20 April, 2008

Escaping Songkran water-wars: Hua Hin is a good refuge

Please excuse the blacked-out eyes in this post - I had a request
from a reader to dis-identify all non-consenting individuals.

Every year we feel the urge to escape the madness that is Songkran, Thailand's insane water-throwing festival. In Chiangmai it lasts for several days. In Huahin it is capped at one day. OK, Huahin wins, hands down.

There's a similar word in Thai ("Songkram") which means "war".

Usually we sneak off to a private island (Ko Talu) in the Gulf of Thailand south of Huahin, to go peacefully snorkelling for the day, but discovered that the island's owners have upped tourist numbers despite limited facilities, bought a double-decker ferry, etc, in order to make more $$. Well, at least we can say we saw it while it was still there....

So instead we went to a local boutique winery, in Hua Hin's hinterland, where we were greeted by live Thai music and dancing before having a smorgasbord Thai meal (well, 'Thai'). Your task is to spot Marie among the dancers
[clue: Thais are often short]:

Then we had a short demonstration bout of Thai Boxing ("Muay Thai") which morphed from a real fight into a comedy as the boxers 'accidentally' punched out the ref's lights then proceeded to pick-pocket him. In the photo below, one boxer goes through the ritual movements which precede every fight. Some large-ish Scandanavian tourists in the background provide unintended comic relief:
Development is going on apace in this region as increasingly wealthy Bangkok Thais seek a holiday destination that isn't infested by foreigners - as are Pattaya or Phuket. These photos of the beach at Huahin contrast the Old with the New:

Note the motorbike loaded with inner-tubes (for purposes of 'surfing') to the right of the fishing boat. Hua Hin used to be a fishing village - and still is - in some areas out-of-town:

As tourism encroaches, some see opportunities. This ex-fishing boat takes tourists on day cruises...

.....to Monkey Island, inhabited only by Macaque monkeys. Apparently their sole source of fresh water is from shellfish/crabs, which have evolved a means of extracting salt from seawater. Hm, maybe humans can learn from crabs.
Rats, humbled yet again...

Note two monkeys remaining on the beach. The rest have retired to sleep off the big meal of bananas provided by the tourist "cargo cult". We saw monkeys swimming in the sea - to cool off? to catch crabs? Later, another type of monkey was spotted having a quick dip after the smorgasbord seafood buffet on board.

These Scandinavian tourists caught the biggest fish of the day:
Speaking of monkeys, we did another day trip around Huahin and Cha-am, and dropped in on some distant rellies. Here's filmstar Hugh Grunt, looking a little testy 'cos he hadn't yet had his morning coffee:
...and monkeys are keen swimmers and spectacular divers, but are certainly none too fussy about the water quality around this giant lotus-flower Buddhist shrine:

Hua Hin's old railway station (below) was built for one of the kings in the Rama dynasty earlier this century (the current king is Rama the Tenth). The pavillion with the red roof was built specifically so he could change his clothes in private after the train-trip from Bangkok - about 3 hours. It hasn't been used again since that day, out of respect:

Likewise, he had a palace built about 5k north of Huahin so he could spend holidays by the beach. The joys of Absolute Monarchy. He once ordered all the furniture from his Bangkok palace to be taken to Huahin for the weekend. Here's the little walkway he had built so he wouldn't have to suffer in the sun as he strolled to the beach. Fancy staircase down to the sand too, of course:

Try this very short 360º movie to get an idea of the HUGE expanse of this palace:

It's all wood... teak, to be precise. The buildings occupy many many acres, and are unoccupied except for a security army. They were restored after a long period of dereliction, and the museum room actually shows a photo of the royal toilet, cracked by vandals and stained with age. Yet out of alleged respect, we weren't allowed to take a photo of the royal bedroom. A paradox, methinx.
Below is a pic of the royal performance hall, open to the beach and sea-breezes, where the King viewed theatre from the balcony and sometimes participated:
Inland from Hua hin there is a limestone mouintain, honeycombed with caves full of small insectivorious bats. At dusk, these six-inch bats suddenly begin streaming speedily out of a particular cave opening en masse like a long black ribbon rippling in the wind. There must be hundreds of thousands of them if we were able to see them in failing light at 500 metres distance:

Eagles were waiting to swoop. Awe-inspiring scene, as was some of the scenery around temples. This old frangipanni tree was pure Tolkein:
Apparently the word 'Frangipanni' sounds similar to something which must be very rude or distasteful to Thai people. They use a different name.
In the pic below, Marie looks a little odd after repeatedly donging her head against a temple bell. This type of bell is easier (and cheaper) to cast than the usual type, so financially-challenged Temples sometimes use them:

The bell was near this fishpond which is used purely as a fish refuge. Unwanted pet fish can live out their days and be fed by devout Buddhist folks (see mother & daughter leaning out of the sala). Buddhist Karmic Merit, which contributes to the quality of one's next reincarnation, can be gained by feeding or releasing animals in the wild. There are set prayers which people recite during the ritual. Nice.

At the Wat, this unusual figure of Phra Buddha invites speculation. Maybe inspired by 3 local monkeys? Ganesha?

The roof, doors, steering wheel and dashboard of this taxi (below) were smothered with Buddhist paraphenalia, amulets, statues, and the usual finger-smeared blessings by monks. This ensures that the car will never crash. At odds with all this was the menu of discount alcoholic drinks (top right):
After the Songkran piss-up and water-throwing day was over, we had a wonderful seafood meal in this restaurant in Huahin's main street, Petchakasem Road. Seafood in Huahin is super fresh, of course. Absolutely to dine for.

The Lady in Red may also be observed glaring at a post-Songkran concert staged by a Christian organization in Huahin. It was held near the statue of a young local hero, a Muay Thai boxing champion. But I suppose there's no contradiction... Christians are pugilistic and war-loving in the extreme. See this short video and be amazed at how much electricity is being used...

This Hua Hin post box ("COLLECTION EVERYDAYS") raised a giggle. Read the bit on the top:

...and some other things which tickled our funnybones:
* Sign above a tailor shop: Savile Row
* Name of a hotel: New Friend Hotel. It was located right next door to the Wong Kok massage service (in the touristy bar area of downtown Whore-Hin).
* Sign above a laundromat: Washy Mashy Laundromat, so-called because they don't have to wash by hand any more now that they have bought a brand new electric washy mashy.
* Report in the paper: ''The number of road deaths has already exceeded the hoped-for maximums set before the holiday began''. Maybe they'd manage to kill more people if there was a police-free weekend declared over Songkran. That could reduce Thailand's population even more successfully than the Thaksin-Samak War on Drugs. This year Thailand's Songkran long weekend resulted in 324 road deaths and 4484 injuries.
* Name of a doctor at a Huahin hospital: Dr Pornrat
* Traffic cop's flak jacket with a McDonald's ad on the back. Only in Thailand. Hey, why should I be surprised when the Huahin Central Police Station advertises its own liquor bar on its front gate sign.

...and finally, one of Marie's former friends (and renowned bus/Kombi aficionado) dropped by to visit us in Xiengmai, but never produced a single blockbuster during the time:
 Enormous piles of elephant dung have been appearing along the roads here in Chiangmai as mahouts bring young under-employed elephants from the country. They sell tourists bananas to feed their jumbos, which are led around Chiangmai's bar areas and restaurants by night. Each wears a flasing red tail-light - literally on its tail.
Marie's friend took advantage of the new Rent-a-Pachyderm service... here he is bringing the economy model back to our apartment:


  1. Hello I want to congratulate to them by its site of the Web of the excellent looks like entertained and very good very to me it elaborated. I invite them to that they explore a little on my Web site.

  2. Can you please remove any unauthorized pictures of people you have not consulted or consented to having their pictures here please.

    David I.

  3. hi David
    Presuming you're the "David I." we think you are, we hardly thought these pix would be offensive. Anyway i fixed them and the elephant too, just in case. Have a nice day,
    Peter & Marie