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Escaping from Hat Yai

January 8, 2015
Tham Sai Cave

We found ourselves back in Bangkok with the plan to return to Koh Phangan. I got to spend my birthday with the trio at the Amsterdam Bar, soaking up the sunset before our Sunday Funday at the Loi Lay Floating Bar. We stopped at the Ringside Hostel on the way so I could catch up with Paul, a friend of mine I met when I was in Cairns, Australia years ago. He’s part owner of Ringside, so he gave us a tour of the place and let us in on some secrets of the islands.

He told us that the following week, the 16-bed dorms would be going from 200b a night to 2,000b a night (roughly $6 to $60).

My plan was to go to Kuala Lumpur for a week so I could do a Visa run, then head back to Bangkok to meet up with Charlie and Charlotte and go up north to Chiang Mai then to Pai to learn poi at the Circus School. I hopped off the train in Hat Yai and made my way to the Hatyai Backpackers Hostel, but I got an eerie feeling about the town.

Khao Daeng Viewpoint

The hostel had a deal for a free night if you stayed for three, so I was planning on staying in Hat Yai for four nights and then heading out on the fifth day. It was 6 in the morning when I got there and tried to check in, but I couldn’t for another few hours.

I decided to kill time on the computer while I waited, searching the internet and trying to piece together the rest of my Malaysia trip. When I asked for the WiFi password, the guy at the reception desk wrote down:

“i hate hat yai”

The moment I read that, I knew I wouldn’t be staying in Hat Yai for the full time I had booked.

Hat Yai is a town that resides on the border of Thailand and Malaysia, so there is a lot of violence towards the monks and police of Hat Yai. It’s wise to not stand near police or a row of motorbikes for fear of bombs.

When I finally got to check in, I immediately went to sleep—I was exhausted from barely sleeping on the noisy train. After sleeping for a couple of hours, I decided to venture out and see what the town had to offer. I walked around for hours and saw the same stuff over and over again. I began looking for another traveler so I could have a conversation with someone because at this point, I was going mad. After sitting in Starbucks, McDonalds and all the bars, I never met a single soul that spoke English.

I headed back to the hostel, got back on the computer and really started to make things happen. I was finding awesome stuff to do in Malaysia, but everything was a long bus ride away from Kuala Lumpur—I didn’t want to spend 4 out of 7 days traveling from place to place, that would just wear me out. Things started to look grim, but I tried to keep a positive attitude about it. I checked the weather and was sorely disappointed. There were monsoons down south so for the entire week I would be there, there were going to be vicious thunderstorms.

Temple by the mountains

I heard footsteps on the stairs, so I started to get excited—footsteps meant that someone new had checked in. She turned the corner and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest since I was finally seeing a fellow traveler. We didn’t say much to each other at first because I was on the computer, but after she got settled I started chatting with her. Turned out, she had just come from Kuala Lumpur and didn’t have the best experience. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I knew I wouldn’t be going to Malaysia, so she pitched the idea of outrunning the monsoons and going to the gulf. We started planning our trip up to Hua Hin and looked at hostels, eventually finding a place to stay. We were both giddy that we could finally get out of this place—we’d shared the same gut instinct about Hat Yai.

Thom Sai Limestone

We got to the hostel in Hua Hin and after we checked in and dropped our luggage, I was on the hunt for some food. We went to the first place I saw where I ordered some eggs, toast and a coffee. We chatted with the Frenchman who owned the place, and he gave us some really good spots to check out.

Steep Trekking to Tham Sai CaveOutside of Hua Hin lies Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. It’s about an hour and a half out, but it took us nearly 3 hours to get there because we had to double back a few times. When we finally did arrive, we weren’t sure where to begin. Normally there’s an entry point but because we came from the north, didn’t have a map and my phone was running out of battery, we had to just take every side road until we found a beach.

The beach was part of Khao Sam Roi Yot, so we paid our 200 bhat and had our tickets for the rest of the park. We hung out on the beach, looked at the map we were provided and started to plan our day. It was going to have to be short because we got there around 1 and would have to leave by 5 at the latest since the sun goes down around 6. We couldn’t decide where to go, so we went to the nearest cave, Tham Sai.

We blazed the steep trail to the mouth of the cave, dropped our bags and headed into the chilly and refreshing air of Tham Sai Cave.

I spent so much time taking pictures because it had been stressful just getting to the Khao Sam Roi Yot—I just needed to soak it all in and enjoy my time there.

I couldn’t get a decent picture for the life of me, so I decided I’d put my skills to the test and take an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo. An HDR photo consists of multiple exposures just at different lengths, so I was able to capture every aspect of the cave and its beauty.

When we were done trekking around Tham Sai, we asked the park ranger which was the best cave and he pointed back at Sai Cave. A sigh of relief came over me because we got to see the best of what the park had to offer. We asked where we should go next and he told us about a few other caves, but the trek was too long so we decided to just head to the viewpoint to see the whole park from the very top.

Tham Sai Cave Entrance

That hike was much trickier because there were points where it was just a vertical incline, so you had to hoist yourself up on the mounds and finagle your way to the top. Once we made it to the viewpoint, we both took off our shirts and screamed at the top of our lungs. We had reached the summit! We sat and hung out with a group of Japanese people, one of whom had attended Mizzou, so we had a good time shootin’ the shit with them.

It was around 4 and I didn’t know how long it’d take to get down, so I reminded Jen that we needed to get going. So we made our way back down to the scooter and started scooting our way back. I looked down and saw the tank was in the red—we still had another 30Km before the next gas station. I didn’t mention anything because I didn’t want her to worry, but I was a little concerned. I kept easy on the throttle and found a gas station, right as the bike puttered out of gas.

As soon as we’d gotten a quick snack and a drink, we were speeding our way back to Hua Hin where we would treat ourselves to dinner in a restaurant, not just food from a stand at the night market.

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