Apart from short 30 minute to one hour rides every week or so to keep my bikes’ oils circulating and ensure bearings and brakes don’t get too comfortable in any one position (read seized), I haven’t done a long ride for several months and decided it was definitely overdue. My destination: Hua Hin.
I left Phuket on a Sunday morning. Traffic is easier and it’s a time when ‘most’ of those drivers who are in a desperate hurry to get a head of any and all vehicles no matter the risk, appear absent. There was a wonderful sense of freedom as I passed through the Tha Chatchai checkpoint and eased on the throttle over the Sarasin bridge and on to Phang-Nga.
My overnight stop would be Ao Nang in the province of Krabi, some 170 km’s from my home. No, that’s not a long ride by any stretch, but it is a good shake-down run for both bike and rider. Even if you are a long-distance rider but haven’t found the time to do so for a while, just remember that we can get rusty, too. On this occasion, bike and rider were functioning well and, while I knew my chain was approaching the end of its service life, I had already planned to get it and the related sprockets replaced along with an early oil, oil filter and air filter change done in Hua Hin.
Route 4 to Phang-Nga was in good condition except for a couple of short sections where road widening construction is underway. The authorities would argue this work is to improve safety and they’re right. But, as a rider, it seems the plan to turn this road into another wide, straight ‘auto-route’ will eventually suck away some of Phang-Nga’s charm.
One thing they won’t be able to strip away from the province is its propensity to rain, and rain hard, precisely when you’re nowhere near cover to stop under. By the time you’ve managed to pull-over and get your rain gear on you’ll already be soaking wet and, if you do go for it, it is almost a guarantee the sun will be back out again in minutes and begin to cook you. Despite the hard rain, my decision not to stop paid-off. In just a minute or two the sun cut through the dark cloud cover, and I found myself pretty much dry a short while later.
There are several routes into the heart of Ao Nang, yet the scenery around the Royal residence route is one of incredible natural beauty (see pics). The small road laying like a belt through a blanket of deep green forest and krysts. To a rider it is just one of those places that lifts the spirits. It is just a shame the road isn’t longer.
Ao Nang looked a little busier than it had since my last visit. No, it wasn’t back to the days of old with tourists wending their way back and forth from beach and hotel sporting fresh lobster-red sunburn across shoulders, cheeks and noses. Many shops were still closed and bordered up, yet from those that had remained open, there was a sense of change; two or three more customers in the cafes and restaurants each day than there had been over the months before.
Those of you who know the parts of Thailand that I’m referencing are probably wondering why I didn’t just stay on route 4 passing Ranong and Chumphon. Why head East to Ao Nang? Well, in days gone by, that was certainly a beautiful route to ride, especially as you passed through Khao Lak and Takua Pa. However, for decades route 4 northbound was one of the main routes for what used to be referred to as ‘the visa run’. Literally every day tourists would be packed into hordes of mini-buses driving at break-neck speed to Ranong so they could cross the border into Myanmar, extend their visas and return the same day.
While this was an extremely lucrative industry for many, the road was never intended to handle such high loads of traffic and was, by the time the law changed ending the one-month extension era, in a dreadful and dangerous condition. As a result, road-widening construction and repair work has been on-going for some time and this means there are long sections of road where you are stuck behind lines of cars and trucks all corralled into one rough, dirty and slow-moving lane. It’s no fun and adds hours on to an already long day.
Heading South-East on route 4 (a section where much of the road work has been completed) leads you directly to route 44, a lightly used trunk road from Phang-Nga to Surat Thani. Given that Hua Hin is around 780 kms from Phuket taking this route, this stretch of road helps make light work of some 220 kms. It also takes you directly to route 41 and on to Chumphon. Route 41 isn’t the best in terms of condition – it, too, is heavily used – but it is better than the 4 to Ranong. You will end up on the 4 again around Chumphon and on to Hua Hin, but this stretch of road is generally okay.
Hua Hin is one of, if not the, oldest resorts in the country very much with its own style, made famous when King Prajadhipok visited in the 1920s. Since then, the place has become known as a royal summer resort. Despite its royal connections however, the town has been as hard hit as many others due to the current situation, yet the weather is generally better, there are still a few restaurants that remain open, and the food is fantastic.
Khun Lerk has lived and built his pier-designed ‘Seaside Restaurant’ just off Naresdamri road over thirty years, starting with only one table. The style of his place is very traditional Thai (see pics), the ambience peaceful with only the sound of the ocean waves moving under the stilts holding the place up.
His laidback easy manner and good English skills also makes for great conversation. From here you can watch the fishermen bringing in their catch of the day under the watchful gaze of the Jao Mae Tub Tim temple. Not only is his food delicious but also his coffee. A great place for that morning caffeine intake.
If, like me, you sometimes hanker for some good old real English breakfast and maybe a bangers and mash or a steak and kidney pie dinner, there really is nowhere better than Oraya’s Restaurant. Located just off Hai Yak (where five streets all converge) only a minute’s walk from the Hilton hotel, Alan, his wife, Khun Sri and their daughter Khun Ao have created a real family home atmosphere to welcome you with. Oh, and Khun Sri’s Thai food is amazing as well.
What can I say, long-distance riding makes me hungry. It will no doubt be time to plan another ride soon. I’d forgotten just how much I love it.
Hua Hin railway station
The original station building was built in 1910, and rebuilt in 1926, by Prince Purachatra Jayakara (former commander of the Royal State Railways of Siam) to the current Victorian building today. Phra Mongkut Klao Pavilion is one of the main attractions at the station.