calmed by our 'driver' who whistled or sang to her for most of the ride).
Vimanmek Mansion, Bangkok
The largest golden teak building in the world would be a lovely place to live. It was built by King Rama V in 1900 but it was unoccupied for many years after his death in 1910. The guided tour around the house was done barefoot and when we reached the impressive throne room we were told to sit on the floor where the guide told us the history of the place. It was like being at school, sitting on the carpet in the snug listening to the afternoon story. There was a display of traditional Thai dancing and fighting in the grounds.
Get away from Khao San Road
Near Khao San there are lots of other little roads which are less manic, more friendly and cheaper than Khao San. We liked the outdoor bars along Thanon Rambutri and the funky VW camper van cocktail bar.
Try the local moonshine made from barley oats - don't know what it was called but it was lethal. We also ventured to the cinema at Siam Square to watch Harry Potter which we'd been wanting to do since leaving home. It was cheaper to wait until we got here - £1.70 each. In Thailand you have to stand up before the film to show your respect for the King while the national anthem plays. Oh and eat on the streets because it's so cheap and good - omlette and rice is only 17 pence and is now one of Richard's favourite meals! For those interested in Richard's eating habits - no noodles yet I'm afraid.
Our next stop was Vietnam - we ended up spending longer in Bangkok than planned as all the flights to Vietnam were either booked up or left at ridiculous times in the morning. We met up with Sue and Jacqui in Bangkok before they flew out a day before us to Hanoi. But after a busy (and enjoyable) week in Bangkok it was time for us to head off to Vietnam as well.