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CHA-AM, PETCHABURI PROVINCE - 14-16 February 2013

Cha-Am Beach

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Itiniary……..For full report see below.
Days 1/2, Bangkok to Cha-Am via Petchaburi (2 nights stay).
Day 3. Cha-Am to Bangkok by train.
Cha-Am…..(These were by rented motorbike or on foot). Swiss Sheep Farm, Chin Boo Chak Festival.
Cha-Am……Cha-Am Villa Hotel, rating....good (but only because of the pool), price 700 baht (2 nights).
Weather (temperatures are approximate)
Cha-Am sunny, hazy, hot 35c overnight 25c.
Dining out
Cha-Am.....Cha-Am offers dining of every concievable description and price. Seafood is a speciality all along the beach road and to the north over the bridge towards the fishing port.
Transport used
Minivan to Victory Monument 35 baht, minivan to Petchaburi, 100 baht, local bus to Cha-Am 30 baht, motorbike taxi, 40 baht.
Train to Bang Sue Junction, Bangkok, 40 baht, MRT, 18 baht, local bus, 8 baht, taxi 50 baht.
Motorbike rental
Cha-Am……price/day 200 baht (well used Honda automatic). fuel 50 baht.
Tour Log...Thursday 14th February 2013

Late afternoon activity on Cha-Am beach. Seafood restaurant on the beach at the north end of town. Out of the blue........After two days on complete inactivity accept for sitting behind my computer I thought to take a break. With another long tour less than a week away I ponder what to do. By 10 am on the third day, despite options, I still feel weary of travel and still remain undecided but by dusk I will be nowhere near Bangkok. Before 11 am I’m packed and ready for another 2/3 day trip; hopefully one far less demanding. My first job is to change some currency which is hampered by a rate deteriorating ever since I arrived in Thailand then off to Victory Monument where I can take transport out of the city. I head for Petchaburi province a couple of hours from Bangkok but instead of aiming for Cha-Am the province’s principle resort, I head for the city itself hoping to find a base to explore this interesting town and to secure independent transport. I arrive in Petchaburi well before 4 pm. Petchaburi is a busy provincial city but does not serve as a tourist base despite it's many historic and natural attractions. It’s not dissimilar to some of the provincial cities and towns I passed through on my last trip. Sadly I’ve drawn another blank. It will cost too much to hire independent transport and there are no motorbike rental establishments or comfortable hotels or guesthouses nearby. Night bazaar in Narathip Road. I don’t want to make extra work for myself so take an easy option. Conveniently a short-wheelbase orange bus is passing. It’s going to Hua Hin via Cha-Am. Instinctively I jump aboard. In Cha-Am I will be well within my comfort zone as this resort town is perhaps the most familiar to me than any other location in Thailand. It also offers me perhaps the only chance this trip to be near the beach. The old bus, decorated lovingly by its driver, slowly makes its way out of Petchaburi, collecting many students on the way. This is surely the most curious way I’ve ever travelled to Cha-Am but around 5 pm I’ve arrived. I make it to Soi Bus Station where I know I can rent a motorbike at Noi’s guesthouse but being a busy part of town I prefer to head along the beach road where I find Cha-Am Villa Hotel which has a swimming pool. At last maybe I can now relax and just do what the majority of other tourists do. Practically nothing! In the evening I wander down to the port area famous for its seafood restaurants but after a spicy seafood dish here I’m in for another disrupted night with diarrhoea. That’ll teach me: Should have had a cheese sandwich.

Friday 15th February

Recent arrivals making themselves at home at Swiss Sheep Farm. The enclosure at Swiss Sheep Farm. In search of sheep........On Cha-Am beach road there’s no shortage of options for something a little less demanding on the pallet to set me up for the day. I’ve let the whole morning slip by but I still have the motorbike. I will use that to venture out of the city taking in a lunch on the way. Cha-Am doesn’t have too many options for sight-seeing, most people hardly venture away from the beach-road during their stay. Understandable, there’s everything here that they need. However there is one new attraction near Cha-Am that I noticed on the way in and I head there to check it out. Located just before Cha-Am railway station. the intersection for the Cha-Am/Hua Hin bypass is the Swiss Sheep Farm. This was never a working farm just a purpose built small enclosure on a piece of land at the foot of a rocky hill, a feature of the Cha-Am skyline. It’s an Idea, I believe, would never catch on in an area sheep would normally be found but it’s the way they do things in Thailand. Anything trendy or gimmicky catches on here. I can’t imagine in my country a farmer charging for a bunch of grass to feed his sheep. Yes there are real sheep here, a few horses and calves. It’s run along the lines of a theme park and the area nicely landscaped, including a few authentic features that adds to the attraction, here a landrover, there a VW beetle, a campervan and a mini, objects that would otherwise have passed through the crusher by now. Admission is very reasonable and for once without discrimination to foreigners.
I’ve no plan to make this a long day sightseeing. That was not my intention but well you might have guessed. I call at the train station on the way back. It’s not out of my way. Arriving after 2.30 pm I’m not expecting any traffic but no sooner than I park up I hear an announcement which invariably means something is coming. A quick glance at the board tells me there is a stop train due about this time. Thankfully it’s running a little late. It’s another chance to use the video option on my camera. The service is the 262 Ordinary service from Hua Hin and that sorts out my transport for tomorrow. I can use this service to return to Bangkok. I head back to the hotel and for once just laze around the pool till evening.
Warming up for the Chim Boo Chak Festival. Concert underway at Chim Boo Chak Festival. Third Chim Boo Chak @ Cha-Am Festival........This curious sounding name is basically about fishing for crab. When I arrived in Cha-Am I noticed a road closure to hold a street market. This is unusual. The only time I’ve witnessed that before is in October during the annual Seafood Festival. As I venture out in the evening the stage is set literally for something similar. Cha-Am has a long beach road but at its junction with Narathip Road there is a sea view terrace that is normally quiet. Not today. A purpose build stage had been set up and the area, the size of a small football stadium is filled with tables and chairs, enough for a couple of hundred people. Around the perimetre there are food stalls offering all manner of delicacies that we only wonder about back home, fish, crab, prawns, shellfish and squid cooked Asian style including Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Muslim. It’s a replication of the Seafood Festival or so I thought. It’s still early but I’m a bit hungry so I settle down here for dinner and a beer but before too long the stage erupts in a frenzy of light. The concert is due to begin. It seems a waste if I were to leave now so I take another beer, then another, not helped by the fact that the pretty young hostess keeps returning to fill my glass. The performances are punctuated with announcements and some form of contest. After a while I work out that contestants present themselves in front of the stage where a large seawater tank is situated. The basic idea is that they ‘angle’ for crab. I later find out that this festival has been running for three years. It is an initiative by local people to keep a stock of live crabs in the estuary near the fishing port at the north of the town. Anybody can turn up and obtain crab live straight from the ocean. And why not at the same time make a festival out of it? I need a toilet but I’m not aware of a toilet block nearby. Well the organisers have thought of that too! They’ve brought in a converted tour bus with compartments, one at the front for ladies and one at the back for men. And where does all that beer end up you may ask? It gets pumped into a sludge lorry parked nearby. This is Thailand it it’s best! Simply improvising. I’ve had too much beer which will leave me with a headache by morning. I clearly don’t to this often!

Saturday 16th February

Fuel efficient transport on Beach Road. Arrival at Cha-Am railway station of the 14.33 service to Bangkok. Back to the capitol........Today is unremarkable. The morning is a repeat of yesterday morning and I’m ready to depart at 11.30 am. Just a hour or so to kill around the beach road and I’m off to the station first for lunch then to catch the 14.33 Ordinary train to Bangkok. Even that’s unremarkable.Being a weekend the service uses a three car DRC (diesel rail car). I’m limited to a slow service which will take 4 hours. Apart from offering the chance to take videos of passing trains there is nothing unusual. The vendors do their usual trade with drinks and snacks passing up and down the corridors and I must admit these carriages are unusually scruffy both inside and out. On arrival at Bang Sue Junction I use the MRT (underground railway) for just two stops to Jatujak Park then take a slow bus. With dinner that gets me back well after 8 pm. It's another little tour I can put on the record so as to do justice to what Cha-Am has to offer.