Sam Roi Yot
Sam Roi Yot, which translates as “Three Hundred Peaks” is a national park area about 4 hours drive south from Bangkok. It seemed like a pleasant place for a few days away from the big city – a place to breath in fresh air and relax – oh, and to eat incredibly well.
The drive down on Saturday morning was uneventful. Well, it was uneventful in the sense that I’m now so used to seeing Thai drivers taking break-taking risks with the lives of themselves and others that I’m pretty inured to the experience. Finding the hotel, however, proved a little problematical. I turned left after the statue of Jao Mae Guan Im (the Thai name for the female form of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara) as the hotel’s map indicated, but the hotel was nowhere in sight. Could there possibly be two statues of Jao Mae Guan Im on a single stretch of road? Anyway, pulling up the map on a friend’s mobile ‘phone, I was informed that the hotel was just over 11 km away, back the way I’d come. I followed the map, and when the positioning system said I was outside the hotel, there was … nothing. However, I had seen a group of beach front resorts across the bay, and headed for them.
On the hunt for the hotel, I passed a restaurant, Jim Daeng, which had been recommended for its seafood. To be honest, I might not have gone there if I’d translated the restaurant name beforehand. Daeng, I knew, means red, but Jim was unfamiliar to me. The dictionary told me it’s a slang term meaning a lady’s front bottom. Red Vagina? Not the most appetising name for a restaurant. And to be honest, I can’t think of any other restaurant named after a squish mitten – except possible Le Gavroche. I’m not sure what a Gavroche is, but it might be a lady bit. Anyway, the meal was excellent, with spicy stir fried prawns, spicier stir fried scallops, a rather herbal mixed seafood tom yam gung, and crab fried rice. And the location, just across the road from the beach, was great.
Having eventually found the hotel and settled in, we went for a walk along the beach front, which is pleasantly lined with pine trees. Such is the unpredictable nature of the weather at this time of year I really should have taken an umbrella. Such is life, it started to rain heavily as I was far away from the hotel. I tried sheltering under the awning of a beachside stall, but the rain just came through. I was fated to be soaked to the bone. When the rain stopped it left droplets of water on the pine needles which looked quite magical.
Sunday was set aside to explore the national park, with the usual racist nonsense of 40 Baht admission fee for Thais, and five times that amount for foreigners. After all, everybody knows that all foreigners are incredibly wealthy and so should be fleeced, even if they live here and pay more in taxes that the typical Thai. Anyway, putting aside the unpleasant feeling such blatant discrimination produces, I drove into the park to the foot of a mountain, Khao Daeng. The uphill struggle was hard going, but the view from the top was in part glorious, and in part dispiriting because it revealed the extent of the destruction of the coastal area in the name of shrimp farming.
There wasn’t a lot of wildlife visible in the park, though I did see a large monitor lizard scurry away in the distance, and there were a few monkeys.
Sunday lunch was at a well-known restaurant inside the park which specialises in seafood. Again, we ate very well, starting with betel leaves (I think), topped with an oyster, a little nam phrik pao (chilli jam), fried shallots and a whisper of dill. Things then got even better with steamed prawns accompanied by a rather strange, medicinal-tasting soup, and an enormous mud crab. This time I remembered to photograph the dishes.
The restaurant was next to a klong. The klong banks were alive with small crabs with red claws (and a few blue ones). There were also some mudskippers which hauled themselves onto the bank. If ever there were a fish so ugly that even its mother couldn’t love it…
After lunch I wanted to see Tam Phraya Nakhon – a much-photographed cave. I parked a couple or so kilometres away and we walked over the headland to the other side. That was pretty tiring, but nothing compared with the climb up the mountain to the cave. Rather inconveniently it had been built at the top of a tall mountain. The ascent took over an hour, and I was very hot and sweaty by the time I reached the cave, which isn’t really a cave, but rather two massive sinkholes with a connecting passage.
Various Thai kings have liked this place and visited on more than one occasion. King Rama V liked the place so much he had a sala built here.
There was also a sheet of stalactites.
The descent was almost as arduous as the ascent. I must have looked in a terrible state. Several people going in the opposite direction said “su, su” meaning “fight” or “struggle” to encourage me. One couple that didn’t speak to me, commented between themselves rather in disgust that my clothing was totally soaked through. I’d liked to have told them that I was probably the only person who had climbed two mountains and over the headland that day. For most of the visitors don’t walk across the headland, but take a boat to the foot of the mountain. Still, I survived, even if the next day I was barely able to move and there wasn’t a muscle in my body which wasn’t aching.
For the final morning we’d booked a boat trip to “Monkey Island” which, as its name suggests, is an island with monkeys. However, I did rather have misgivings about getting onto the boat when I saw that the sea was teaming with thousands of jellyfish. The trip to the island didn’t take long. The pilot steered the boat onto the shore, a small, gravelly beach, and then started cutting up bananas. As if by magic a hundred or so monkeys appeared from the undergrowth.
The young ones were particularly cute.
However, some of them seemed more like meercats.
I guess they do it for the enhanced TV ratings.
I had wondered how the monkeys (macaques, I think) survived on a small island with no source of fresh water. The pilot said that someone brought fresh water from the mainland for them.
However, the colony wasn’t really thriving, and the number of monkeys has gone down over the years.
Sometimes it’s a “you scratch my back” kind of world – at least for monkeys.
What happened next was perhaps one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. One monkey, and it was only one, started digging where the water lapped onto the beach.
He found a cockle which he then placed on a flat rock and took a smaller rock and used it to smash open the shell.
That moment alone made braving the jellyfish all worth it. He then gathered more cockles and crushed them, giving me a chance to try to get a photograph of the event.
So, at Sam Roi Yot a good time was had by all (apart from the cockles who didn’t particularly enjoy the experience).