Delightful Thai Beach Resorts 4a – Trang Province Mainland
"Where did you go today", the Swiss couple on Ko Lanta would ask?
"But, what did you DO?"
"Ehh – uuhm…"
They'd been diving, motorcycling, checking out Muslim restaurants on the main road, daytripping to Ko PhiPhi, Ko Rok, Ko Mook, Ko Crodile. And I? Well, I did all this on previous trips (see previous subs), but this time I was just… doing… nothing.
Well, down south those islands lurked, Ko Mook, Ko Kradan, Ko Libong, Ko Lipeh, Ko Bulon Leh – in Trang and Satun provinces, and now easily reachable from Lanta by the new Tigerline boat. Attractive at first glance, but I felt: On Lanta I would be happier, especially since Mr. Wee's Pizzeria came to Lanta's Long Beach in 2007. What with all those Muslims in the south. Small islands there with little choice, leaving you at the mercy of just a few restaurateurs, and quite a hassle to reach a decent airport? I knew that Lanta was more relaxing.
Then again, the southern isles kept burning. I wanted to try them, just for a change, just to get empiric justification why I didn't wanna go there. I really did not want to see something new, but I also did not want to be the guy who returns to the same destination 20 times – not yet. After all: If the islands in the deep south failed, Tigerline would always carry me back to Lanta within a few hours.
"Where will you go next", the Swiss couple asked me?
Luckily I just returned from the ticket shop in Sala Dan. "I'll go by boat to the southern islands of Trang province", I said.
Sinchai Oh My
The Tigerline boat from Ko Lanta drops me in Had Yao in Trang province, south of Krabi province on the Andaman coast. Only few people get off the boat here, most continue to Ko Lipeh (see upcoming articles).
I have a booking with Sinchai Chaomai resort, but am not awaited at the pier. I drag my suitcase on wheels past a few snack stalls and ticket booths which are built in front of a modest fishing village. From a snack lady I learn I'll have to walk 600 meters on asphalt, then turn left onto a dirt road.
I tow the bag along the asphalt with only bushes and the ubiquitous tsunami signs around me. I hope Sinchai Chaomai still has my reservation. I had called ahead three days ago and told them that I need three nights from 7th to 9th. Usually I can communicate such things in Thai but with Sinchai Chaomai, it had not been possible. "You come today", he had always repeated in English, "have many many loooom". Finally I had asked Thai people to call him again and also sent an SMS.
After five minutes on the asphalt, a slim lady on motorcycle approaches me.
"You go to Sinchai Chaomai?"
She makes me hop onto the back seat of her Honda and takes me to the resort, dragging behind the suitcase on wheels.
We rumble over lose sand and puddles until we stop at Sinchai Chaomai, built right on the water under very impressive, Krabi style cliffs. As a red-dyed middle-aged lady walks me to my bungalow we mention that I might travel on to nearby Ko Libong island (see next article).
"But there are only Muslims", she warns me.
"You are not Muslim", I ask back? This is a dominantly Muslim province.
"No!" And she jubilees and throws her arms in the air: "We eat pork!"
I say I need two or three days.
There are only a few, decrepit tourist shacks scattered around a large grassy field next to an uninviting beach. My wood bung on the water's edge costs 500 baht, it is very small and basic, the windows consist of wooden planks only, the toilet has a western seat, but must be flushed with a slimy scoop and a bucket of water, the bedsheets don't seem fresh, there's no hot water boiler. And why, because after unpacking I discover that there's not even water in the bathroom, neither at the toilet bucket, nor at sink or shower.
Back at the resort's bungalow they tell me – now that I have unpacked – I better stay only one night, because the next day 130 Thai students will come camping. I order a fresh lemon juice, but the lady is busy doing fried rice for the only other customers, a Thai couple, so my lemon juice takes 30 minutes. The restaurant sala is as crumbling as my bung. Only the TV's loudspeakers show peak performance.
Sinchai Chaomai rent out their motorcycle for a steep 250 baht per day, and a half-day-rate is not available. Smart as I am, I ask if the lights work and am told "no problem". I see them even filling in gasoline for me, a nice move.
I set out along the coastline, north towards Pak Meng. There are a few other casuarina lined beaches, but no stunners among them. Mostly the very decent road is some hundred meters inland anyway. The settlements look impoverished, there's an awful stench in the air.
Near a huge Amari resort the rain sets in, and of course I get a puncture in the back wheel (or so I think). I ask the kids and they tell me the next motorcycle service is in Pak Meng, 3 miles away. So on a flattened rear tyre I wobble all the way to Pak Meng which is basically a huge string of Thai-oriented seafood restaurants and a few Thai-oriented midrange resorts in the second row. It does sport some more very impressive Krabi style cliffs.
At the motorcycle service they dismantle the rear wheel and show me that I don't have a puncture, but the valve is broken. I wonder if Sinchai knew about that before. For a new inner tube and service I have to pay 100 baht.
All the time the fuel gauge had been on zero. I believed it's broken, because I had seen them filling up the tank. But maybe it is not broken, because just as I pull out of unexciting Pak Meng, the motosai does a terminal fart and bounces to halt. I lift the seat and screw open the tank – it's completely empty! Oh my god, there is still light rain and now after the broken tube I'll have to do with an empty tank! I'll have to walk the bike back into Pak Meng proper.
"You need help?", I hear a Thai voice in good English.
The motosai had decided to stop exactly at a lone booth called "Sea Tourist Police". A black, fat Thai guy in shorts only approaches and offers me gasoline. While filling the tank he says that everyday he sets out in a speedboat to assist tourists on islands and boats. He recommends certain resorts on Ko Libong. I tip him generously and he says "oh thanks, this will be my whiskey tonight".
The Nature Resorts
Back in Had Yao, I ponder my dinner options. I will definitely not eat at Sinchai Chaomai, even though the Thai couple staying there looked friendly. Apart from that, I only have the fishing village with maybe a noodle shack, but that village looks dirty and poor.
And then there's Had Yao Nature Resort with bungalows and restaurant right over the water. This place – and its sister enterprise on Ko Libong – had been recommended by the Lonely Planet. But when you research Thai beaches online, either forums or blogs, you'll always stumble across a certain Tezza who claims to have heard of many complaints about both Nature resorts in Had Yao and on Libong. On the other hand, both Tezza and the Lonely Planet guide book recommend Sinchai Chaomai as a decent accommodation. All statements are utterly wrong.
Few places can be more grotty and arrogant than Sinchai, I think and decide to try Had Yao Nature Resort for dinner despite Tezza's warnings about unfriendliness. After dinner I am convinced enough to book a Nature Resort bungalow on Ko Libong for the next day. Looking back, Tezza's repeated remarks about unfriendly staff at both Nature Resorts are completely unfounded. All the local chao ley ("sea gypsy") people working in both resorts are as sweet, helpful and as entertaining as provincial Thais can get. Eco-minded, orthodox "resident manager" Dr. Laurence (more later) and his children are surely not the most easy-going people, but then again not at all off-putting like at Sinchai Chaomai.
Over my dinner at Nature Resort Had Yao I befriend two thirtyish chao ley sisters working at the resort. I don't think they had much Farang exposure. They are so cute in their mixture of shrieking shyness and utmost curiosity. They remind me of two simple, but funky hill tribe sisters from that Thai comedy where a male Bangkok movie star has a car accident in the north and gets taken care of by the hill tribe chicks.
We talk about Europe being cold now and I show and explain my default pictures with a snowed-in landscape. To compose a nicer picture, I had put a small creek in the foreground, but it's mostly an impressive snowed-in meadow and hill. The sisters don't look at the snow, maybe they have no idea how to interpret the whiteness. Instead, they point at the tiny creek in the foreground: "Great – you can catch fish there!"
At 9 PM I want to steer the motorcycle back to Sinchai Chaomai. Now they had promised that the motorcycle's lights work and that may be true. But the light *switch* is so clamped it can't be moved one millimetre. Smart as I am, I had believed their promise that the lights work and had not tried it myself. So I have to steer the Honda one kilometre without light through the pitch black night. I almost ram a tuktuk parking lightless on the asphalt road. At the turnoff on to the sand trail I pack out my trusted torchlight from 7 Eleven and try to illuminate the puddles, stones and roots en route to the resort.
Back at the resort I show them that the light switch can't be moved. They receive the hint in silence.
Sources close to the action have told me since then that the Sinchai Chaomai resort illegally uses land of Chaomai national park and might be scrapped anytime, so why maintain decent bungalows. I also hear that Mr. Sinchai even might be booked into local prison any time for a decidedly more serious offence.
Having seen oily Mafiosi Mr. Sinchai and his scary, sneaking semi-katoey son I certainly won't challenge their authority. Next morning, I pay for my grotty waterless room, the lightless gasolineless broken-valved motosai and the 30-minute-lemon juice and drag my suitcase out over the sand trail feeling like returning from hell to civilisation.
This time nobody comes to help with my luggage.
It's sad to hear the state of some of Thailand's island bungalows and resorts. When you read the Lonely Planet these places often sound so quaint and charming – and there are such places if you are prepared to cough up real cash/ But didn't many of us come to Thailand because it was supposed to represent value for money? That place you stayed in sounds like a rat hole – and 500 baht is a rip! Sadly, there are plenty of such places down south.