Inspiring Southern Thailand Road Trip, Part One
By Kim Waddoup
Our trip to Southern Thailand was slightly postponed due to some, not so perfect weather.However, finally we packed our limited luggage into the car and took off. To get to the West side of Thailand from our location (Jomtien) we had to pass through Bangkok, the tedious part the journey as the roads were full of traffic until we passed Hua Hin.
Our first overnight stop was at Prachuap Khiri Khan, quite an interesting beach town located on a large bay. We drove along the beach passing the imposing Wat Khao Chong Krachok andthen around the bay to the very lovely Khao Ta Mong Lai Forest Park. Very small and almost intimate the park has a well cleared trail to a viewpoint over the bay and fishing fleet. It also has an excellent coffee shop!
Returning to the town we then explored to the south and discovered the Wing 5 Military Airbase. As a foreigner you just need to register, to enter. Military establishments in Thailand but they appear to have some of the best beaches in the country and Wing 5 was no exception!
Beautiful military beach
We then realised that we were at the narrowest part of Western Thailand with a road going up to the Singkhon border with Myanmar. We stayed one night in Chumphon which is a rather strange place with kilometres of unreachable beaches, two large bays and very few visitors. This was one of our first encounters with the new railway line to the South of Thailand. Whilst it runs beside the existing line, tremendous infrastructure is being constructed for this project with bridges, crossings and new stations. Chumphon did not have a great deal to offer with the exception of the massive Nong Yao Tang public park to the South. Incredible facilities that appear to be deserted with the exception of the rather charming Nong Yai Wooden Bridge.
We were now in Southern Thailand and on the Isthmus of Kra at the rather extravagantly named Andaman Gateway at Kor Kod Kra looking over the river Kra Buri to Myanmar. This marks the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula with just 53 km separating the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean) and the Gulf of Thailand. The signs are crumbling, and it does not look as though anyone has visited this viewpoint for a long time. It is interesting to note that the idea of a canal through the Kra Isthmus has been in a ‘feasibility study’ phase for several decades. Whilst incredible costs would be involved it would save shipping lines thousands of kilometres of travel around Malaysia/Singapore.
Due to so many stops on this day we overnighted near to Ranong.We had expected more spectacular scenery from the mountainous route 4, but one rarely sees the Andaman until after Tukua Pa and then the beaches of the Khao Lak area. Khao Lak is a very laid-back area of Southern Thailand with spectacular beaches, substantial hotels/resorts and virtually everything in between. The name Khao Lak is synonymous with the 2004 Tsunami. Much of the charm of the area at that time was in the wooden shacks that were completely swept away,leaving most of the concrete resorts that survived.
Khao Lak appears to be recovering very slowly from Covid, the beaches are spectacular and currently, mostly deserted. The beaches include Bang Niang, Nang Thong (popular with surfers), Coconut Beach/Pal Weep Beach, Sunset Beach, Khuk Khak Beach, and our personal favourite White Sand Beach which at the time of our visit had one of the very few beach restaurants fully open.
Leaving Khao Lak we choose to take the southern routes 4240, 4 and 4118 through the spectacular towering karsts towards Khao Mak and the Rajjabrapha Dam. Driving in rural Thailand is always a pleasure with unexpected sights and viewpoints.
Leaving the EGAT area we followed the road to the rather grandly named ‘Ratchaphrapha Marina’. This is a rather small and quite chaotic terminal for people who have reservations but it was getting late and where to stay was the next priority. Whilst a few properties are listed relatively close to the lake the majority were some distance away. There is also great confusion with Khao Sok being the National Park and covering a vast area. We ended up in the very charming Khao Sok Paradise Resort, quite a distance from the dam but along the beautiful route 401.
A simple breakfast was served on the balcony in the morning and we then discovered that there is quite a built-up community with many places to stay, bars and restaurants on the short road up to the entrance to the Khao Sok National Park (no vehicle access). Definitely recommend the Khao Sok Paradise Resort and would love to return when the weather is better! However, with inclement weather forecast, we decided to head for Phuket! Our report on this amazing Southern Thailand Road Trip is continued in the article Southern Thailand Road Trip Part II