Two travel days have taken us from Koh Phangan to Pramburi by way of high speed ferry, train and open backed taxi. We stayed in Surat Thani for one night at what seemed to be a deserted hotel of epic proportions. Kind of like the Shining minus the snow storm. It was a long drive from the ferry that culminated in a driveway lined with giant elephant statues realistic enough in the dusk light to fool Sabine and maybe me just briefly. Then we wound past two giant bottles of an off brand Johnny Walker Red – one story statues of whiskey bottles then past a row of Edward Sissorhands clipped bushes – elephants, birds and giraffes – along to a long narrow pool with a fake cliff climbing out of it. The fake cliff was dotted with FAKE EAGLES (I am not making any of this up). There is a slide down the “rock wall/cliff” and before we can really take it in the entire wall/cliff becomes a waterfall. The kids are mesmerized and immediately want to swim. We check in – this takes a very long time in Thailand and particularly at this hotel which seems to have NO OTHER PEOPLE there. Finally they load our bags into a golf cart and drive us around the corner for about twenty three feet to our room. The door opens to reveal one small bed in the middle of the room – sooo that’s not going to work. Here is the thing we are discovering about booking online through discount sites – there seems to be some bait and switch that goes on – even though Chris had taken a screen capture of the image that we had booked we couldn’t navigate back there because now the room was booked so it wouldn’t show us the picture. Annoying and necessitating us paying an extra fee and having to go back to the front desk to work it all out. Plus when two giant adults walk in with two kids you think they might look at the booking and say these people will need more than one bed or you know – just tell us the room only has one bed. It was late and it had already been a long day of travel so I took the kids to the restaurant and Chris stayed back to handle getting a larger room. The restaurant was giant and totally empty save for a table of four. They were busy pouring half empty bottles of whisky into one of those spouted drink carafes – just mixing up some different whiskies – to which they added a bottle of grenadine (I am not making this up either) then mixed with a giant spoon and proceeded to fill their glasses from the spout and add ice. We ordered some food and Chris joined us by the time it was all over we had listened to a long playlist of pop hits played by the whisky drinkers on the sound system which was located in the giant ship that was the stage in the middle of the restaurant. Pop hits without their American singers.
We headed to find our room – given a lift in the golf cart again twenty three feet from the lobby but now we trudge up to the third floor to find our two bed room. We have yet to see any other hotel guests. The guys and gal in the restaurant where from Surat Thani. At this point Anderson and Chris decide to go to the night market to find dessert and I try to it Sabine down. It’s all going well until the boys return twenty minutes later and just as Sabine was about to fall asleep. Then chaos – which ends with Sabine and I in one bed and the boys in the other. Sleeping with Sabine always starts out so beautifully – she is soft and cuddly and usually she smells delicious. Once she falls asleep she begins her two toed crawl around the bed – her head and body slowly dragging along as she pulls herself in a circle around the bed by her toes. I think it is a slow search for the cool part of the bed. Whatever it is it’s determined and pushes anything else out of the way. We have set an alarm for the first time in weeks – we need to be at the Immigration office in Surat Thani at 9am on the nose when it opens so we can get our visas extended. We have tickets on the express train to Hua Hin at 10:40 – of course when this plan was unveiled by Chris I had major concerns BUT he took the time to get it all organized – researching where the visas could be extended and what was needed for them so I just let it slide. It seemed a bit tight but I figured he had booked us into a hotel that made sense to the sequence of events. So the morning dawns early but thankfully everyone is in a good mood – probably because we saw a rooster on a leash – it was on the balcony below us and I only saw the hands of the owner but they were male, well manicures and he wore a gold watch. So there was at least one other guest at the hotel last night. We hit the restaurant for our free breakfast – our general plan is to only stay where breakfast is included – breakfast is slow coming maybe because our allergy flash cards have caused a hiccup. Our cab arrives at the same time as breakfast so we jam it all in and set off for an ATM and the immigration office. The immigration office comes first and after the usual filling in of a hundred forms and waiting we discover they do not take visa or debit so we need to head back out for an ATM. This adds some serious time on our clock and by the time we get back get the pics taken and everything stamped and good to go we have 30 minutes until the train departs and we are about 30 minutes away. Chris tells this to the driver and when I say tells the driver he does one of his patented mimes. I think maybe one of my favourite parts of this journey has been watching Chris interact with locals with mime. So so many good ones but the best was when he was trying to find out if it was dangerous to park by the beach in Costa Rica. This was relayed with a long mine/charade of parking a car and then becoming a burglar who furtively looks around and then smashes the window of the car (he just parked) grabbing imaginary things and running away. Luckily our cab driver is fluent in mime and immediately steps on the gas and screams through traffic to get us to the station on time. We make the train!
The train is comfy and brilliant save for the meal they serve – boiled rice (ok fine), spicy fermented mackerel (I’ll try it) and sweet fermented mackerel (what the actual….NO). It’s not good and soon the train is swamped with a sickly sweet super fishy smell – it’s not yums. We make it through by feeding the kids spoonfuls of peanut butter. The fun part is watching the country roll by – cows meandering along beside the tracks – motorbikes whizzing past – little towns – markets (oh sweet markets where there they are selling yummy papaya salad and pad thai). Five hours zips by and we are suddenly thrust from the train in Hua Hin. We hit the loo and stop to get the kids a popsicle and Chris realizes he left his phone on the train.
This turns out to be not the worst – his phone is located and will return by 6pm so we leave our bags and venture out to find dinner – this brings us to a super touristy and vibrant night market where we enjoy crazy seafood feast – lobster, king prawns and cockles grilled and served with rice and green and spicy sauces. Happy Valentine’s day to us. Then we head back to the train station to collect our bags and Chris’s phone and procure a cab ride to our actual destination Pran Buri or
We end up getting an open backed taxi – with a driver who wants to have Chris in the cab with him to help explain the way – so the kids and I climb on back. Of course they promptly fall asleep as we whiz down the highway. We arrive 45 minutes later – I am a windswept bug sprinled disaster, the kids are refreshed and Chris has been tormented because as it turns out the driver was half blind and kept veering into oncoming traffic. We have zipped down speedways, through small towns, down jungly roads, along the coast and all the while the temperature and smells have been changing – swampy, briny, smokey, fresh until we land at Villa Gris.
Villa Gris an oasis of a half finished hotel – just one street back from the promenade of Sheratons in front of the water. The lovely part of Praatnamburi is that the entire water front is public with all the hotels being across the street. So us being a block behind is no big deal – except it’s a big savings on cost. We are led to our room and it’s amazing – pure luxury – luxury like I didn’t think I would encounter again after Koh Samui. We have two rooms, a kitchen and lounge area and our sliding door opens to a pool. Modern and clean and breakfast is included. Amazing. We slip between crisp clean sheets – really the ultimate luxury is a clean bed that you didn’t have to make.