After doing some more research about Hua Hin and the surrounding areas we decided to hire a rental car for a few days so we could get a little further afield and explore some of the region’s National Parks and what they have to offer.
Logan did some research on rental cars and found a company close to us that did pretty reasonable rates – Easy Car Rental – they also had no excessive deposits or credit card holds required like some he had read about. For a three day rental, the per day rate came down to 1,000 THB/$40 per day and just a cash deposit (also our excess if needed) of 5,000 THB/$200 NZD. The daily rate included all Thai taxes, first class car insurance and personal accident insurance.
Day one with the rental car saw us take in three different spots –
Pran Buri Forest Park
Pran Buri had a mangrove boardwalk that Logan had read about so this was the first stop on day number one – just 22 kms from our place heading south from Hua Hin. We arrived around 10.30am and began to wander along the boardwalk which takes you through the trees and mangroves, the boardwalk is in great condition and in places it has been constructed around the trees and their root systems. It was low tide so we spotted plenty of little mud crabs going about their day. About half way around the walk there was a viewing platform a couple of staircases high that you can walk up to get a higher view of your surroundings and there is also a jetty from where you can take a one hour long-tail boat ride through the mangroves and out into Pran Buri River. The boat trip was 450 THB/$18 NZD and we decided we had plenty of time in the day to include it. It was interesting to see things from the perspective of the water, the old and new fishing villages, a few different birds but as we are getting too used to, a lot of rubbish as well.We were back at the jetty after midday and continued on the rest of the boardwalk for another 15-20 minutes back to the carpark. We were back in the car as the rain began and we soon found a little roadside restaurant to get some lunch. Although the English communication was pretty limited we ended up with three very delicious meals and some cold, refreshing drinks.
Next stop was Sai Cave, which is one of the many caves within the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and was another 40 kms south of Pran Buri. We paid the foreigners entrance fees of 200 THB/$8 NZD for adults (Thai locals are only 20 THB) & 100 THB/$4 NZD for children and started our climb to the 280m high cave entrance. It was a pretty steady climb up but there were quite a lot of good rock steps along the way. The whole family did really well on the way up and the view from the top looking out towards the Gulf of Thailand was stunning.
We wandered through the cave system with our torches and found some amazing stalagmites and stalactites, some of which had already met and some that looked very close to touching. As we explored the cave, Braxton told me a very elaborate story of how this was a ‘pirate cave’ and went into great detail about the different parts of the cave. Just love his amazing imagination!!Lincoln & Logan started the journey back down while Braxton and I took things a little slower as parts were a little steep for his little 5 year old leg span. Back at the bottom we were glad there were a few little stalls selling cold water as we had finished our second bottle of the day. The air con in the car was also well received as we set off again to hopefully spot some wild elephants.
Wild Elephant Viewing
I had read that Kui Buri National Park was the best place to spot wild elephants in Thailand and it is almost 99% sure visitors will see elephants any day. How could we be so close to this location and not take up this opportunity? Well we couldn’t, so the final stop for the day was Kui Buri. The elephant safaris are only run in the afternoons from around 2pm-6pm and after a small detour as we had arrived at the incorrect part of the park, we were given a simple map to direct us to the correct park entrance for elephant spotting (this happens quite a lot it seems) and arrived just after 4.30pm. We paid for the ute tour with guide at 850 THB/$34 NZD and our park entrance fees – adults were 200 THB/$8 NZD and children 100 THB/$4 NZD, Braxton was free here, so a grand total for our family of 1350 THB/$54 NZD. We set off on the back of a ute that had some slightly padded pieces of wood across the width of the deck, our guide was with us keeping an eye out for wildlife and in radio contact with other guides around the area. Not too far along the track she spotted two elephants directly to our left having an afternoon snack in a long grass area. I don’t think they even noticed the vehicle stopped on the track about 15m from them and they continued to grab a few trunkfuls of long, green grass and wandered away. We continued on and next stopped for awhile at the first of the viewing areas where there were a few other groups watching a group of about 10-15 elephants in the distance. Further along we came down a small hill and our eagle-eyed guide spotted a small family group of 6 behind us on the right. We watched them for a bit until they moved behind some large trees so we continued onto another two viewing areas, unfortunately there were no animals within view.We had reached the end of the 7km route and started to head back with the sun nearing the horizon. Our guide spotted a sole elephant walking through the trees beside the track and the young male began to head away from us so our driver stopped; then he turned and was looking directly at us. We moved on and came back to the spot where we had previously seen the family; they had now moved across the track to a watering hole and were talking an evening bath – very cool to see them in the water as well.It was after 6.30pm when we arrived back at the park office and we were so pleased we had made it to the correct part of the park in time to see these amazing sightings of these magnificent animals. By this stage the sun had gone down and the phone was flat so we had no GPS. We tried our best to backtrack, with a little help from the basic map we had been given earlier, and after circling back some how, we got back to the road we needed. We came across a few night stalls so stopped to get the boys something to eat as it was going to be over an hour drive back to Hua Hin. It was 8.30pm by the time we got home, we had driven around 250 kms and seen and done some incredible things. Definitely a huge highlight of our time in this part of Thailand.
We had a huge first day with the rental car and decided to take it easy on the second day, we headed north of Hua Hin to check out a couple of ‘outlet malls’ – FN Factory Outlet and Premium Outlet – neither were that great so we headed home. We stopped in Cha-am on the way back and found a local spot for lunch – four tasty dishes for just 140 THB/$5.60 NZD.
Day three saw us head west from Hua Hin towards the Burmese border and check out a couple of spots in this direction.
Wat Huay Mongkol
A very famous Buddhist temple around these parts and this amazing complex is just 16 kms from Hua Hin. It was a Friday when we visited and about 10am when we arrived; the area was already very busy although there is a vast amount of space so it didn’t seem overly crowded. This temple is home to the world’s largest statue of Luang Phor Thuad, a legendary southern Thai monk revered for his enlightenment and ability to perform miracles. We took a few photos and made our way up the main stairs to the very impressive sitting Buddhist statue.Around the back of the statue were some signs indicating there were some fish to see and so we walked further on and found an area where you could do some fish feeding. We obliged and purchased a small bucket of bread (10 THB/$0.40 NZD) to feed the very large fish in the lake.
Pa La-U Waterfall
Back on the waterfall trail after Koh Samui, we continued on from the temple for another 50 kms west and the entrance to Pa La-U Waterfall in the Kaeng Krachan National Park. Along the way we started to see some rather large evidence on the road of elephant activity (some looked quite ‘fresh’) and then we came across signs alerting to us about possible elephant encounters. We definitely weren’t expecting this possibility, especially as we were no longer with trained park guides and in a very small car. While Lincoln was keeping a look out hoping to see more elephants, we didn’t come across anything more than the previously mentioned evidence.
Upon entry to the national park we saw the entrance fees on the sign were 300 THB/$12 NZD for adult foreigners, foreign children were 100 THB/$4 NZD plus 30 THB/$1.20 NZD for the car. However, when asked the children’s ages, which are 8 and 5, I was told they were free. Seemed odd, not sure what their cut off age was but saving 200 THB/$8 NZD – we’ll take it. We drove in further to the carpark, which only had a few vehicles, and got ready to start the hike up to the waterfall. We saw a sign about different birds, insects and butterflies we might encounter along the way but were a little shocked to see the ‘big 5’ animals listed as well; thankfully we didn’t come across any of these, but plenty of the smaller, and less intimidating, colourful butterflies.Pa La-U Waterfall is 16 stories/levels high but currently there is no public access past level five. The track was pretty reasonable when we visited with plenty of ropes to help with steeper parts and there were signs at each level indicating how much further to the next level. We had purchased more fish food at the entrance and soon saw some very large carp who were pretty eager to get more food. The track up the first few levels was pretty manageable but once we got nearly to level five we had two options to take to get to the bottom pool for our swim. Either through the waist deep water with a rope for assistance or around a large and quite sheer rock. A couple heading back down suggested the rock way was best and we all made it safely without too many slips. It had taken around 30 minutes to reach level five so the refreshing looking water was very inviting; although the boys (especially Braxton) weren’t so keen on swimming with the largish fish. Lincoln swam out towards the white water and found the fish didn’t get out that far so he was happy, but Braxton was out quite soon after he had cooled down. The trek back down was quite quick as there are some good flat parts to the track. It was 1.30pm by the time we reached the bottom and the small stall cooking up a storm for some others was very inviting; just 30 THB/$1.20 NZD for each dish and some more cold drinks.
Seven Great Thai Kings Statues
We had seen these large statues when coming into Hua Hin on the bus, so it was something that Logan looked into once we arrived. Taking note that it seemed most of the information about the Kings was in Thai, we hadn’t put it high on our ‘things to see’ list. As we still had plenty of day left on our last day with the rental car we decided to take a quick trip out to Rajabhakti Park and see these statues. We entered the park after the security team took a scan of Logan’s driver’s licence and found a huge carpark and beautifully manicured and clean park grounds. The large park was built by the Royal Thai Army on some of their land and opened in September 2015. “Rajabhakti Park” means “the park that has been built with people’s loyalty to the monarchs” and funds of around 1 billion Baht ($40 million NZD) were donated by the public and private sectors to establish the park.This time of day, in the mid-late afternoon, was not the best time to visit as the sun was starting to head down behind the statues, so the close-up photos didn’t show their features the best. However, the 14 metre bronze statues were still very impressive and there was actually a huge amount of information about each King in English, so we learnt something as well. We headed home for a swim after a lighter day on distance travelled, just 150kms.
Our last week in Hua Hin was pretty quiet after our incredibly full days out and about with the rental car. A bit of school catch up for the boys, some research and accommodation booking for our time in Laos, checking out some more night markets, casting our vote for the NZ Election, a haircut for me and lunch with some other Kiwis, Ken & Di (friends of Logan’s Uncle & Aunt that come to Hua Hin most years to escape the NZ winter).
Next we are making our way to the very north of Thailand to the city of Chiang Mai. I visited this part of Thailand in my early 20’s and I really loved it, so I’m looking forward to exploring the area further and this time with Logan and the boys. We have accommodation booked for four weeks in Chiang Mai and for the first two weeks Logan’s parents are going to be joining us before they head to Myanmar. We are all looking forward to seeing some family in the flesh as it’s now been over four months since we departed New Zealand on our Awesome World Adventure.