After a less than spectacular start to our Thailand road trip, we checked into the first hotel we found in Hat Yai, the Sakura Grand View Hotel, room unseen not expecting much at all after the way our luck had been going. We were pleasantly surprised. The hotel staff were lovely and the room was huge with plenty of space for the two mattresses that we’d bought with us for the kids. OK so you could be mistaken for thinking the mattress and pillows were made from bricks but otherwise we were really impressed with everything about the hotel.
Actually Hat Yai overall really impressed us.
Being so close to the border we were really expecting it to be another nothing border town. But the city had a wonderful mix of modern and old. Shiny shopping centres surrounded by traditional local food markets and plenty of character. Hat Yai reminding us of a quieter version of Chiang Mai … with just a few more strip joints. We wandered the streets of Hat Yai in search of food for ten minutes before realizing that after taking 8 hours to travel 3 hours we really just wanted crappy familiar western food so we hailed the first tuk tuk to the nearest shopping centre for McDonalds. Probably the worst food we could have chosen after a whole day snacking confined in a car but we weren’t in the mood for anymore surprises!
Mum it’s Thailand, when are we going to get to the beach?
It’s probably not surprising that when the kids think of Thailand they think of beaches. Walk into any travel agent, pick up a brochure for Thailand and you’ll see page after page of beach photos. Hat Yai might have been nicer than we anticipated but the kids wanted a beach. With two days to get to Koh Samui we decided to head to the beaches just north of Nakhon Si Thammarat, two hours from the ferry to the islands via the coastal route through. A night on the beach before heading to Koh Samui for more beach fun, and a whole day driving past beaches would surely restore the kids stereotype of Thailand. We stocked up on snacks and jumped in the car.
The drive was really straightforward and a little more unremarkable than we expected. I thought driving along the coast of Thailand we’d be seeing amazing beach after amazing beach. It’s Thailand right? I guess the kids weren’t the only one suffering from misconceptions! We really didn’t glimpse the coast, with the road sitting just far enough inland that the beach is obscured by towns and trees. Not that it was a bad drive.
We passed through tiny village after tiny village and across the Tonle Sap Songklah, Thailand’s biggest lake, dotted with nets and floating houses. After the lake the coastline was dotted with fish and prawn farms, cows chained the side of the road and giant fishing nets suspended across rivers.
We pulled over into one of the small villages to take a look at the beach. In search of toilets for the kids we stumbled across the funniest little park filled with exercise equipment and the worlds most eclectic mix of animal statues. Deer, bears, zebra, lions, chickens and dinosaurs to name a few. I’m not sure what theme they were going with but the kids were impressed.
The town was too small to be on the tourist map so no one spoke English and we’d forgotten to brush up on the ten Thai words we knew before heading there. So when it came time to find a toilet there was no option but to play charades. Miming ‘we need to pee’ to two local ladies who were already in hysterics over being approached by these strange foreigners was definitely the highlight of the day.
Are we there yet?
Apart from funny statue parks and charades, our road trip hasn’t been as exciting as we’d hope. I think we have a tendency to forget that road trips with kids are never as much fun as they sound. The first day was a write off, the second day was turning out to be a lot longer than we were expecting, with the drive from Hat Yai to Nakorn Si Thammarat taking four hours. The roads were fantastic but traffic speeds were a lot slower than we were expecting.
Like Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat was a town we weren’t expecting too much of and ended up being really impressed. Wide quiet streets, possibly the trendiest set of restaurants and coffee shops we’ve seen in Asia, large public squares filled with gorgeous Wats and the remains of the ancient wall that surrounded the old city. It struck us as a great town with young kids and we thought about staying for the night but the kids were keen to find a beach so onwards it was.
After Nakhon Si Thammarat the road along the coast got a lot smaller, as did the villages. We drove for an hour without seeing anything that remotely resembled decent accommodation for the night. Places our GPS was telling us were resorts turned out to be a collection of falling down huts. The kids had hit their limit but we had no choice but to keep going. We decided to head for Sichon, the largest looking town on our map and take whatever we could find if we hadn’t seen anything else before then. Just as we were about to give up a large sign appeared for a beach resort. If it’s big enough for an official government road sign it must be OK! Right?
Turning in we stumbled across Hin Ngam Beach – a small bay filled with a handful of budget resorts and boutique hotels. We felt like we’d won the lottery!
We drove to the Prasarnsook Villa Resort named on the sign, deciding that was as good a place to start as any. The prices were a little high, 1200 baht for a bungalow twin room with AC, hot water and breakfast for two but the room was lovely and after two days on the road we weren’t in the mood to search further.
And here we are. Prasarnsook Villa Resort with a small quiet beach with shallow water, a great restaurant and a bungalow. The resort is almost deserted and spacious so we feel as if we have the place to ourselves. Even better for the kids there was an almost complete whale skeleton on display from a whale that washed up on the beach over 30 years ago. The kids are definitely impressed!