Huahin Beach part 1 – Samroiyod National Park (beauty & mystique) and delicious seafood!

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Balcony view from the condominium

We went to Huahin Beach the day after Christmas. It was perfect timing because at that time most people had already gone back to work; Huahin was relatively quiet. And in terms of weather? Perfect. Even during the hottest time of the day (midday), I was still able to go swimming in an open pool. Alright, I did get a tan after 30 minutes, but the sun didn’t feel unbearable.

Maybe it is true that Thai winter is getting colder every year.. #Global warming…

So, what is on Thai people’s checklist when they come to Huahin?

1. Eat

2. Shop (in the open markets)

3. Beach

(priority listing)

However, since my brother’s special someone was also on the trip (her first visit to Thailand), a food binge-filled vacation  was out of the question, and touristy-activities were in place

Still, we managed to realize the first item on our list even before we got to Huahin.

We devoured our way to the beach town (which is about 2 hrs and 30 mins away from Bangkok). First, we made a breakfast stop at a popular chain coffee shop called “Black Canyon Coffee” which caters to both Western and Thai food lovers.

Then, as we made our way to the condominium, we happened to pass by a famous “mango and sticky rice” shop, which was sandwiched between the Huahin Sofitel hotel (now taken over by Centara, duh) and a row of shady bars.

Buying two kilograms of sticky rice and two mangoes was an immediate must.

Mango & sticky rice
Mango & sticky rice

This is the kind of mango you get, through the hands of highly experienced mango carvers aka homemade.

This looks better:

Pa Jieu - mango & sticky rice
Pa Jieu – mango & sticky rice

credit: http://www.foodspotting.com/

Undoubtedly delicious. This shop is most known for its aromatic and soft sticky rice; so no carb-skipping on this one.

More delicious food to come. We had our late afternoon lunch at a famous seafood restaurant called Jee Khiao or “Aunt Green”. Don’t even ask.

They are known for their fresh crab and crab meat fried rice (unfortunately not pictured).

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Steamed crab
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Steamed crab pincher dipped in signature Thai spicy seafood sauce
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A typical photograph of someone who thinks they are superior to the animal they are eating
Deep fried fish in sweet & spicy sauce
Deep fried fish in sweet & spicy sauce

Verdict: the crab was undoubtedly fresh (they had live crabs in large rectangular tanks in their kitchen), and the seafood sauce was at its usual delicious calibre – sweet, spicy, and aromatic.

The fried rice with crab meat was pretty incredible. The crab meat chunks were bigger than an inch. I also liked how the vegetables and eggs were not microscopic size. Whenever my grandaunt visits Huahin, and unavoidably, the restaurant, she buys kilos of their signature fried rice back to Bangkok . Obviously, you don’t need to do the same to appreciate this dish. It is definitely worth ordering.

Other than this, we had Thai shrimp paste plate with fresh vegetables (‘Thai antipasto’) which was typically good, stir-fried bitter bean (sa-tor) with shrimp & pork mince in spicy paste (I have actually quoted this dish before in my other Huahin post), which was very delicious. We also ordered a superb dish of stir-fried local vegetables (the best vegetables you will have at a restaurant would be local), steamed crab legs (usually eaten with soybean sauce. For some reason, my favorite dish when I was little. The morbidly interactive nature of the dish?), and the deep fried fish in sweet & spicy sauce was definitely the star at the table aside from the crab. Actually, come to think of it, the name might have been deep fried fish in spicy basil leaves sauce. Who knows? It’s been more than a month.

The verdict? the fish was deep fried all right, bathing in all its oily glory. Although, the fact that the restaurant exclusively uses pork lard in their cooking made me feel less guilty. The garlic, chili and basil leaves infusion of the sauce cuts down the oily taste, making the dish an overall 4 stars.

Side-note (my impression on the restaurant’s environment): One, the cook created entirely new vegetarian menu (even using vegetable oil which they normally do not use) for my mum. They were vegetarian fried rice (with huge chunks of mushrooms you can see!) and stir-fried vegetables (with carrots, Shanghai vegetables, broccoli, etc.) that wasn’t even on their menu. And I wondered if they had all those vegetables in stock why not put them on the menu… Anyway, vegetarian friendly!

Two, foreigners will definitely find this an intriguing experience. The waiters/waitresses (whatever they prefer) of this restaurant were almost exclusively transgendered, save for one random middle school aged kid. They were very flamboyant, some with full make-up on. Why at this restaurant? I have no clue. However, I know for a fact that the service industry is one of the few options Thai gay men have for mainstream job. Anyway, that made for an interesting dining atmosphere.

Later that evening, we dragged our well-fed stomachs to the new overpriced/hip tourist attraction that is the “Cicada market”. They open from 5 pm-12 am in the morning, selling all kinds of merchandise from home decorations, to handbags, keychains, and artworks, all in the one-of-a-kind hipster style that modern Thais sought after.

They also have an overpriced food court selling restaurant-quality food (some) at restaurant-price, but at a non-restaurant open sitting area setting. This was where finding seats become intense competition. For those with lower budgets, I recommend the food stalls located in a market just outside the Cicada market area which sells mostly similar food, save for fried insects. For less likelihood of getting diarrhea, opt for the former.

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Shoreline walking distance from Cicada market
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Shoreline with a stone platform which leads to the sea
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Another view of the beach.

Luckily, there was an open beach near the market. Because in Thailand there are no strict laws surrounding beach privatization, many shorelines have become private/resort properties.

The next day, we were incredibly productive and managed to squeeze in a tourist-style expedition (certainly worth the 40 minutes drive from inner city Huahin, which I will elaborate):

We made our way to a little community called “Samroiyod”, located in the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan. This is not just a normal community however; it houses one of Thailand’s national treasures.

First, we arrived at the entrance of the Samroiyod National Park, which was a beach and a cliff face (incredibly picturesque surrounding) with lots of souvenir shops and small local restaurants. Then, we were led on a mildly grueling trek over a mountain, by a tiny eleven year old girl guide (local student, said the official) who was wearing a pair of plastic crocs.

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In the middle of the trek (around 20 minutes in total)
At the landing on the other side
At the landing on the other side

There is a larger beach on the other side of the mountain.

Our journey to the “national treasure” has not ended! Another (even steeper) hill later, we came to a huge limestone cave opening.

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Limestone patterns
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Going down into the cave

We literally had to go down like this to enter the cave. Just kidding there were stairs.

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Midway into the cave

Already in the cave:

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The Bridge of Death. Dun, dun, dun! It is only named so because wild hogs (when there were more of them) were known to fall down to their deaths here.
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Huge gaping hole
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Huge gaping hole letting in light, and the Royal Pavilion

All the meanwhile our little tour guide was telling me all the stories behind the seventeen scenic spots within the cave; my brother, his friend, and girlfriend were nowhere to be seen. I got a private tour! On the other hand, we looked a bit like kids playing around in the cave: she would run over to one scenic spot, then I would follow her and listen closely to her descriptions. At one point she said, “Since I am a child, I am prone to to touching objects along the paths” Are you really?

The most impressive scenic spot, and profound discovery to me was the growing stalagmite. As nutrient rich water drips down from above onto the cave floor, little stalagmite grows. They grow into large stalagmite pillars. You could even see the different stages of stalagmite growth through observing a different damp regions of the cave.

Initially, the little girl freaked me out a little when she began her explanation of the stalagmites with, “do you see the little bumps in the ground? They are actually alive”. Then I read the English description.

Overall, the cave was full of mysterious discoveries and spiritual aura. It is definitely, definitely worth a visit if you happen to travel to that region of Thailand. And please support this cute community! How much money can they make out of selling fried chicken and cheap entrance tickets, really?

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Lizard (male, according to the little girl)

I love how you immediately strike a beach once outside the cave.

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Aspiring male model

Our laziness gave in, and instead of going back the same way (up the mountain), we came to the general consensus of catching a local fisherman’s boat. Even despite the turbulent sea, we were rooting for an available boatman who would risk his life for the comfort of a couple of lazy city people/tourists.

The little tour guide girl assured me earlier that she is afraid of taking boats, but came with us anyway (such dedication to a job). By the way, I thought it was super cute when we were all resting from the after effects of cave climbing, at the National Park’s restaurant, and the little girl guide said to me before she departing briefly, “Wait one second, I need to go buy waffles.” Effects of globalization/Westernization can be felt.

Anyway, a traumatizing boat ride later (everyone was enjoying it except for myself, the little girl (who later claimed it was exciting), my brother’s friend who was worried his expensive import jeans would get wet (don’t worry, we definitely got wet); we arrived at our starting point on the other side of the mountain.

Despite a local auntie’s constant demand for us to buy her fried chicken and eat at the national park, we managed to evade that and set off to our next delicious food destination.

To be continued….

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