Hua Hin: My impromptu weekend trip to the beach!

Hua Hin: My impromptu weekend trip to the beach!

“Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” -Tina Fey

Friday, 19 August 2016:

Last Friday, my weekend took a surprising turn, and I found myself making last-minute travel plans to get out of Ayutthaya for a few days. Earlier in the afternoon on Friday, feeling a bit unsettled about staying in town for the third weekend in a row (this is very unusual for me considering how I prefer to spend my weekend away from Ayutthaya, exploring new places in Thailand), I asked myself what would make me happy and content? My decision, I needed to do something more with my time off rather than just staying in my apartment all weekend.

Originally my plans for travel were prohibited by my influx of cash on Friday. Pay day was Monday, and by the time Friday rolled around I only had about 2,000 baht left. Feeling as though this wouldn’t be enough for an entire weekend away, I thought it best to do things around town and wait till pay day on Monday; then I’d be able to take a trip the following weekend somewhere when I’d have more cash to spend on fun.

Sitting at work early in the afternoon on Friday though, I was left thinking about what I would do over the weekend and how I would spend my time. When I headed to my last class of the day, and upon arrival I was informed by the girls that only twelve students would be in class today, the rest were going to Bangkok (why, I’m really not sure?…). Hearing that, I showed the girls what their assignment was to be, asked them to share it with the rest of the class, and told them to be prepared for a speaking test next week. When I was walking back to my office I realized it was the perfect opportunity to head out early and actually make something out of my weekend; as opposed to staying in Ayutthaya feeling unfulfilled by Sunday evening most likely. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.” Some very wise words, that I choose to live by in Thailand. I have a savings account for precisely moments like this in life; I can’t let life pass me by over here while I simply worry about money.

Still, I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, even by the time I was almost done with my walk home. I had several options floating around in my head. I could quickly get home and check on prices for something dramatic like Chiang Mai or Phuket, but that would cost a lot of money. And seeing how originally I wasn’t going to leave Ayutthaya this weekend because I was down to only 2,000 baht, I thought it best to save Chiang Mai for another week or two, when I actually take the time to plan out what I want to do, where I want to go, and how to make the most out of a short weekend trip up north before I leave Thailand in October.

When I finally arrived at home, I threw open my Lonely Planet book, and upon opening it to the section entitled “Thailand’s Top 20”, I noticed that Hua Hin was listed as sixteen on the list. At this point, I made my decision. Since I will probably miss out on seeing anymore of the Thai islands, including Phuket, before I leave for Germany in October, then this weekend was the perfect time for me to take the opportunity to see Hua Hin; especially considering how last weekend that was our original plan before the bombings put a dent in our itinerary.

Alas, as it stands now, on Friday night around 10:40pm, I found myself nestled in my top bunk at my hostel, Chan-Chala Cafe & Hostel in Hua Hin. It was a good decision to leave school early, because after I finally made my decision where to go, I quickly threw some clothes and my swimsuit in my backpack, and headed out the door to catch the van that would take me to the beach.

We left Ayutthaya around 3pm, but as it was a Friday, we hit a bit of traffic by the time we were nearing Future Park (a GIANT shopping center on the outskirts of Bangkok). I made it to Victory Monument after 4pm, and actually found my van to Hua Hin exceptionally easily; considering the circumstances surrounding tickets purchases, signage, and the sheer chaos that is Victory Monument. All in all, we were finally on the road, headed to Hua Hin and the beach, by five. It took a little less than three hours to finally arrive.

Craziness that is the ticket booths
Craziness that is the ticket booths

When we were about forty-five minutes out we stopped for gas. I decided it would be wise to top up my data at 7-11 so that I could get walking directions to find my hostel, from wherever the van was dropping me off. (This is the process for adding data to a cell phone: you go to the check-out counter at 7-11, tell them your service provider, in my case, AIS, and ask for an amount in Thai baht of data you’d like to purchase. Then, the clerk hands you a receipt upon receiving your cash; on this receipt, an 11-digit number to dial in your phone; when you’re finished, you’ve added data to your plan.)

This thought process of mine definitely proved beneficial, because soon enough my timing and planning worked out perfectly. I could tell we were nearing the city because we drove past and through a tunnel of twinkle lights. At this point in time I turned on my data and grabbed walking directions to my hostel; coincidentally we had just passed it and walking directions put me there in just five minutes. How perfect! I essentially jumped out of the van at a stop light, and within minutes found my hostel and was getting checked in. I absolutely love it when my travel plans play out so smoothly.

My hostel last weekend was absolutely lovely, well worth the 380 baht/night (about $11). I received fabulous customer service, good amenities, and an excellent location too. After I found my room and dropped off my bag, it was still only about 8:30pm. Not feeling ready to turn in for the night I decided to go check out the night market just down the street from my hostel. Less than a five minute walk later, I stopped in at the 7-11, grabbed a beer, and wandered around for the next hour and a half (no open container laws in Thailand!).

The market in Hua Hin had really fair prices, friendly people, good food, and some nice finds. I ended up buying handmade journals for myself and some friends back at home. It was a lovely end to my Friday, so far my spontaneous trip to the beach was turning out perfect! When I had finished walking the aisles, I made my way back to my hostel, got ready for bed, and was eagerly looking forward to the next day. My plans for Saturday were very simple: just me, my kindle, and the beach!

Saturday, 20 August 2016:

What a moment I had on Saturday morning after I woke up. I didn’t get the greatest night’s sleep in my bunk on Friday night, so I woke up before eight. I decided to make my coffee, grab a yoga mat (the hostel provides them to use on the rooftop terrace for guests), and head up to the roof for a little serenity to start my day. I feel extremely blessed to experience moments like these and be in this wonderful place in life.

4th floor roof at Chan-Chala Cafe & Hostel
4th floor roof at Chan-Chala Cafe & Hostel

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I am blessed to have the opportunity to head to the beach on a whim for the weekend. I think more than anything, a change of scenery is exactly what I needed this past weekend. Time alone, on new adventure, exploring another part of Thailand. On Saturday morning things were perfect: the sun was shining, I found myself sitting at a cafe table on a rooftop garden, just minutes from the beach in Hua Hin, cup of coffee in hand, my journal, and time with my thoughts. Saturday was surely going to be a great day.

Morning serenity

As I sat and thought about how this trip wasn’t planned at all, it appeared that it may end up turning out to be one of the best weekends to date. If only for what I would have been doing had I stayed at home in Ayutthaya instead. But thanks to spontaneity, I was able to think about how life is unfolding for me right now on a Saturday morning in pure bliss. I can do nothing but smile as I write this. Each weekend trip I take, I find myself living out an extraordinary adventure, I am happy and healthy, I am blessed, grateful, and humble beyond words.

J.D. Salinger said it best in The Catcher and the Rye, “It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean, how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.” I absolutely love this quote. It proves that letting life unfold in front of one’s self is the perfect way to go. Forgot the planning, the notes, the meticulous details; just go out, have adventures, explore, and live life to the fullest. Just BE.

Sunday, 21 August 2016:

I had an awesome day on Saturday, and if the previous day and a half were any sort of forecast as to how my day on Sunday would unfold, I knew that it was going to be a great day too. At 9:15 Sunday morning, I was getting picked up at my hostel to go spend the day at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, before heading home to Ayutthaya Sunday evening. I was beyond excited for this experience, as I finally was living out my dream of the chance to meet, feed, walk, bathe, and fall in love with my elephant friends later in the day. But first, a re-cap of how I spent the rest of my day on Saturday.

Beautiful beach view in Hua Hin
Beautiful beach view in Hua Hin

After I had a nice morning up on the roof, drinking coffee, journaling, and a little yoga, I went downstairs, made myself some toast for breakfast, and then took a shower and got ready for the day ahead at the beach. First I needed to get cash though, in order to book my ticket to WFFT with my hostel. When that was all taken care of I headed down to the beach.

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I really am quite pleased with the hostel I ended up at last weekend. Not only is it a five-minute walk to the night market, but it only took me about ten minutes, maybe less, to walk to the beach on Saturday morning too.

When I got there, Hua Hin far surpassed my expectations, the beach is absolutely breathtaking! Way better than what I had on Ko Samet, and miles beyond when comparing it to the beach in Pattaya. This past weekend, as I predicted, really was turning out to be awesome, and one of my favorite weekend trips overall in Thailand. It’s a combination of everything: the beach, my hostel, the people, the spontaneity behind it all. By Sunday morning, I was having an absolutely wonderful time in Hua Hin, and the weekend wasn’t even finished yet.

When I arrived at the beach on Saturday morning I was taken aback by the white sand, cleanliness, and aquamarine water. Immensely more beautiful than Pattaya, I could totally envision spending my entire Saturday here relaxing and swimming on the beach. As it was still relatively early on Saturday morning by the time I had arrived, around 10:15am, I decided I would start my day with a stroll along the beach. I did end up having a lovely walk, but three and a half hours and nearly ten miles later, I had sufficiently overdone myself and was incredibly exhausted by the time I was finally done!

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I didn’t originally set out to walk ten miles on Saturday morning in the 90+ degree heat, but when the end of the beach had this beautiful hilltop temple and standing golden Buddha, my determination set in that I would walk to the end to check both of these structures out up close. Well if there’s one thing I am to a fault, it is determined; the moment I say I’m going to do something, I can’t stop or give up for fear of failure (imposed only upon myself, I might add…still haven’t quite overcome this quirk yet, but I’m working on it…). So ultimately, what this attitude led me to was a lovely, leisurely walk there, but a very tired, and just-want-this-to-end attitude on the way back.

When I was finally done walking I basically collapsed at a beach-front restaurant, I ordered a water, a beer, and french fries (in the end, these turned out to be mediocre, semi-soggy, flash-fried potatoes, but I really didn’t care at this point in time), while I tried to get my legs to relax. For some reason, on Saturday, the icing on the cake that was my nearly ten mile walk was that my RLS was acting up too, and my legs were aching the entire way there and back. This turned out to be one of the toughest parts about the whole walk, even more intense than the sun and heat, the fact that my legs were hurting as much as they were.

By the time I had finished my snack, I paid, got up from my lounge chair (as it was under an umbrella in the shade and I wanted to spend the rest of my afternoon lying on the sand in the sun), and found a bit of beach to set up camp for a little while longer. I quickly undressed and ran into the ocean as fast as I could. I had been waiting for this moment for nearly three hours, since my “leisurely” beach walk began. Fortunately, the water finally offered my sore legs a bit of a reprieve.

I ended up staying at the beach on Saturday afternoon for a little more than two hours after my walk. Then on my way back to my hostel, I stopped for an early dinner at an Italian restaurant and enjoyed a pizza that had far too much cheese on it for my taste, but still satisfied my dinner cravings somewhat. When I returned to my hostel I knew that I’d need a few hours to relax and rest from spending all day in the sun, so I watched a couple of episodes of The Good Wife in the comfort of the air-conditioner from my top bunk in my room.

By Saturday night, despite not being too hungry from my early dinner, I decided to head to the night market once more. I ended up spending the rest of my cash, a new tank for me, and a couple of other souvenirs for family and friends back at home. About an hour after I arrived, I headed in for the night, again very anxious and excited about the day ahead at WFFT on Sunday. I was very much looking forward to learning a lot, seeing a wildlife conservation center firsthand, and of course meeting all the animals who live there.

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Monday, 22 August 2016:

Well, I’ve reached the end of a long and exhausting day. A day to make all Mondays live in infamy. I had a wonderful weekend, but it made me very tired for work today.

Yesterday I woke up early, packed my bags, and got ready for my exciting day ahead. I was picked up from my hostel in Hua Hin at nine-thirty, we drove for about forty-five minutes to neighboring Cha-Am, where Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand is. Our day was one of the most exciting, hands-on tours I’ve experienced in a long time!

I learned a little bit about what they do at WFFT, and how they diligently work to combat black market animal sales in Thailand. Something I wasn’t very aware of before my visit yesterday, was how much a lucrative business like this is still surviving and thriving in Thailand currently. It was very sad to see and hear about the animals’ sufferings first-hand. My heart definitely opened fully, and I felt deeply for all of the animals who currently live there. It was such a blessing to see first-hand how hard WFFT works to recover, rehabilitate, and provide a safe environment for these animals. My heart melts for them, even now, just thinking about them.

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My day started with an introduction to Ban-Me. I got to meet her and quickly discovered how friendly and comfortable she is around all humans. Many elephants, similar to Ban-Me, are so used to humans based on their past experiences, whether they have been ridden, forced into hard labor, made to do show work with tricks or painting; regardless, all elephants that have been raised and rescued from captivity have gone through a process of elephant torture called the Phajaan.

This term, which literally means “the crush”, refers to the crushing of an elephant’s spirit, in order to get it to behave a certain way in captivity. The crush is a time in a baby elephant’s life when it is taken away from it’s mother. The infant elephant is crushed, meaning “to divorce the baby elephant from it’s spirit, or to split the will of a baby elephant” (ThailandElephants.org). Phajaan is a tradition long-rooted in the endangerment of the Asian elephant species. It was originally designed to make it so that the elephant being crushed, is eventually submissive to humans;

“Young elephants are frequently poached from the wild for the tourist trade…when young wild elephants are poached, the elephant’s family will be killed-which is [also] witnessed by the young elephant.” (www.thailandelephants.org)

The story of Ban-Me, as well as the many others whom I had the extraordinary privilege of meeting, interacting with, walking, bathing, and feeding on Sunday is that of perseverance, strength of will, and the true testament of a beautiful spirit. Elephants who have been rescued from captivity, like Ban-Me, come from similarly harsh and cruel paths, but now lead a life of socialization, safety, and love. I felt incredibly humbled to be in the company of such beautiful creatures, both inside and out, this past Sunday, during my six hours spent at WFFT.

Ban-Me was eager to say hello, she shared many slobbery “kisses” as she accepted each banana offering that I made to her, and she seemed to do it all with a smile a mile wide across her face.

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Something that especially draws me into my fascination (some might call it an obsession…) with these beautiful gentle giants is their eyes. In every encounter I’ve ever had with an elephant, from my childhood days growing up and going to visit the African elephants at the Alaska Zoo; my more recent, yearly trips to the Oregon Zoo, where if you ask anyone who’s ever gone with me, they’ll attest to the fact that I could spend my entire day in the elephant zone just simply watching in awe and wonder; and now this new experience of meeting them up close, at a wildlife rescue center, every single elephant has a sparkle in their eyes when you meet them. They give off a wonderful expression of wisdom and patience. This look in their eyes is a testament to the truth that elephants never forget. They have an incredible sense of will, are able to cope with, and hopefully overcome some of the most brutal forms of animal exploitation and cruelty.

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What I love about elephants, is no matter their pasts, they still retain the ability to love and trust, again and again, despite all odds. We humans could learn a great deal from this sense of compassion of loving will.

Okay, okay, enough preaching…I’m obsessed, I can’t help it.

Back to my experience yesterday. After meeting and feeding Ban-Me, I was very much on ecstasy, overfilled with joy, excitement, love, awe, inspiration, and wonder. Yesterday, one of my lifelong dreams came true. That’s an amazing truth to experience, and for this, again I am grateful beyond words.

When Ban-Me had successfully devoured every last banana in the bucket, my tour moved on to another exciting encounter. From there, I was then introduced to the first group of the some seventy odd pairings of Malaysian Sun Bears and Asian Black Bears, that call WFFT their home. Again, I learned a lot about the cruel realities of black marked animal sales, that are still very much an ongoing problem in Thailand. My guide at WFFT on Sunday, her name is Laura, she’s been working at WFFT for twelve months now. She explained that black market animal sales is currently still a very serious problem in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, due to a lack of education and awareness. If more people knew about these problems, then maybe they’d be more inclined to do something about it.

What I found most appalling is that sun bears and Asian black bears, similar to monkeys, gibbons, orangutans, tigers, iguanas, etc. are actually bought and sold as house pets on the black market. I mean, I don’t mean to oversimplify or sound rude here, but how dumb do you have to be to buy a bear for a pet? It is a freaking bear, after all! Come on! Use your little notion of common sense and put the parts of the equation together: cute bear cubs, plus time, growth and maturity, equates to large, strong, sharp teeth, long claws, a literal BEAR. We’re not talking about some big breed of dog that merely resembles a bear; we’re talking about a real, live in-the-flesh BEAR! Not an animal that time has EVER proven it successful to domesticate…

All joking aside, I’m sorry if I’ve offended anybody but come on…a bear as a pet? That’s just stupid. The only people who honestly should take offense to my tone, are people who’ve purchased, or at least attempted to purchase at some time, a bear as a pet in their recent pasts. And considering the fact that to my knowledge, I have met no such people, I’m hoping to not have offended anybody here with my rather flippant and under-approving tone.

But in reality, aside from any sarcasm or jokes, what I was left feeling when I met the bears at WFFT, including Pepsi, Cola, and Prayer (they have such cute names) was despair. Many of the bears rescued from black market sales in Thailand have ended up in monasteries. Their former “owners” get a glimpse of sense and realize that they cannot realistically care for a BEAR as a pet. So they decide to drop it off at a temple; and care for this wild animal thus falls into the hands of the monks living at the monastery.

This situation is highly problematic though. Buddhist Monks who live at a temple survive solely on donations they receive from the public each day. In the mornings they go out with a basket and walk around town collecting donations, which are then used to buy necessities for the monks living at the temple, including food and nourishment. I can’t say with actual concrete facts to back my theory up, but what I believe to be true is there can’t really be a whole lot of spare change lying around at the end of the day at a temple to feed a bear. Thus, these wild animals are given all the wrong things to eat, like rice, sugary snacks, and even pepsi cola drinks. To top it off, they have rotting teeth from the sugar-heavy diet and no way to burn off any calories as they are usually kept in very small enclosures. This is not the sort of life that any living creature deservers.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to place blame here on the monks at the temples either. I merely believe that it would be better if, instead of agreeing to keep the animal that is dropped off on their doorstep, they should rather reach out to contact a wildlife rescue or conservation center first, as an alternate course of action. But here again, is where my guide at WFFT, Laura, argued that the problem boils down to an alarmingly low level, or lack there of, education.

In addition to the elephants and bears, on Sunday I also saw: monkeys, gibbons, two orangutans (which is quite ironic in that they are not a native species to Thailand…so how did they end being rescued from captivity here in the first place?), iguanas, otters, birds, slow loris, deer, wild boar, potbelly pigs, some chickens, the sweetest pack of former street dogs, and even a crocodile. It was a magnificent day, surrounded by mother nature’s beautiful creatures.

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Nom nom nom...
Nom nom nom…

I had an amazing, life-fulfilling experience, feeding, walking, and then bathing elephants. It was, as I already said, a dream come true! I may have already been in love with them prior, but now my obsession has been catapulted to a whole new level of extreme. But the best part of my day, honestly, wasn’t just with my giant, kindred-spirited friends. Rather what I loved most about Sunday was all the knowledge I gained from a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience! Yes, I had to pay money to go visit WFFT. However, it is not a zoo, in the sense that their doors remain open to the public at free will. Instead, you sing up for a half or whole day tour (I chose the full day because it included the afternoon with the elephants, DUH!) and in return you’re given a personalized tour around the entire facility. The staff who work there are extremely knowledgeable, and all share one common goal in mind, and that is to protect and fight for the rights of animals who are abused and exploited in captivity. I would recommend this experience to anyone who finds themselves in Thailand someday. I am a better person for having had such an unforgettable and humbling experience.

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