We flew in to Ranong airport over some very spectacular scenery, and caught a bus south along the main road for about an hour to reach the village of Huaey Sap. The bus crew were very helpful, loading our backpacks for us, and alerting us when we were approaching Huaey Sap.
We loved the fluourescent coloured lighting on the bus, too!
There is no bus stop sign at Huaey Sap – there is barely a verge on the road, in fact! We are really in the authentic Thai countryside here. It’s amazing that there is such untouched local Thai life happening just minutes from the popular Andaman Coast beaches and islands.
Two members of our Thai host family were waiting for us when the bus stopped, and drove us a few hundred metres on their motorbikes, to the house of the Wahid family. This house is home to a grandmother, her daughter and son-in-law, and their two children. However, everyone in the neighbourhood seems to be a relative, and we were visited by many different people during the two days we stayed there, especially at breakfast time.
Wa Wa, the little girl, was quite a character, and as is typical of many young kids, preferred to spend hours toying with her pencil rather than getting her homework done quickly and being able to play. Even the inducement of being able to play a game on our smartphone wasn’t sufficient motivation. We really felt for her poor mother, who spent many hours pressing Wa Wa to get back on the job.
Breakfast was amazing – hot dumplings from a local vendor, sticky rice with chicken and roasted garlic, sesame balls, and piping hot coffee with real milk. Coming from a Western country, you may not appreciate how fortunate you are to be able to have fresh milk in your morning coffee in Thailand – many Thai homes have no refrigerator, so the only milk they can keep is super-sweet condensed milk. They also had croissants available, in case we didn’t want the traditional Thai breakfast.
After breakfast, we set out to explore the local area. In true Thai style, two girls about ten years old tagged along on the adventure. They were relatives of some sort – we never did untangle exactly how everyone fit together – and all older relatives feel a sense of responsibility to “take care” of all younger relatives, which seems to mean taking them along when you go out, feeding them when you eat, and helping them when they ask for something. Interestingly enough, we hardly ever saw a “nong” (younger relative) ask for anything. They tended to happily go along with whatever the older relatives proposed.
Our first stop was the swimming hole at Ton Kloi. This is the starting point for some lovely walks upstream to see waterfalls, pristine jungle, and animals such as gibbons, and even tigers and elephants in the wild. Today, though, we weren’t doing any trekking – we were just here for a swim.
The swimming hole is full of fish – the restaurant here sells fish food, and many visitors feed the fish. Apparently, there used to be really large fish in the deep pool, but people started coming in at night and fishing in the pond, so the larger fish have all been taken now. There is still an impressive number of smaller fish, though, and they compete furiously for the fish food, jumping out of the water in their race to beat the others to the prize.
In the middle of the day, half the water is shaded, making it a peaceful place to relax and chat, without fear of sunburn. Inner tubes are available, for those who want to float without effort.
The restaurant provides a hearty selection of local Thai food, such as barbecue chicken, sticky rice, fish cakes, and Thai sausages, along with imported delicacies like strawberry-flavoured Fanta. They also sell drinking water and safe ice made from filtered water – perfect for cooling down while you lie on the bamboo platform in the shade. Picnic mats are also available, if you’d like to take your food farther afield.
After lunch, we headed to the ocean beach at Talae Nok. This section of the Andaman Coast was hit hard by the tsunami, and Talae Nok lost many people, including sixteen children who were rehearsing in the school hall near the beach when the wave struck. Our guide showed us a two-storey building – a newly constructed health centre – and told us that the wave had been higher that the peak of its roof. It is impossible to imagine what it must have been like.
The beach is beautiful, though – hardly a footprint on it when we arrived, and with a stunning array of off-shore islands looking close enough to touch. Our host told us that if we were staying longer, we could take a day trip to the islands, or even camp there overnight. We definitely want to do that next time! We will have to come back, because the gibbon sanctuary was closed the day we went to Talae Nok, and we would love to talk to the volunteers there, and see the work they are doing in returning captive gibbons to the wild.
From Talae Nok, we headed to Pra Pat Beach to watch the sun set – carefully avoiding the cows on the road!
Pra Pat is yet another glorious stretch of golden beach on the Andaman Coast, this one with an interesting rock formation at the southern end, which was just begging to be inspected via diving or snorkelling. We put that on the list for our next visit, too.
After sunset, we went back to a different family home for a communal dinner of rice, curries, and kai jeow (omelette), before heading home to fall into an exhausted sleep.
It was sad to say goodbye to our hosts after breakfast the next day. Although our Thai was minimal, as was their English, we had shared a lot of laughter, and the children seemed to find language quite unneccessary, anyway!
An authentic Thai homestay requires some adjustment – sitting on the floor, sleeping on the floor, and sometimes using a squat toilet – but it is a much more rewarding experience than staying in a Westernised hotel or resort. We really feel that we know what it is like to live in Thailand.