After a great flight on Thai Airways (lots of food, comfy seats … kids said they never want to go back to Jetstar) we spent a night at a hotel near the airport and were picked up after a swim and brekky by the aptly named Happy Taxi Company; apt because this part-limo-inspired minivan, complete with reclining seats, painted cloud ceiling and LED light display, came with a massive TV and for nearly three hours the kids immersed themselves in old Tom and Jerry cartoons as we weaved through the clogged, unflattering motorways out of Bangkok. Just shame about the lack of happy cocktails for the Mums. (Note they were the decidedly (Un)Happy Taxi Company on the return leg owing to grumpy driver and broken TV … Bug gave them 1.5 stars out of 5.)
Our accommodation, a condo apartment we found on AirBnB (despite a crackdown in Thailand on daily/weekly rentals) was perfect with three pools, water slides, song teows stopping out front to whisk us to town for just 10 baht (40 cents), street food stalls and a 24-hour minimart next door for all-day ice creams.
Song teow rides were hot, fun and exhilaratingly dangerous – a totally different sensory experience for our Aussie suburban kids – with a chance to see how local kids get to and from school (staring at their smartphones too, just not buckled into an SUV with seventeen airbags). By luck, Bug met some fellow Scouts on board and happily exchanged left-handed handshakes and salutes.
We all loved the small but vibrant Hua Hin night markets. The food (curries, noodles, mango sticky rice, seafood, coconut ice cream, fresh juices) was of course yum and the kids got to cover themselves in tattoos. Yep … thanks to a lovely couple of guys and their temporary tattoo stall, the girls were every night begging to go back for more. Concerned about things to come? Meh.
The beaches were narrow in parts but lovely. The water was not sparklingly crystal and jellyfish the size of dinner plates were washing ashore (yikes), but crab spotting and splashing in the shallows was more than enough for the kids. Cold beer and deckchairs were more than enough for us mums.
The Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand was our first outing and so impressive. Started by a Dutch guy, and built on the efforts of armies of staff and volunteers, they are a rescue centre for all sorts of wildlife, mostly elephants, macaques and gibbons.
Despite an initial soul-crushing blow of regret (owing to our naïve elephant-riding past), being up close to these animals was humbling and fascinating. We fed and washed an elephant, learnt to sing gibbon, dodged a line of chicks, and patted a few cats.
Another highlight was our visit to Pala-U Waterfall, a relaxed 1.5-hour ride into the mountains of Kaeng Krachan National Park (right next to Myanmar border), past elephant crossing signs and piles of fresh elephant dung (judging by size alone) teasing us about the chance of a sighting. The falls are an endless number of cascades joined by swirling pools filled to the brim with leaping carp and decorated by the most abundant and varied numbers of butterflies we had ever seen. It was ridiculously beautiful.
Fish food in hand, we fed large schools in the lower pools and then – like a group of Lara Croft wannabes – navigated up through shaded forest paths, across dubious bamboo bridges and over boulders, scuttling on ledges past 4 metre drops whilst gripping the ropes provided to reach ‘level 3’. Praying not to brush up against the fish, we slipped into the cold fresh pool and let the cascading water massage our backs. Bug was disappointed to not spot either gibbons or leopards. Us too (not).
On the way back we stopped by Wat Huay Mongkol – a temple with an imposing statue of a famous monk – for a bit of reflection, a photo-op and the hands down best coconut ice cream.
There’s a much smaller statue of a previous Thai king (Rama IV, from ‘The King and I’ story) who happened to like chickens so Thais ‘flock’ there (ha ha) to make offerings in the form of chicken statues …. not just a few either …. but thousands of chicken statues. Thank goodness it was too soon to develop a taste for Ferraris.