Thursday, January 5, 2012

Touring the southern provinces - Part II

After seeing the hordes of tourists at Aou Nang Beach in Krabi we decided to head out of town ASAP in search of a less populated area. We drove north for a few miles and found a reasonably priced guest house where we spent the night. I can see why people are attracted to this area. It's beautiful and geologically unique. There are huge and interestingly shaped rock formations, limestone actually, scattered here and there throughout the region, including many exquisitely scenic islands. Some of those appeared in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The beach" that was popular a few years back. Still, the huge numbers of tourists put me off to the point that I wanted out despite the urge to explore the beautiful Phi Phi Islands or even to visit a nearby fossil museum. I like being in parts of Thailand where people that look like me are in the minority I guess.

The formations are called karst towers. Found throughout SE Asia -- they're the major geologic feature of the famous Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam, for instance -- these towers are apparently the remnants of a giant coral reef that was first lifted by the action of plate tectonics and then eroded by flows of fresh water around their bases. This is what gives them their characteristic conical shape and steep, undercut sides. They are quite beautiful.
Karst tower - near Krabi, Thailand
Stunning roadside scenery near Krabi
Towering scenery along Route 4

Another view from Route 4 north of Krabi
Nut and the CBR250 - Route 4 north of Krabi
We drove Route 4 from Krabi to Takua Pa at a leisurely pace; I enjoyed the ride for many reasons. The scenery was spectacular. There was virtually no traffic. I was traveling with my beautiful Thai girlfriend (aka BTGF) with whom I'm getting along famously after almost two years together. And the new CBR was performing flawlessly.

This motorbike is a wonderful machine for touring in Thailand. Although it's too small for our big American highways in Thailand's more compact geography and tight twisty roads, it's nearly perfect. I seldom cruise at more than 50 mph over here; that's equivalent to about 5000 rpm on the tach, and at that speed the bike gets gas mileage in the range of 80-90 mpg -- the best it got so far was on the slow cruise to Prachuap Khiri Khan last week where I calculated 96 mpg (41 km/liter). At 5000 rpm the engine is still quiet too -- redline is at 10,500 rpm but at that speed she's literally screamin'. I'm still breaking it in so I never rev it that high, well, almost never. We got the 1000 km oil change and the chain lubed at a Honda dealer last week. It has about 1500  km on the clock now.

The bike is a dream to drive even when we're riding 2-up with our gear. It has plenty of gusto on the hills and it's so light and flickable that turns are easy to execute. With its high mounted footpegs and good suspension it's built for turns -- it's much more agile than the old Phantom at any speed.

Fishing boat - Karaburi
We visited some scenic, totally empty beaches on our way north to the little town of Takua Pa. These beaches are so far undevelped but I don't imagine they'll stay that way for long.

Hat Aou Khoei beach Route 4 near Karaburi
Hat Phrabat beach - Route 4 between Karaburi and Takua Pa
In Takua Pa we found a sweet little bungalow, very quiet and private, and decided to stay there an extra night. Next day we visited the Baan Nam Kem Tsunami Memorial and spotted this tsunami shelter close to it. We saw several more of these concrete structures on beaches bordering the Andaman Sea whose shores we were touring. I remember TV coverage of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami but in the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean it was a major disaster that killed nearly 230,000 people worldwide with roughly 8,000 of those in Thailand. The Aou Nang beach in Krabi where we had dinner a few days ago was one of those places that appeared in some horrific YouTube videos in which you could see the waves as they rose up to wipe out hotels and tourists, entire towns. The quake that caused it ranks among the strongest ever recorded right up there with the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska.

Baan Nam Kem Tsunami Memorial - December 26, 2004

We drove around to hit a few more beaches that day as well and briefly toyed with the idea of staying a night in one of the exclusive resorts we passed but when we found out what they were getting for rooms we thought better of it. One place wanted 4800 baht ($150 USD) for a poolside room. Our studio in Bangkok costs 5000 baht per month! Another resort, an upscale beach side hotel, wanted 7500 baht. Uh, no thank you, I don't think we'll be staying with you tonight.

Next stop, the city of Ranong. We had a different sort of breakfast in Takua Pa before setting out.  It was an assortment of tasty dim sum. Some of the ingredients: stewed pork ribs, fish wrapped in bacon, seaweed, mushrooms, assorted veggies and tofu. Pretty healthy and pretty cheap as well. I had to take a photo, and having done that had to include it here.

Dim sum breakfast - Takua Pa
To be continued...