From the east coast I crossed over the hills to the west coast of southern Thailand. The southern Andaman coast is a land of long stretches of empty beaches, limestone karsts, fishing villages, and amazingly warm people. As you start getting closer to Krabi, to the north, it changes into Touristville and becomes a different kind of Thailand, but if you venture off to the south you will be rewarded with a different kind of Thailand. Instead of fancy resorts and condominium blocks, you will find little family restaurants and old wooden bungalows by the beach. Instead of partying with a bunch of other tourists, you will find yourself drinking beer all night laughing with a couple old local characters. I enjoy both, but there’s something about camping under the stars and palm trees on the edge of a golden beach, and as you drift off to sleep the only sound is the waves gently sloshing into shore. From Trang, if you head southwest the road ends up at Pak Meng Beach. What an arrival it was, with the sun setting colorfully as I pulled along the beach road.
I kicked off my stinky shoes and went to the shore to soak the feet. It was one of those sunsets that kept getting more intense with the pinks and purples on fire. Then I started scoping out the camping situation. I stopped at a couple little guesthouses and asked if they knew anywhere, but the camping idea was lost on them. Third time was a charm when I stopped at a little local resort thats owned by a family, and the son and daughter run it. She was really nice and told me to set up across the street next to the beach. It was a perfect setting under the trees. We talked for awhile, and turns out she got a scholarship to go study in England and is pumped on that. They treated me as if I was staying at their resort. The bathroom and shower was open to me, and they gave me the Wi-Fi to use. It’s a small village with not a lot going on that caters mostly to Thai tourists, and a little too boring for the average westerner on vacation. If it wasn’t for the group of students from the local university, the place would have been dead before ten. It was kind of a farewell party for them, and the karaoke was in full force. I learned something that night, young Thai girls love to scream. Each time somebody new would come up it would evoke horror film style screams. Most the time they were just screaming for no reason other that they liked it. It was my first morning waking up in a tent on a beach in Thailand, but was hooked already.
I can’t think of a better way to start the day than unzipping the door to a cool sea breeze, crawling out into the warm early sun, getting your feet into the cool morning sand, the ocean slapping at your shins, and stretching the stiff bones up into the sky. Its a huge beach that goes on and on, and is covered in twirly shells. The morning brings all the guys with their carts full of inflatable toys to buy and play with in the water. They have their scooter racks so covered in them that it’s hard to see the person driving it. It looks like a little carnival making it’s way down the beach.
I planned on camping there another night after going and exploring for the day, but never made it back. I love the roads along the coast in these parts. There are little side roads that take you down to little fishing villages, dead ends in the trees, and empty beaches. My exploring led me to Yao Beach, which consists of two small family restaurants, a shop selling snacks, and a few bungalows set at the end of a long golden beach next to some high limestone rocks. A perfect place to camp along the beach in the palms. I’m starting to understand that camping in Thailand is no problem, and usually the locals will support you enthusiastically and want to watch how you set up the tent and lend a hand if you need it. There happened to be a Swiss couple in their custom Landcruiser camping out who had come from Europe. They’ve been over a lot of the world in it, spending a couple years in Africa, all the way here from Europe, and then will be shipping to South America.
We stayed up hanging out over beers at one of the little restaurants (they’re both muslim families, but only one allows alcohol) with an old local guy named Tu. He must have weighed about 75 lb., and kept us laughing all night. He had to write my name down on his hand to remember, and then every time he addressed me had to look at his hand. For some reason he always remembered me as Rick, so I became Rick Ryan, which I think is a pretty awesome name. The best part is he usually pronounced the r as an l, so I was lick lion. He was guaranteed the happiest man I have ever met. The smile never left his face and he always talked positive, no matter what the topic. The word happy will always remind me of him, and not because he was happy, but he said it a zillion times. In his broken english he explained to us about 600 times that he likes to “speak happy”, and would then repeat happy a few times. He would just grin and say happy. I ended up camping at Yao Beach for a couple nights. You can walk the 5km down the beach to the other end where it becomes Hat Chao Mai National Park. You might see a few other people the entire way, and most likely just a family net fishing off the beach. Along this beach you can find some beautiful shells, especially by the national park. Being a shell freak, I ended up with a large plastic bag full by the time I got back.
Also, there’s a whole bunch of monkeys roaming around the beach, which seem to have evil plans going through their minds, or at least thats what I see. The second evening, I took a ride on my motorcycle down the beach for sunset with my GoPro. About 3/4 of the way down was a group of fishermen up along the trees with a fire. They waved at me and held their bowls up. I flipped around to go say hi, and ended up with four new friends for the night. Bong, Pong, Tub, and one I couldn’t say. They spoke absolutely no english, and with me speaking no Thai, booze was going to have to be our language. I was invited up to the fire with cheerful smiles and a bamboo shot glass of Lao Khao (thai rice whiskey ), which is some seriously potent stuff. After four or five shots they handed me some money and wanted me to go down to the national park to get another bottle for us. Thus started the adventurous booze run. I made it there, but they didn’t sell it so I ended up back at the fire empty handed. After a couple more shots, they gave me even more money and said I could get it at Yao Beach, where I was camped. I almost made it before getting stuck in the soft sand on the way back up off he beach, and had to get help from a guy. Once we got it I asked him where I could get some Lao Khao, which always gets a funny reaction. It’s a look like, “you must want to party hard tonight ”. To make sure I got back through the soft stuff on the way down I got a good start and punched it through with some speed, fishtailing around before reaching the firm moist sand. Once I got back we celebrated with some drinks from the trusty bamboo glass. Then something was going on, we were preparing for something, and then I realized we were going fishing. They got their big nets prepared. We spent the next couple hours fishing along different sections of the beach, taking the giant net out and into place, then with a person at each end wrapping it in to shore. All of us would go through the net and put any fish or crabs into the bags they had. Mostly small fish and crabs with a few random things tossed in. One had a beautiful squid, which I secretly saved. Another had a puffer fish that puffed up and then was just dying on shore before I saved it. The guys weren’t too concerned with helping anything live. I was officially the beach bartender and kept the shots flowing for everyone. Most the time while they went out with the nets they just wanted me to sit and be comfortable on the beach. They would say, “sit down Lion enjoy Lau Khau”. It was a wild time filled with belly laughter. They wanted me to stay until they finished to have a carb feed, but I had never eaten dinner and was starving. Extremely drunkenly I rode home down the beach (sorry mom). The little crabs went crazy all over in front of me. They have the saying “like a deer in the headlights”, and they should also have “like a crab in the headlights”. They would swarm out of their holes as I approached and would run back and forth before going straight towards my tire. It looked like I had a giant magnet and was sucking them in. Unfortunately, there was probably a line of dead crabs all the way down the beach. When I made it back I got stuck again, but just left it for the night. I thought I was going to have to wake someone up to open for me in my famished state, but the young girl in the shop was up late watching Thai soap operas. I bought all kinds of munchies and pulled up a chair next to her and watched for about 45 minutes. I kind of like not knowing whats really going on, then I can just make up my own plot in my head. When she laughed I laughed right with her feeling like I got the joke. Eventually I drug my sandy self into my tent, and apparently ate oreos because they were all over in the morning. As I peeked out in the morning I had a split second thought of wheres my bike, but then saw it safe and sound down on the beach, tires dug down in. I think its a universal thing, if you meet some local fisherman in any country you’re probably going to end up getting drunk, and wake up with some fuzzy, but great memories.