August 2013 – Hua Hin and Koh Tao, Thailand

Hua Hin and Kuiburi National Park
Hua Hin is a small resort town that probably used to be a small fishing town, and is located about 3-4 hours south of Bangkok. The beach is quieter than many on the Thai islands, but there is a large mix of tourist options in the town and all types of tourists present. The town is able to satisfy those with high standards (e.g., Hilton) to those of us that prefer cheap, simple options.

Dam by Kuiburi NP

The main attraction to Hua Hin for us was not its resorty status, but instead the fact that it is the main access point for Kuiburi National Park, and Kuiburi National Park is where the wild elephants roam.

The park was recently established by the king in 1999 due to conflicts between the wild elephants and the local farmers, with the elephants destroying crops and the farmers poisoning and killing the elephants (so pretty much your standard agriculture vs. nature dilemma that happens the world over). A compromise was met here at the King’s urging and so the National Park lands were set aside.  Its unclear exactly what happened to the evicted farmers, but the jungle has now reclaimed much of this former farmland and the elephant population is thriving.

The rangers for Kuiburi take the care of the elephants very seriously, and there are only three hours each day when tourists are allowed to visit and even then visits are only allowed on a tour and truck through the park. We organised a private tour and were very pleased with the results. Mam, our tour guide, drove us the 1.5 hours from our guesthouse to the park and back.  At KNP, however, access is only available by truck, so we changed from Mam’s car to a truck where we sat in the bed. A local KNP guide and a driver were included with our tour and it seems as a part of the compromise that the local farming community members are employed so that they may benefit as well from the development of the National Park.

Single male

Driving down the dirt road into the park, we initially thought that we would spot just a few elephants during the entire three hour adventure. However, we were quickly proven incorrect when we spotted a family in the nearby woods. Continuing on, we saw a single male elephant, who started to get cranky at one of the following trucks and started to plod towards it and slowly accelerating, which made all the trucks pick up their speed just a bit to avoid further annoying him. The guides are very cautious with the elephants, as they are wild, and are known to charge the trucks and even chase the rangers on their motorcycles.

At the end of one dirt path, we parked alongside other tour groups on a high flat embankment that looked out over a valley that some elephant families frequent.   In the far distance, we could see a family of elephants and Mam provided us each with binoculars so that we could better watch their movements.

At this point we were pretty happy with what we had seen – a few animals quite close as we drove through the forest and a family group viewed at a distance here. We thought this was the best we were going to see. We sat and had our provided snack, expecting we would just be watching the elephants from afar for the next hour or so, which would have been great.

wild elephants

As we were watching, the families of elephants started walking closer towards our viewing area. After they trudged along through the forest, the elephants stopped in a grass field just below us.  A uniformed ranger made sure that we all kept proper distance and he watched for any signs of distress from the elephants. It seemed we were far enough away, and we were quite surprised that the other tourists were respectfully keeping quiet.  It did dawn on us that the three of us (Angie, Brett and Ali) could all likely outrun a number of the other tourists present.

elephant family

Overall, throughout the entire three hour tour around KNP, we spotted at minimal five different families and probably over 60 elephants.  We were satisfied with the tour early on in the trip, but by the end it had surpassed our expectations by a fair margin.  This wasn’t an inexpensive tour, but considering that most tourists opt for an elephant park with tamed elephants, we were quite delighted to see their wild cousins instead.

Photo of Nang Yuan similar to the airport display

Koh Tao
While at the Bangkok airport, Ali and Brett’s eyes were drawn to a photo of a beautiful island called Koh Nang Yuan. It is a tiny, private island that sits right just off the west coast of Koh Tao, an island itself known for diving and snorkeling. We weren’t going to get diving licences (though Brett wanted to), but with Nang Yuan right next door, we were drawn to Koh Tao.  And Ali had never been snorkeling before, so this seemed like the obvious choice over Koh Samui (also – the islands near Phuket off Thailand’s west were being hammered by rains and storms).

Ali and Brett

We spent our four days relaxing, visiting beaches, snorkeling and catching up on missed conversations.  We checked out the beaches of Chalok Baan Kao, Tanote Bay, and Sairee while snorkeling at Koh Nang Yuan’s Japanese Gardens.

Ali snorkeling

Coral with yellow and black fish

After living in Australia and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, the coral in Japanese Gardens was not nearly as colorful and a bit more sparse.  There were a large variety of different corals, some soft and some hard, which made it an interesting landscape. The fish here were bright and colourful and in some cases quite different from what we’d previously seen in Australia and Hawaii.  Angie was able to test our camera’s underwater capabilities and at least in this one aspect the Olympus TG-1 did not disappoint (as an overall package, the camera has mostly been a disappointment). In all, we enjoyed the swimming, snorkeling and sights on Nang Yuan.

Sunset at Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

Sairee Beach is lined with bars and restaurants where people gather to have a drink while the daylight fades. There’s always something special about watching the sunset over the ocean while on a beach. Every evening, we chose a different location, had a drink and cheers to a great day.

Wrapping it up Thailand

Fried fish in green curry! Yum!

Brett and Angie also spent an additional week in Hua Hin after Ali departed back to the USA. The majority of time was spent blogging, relaxing and eating great Thai food. The pictured fish was certainly among our most tasty meals here – which is saying something!

Click here to see our photos


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