One of the nicer and calmer beaches in Prachuap Khiri Khan is that of Ao Manao. It was located about 4 km South from the Ban Thai Hut Bungalows where we were staying. It is well worth the walk (as we did) or a taxi can get you there much faster otherwise 🙂 If you plan to walk, make note that you do have to cross a military checkpoint and sign in as a guest and part of your walk will include walking across an airstrip! Rules state that you can’t take pictures of it (go figure) so I of course ignored that… Kidding! Best part about this beach is that for 10 baht, approximately $0.31, you can rent a comfy lounge chair (all day!!!) completely shaded under umbrellas right on the beach. They even serve food and drinks (for an extra charge of course) right to you. It was quite the relaxing and pampering day! In any event, enjoy the pictures from the walk there 🙂
Jo and I rose early to meet a local and her son who had invited us for a hike to the top of Khao Lommuak. We had met Ploi and her 13-year-old son Noi Noi several days prior to the hike at a restaurant called Da-DoDo (by Dubai) that she and her husband (a native Italian) run. From the first time Jo and I had gone to Da-DoDo, the reception was unbelievably welcoming and warm. The food was also very delicious, and since it was only located a couple of doors down from where we were staying, well obviously, we had Italian more than just a few times, much to the dismay of my waistline, but NOT my taste buds! 🙂
We really weren’t all that keen about having to get up so early (we met Ploi at 6am) but knowing how hot it gets as soon as the sun rises around here, it made the most sense to get the hike started as early as possible. We hopped in to Ploi’s car and headed out to Khao Lommuak, one of the tallest of the islands in Prachuap that divide Ao Manao and the Prachuap bay. It really was a good thing that we had gone with a local because though Jo and I had already planned to do the hike at one point, we would have gone to the wrong place for it to begin with! See, we had already walked to the Ao Manao beach several days earlier and had spotted signs for the National Park just before reaching the beach. But this entrance is NOT the entrance to the hiking trail… So had we gone on our own, we would have been very lost as to actually finding the place.
In any event, once we arrived at the hike entrance, we were greeted by some lovely monkeys that live at the base of Khao Lommuak. I had never seen this particular primate before and came to learn they are called dusky leaf monkeys or spectacled leaf monkeys! They were quite the friendly bunch and eagerly accepted any food items we gave them. I had some peanut butter crackers I had bought for breakfast and as a snack on the way up the hill, but of course ended up giving them all away to the beautiful monkeys! Apparently, while the adults have a brown/black coat, the babies have yellow fur until they are about a year old, then it changes to the adult color:) We didn’t see any babies during our first visit, but were fortunate enough to see one when we came back down.
After about 20 minutes playing with the monkeys, it was time to get the hike on! The hike in total was 6 kilometers (round-trip) to a height of 240-ish meters from sea level. Honestly I was shocked to hear how little of a height that was, since it seemed a lot higher as we climbed up and looked down!! We started up the trail which first was just a series of steps with Noi Noi in the lead. I can’t recall now exactly how many stairs there were, but generally to keep myself distracted from the pain of climbing stairs I simply count. If memory serves however it was over 500! We were all taking breaks of course to catch our breath, drink water and collect ourselves before moving on. And of course I had to use the excuse that I needed pictures in order to rest a bit 😉
It was just before the stairs turned to a natural dirt and rock path that little Noi Noi decided to turn back. He had done the hike the day before and wasn’t up for doing the whole thing again, so he headed to the car. I had gone ahead up to the end of the stairs and started to climb up the rock path until I reached a little cave. Not sure of whether anyone else was going to join me however, I headed back down a bit to see what the plan was. Ploi also had apparently gone back down and Jo seemed uncertain of how far she would make it since Ploi had described part of the trek as ‘only using ropes to hoist yourself up to the top’… She was game to try as far as she could, but wasn’t certain yet how far that would be.
I was determined however no matter what lay ahead so I continued on. The natural path was outlined the entire way by a rope that clung to trees along the path. Honestly, as you can see from the picture above labeled ‘safe and secure’, the rope really didn’t seem to be all that secure (though it felt secure enough) because sometimes the trees that the rope was attached to were barely thicker than my ankle and they were rooted on the cliff edge! Kinda scary, but again it did feel secure enough. Up and up I went, at times literally feeling like I was rock climbing with the rope as a guide and assistance at times but otherwise just feeling my way up the rocks (which were really petrified coral so very sharp at times!!) until the next area to rest a bit. As I climbed, the views became even more spectacular as the vistas opened up to a panoramic view.
I won’t lie, there were some times while climbing up that I honestly questioned how in the heck I would get back down! Ploi had told us that the day before there had been a class of 40 students and a teacher doing the trek and all I could think of as I lay flat against the rock, trying NOT to look down and freak myself out, was that if we were in the States, there would be NO WAY a trek like this would be allowed for students to do without all the proper safety measures in place! It was quite impressive to think of, especially for the fact that it was 40 or them scrambling along the teeny path!
Finally, the end was in sight as the teeny Temple that stands at the top of Khao Lommuak began to come into view. The view from the top was absolutely incredible and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat, it was well worth the climb! I hung around enjoying the views for about 10 minutes or so, but since I didn’t know whether Jo and Ploi were behind me or whether they had gone back to the car, I didn’t want to spend too much time at the top making them wait on me. I was just about to start heading back down when both Jo and Ploi rounded the corner! Happy day! Now we could all enjoy the views and chill for a bit! As we relaxed and enjoyed the rest, more and more people started to show. It was nice to see that no matter the age or fitness level of the hikers, everyone was dripping in sweat as they climbed to the top (so it wasn’t just me being out of shape, lol!!).
I will say it was quite impressive to watch the locals walk around the top of Khao Lommuak. It was just their comfort level being up there! While I kept being very cautious of where I stepped and not getting too close to the edge, the locals just walked about and went freely to the edges as if they were walking on sea level. I was amazed and in awe of their bravery! At one point, an older falang made it to the top and stomped rather hurriedly past us to get to the Temple to ring the bell. He stayed for all of a minute, then headed right back down the path. Ploi explained to us that that particular gentleman did this hike 3 times EVERY DAY. Every day! Up to the top and back down 3 times in a row every day… His speed was remarkable as during the time that we were heading back down, he had passed us on his way up for the second time, down for the second time and up again for his third! Absolutely unreal! And he wasn’t a spring chicken either! He claimed the only reason he did the hike was to keep in shape so he could drink more beer… I can relate to that! Lol!
After all the pictures were taken and our energy was refueled by rest and water, we headed back down ourselves, stopping again to feed the monkeys (Noi Noi had spotted a baby this time!) some fruit purchased from a nearby fruit stand. It was only about a quarter to 10am, so instead of going back, we opted to head to the Ao Manao beach for some R&R. Though I did get a little R&R, and while the water did feel great on the muscles, I was exhausted more by the beach time than the hike! Little Noi Noi (who doesn’t speak a lick of English) and I came up with game after game to entertain ourselves and each other while playing in the water. First it was a hunting game where I stalked him pretending to be a shark, his only defense being to splash me, to which I would immediately retreat. Then we became hunters of the sea life on the ocean floor finding all sorts of crabs, hermit crabs, and huge clams! Of course everything was returned to the ocean floor, especially since Ploi kept saying things like ‘oh, those clams are really great to eat!’.
It impressed me that even without speaking each others language, Noi Noi and I were able to communicate and play for hours on end in the ocean. Just goes to show you how unnecessary the spoken word really is. We left the beach in the late afternoon (they had to get back to open the restaurant) and of course ended up having Italian for dinner that night. It was such an amazing day! The only ‘downfall’ was that the blister on the bottom of my foot that I’d gotten the day before popped open during the Khao Lommuak hike and stung like crazy as I swam in the ocean. But heck, for a day with so many other blessings, I can’t really complain!
While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat. ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave! In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling! Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.
I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens. The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road. The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park. The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!
I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade! I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead. But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared. The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)! I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.
As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi. I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!). Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat. The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular! I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff. Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat. A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.
Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :). I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness. I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out. An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha. As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor. I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!! They lived in the cave!!
I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid! I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs… Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave. Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉
I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position. Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there. And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.
I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again. I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness. There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it. There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.
As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed. At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them. As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water. One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.
I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests. Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi. The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community. After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.
I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch! I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me! One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet. It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot. Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…
When we first arrived in Prachuap, we had only paid for 2 nights because the owner said that for the 13th (what would have been our 3rd night) all the rooms were booked. You see, Songkran, the Thai New Year (also known as the Water Festival) was just around the corner so many Thai’s were traveling to their favorite vacation spots to celebrate the occasion. So while for the first day here was simply spent lounging on the beach, the second was dedicated to trying to find somewhere else to be for the night of the 13th. As we wandered the main road trying to find accommodations for the 13th (and were constantly told ‘no space’) we kept thinking more and more outside of the box with suggestions like “well, if it’s only for that one night that there’s no availability at the Ban Thai Hut, then we can just ask if we can store our bags there and sleep on the beach! No worries!”.
As fate would have it however there WAS space at our hut, it was just that the price was going to be increased for the nights of the 13th and 14th. Of course for Holidays they would up the price… Even though the price hike was annoying, it was really a God-send that we didn’t have to go anywhere because on the morning of the 13th (when we would have had to pack up and move locations) we woke up to an absolutely HUGE thunderstorm that rocked on with lightning and thunder for most of the day. We kept laughing at the prospect that we had thought to sleep on the beach… Lol!
April 14th was the official day to celebrate the Thai New Year. However in most places, especially larger cities such as Chaing Mai and Bangkok, they choose to celebrate for an entire week. Songkran, as mentioned above is also known as the water festival, and is aptly named because for the duration of the celebration days of Songkran people go crazy with water fights! Buckets of water are thrown on passersby, cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, basically anything with a pulse (though they don’t target the dogs thankfully!! :)). If you aren’t hit by a bucket of water, you will be hit by a hose, or a water gun, or by a truck driving by with people in the bed of the truck chucking out water all around. It’s absolute water mayham!! I loved it!!!!
There are a couple of confusions surrounding the Holiday however… Well, the first isn’t a confusion as much as a concern really. But apparently the number of motorcyclist deaths DOUBLE each year during Songkran because of crashes related to people chucking water on them while they drive!! I did see a news report from Bangkok this year however saying the death toll was down more than 20% from last year, so that’s good…
Getting into the actual confusion bit about the Holiday; Songkran is the Thai New Year. Yet on January 1st, their year turns over. They went from the year 2557 to 2558 on January 1st. So……….. The question remains in what way is Songkran the Thai New Year? I have yet to have this explained to me nor to find anyone who actually knows the answer to this (and I refuse to Google it just yet as I’m curious to actually find someone who knows). What I have heard from some is that Songkran is more of a “last chance” for water “festival” meaning that mid-April marks the beginning of their dry season where not so much rain can be expected for months until the monsoon season hits… Still confusing is that they also celebrate the Chinese New Year… So essentially it seems in Thailand that they celebrate the Western New Year (January 1st) when their physical calendar year also changes, they celebrate the Chinese New Year, AND Songkran which is their “actual” New Year and/or perhaps just a water celebration before the dry season… Anyone else confused?
Moving along, the actual day of Songkran (April 14th) was overcast but not rainy and in this sleepy little town of Prachuap, it was rather low-key. About a 5 minute walk from our place were 5 kids set up on the side of the road equipped with a hose, large buckets, smaller buckets (for use to chuck water) and several water guns. When there wasn’t any traffic to pummel with water they simply turned on each other or scooped up small buckets of water to pour on themselves, lol!! It was great fun watching them and all the smiles on the faces of those going by who were hit with water. And it was even more fun watching the random truck pull up and start a water fight from the bed with the kids on the street.
We watched this activity for several hours drinking beers and chatting in between. At one point I went back to the hut for my camera and saw some guys painting each other up with some festive paint (a new part of the Songkran tradition apparently) and after asking if I could take their picture, they proceeded to give me the blessing of slathering some paint on me too 🙂
Back at the bar where we were drinking, we met a couple for the UK who had been living in Prachuap for a while, and they invited us to “the wall” for some more drinks. The Wall is literally the sea wall along the main road of Prachuap on the South side of the pier that splits the bay. We had yet to go to that side, so took the opportunity (in our already quite intoxicated states as we had missed eating breakfast and lunch) to go. We hoped in the bed of the truck and headed over to the wall. I was furiously trying to take pictures along the way and totally neglected to think about the prospect that while the Songkran celebration was quite docile along our little local strip of the bay, it would potentially not be the same on the other side of the pier where it was known to be more touristy.
Just as we pulled up in the heart of the area we had to stop in the road because of traffic. It was then that I realized how much celebration was going on and tried to as quickly as possible to put my camera away when I was hit from head to toe with a bucket of ice-cold water!! Yup, they don’t care what you have on you, what you are wearing, what precious things you have that you may not want to get wet; if you are out and about, no matter your state, you will be soaked!! They even have special bags they sell for phones and tablets so you can take pictures but keep them dry, lol!! I was soaked and my camera also got hit through, but in the spirit of it all (I was warned it could happen) all I could do was laugh and enjoy the great cheer! But needless to say the picture-taking came to an abrupt end!!
We got some more drinks and I purchased a roll of toilet paper to dry my camera with and simply sat on the wall chatting for hours! The conversations lasted long after the sun went down until we were past the point of being in any way sober and were then in desperate need of food! We parted ways with our “wall” friends and headed to find food and pass out accordingly. Good times! Another Happy New Year it was! 🙂