The next choice to fill the void Vietnam created is Hoa Hin. Websites report that residents of Bangkok flock to Hoa Hin’s beaches to escape the oppressive heat and congestion of the city. We chose Hua Hin for its proximity to our route south to Kuala Lumpur and the airport.
We arrive via the train from Ayutthaya, changing trains in Bangkok. The train from Bangkok has very comfortable seats in comparison to the previous trains - almost airline seats - which make the five hour ride to Hua Hin pleasant rather than gruesome.
Hua Hin’s train station was built in 1920 and features a Royal Waiting Room for the King and his entourage for his visits in the summer. There is a restored steam engine on display and a museum attached to the station.
A taxi delivers us to our hotel: Baan Paan Boutique. It’s not as “Boutiquey” as the previous hotels, but it has a balcony.
*Aside*The fact that the balcony has only a view of the roof next door doesn’t make it any less of a balcony. Also the balcony has a sink and a small drying rack. I guess if I was so inclined, I could wash our clothes and hang them out to dry there. I’d much rather pay the woman down the street 180 baht ($5.40) to do it for me!
*A word about laundry* We always seem to have some dirty clothes. Even when we just sent everything to the laundry the clothes we are wearing are getting dirty. Most days are above 80°and humid steamy so to put it in a straight forward manner, we usally sweat a lot. Different hotels have different laundry facilities. A couple of our hotel rooms provided a washing machine and drying rack so we’ve done our own laundry. The caveat with that is we have to hang the clothes to dry. There seem to be no dryers in Asia. I mean they do exist, but no one has one. Thus not only do we need enough time for the machine to run, we also have to have enough time to dry or we’ll be packing damp clothes which will probably undo the washing process when the mildew sets in. So it’s far better to send the laundry out. We try to wait until close to the last day to do laundry so we arrive at the next stop with as many fresh articles of clothing as possible. Most laundries are drop-it-off-today-pick-it-up-tomorrow. Then we hit a laundry that took three days: drop off in the morning on Wednesday pick up in the evening on Friday, and remember closed on Sunday. That taught us to check on laundry rules earlier in our stay at a new place.
*Aside* What do you do with a big bag of dirty laundry when you have to pack it? I vote put it in the dive bag.
Sometimes for a higher fee (usually double the going rate) they will do it faster, but sometimes they can’t speed up the process which means we missed the opportunity to wash our clothes.
Mostly laundry is charged by the kilo. However the laundry Hua Hin charges by the piece: 5 baht per piece (about 15 cents).
*Aside* Tom dropped off the laundry and my question was “What constitutes a piece?” I mean is each sock a piece? Is a face cloth a piece? Tom has little wiping clothes for his glasses that measure about 5 inches square. Is that a piece? I counted 50 pieces of laundry if each item counted as a piece, but her count was more like 36, so I guess a pair of socks count as one and perhaps some things don’t count at all. I feel as though weight is fairer to the laundress. I mean a pair of jeans is much heavier and more bulky than a pair of lightweight summer shorts. I guess you go by the piece if you don’t have a scale? No matter if it’s $5.00 or $10.00 I’d much rather pay someone to wash my clothes. What a deal, huh?
Our hotel has a really big Spirit House.
*A word about Spirit Houses* In Thailand when the earth is dug for the first time it is believed that the spirits that reside in the earth are disturbed. So a Spirit House is provided as a new home for the spirits to avoid unpleasant incidents befalling your family and home from angry “Sprits of the Land” who might otherwise take up residence in your house with you. Then you give the sprits offerings of food and beverages and burn incense for them, to remind them that they are loved and their intervention and help is appreciated. There are lots of Spirits in Thailand such as Spirits of Agriculture so you will even see these little (and sometime not so little) houses out in the middle of rice fields. There are entire stores dedicated to the sale of Sprit Houses and Spirit house paraphernalia, so you can by “ready-made” or build it yourself. Usually they are placed on a pedestal but some are big enough for a person to walk into. Virtually every house or business has one somewhere, usually at a corner intersection of the property. Some are very simple and some are really elaborate. I think most people burn incense every day for their Spirits, as you can often smell incense in the street in the morning and see the burned incense stick bouquet on the Spirit House verandah. Food and flowers are refreshed as needed, when assistance from the Spirit is requested or on special holidays. These little houses fascinate me. If you’re interested, look it up. It is very visible, integral part of Thai culture that dates back to before Buddhism.
We are really excited when we discover there is a Night Market is just down the street from us. We head down for “street food” for dinner.
*A word about “street food”* Many people in Thailand don’t have kitchens. What? Yes, it’s true. Our guide in Chiang Mai told us this. One of my contacts on Couchsurfing says “Nope,” she doesn’t have a kitchen. Apparently many people live in a glorified hotel room with no kitchen (actually that may be more like a substandard hotel room.) On their way to work they grab a “street food” lunch and on the way home from work they pick up dinner at their favorite street cart.
*Aside* Often these meals are simply tied into plastic bags to be opened later and eaten cold.
Some establishments are more elaborate and semi-permanent in established markets. Other vendors arrive with their cart, their food and also tables and chairs so people can sit outside and eat. They often even bring big umbrellas in case of rain. Some food is questionable but much of it is delicious and cheap - often a fraction of what a bricks and mortar restaurant would be. A bowl of curry often costs only about 120 baht ($3.60); a bowl of soup 60 baht ($120). One night we had a whole grilled fish with stir fried vegetables 450 baht (about $13.50). Imagine what that would cost in the US!
We have four days in Hua Hin so we take the first day to relax. I catch up on my writing. Tom
delivers our laundry and we do a little research on Bali and what we want to do in Hua Hin. It’s a very restful and laidback day. We want to go a beach restaurant but decide to leave it until the next day.
The next day we start to walk to the Museum Coffee and Tea Corner in the Centara Grand Beach Resort for afternoon tea.
*A word about Tea Time* Traditionally afternoon tea for the “upper class” is between three o’clock and five although sometimes it is pushed back to six and turned into a light supper as a substitute for a full dinner. The “lower class” or working class traditionally took tea around two o’clock to tide them over till dinner which could be as late as eight or nine o’clock. The term “high tea” and “low tea” refers to where tea is served - literally the height of the table. Thus “high tea” is served in the dining room, while “low tea” (or more simply “tea” is served in the drawing room.
As we begin to walk the skies open up and start dumping rain. We opt for a taxi which navigates us through standing water in some of the streets.
*Aside* Sometimes the water is so deep I fear for the car, but the driver just pushes through with seemingly no problem. Well there was a problem. We told our hosts where we wanted to go. There was a significant language barrier between us and our hosts. Once we left the basics of the room and checking in or out they no longer understood us. However we needed them to order us a taxi so they needed to know where we were going. After much explaining and showing information on the phone and looking on the computer we thought they understood. They also thought they understood. They gave our driver directions and we set out. I always keep an eye on Google Maps just to be sure we’re headed in the right direction, but we weren’t. We stopped the driver, again explaining with the phone and the map and the name of the hotel. Finally we head in the right direction. This happened over and over in Thailand: more than anywhere else. We do our best to explain what we want or where we are going and it seems as though everyone understands. But they didn’t. Our driver seems mad at us, but we didn’t give him the instructions, our host did. How is that my fault? I think though it’s more that they want to understand and help us and feel frustrated when it doesn’t work. Don’t worry. We feel frustrated too!
We arrive at the Centara Grand Beach Resort, find our way to the Museum Coffee and Tea Corner and settle in to be delighted with Afternoon Tea.
*Aside* Apparently it is “low tea” as our table is just barely reaches our knees.
We have a tier of finger sandwiches and a tier of desserts with all the tea (for Rebecca) and all the decaf coffee (for Tom) we care to drink. The hotel and the staff look as though they stepped
out of the British Empire. Adding to the illusion is the fantastical topiary garden we see from our chairs. I could easily imagine myself as one of the self indulgent idle rich from the turn of the century.
*Aside*Minus the corset, of course. If I had the corset on I couldn’t have possibly eaten my entire share of the goodies! Also if I had afternoon tea every day, very soon I would weigh 300 pounds. Maybe that’s where the corset helps?
The rain tapers off as we finish our tea, so we walk to the train station to verify the schedule for the train to Hat Yai.
*Aside* It’s a really good thing we did this. I have a schedule, but I forget about military time and how to read it. When I look closer I realize that the train doesn’t take about six hours, but ALL NIGHT! There is only one train with sleeper cars leaving Hua Hin at 7:00 pm or 19:00 and arriving in Hat Yai at 7:30 am. We buy tickets for that train.
We dash between raindrops for lunch and dinner but the rain curtails our exploration of the city. When we tried to go to the beach for dinner, it was pouring. When we tried to head out to a museum, it was pouring. We found a grocery near us that had European style baked goods (croissants and the most beloved chocolate croissants) which with some yogurt served us well for breakfast, which was not included at this hotel.
*A word about breakfast* Sometimes breakfast is included in our room rate and sometimes not. We’ve had everything from a full buffet with dinner for breakfast - one buffet included chicken rice porridge with all kinds of condiments; Indian dhal with naan; fresh made omelets; made to order toast; French toast; salad; a vermicelli noodle dish; a spaghetti dish; fried rice; small sweet rolls; shui mai; assorted breakfast meats; and other things in chafing dishes that I’ve now forgotten - to cold fried eggs and miserably sweet breakfast meat with toast (cold, all cold). Sometimes it’s better when breakfast is not included because it’s so far removed from what my stomach wants to see first thing in the morning as to be laughable. Ayutthaya was the first time I remember having big delicious fresh croissants on our bread plate for breakfast. It was delightful!
We have one more dinner at the market: fried rice.
*Aside* This was not as good as the fried rice we had in Ayutthaya, but again, not at all greasy. I wanted to try the chicken shawarma but the owner wasn’t ready when we were, so alas I never got to taste it.
This time we had an upper berth on the train so I severely limited my fluids so I wouldn’t have to climb up and down to go to the bathroom all night. We stowed our luggage on a rack in the aisle then climbed into our bunks. We were in the middle of the car rather than on the end by the door this time so I was able to sleep. Tom however got very little sleep. Probably because there is no place to plug in his C-PAP machine, so he may have dozed but didn’t sleep well.
We reached Hat Yai with great expectations, but we were plagued by an inability to communicate and rain.
We had the name of our hotel in Thai on my phone and a map of its location but still five men in the train station couldn’t figure out where we wanted to go. We had to stop the driver twice because he was going the wrong direction. He was mad at us when we gave him what he asked for in fare because he had gone out of his way. What? He’d still be looking for the hotel if we hadn’t shown him where to go.
When we went out to dinner our driver drove past the restaurant’s street and had to turn around and go back. That evening, we just gave up and walked back to the hotel, rain or no rain.
*Aside* We had a really great meal at “The Basil” though: roast chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies for Tom and grilled salmon with veggies for me. We hadn’t had a meal that looked like American food in forever. It was a nice change.
We tried to take a day trip to the saltwater lake to the north of us, but got rained out. We tried to meet up with a Couchsurfing friend which also got rained out. We tried to go to the Hat Yai Municipal Park. You guessed it: rained out. So we did what any red-blooded American tourist would do. We went to the Mall and went to the movies: Doctor Strange and Jack Reacher are now checked off our movie viewing list.
*Aside* We wanted to see Inferno and Fantastical Beasts but they are not showing in a theater near us yet.
We were able to walk from the mall to a huge night market with a second story restaurant area with over thirty food vendors. The fresh fruit shakes and rice with meat and greens were yummy. I loved the look of the sushi - some of the cutest sushi I’ve ever seen, but sitting out on a tray with no refrigeration gave me the willies, so I passed. Probably missed a golden opportunity.
Here’s hoping we leave the rain in Hat Yai!! We’re going to kiss Kuala Lumpur “Hello” and “Goodbye” on our way to Bali. I can’t wait for Bali!!