TRAVELLING THE SCENIC ROUTE NORTH FROM CHA-AM

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Get you motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Lookin’ for adventure

And whatever comes our way’

(Steppin’ Wolf; 1968)

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Do you have a favourite music to play in the car on a long drive?  For me it’s Pink Floyd (‘Momentary Lapse of Reason’) but for others it may be more classical or even Barry Manilow?  On our road trip, the ‘navigator’ was in charge of the music.  Just to make sure it would be a calm and relaxing day she chose – AC/DC (‘Highway to Hell’? – NOT) !

Our trip was to explore the scenic route which heads North from Cha-Am, following the coastline for most of the way then linking with the main Bangkok Highway about 100 KM North of Cha-Am.  This route is a great day trip slowly meandering along the coastal plains and exploring a variety of ‘side trips’.  The return can then then be made via the main highway at a quicker pace.

We were fortunate to have the use of a Toyota test car for the journey.  Our thanks to the Khun Chackrit Vesvanut, the Managing Director of Toyota Muang Petch, for the use of this fantastic car.  Our test vehicle was the latest model Toyota Camry Full Hybrid but more about that later.  You’ll find this Toyota dealer in Cha-Am on Petchakasim Road just north of the rail line flyover on the left.

Getting Started

Travel towards the beach from the traffic lights on Petchakasim Road in the centre of Cha-Am City.  Take the first turn left at the T junction after about 500 metres.  That’s it, you are now on the on the way; past the hospital then follow the distinctive signs showing the scenic route logo for the rest of the way.  After crossing the bridge over the inlet you will near to veer right where there are signs steering you towards Puktien Beach as well as the frequent scenic route signs.

Along The Way

Here’s our description about what you expect to find along the way.  Of course the distances provided will vary somewhat depending on how many ‘side trips’ you chose to make.

After Twelve to Seventeen Kilometres

We previously described two of Cha-Am’s attractions along this road which can be seen on the Hua Hin Today facebook page along with the articles online in previous additions.  These are the ‘Boat Temple’ and Puktien Beach. They are both well worth a visit as a smaller day out, but we didn’t stop this time.

Turning towards the ocean at a sign for the Verano Beach Villa you will arrive at a beautiful beach alongside an inlet with some fishing boats safely moored.   There was a suggestion that this inlet was destined to be a marina but there appears to be little happening to provide such a facility. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We noticed a Thai gentleman just sitting on his motorbike gazing out to sea contemplating the state of the world.  As a place of peaceful relaxation, you won’t find any better.  If you head south along the narrow tree lined road you’ll see some beautiful beach frontage houses for a kilometre or so.  Many seemed unoccupied, perhaps only used as a holiday home.   There is at least one ocean frontage block for sale if you are looking to build your own ‘slice of heaven’ on a wide, clean sandy beach.

Thirty Five Kilometres On

Out next stop was just before Chao Samran Beach, as we turned towards the ocean before the traffic lights where most will turn to visit this location.  There’s a great little coffee shop (Bryde’s Coffee) and restaurant (Khuakhunya Restaurant) behind the Chao Samran Beach Resort.  The smell of fresh baked cookies at the coffee shop was hard to resist as an accompaniment to my Minty Pineapple Spritzer.

Alternatively stay on the main road then turn right at the traffic lights (a very unusual sight).  At the end the road it’s worth having a wander around another sandy beach though with shady trees and benches to sit.  There is a bandstand/pagoda structure and a tree that has been long deceased painted in gold.  This tree was alive until struck by lightning several years ago then gold when it was apparent that it had died, perhaps to remind the God’s that lightning should never strike the same place more than once.

The stones islands parallel to the coast line where put there about 4/5 years ago to prevent the sand being lost on the beach.  This innovation has been a great success and has re-established a previously eroded sandy shoreline.

Heading back towards the main road there are two smaller roads heading south.  The road further away from the coast leads you towards a temple with beautifully maintained gardens and many new monks (judging by the bright colours of their robes) sitting in contemplation.  This road is solely as access to the temple grounds so remember to be respectful if you slowly take this side trip.

However a road heading south from the beach front takes you past a number of accommodation options if you are considering an overnight (or longer) stay.  Amongst those on offer on this stretch are resorts with names such as Fisherman’s, Sea Sky, 91 Hotel and Restaurant, Village and many more.  One resort has wooden boat shaped bungalows but our favourite was the Paradise Resort.

Where else in the world would you have the opportunity to stay overnight in a converted aircraft?  Perhaps it’s a Douglas DC 3 (produced in the 1930/40’s) and was transported from Bangkok by the enterprising Thai owner (Khun Visit).  It now provides two ‘apartments’ inside as a unique opportunity to almost join the ‘mile high club’, but only at ground level!  Of course the resort also offers more conventional accommodation with many bungalows situated alongside shaded garden lanes leading towards the sandy beach.  A swimming pool almost on the beach provides another cooling option.

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This resort is less than two years old with Thai management provided by former Bangkok residents.  However with experience of over 30 years managing cafeterias on the US Harvard University campus, there is no language problems and their hospitality is undoubted.

Forty Kilometres From Cha-Am

Heading towards Ban Lam you will be travelling across open flat land where there are both prawn farms and salt production fields.  The sandy beaches have now almost disappeared in favour of mangroves and marshy fields.

Just before crossing a bridge over an inlet with many fishing boats is an area known as Lumpa Bia, famous for bird watching.  You can park outside one of two small stores, either on the main road or on the south side of the inlet.  If you walk further towards the ocean alongside the inlet for almost a kilometre, try to meet Mr Daeng a very popular guide when it comes to bird watching.  He will take you on a small boat through the mangroves and to a sandy spit for an hour or so as a popular side trip.

Unfortunately the many attractions already visited didn’t allow us time to enjoy this opportunity although we now have Mr Daeng’s phone number to book a future trip and to take the time to explore more in this area.

Judging from the very complementary comments made by bird watchers from all over the world in the ‘guest book’, including those from bird watching clubs or societies, Mr Daeng’s reputation as guide is well deserved.  I’ve often wondered about Cha-Am’s bird watching locations, now we know of one of the best.

The Final Stretch

Keep heading towards the town of Ban Laem and turn right at the traffic lights.  After about 90 kilometres from Cha-Am you will finish this stage of the trip 10 or so kilometres later at the intersection with the Bangkok highway.  We stopped just short of the intersection at a Thai restaurant for some Khao Pat Kung before returning back to base.

The return journey is about an hour’s drive, veering left as the signs indicate, through Petchaburi City, Tha Yang then Cha-Am.  It is a similar return distance to the more scenic route but at the legal 100 KPH and without side trips, a much quicker way home.  This is round trip of close to 200 kilometres and a full day road trip.

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The Navigator’s Comments

“As the Navigator my only complaint(s) about the trip was the long time it took us to get a proper CD collection complied for the trip.  We spent most of the morning trying to start the car, but instead of starting the car we ejected a CD from the player or made digital maps appear out of nowhere.

Now the Toyota Camry is a magnificent car, but we are people used to driving cars that cough to life and rattle the rest of the time.  Sometimes we couldn’t even figure out if the car was on or not. Not the cars fault just inept drivers!

Besides that comment, my driver has a penchant for hitting the gas and swishing past beautiful view points.  Sometimes ignoring comments such “stop here I want to use the bathroom”, Swish…. We also went past many nice eateries, cafes, beaches, temples, dogs, people and so on.

An OK jokes aside, the car is too swell for words, although giving us a white car is asking for mud splatters and may not have been a good idea.  I have to say the car (and the driver) drives beautifully. It’s so spacious and comfortable we could have added 10 toy boys (or girls) in the back and nobody would have noticed.

As for the trip I have always been taken in by “Verano” Beach; I think the best beach North of Cha-Am by far.  I also fell for Chao Samran Beach & Village.  It’s very relaxing and rural, so rural that I actually screamed “7 Eleven!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” when I saw the first 7 Eleven after driving for hours straight. Quite a feat if you ask me.

A month ago I requested a story called “Where does that road go (North of Cha Am)?”  Now that we know I feel it was really worthwhile. If you decide to go exploring, just make sure you a have a nice car, a driver who stops once in a while and plenty of time. Rock On!”

About Our Test Car – Toyota Camry Full Hybrid

My usual form of motorised transport is either a motorbike or an old and somewhat dilapidated manual car.  My first car was a 1949 Austin A40 which probably explains a lot!

My current car doesn’t have keyless entry/go, dual-zone climate control, USB/iPod/Bluetooth connectivity, guidance systems, reversing cameras or any of the benefits that this test car had to offer.  The gasoline/electric Camry is aimed squarely at those who want a ‘greener’ car than a regular Camry can deliver and Prius shoppers looking for something more powerful and more traditional.  This is a very attractive vehicle in every sense of the word.

But if you really want an expert’s review of this model try: www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/…/review2012toyotacamry.

The problems with moving from my old ‘bomb’ to this luxurious vehicle began with actually starting the engine.  Just press the ‘go’ button and the steering wheel gently glides into position and ignition lights glow.  However you must remember to press down on the brake pedal (the clutch pedal is usual for me).  The next problem is you can’t hear a starter motor or any engine sound.  Many readers will probably see that I have not been in tune with the ways of modern vehicles so my apologies for these antiquated comments.  Not a criticism of the Toyota, just recognising that cars have changed significantly for the better.

Inside the Camry and it feels like a big car.  The vision all around is excellent and really after a few kilometres to acclimatise an easy and relaxing drive.  My ‘navigator’, the music arranger, took some time to find the way to load a CD, but then the sound system easily coped with AC/DC at volumes making conversation difficult.

Without AC/DC as a distraction the ride is quiet and smooth (no swearing at speed humps required) and with ventilated electronically controlled adjustable seating, I couldn’t imagine a more comfortable trip.  No suffering from my usual backside problems after sitting for several hours.

I can also vouch for the braking systems as an old lady on a bicycle didn’t bother to check behind before wobbling across the road into my path.  The horn also gives the right note, operated by my ‘assistant’ against my better judgement!  No point in scaring the lady on the bike after she had crossed the road?

Again our thanks to Muang Petch for the opportunity to consider what a new Toyota has to offer and really adding to the enjoyment of our road trip.  This is a really friendly crew offering great service.

Some Final Comments

v  If you are in the mood for a different route between Hua Hin/Cha-Am either to or from Bangkok, this is a way to avoid the traffic for this section of the trip (a similar distance) although your speed will be restricted.  One of the pleasant aspects of the journey is the condition of the road; an excellent ‘black top’, undamaged by the recent rains and in much better condition than the main highway.

v  One of the features of this scenic route is the frequent signed ‘view points’, typically offering a short description of the location at the side of the road.   However there are far too many to stop at and they don’t really offer the best views.  I would suggest that you consider our recommendations then make up your own mind where to pause during the journey.

v  If you choose to shorten the journey there are four signed roads which lead to Petchaburi City along the route.  I wouldn’t really recommend this option as you will miss out on the full ‘road trip’ experience, but if time is short it may be considered.

v  Red number plates are issued for new vehicles in Thailand before the permanent plates arrive.  The rumour is that red plated cars are unofficially given more right-of-way by other drivers, perhaps because of the status that is assigned to a new car owner.  Strangely enough I can confirm that rumour.  Almost everyone gave way regardless of whether they should have or not!

v  Bicycle enthusiasts could also think about a tour, perhaps over several days.  It’s flat and maybe not so many traffic hazards.

v  Our thanks to Keith Hillman, a local resident at Chao Samran, for his valuable tips on what to look out for on the way.

I know that I have a travelling problem in not stopping often enough on a journey and missing out on what there is to be seen.  Don’t make this mistake!  Many years ago I once drove past the turn off to the most picturesque golf course in the USA, Pebble Beach.  As a golf fan I still regret not stopping to this day.

I would also not recommend listening to AC/DC as the music tends to ‘rev you up’ rather than slow you down.  You’ll probably want to get out of the vehicle more if Barry Manilow is playing!

If you are without your own vehicle don’t expect to have a test car offered but local taxis or minibus drivers are always available.  This scenic drive is not well known and a little off the beaten track, but an easy drive on a well signed road offering new Thailand experiences and highly recommended.

So finally take your time with an early start so that you can get the full sense and feel of this different part of the countryside.

 

Get your motor runnin’!

 

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