Wednesday, April 19, 2017



Sunday afternoon - SICHON Beach.

The mainland coast south of the DONSAC FERRY PIERS to the islands is pretty laid back and way less developed than further north. However there are a number of nice beaches, largely split between the KHANOM and SICHON districts. There is a scattering of resorts covering most budgets in both areas, but mainly used by Thai holiday makers. Western visitors are pretty scarce, particularly around SICHON.

I've often looked at this section of coastlIine when coming in on a ferry from SAMUI, PHANGAN or TAO and thought "Whoa, looks interesting - bet there are some neat little beaches along there." So latest trip instead of hopping on a SURATHANI bound bus at the pier I hung around for a minibus traveling that way. I first stayed a few days in KHANOM after which I headed a bit further south for SICHON.

It's 20km in a direct line between the two towns (and only abt 3km between KHANOM DISTRICT's southern most beach and SICHON DISTRICT's northern most beach) but because the main road heads inland my trip was more like 35km.

The minivan from KHANOM to NAKON SI THAMMARAT dropped me alongside main road 401 on the outskirts of SICHON TOWN. This is bigger than KHANOM TOWN and is a real bustling regional capital. I began to walk from my highway drop-off towards nearby town central and was soon picked up by a motorcycle taxi which took me to my accommodation at the beach-side holiday enclave of HIN NGAM 6km east. Arrival was a bit of a giggle - my pilot had no idea where THIPBUREE RESORT was located (on reflection this makes sense - the area is just about 100% used byThai holidayers - these people are mid income and have their own cars - have no reason to take a motorcycle taxi to the area).
But after asking at a few joints we found my place. I tipped my guy 20b over the agreed 70. No idea if this was fair except he seemed happy.

FROM DON SAC (50km) - pier area for SAMUI, PHANGAN, TOA 
Minivans from the SEATRAN ferry terminal heading to NAKON SI TAMMARAT will drop you alongside route 401 on the outskirts of SICHON TOWN

Go to bus station 2 and grab a minivan to NAKON. This will let you out at the same outskirts highway stop as above.
There should also be minivans right into town but these may be less frequent.
You can also jump a SLOW BUS which goes thru town central - I think the final destination may be NAKON. I got the impression these run roughly hourly.

Express buses starting from various destinations to the north and heading for NAKON SI THAMMARAT (70km from SICHON) will also be able to drop you on the outskirts. This will include buses from BANGKOK. I know one bus a day heading for SUNGAI GOLOK much further south passes by. There has also got to be at least one express bus a day from BANGKOK's SOUTHERN BUS TERMINAL right into SICHON TOWN - like smaller THANOM gets one.

You will come in via HAD YAI, SUNGAI GOLOK or SATUN. In all cases, grab a bus to NAKON and minibus from there.

You can fly or chooty-puff into both SURATHANI and NAKON. The former will have more services, particularly trains. From both catch a minibus to SICHON (at SURAT you will probably have to go into town to the bus station on one of the frequent shuttles).

The resort enclave of HIN NGAM is the peninsula between SICHON BCH and HIN NGAM BCH plus the area behind the former. This is 100% resorts -  maybe a half dozen or so ranging from the mid range (maybe better) PRASARNSOOK BEACH VILLARESORT far north end of beach to my lower-midrange THIPBUREE . 
The thing is that in my 3 days in this area I did not see one westerner on the beach although SICHON CABANA just south of PRASANRNOOK is a known WINDSURFING hangout that attracts westerners.

THIPBUREE seemed very new - it was in the style of a western motel. Seemed that was its main function - a place for southerners heading north to put in for the night - lotsa cars parked outside units (Sunday night had 70% occupancy) which ranged from my modest single storey place to similar 2 level joints and some rather nice looking individual villas.

This was an okay room. Big enough for 3 plus gear, very clean, well equipped (check the minibar - a half size frig although unstocked), sinfully quiet aircon. Big bathroom with good hot water. Very quiet area (no traffic). 50m to beach.
Not perfect of course - lights main room a bit dim plus I couldn't change TV channels. Resort doesn't have a restaurant.English speakers were scarce - a couple of times they called up the teenage son who had a couple of words but most times I managed to communicate my wants okay.
Overall fair value at 1200b pn high season.

Hit nearby SICHON BCH - you have the north section in one direction.....

....the south section the other. A pretty nice beach, quite clean considering the strong onshore winds that had only ceased the day before (I've got an idea the various resorts groom the beach pretty thoroughly) with fairly clean water that shelves more or less normally.
This was shot on a Monday morning - not the lack of people.

There was a reasonable crowd of beach-goers on my arrival Sunday afternoon - I got the impression a lot were locals enjoying a splash or a meal at the beachside restaurants, most of which are associated with resorts (these set up tables on the sand - see shot top of page). There were at least 2 wedding groups eating and doing snaps. The rest of the beach-goers were probably Thai tourists - I was the only non-Thai.
It's kinda nice being the only westerner around - contrasts so much with the islands to the north.
On the Monday and Tuesday the beach was very uncrowded - me and a couple of fishermen.

HIN NGAM BEACH is to the south - it's a stone beach backed by a few inexpensive restaurants and some holiday villas. Headland in distance (may be clearer if you click-expand image) separates this bay from SICHON BEACH. White building is part of a fisheries research center - has a significant pier.

The absence of a restaurant at THIPBUREE was no problem - all other resorts in the area seemed to have one. I initially went next door to ISSARA BEACH RESORT - this is a midrange joint in the older Thai style with a nice open-sided restaurant right behind the sand which seemed to attract quite a few passers-by. The place had a comprehensive menu (but no western dishes) - prices were mainly slightly more than budget but one dish, the omelette with pork at 60b was a relative bargain, not small and quite yummy - made an excellent breakfast and not too bad for a main course at dinner. Large beers here were the least expensive of my whole trip.
Service excellent and the view good.

I tried a few other restaurants on SICHON BEACH, was a bit disappointed in not being able to find a genuinely bottom budget joint (maybe those places behind HIN NGAM BEACH could have done it) - btw if seafood is your thing there is no shortage of fresh stuff with the fishing port only 2km away.

For my last night dinner I fancied a club sandwich with fries - most of the restaurants on the beach don't do western - the only exception was at SICHON CABANA where the CS was overpriced. But that morning I had found a real nice resort about 15 minutes south overlooking loooooong HAD PITI and remembered it did a CS at a decent price.

Bargain priced club sandwich at SEA STONE HOTEL - bit small but had the most unique and yummy sauce instead of the usual mayo.

The restaurant was adjacent this nice rim pool - naturally I had to take a dip. 
SEA STONE is a pretty modern looking place, definitely in the mid-range. Position is great - at the northern end of HAD PITI which extends nearly 40km south, nearly to the main regional city of NAKON SI THAMMARAT. I understand there are only a few resorts along there - mostly a handful of Muslim fishing villages.

SEARCH FOR A RENTAL MOTORCYCLE - the touring map I'd picked up at my KHANOM accommodation a few days before showed the greater SICHON area had some nice beaches north of the river. Trouble is, the best (PHIAI DAM BEACH which also has an okay waterfall a bit inland) is most distant about 20km from town. 
I needed to rent a motorcycle but no-one seemed to have one. I asked at reception and nearby resorts - NADA. I walked up town in search - about a km up the road some motorcycle taxi guys didn't know what I was talking about until they called a young English speaking guy over from an adjacent business - no-one knew of motorcycle rentals. This shows how few westerners this region attracts - Thai holiday makers are mainly middle-class and have their own vehicles (however Thais from BANGKOK tend to rent motorcycles on the islands - seems they prefer the islands and similar to SICHON beaches around CHUMPON-HUA HIN way closer to BANGKOK.
So I decided to see as much of the town and surrounds of my accommodation on foot as possible.

Town central near the hospital - the MAIN ST is on a branch to the lef in far distance.

The road back to HIN NGAM skirts the river about 800m from the beach. The fishing boat piers are in background. 

The mouth of the river with its distinctive breakwalls is a short distance north of HIN NGAM beach.

Back at THIPBUREE I decided to walk south - got the shot up-page of stony HIN NGAM BEACH. These budget restaurants are behind the beach - seemed to be doing good business for a Monday.

5 minutes on I found the rather nice SEA STONE HOTEL of club sandwich fame, situated.... the northern end of 40km long HAD PITI. With a bike I would have gone further south - apparently there are some good Muslim fishing villages down there. Not many resorts though.

Back on SICHON BEACH I decided to explore the headland at the north end.

A walkable sea-wall extends along the peninsula with good views back over the beach (these panorama images click-expand nicely).

The headland is covered by bush - I wandered across the central track to the southern side - had okay views south down HAD PITI but the shots I took were not great.
Back on SICHON BEACH I has a sweet swim - I was the only one in the water. As a matter of fact there was only one other person, a fisherman, on the beach. A bunch of local ladies were having afternoon tea behind the sand at ISAARA's nice restaurant. Time for a beer.

Next day I caught a motorcycle taxi up to the bus stop in the main street and caught the local slow bus to SURATHANI. Ran the usual gauntlet of rip-off travel agents at the bus station and got myself a ticket at the official counter for the next bus to PHUKET (flight home the following night). Unfortunately the bus was side-swiped by a dopey pickup driver on the outskirts of town - which added an hour and a half to the normal 4 hour trip to the north end of PHUKET. I finally made my destination at NAI YANG BEACH adjacent the airport some 10 hours after leaving THIPBUREE.
SICHON may be laid back but traveling around the south can still be a hassle.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017



The mainland coast south of the DONSAC FERRY PIERS (to the islands) is pretty laid back and way less developed than further north. However there are a number of nice beaches, largely split between the KHANOM and SICHON districts. There is a scattering of resorts covering most budgets in both areas, but mainly used by Thai holiday makers. Western visitors are pretty scarce, particularly around SICHON.

I've often looked at the rugged, mountainous mainland coast to the south of DON SAC pier when coming in on a ferry from SAMUI, PHANGAN or TAO and thought "Whoa, looks interesting - bet there are some neat little beaches along there." So latest trip instead of hopping on a SURATHANI bound bus at the pier I hung around for a minibus traveling past KHANOM. I found myself a beach, although it was not all that little.

About half KHANOM BEACH (aka NA DAN) looking north. Turn 180degrees....

....for the other half. In total 7km. There are others in the district.


From Don Sac
If you are coming from the islands, catch a SEATRAN ferry - it has minibuses heading south from its DONSAC pier. I made the mistake of arriving by LOMPRAHAH on accounnt its ground connections are usually very good - sure they had a bunch of buses at the pier to SURATHANI, KRABI, PHUKET but none heading south. I was relying on motorcycle taxis being there - but NO.  A few minivan taxis wanted 700 to KHANOM, western prices for the 25km. 
But one dude would take me 10km across to the SEATRAN pier for 100b from where he knew I could pick up a minibus heading south to NAKON SI THAMMARAT. The latter took off 20 mins after (120b - I think this is the fare to NAKON or anywhere along the way). They dumped me at the main road intersection abt 2km from KHANOM VILLAGE.
Probably no more expensive but maybe a bit more time consuming is to catch one of the buses (price usually included in the ferry ticket) from the DONSAC PIERS into SURATHANI and grab a minibus to KHANOM. An advantage is you will be dropped at the MINIBUS STATION in town, not 2km west at the crossroads.

From Surathani 
The minibus station is at TASET 2 BUS STATION in the middle of town and the price is currently 100b from the minibus counter in the south east corner - more from adjacent agents.  

From elsewhere - if I was coming in from BANGKOK, PHUKET, KRABI etc by bus I'd head for TASET 2 above and catch the minibus. 
Alternatively - there is at least one big bus per day from BANGKOK's Southern Bus Station direct to Khanon.

FLYING - you can fly into NAKON (100km to Khanom) or SURATHANI and then grab a minibus. I'm not sure which is the better option.

TRAIN - you can also rail it into SURAT AND NAKON. The former will have more frequent trains but the railway station is a few km out of town. Frequent shuttle vans run to the bus station.

When I jumped out of the minibus at the intersection of Main Rd 4142 and the busy route into KHONOM I thought I'd pick up a motorcycle taxi quickly. Nope, I walked the 2km into town. 35C degrees.
Didn't see any motorcycle taxis around the main intersection of my road and the main street, but after searching for someone who spoke English I was told the quickest way to the beach was to keep going straight ahead. After another 1.6km stroll....

I arrived at GOLDEN BEACH RESORT - more or less where the road from town hits the beach.

This is a nice older style Thai lower-midrange hotel. Although the styling is 60s western, I'm thinking it's probably about 20 years old, and is beginning to show a bit of wear and tear. I reckon it was the first place of this standard built on long NA DAN BEACH aka KHANOM BEACH - when I later walked the 3km or so up to the northern headland there were another 5 or 6 of similar standard but newer looking. I wasn't in the mood on arrival to walk another km or two for a newer place.
Despite being a bit older, my room was spacious, clean, had good aircon, fully equipped. The place has a gym, beachfront rim pool, nice public areas, great staff, free shuttle up to town and okay free wifi. Price 1100b a night (pretty good for this type of place) - breakfast 200 extra.

Breakfasts were in the large dining room - my first on a Friday was a set American (continental option) plus unlimited coffee/tea, toast and juice. Not bad for 200b. On the weekend a big Thai corporate group moved in and with 50%+ occupancy the hotel bunged on a full buffet. While not as mind blowing as some more expensive western orientated joints' buffets, it was pretty good - particularly because I was still paying 200. 
Breakfast for some reason isn't a bargain in Thailand. This was.

For other meals I went across the parking lot to the hotel's beachfront BAR AND GRILL. There was a huge range of dishes here including lotsa budget stuff which was a bargain after relatively expensive island budget meals and drinks. btw if you want to go upmarket, fine: the seafood looked tantalizing. Staff excellent.
Outlook from the front tables.

Spacious lobby had Bangkok News English edition and stronger wifi.

Room not shabby

The beachfront pool was a rim type - section with sun lounges closest the sand was actually on a lower level. Not exactly crowded. My first day was a Friday - place only 15% full split evenly between westerners and Thais. Thais are not beach/pool people (okay, Thai kids enjoy the pool and most Thais you see are kids with mom).

Thai corporate group gets into some bonding stuff

The resort had a good map showing district attractions.
On Friday afternoon I decided to walk the northern half of the beach which has at least a half dozen similar standard resorts and several more budget oriented places - but such is beach length that all are nicely spaced. It took about an hour one way but I only saw 2 other walkers and 2 sun-bathers, all westerners, on what was a very nice sunny afternoon. Sand is a bit coarse but I was surprised by its relative cleanliness - east facing beaches like this usually have a lot of flotsam blown onshore by the prevailing westerlies.
Right up on the far headland is an ore unloading facility. This side there are several beach bar/restaurants lining the parallel road but all were deserted. I got the idea this may not be the case Friday evenings and on weekends - these sort of places are local Thais' idea of how to spend time at the beach. btw - this far northern part of the beach is known as HAD KHO KHAO.
I walked back via the beach road - there were a few more accomm joints on the inland side plus on or two restaurants and small stores. But development along here is pretty scattered and low key.

On Saturday, I grabbed a bicycle from my joint (100b a day) and took a look at places to the south. 

Bicycle route - down the coast to Ao Thong Yi, then inland via the waterfalls to town, back to GBR

First on the agenda was to check the other half of NA DAN beach, at least from the road - things were even less developed along this section.One or two mid-rangers, ditto budget places and a couple of nice looking beach bar/restaurants.

It is very flat riding the behind beach road but at the end, the route starts to climb and then undulates along the coast to the south. Luckily I cycle every day in a very hilly town. Nevetherless the 35degrees+ was a tad enervating.

There were a couple of small beaches immediately south of NA DAN (background). Then after a few killer hills is....

...NAI PHLAO, a longer strip of sand dominated by this abandoned project. Some smaller resorts far end and more on the headland behind camera (I took this from a beachfront seafood restaurant/bar - there was more than one in this nice area).

It's real RAINFOREST BY THE SEA country south of NAI PHLAO. After 2.5km and a few more killer hills the road terminates at....
....compact AO THONG - more correctly known as AO THONG YI/YEE (I'm sure there are dozens of Ao Thongs in Thailand). 
This is most people's idea of a tropical beach.

Behind the beach is a budget resort and restaurant. The place has bungalows, camping, even an attractive looking dorm area on the hillside behind (pictured). My type of place but a motorcycle would be needed for access (public songthaews don't come down here). I'm not a motorcycle guy.

Well the PAVED coastal road terminates at AO THONG YI, but a short distance uphill from the beach a new dirt section heads further south - I later read it meets the SICHON COAST's northern most beach PHIAI DAM after a few rough undulating kms. (3.0) My mountain bike is just the thing for such conditions - but in the heat and after 2 hours riding, plus a bunch of waterfalls I planned to check out, this 71yo was in no mood to try a rough steep in parts bush track. In retrospect I should have - I didn't get a chance to check PHIAI DAM when in SICHON a few days later.

So I backtracked on the paved coastal road a few km - in the middle of NAI PHLAO I saw a well sign-posted side road leading inland to HIN LAT WATERFALL This paved road was knocked about by wet season drainage problems in a few places but otherwise pretty good. It went inland on a gentle gradient for about 2km - at the end a work-gang was busy on a new bridge - I parked the bike and took the sign-posted track further uphill (never steep or too rough underfoot) for maybe 400m to the falls.

Thai waterfalls may underwhelm westerners used to some VERTICALITY at such places. The Thais seem to class any fall of a meter or so a waterfall - all the better if there are multiple drops. Nevertheless I have found most falls in LOS pretty nice places - including this one.

I had to retrace my ride to the north end of NA DAM beach, turn inland, take the fist left and keep an eye out for the side road after a couple of kms. Once again it was clearly sign-posted. The side road was paved most of the way and gradually climbed for a few kms until the main pool of the falls area was clearly visible beside the road.
This would be a nice spot for a hot day dip - Thai family making the most of it. However I couldn't see any falling water so I took a poorly defined track to the right and after 5 minutes...

....reached this area. This was one of a cluster of similar - I could see why the track was poorly defined: not too many people venture past the nice pool near the road.
My suggestion is that if you are looking for a nice swimming spot, come up and use the roadside pool. But the "falls" are not worth the effort.

I retraced my steps to the main road which soon turned north and headed towards town about 5km away. This inland road runs parallel to the beachside road - flat gradient, scattered businesses etc. More sheltered from the strong onshore easterly winds.

Khannon town central - it is not a big place as regional main towns go, but certainly busy. I called in at the 7/11 for supplies and rode around to locate the MINIBUS STATION for the next day's trip to SICHON.
Main street runs north south - major business area extends north of intersection of beach road abt 350m - past there is a discontinuous ribbon of town development. Ditto after 150m south of the intersection.
The 7/11 is just south of the intersection on the right. My ride indicated some motorbike taxis hanging about this area. The minibus station is way north of the intersection (abt 800m) on the right, but the vehicles will pick up and drop in town central.

My map indicated that by heading directly north on the main street I would reach the FISHING PORT and RIVER in abt 3km. Across the other side the main road (4142) initially turns inland but by staying on that I would be able to access some northern beaches via side roads (one of these has the famous PINK DOLPHINS pier) - plus some caves, viewpoints and at least one more waterfall on the mountainous inland side.
But I gave them a miss - by this time I'd been cycling more than 5 hours in the heat and felt a bit used up. A nice cold beer by GBR's cool pool would go down well. And it (um...actually they) did.
Okay, I could have stayed an extra day and explored the north, but I had the next day penciled in on my dance card for SICHON.