THIRD CLASS TRAINS AND WORLD CLASS SEAFOOD
5 May 2015
5 May 2015
Our arrival at the coastal town of Chumphon was supposed to signal our last night in Thailand before we caught the overnight train down to Butterworth in Malaysia.
Fooled by our laid back week in Koh Phra Thong we thought we could just turn up, wander down to the train station, buy our tickets and celebrate with a Chang or two, before retiring to our room to dream about chicken satay and orang-utans.
Naturally, we were completely wrong.
Not only were there no tickets available for the following night’s sleeper train, there was nothing available for the next five nights! Stunned by our sudden travel incompetence we headed straight for the nearest all-you-can-eat Thai-style BBQ to mull over our alternative plans.
And then we came up with the inspirational idea. We’ll go to the seaside resort of Prachuap Khiri Khan for a few days. And we’ll travel there by third class train.
So, the following morning, we were up at 5:30 am to pack our bags, check out of our hotel and head down to the train station to buy our tickets. The journey to Prachuap would take about three hours and cover 100 miles. The ticket price? 34 baht. That’s 70 of your English pennies, please! Bargain.
We’d toyed with the alternative of travelling by bus at a cost of 200 baht each, but Nicky’s increasingly vice-like grip on our budgeting ruled that one out.
The station platform was already reasonably full with people and we wondered if our latest plan might be scuppered by us having to stand for some or all of the journey. Our train was going to be 20 minutes late so I took the opportunity to go and buy some breakfast from one of the stalls just outside the station. The pork curry and rice, washed down with black Nescafe, wasn’t exactly the taste sensation I’d become accustomed to but I was glad to have started the day with a typical Thai breakfast.
Soon enough, the train pulled into the station and we were relieved to find ourselves some seats. Inside, the carriage was fairly bare, with no windows to speak of, apart from a metal grille that could be pulled down, presumably to keep out the rain. On the ceiling, there were a number of rotating fans that looked like they’d seen better days. But they worked.
And so we headed up north, through huge vistas of coconut, pineapple and palm trees. A feature of the journey was the range of food being sold by a number of hawkers, who would work their way up and down the train chanting their own particular sales pitch over and over again.
There was the lady who was selling different varieties of dried bananas. Then there was the lady who was selling sliced sour mangoes that come with a bag of chilli flakes. We’d tried these at Ranong bus station and they were frankly a bit weird – a kind of hot and sour combination that just didn’t work. There was the old guy who was offering a range of herbs. Not much of a sales pitch from him, though. It took him all his energy just to make his way up and down the aisle. There was the young girl with her hot deep fried chicken (cue an order from Nicky).
Best of all though was the lady with a whole range of goodies suspended from what looked like mini meat hooks. I’ve no idea what most of the goodies were mind you, although those hot and sour mangoes were certainly present.
It occurred to us that it might be a nice idea to buy a train ticket just to enjoy the food – the service was prompt and the view from your “table” was pretty impressive too. I’ve got to say we absolutely loved the journey – from the challenge of actually getting the right train to being part of a non-touristy daily routine for many Thais. People-watching doesn’t get much better than this.
We arrived at Prachuap Khiri Khan mid-morning but the temperature was already way up into the thirty-plus degrees. Our guest house was at the far end of the beach so we had to negotiate our way there fully laden with our backpacks. But we were more than happy with our choice of the Sun Beach Guesthouse, with its Spanish-looking appearance, clean room (with aircon and wifi), sea view and lovely swimming pool – all for 1100 baht per night (£22).
However, before we checked in, the lure of a Thai massage at Ranida was too much to resist. And it was fabulous. Still, can’t believe it only cost 150 baht (£3) for the best massage I’ve ever had.
Prachuap is one of those Thai seaside towns that still hasn’t really caught on as a tourist destination outside of Thailand. Situated south of the more famous Hua Hin, it’s known for its three horseshoe bays, bookended by limestone cliffs, and excellent, cheap seafood – which was the main draw for us. And of course, the fact that it has a promenade resembling the one in Llandudno, North Wales – a regular haunt of mine during my childhood.
So, after an afternoon of lazing in and around the pool, we decided it was time to eat some seafood and to check out what the fuss was all about.
As we walked along the promenade it soon became obvious that fish and seafood play a very big part in this town. On our trek from the train station earlier in the day, we’d walked past rack after rack of fish and squid left out to dry in the baking sun. And as the day was now turning to night, the fishing boats in the bay were still, while the smell of fresh and barbequed fish filled the air. The squid boats were getting ready for their night-time activity, however – their green lights illuminating the bay.
What was also becoming clear though was that we were about to be introduced to an almighty storm approaching from the north. So we thought it best to sort ourselves out with a table at the nearest eatery, which happened to be the brilliantly named Lung Mug-Paa Lord seafood restaurant.
We were about to have our most incredible restaurant experience so far in Thailand. But not just for the food. First of all, this wasn’t one of your typical order-from-a-menu restaurants. The drill here was to pick your fish or seafood from the open-air stand on the roadside, then choose your preferred style of cooking and sauce. We went for the deep-fried whole red tilapia in chilli sauce and the king scallops in red curry.
First the tilapia. If there’s a more deliciously cooked piece of fish out there I’ve yet to try it. Outstanding. Crispy, spicy, fragrant. And they were just the bones.
Then came the scallops. And there were lots of them. Again, an incredibly spicy, fragrant sauce to go with them. Seriously good.
Three large bottles of Chang helped wash the whole thing down (it had been a hard day), along with some soda water and two bowls of rice. 510 baht (a tenner) for the lot! I already love this place.
But that was only part of the story. The restaurant itself is not exactly a fine dining establishment. It basically comprises a hut just off the pavement, with rows of plastic tables and chairs covered by a temporary awning. So when the mother of all storms arrived things got a little, should we say, wet!
Water poured into the dining area from all directions. The gigantic cracks of thunder and lightning wrestled with the shouts from the restaurant staff as they stoically attempted to keep the food and drink arriving. Meanwhile, we and the rest of the diners continued eating, drinking and watching the drama as it unfolded. It looked like chaos, but it was organised chaos.
And, in the end, the storm subsided and everything returned to normal. When we received the bill our waiter even apologised for the rain.
We reflected afterwards on what an enjoyable day we’d had. We’d discovered our new favourite way of travelling and eaten some of the best fish and seafood of our lives. And all for a fraction of the cost of what we’d experienced elsewhere.
We spent four days in all at Prachuap Khiri Khan. It’s very Thai and there’s probably not an awful lot to do to keep the average traveller interested for more than a few days. But, with easy access via express train from Bangkok and some excellent seafood restaurants on offer, it could well yet find its way on to the mainstream tourist route.
What did you think? Have you travelled inside Thailand by train? Or visited Prachuap Khiri Khan? Maybe you’re planning on visiting there soon? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
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Hi, we’re Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we’d like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.