Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel

Hua Hin

Hua Hin was the second place on our itinerary around Thailand. We travelled from Kanchanaburi by train with a connection at Nakhon Pathom, where we saw Phra Pathom Chedi, the tallest chedi in the world at 120 metres.

Getting to Hua Hin
Phra Pathom Chedi

We pulled into Hua Hin’s historic train station at around 2pm. The station is one of the oldest in Thailand and it features a royal waiting room that used to welcome the King for visits to his summer Palace. The main station building is in Victorian style and dates back to the 1920’s when the resort became fashionable.

Train Station
Hua Hin Railway Station

We had intended to use a public songtaew (a converted pick-up truck) to get to our guesthouse but we couldn’t find any information about where they departed. Fortunately there were plenty of tuk-tuk drivers vying for custom so it wasn’t hard to negotiate a good price.

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Travelling by Tuk-Tuk

Baan Talay 51 Guesthouse

We had booked two family double rooms at Baan Talay 51 guesthouse for a very reasonable price. The room had one single bed and one double with a private bathroom. Towels, toiletries and a hairdryer were included in the room rate. There was also a kettle, tea and coffee, a tv and air conditioning. My only criticism about the room would be that the beds were very firm even for Thailand standards.

It was the swimming pool and quaint garden area that made this place truly great. The swimming pool is not very deep but this can be an advantage if you have young children.

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Pool and Garden Area

Wat Khao Takiap (Monkey Mountain)

We arranged for a tuk tuk to take us up to the temple on Khao Takiap Mountain as it was too hot and humid to walk all the way. At the base of the temple there are a few shops selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs.

It’s entertaining to sit here for a while and watch the monkeys clambering over the roof tops avoiding being sling shot by the vendors. We were also joined by dogs, cats and a cockerel!

Monkey
No Monkey Business Here

It only took us around 10 minutes to walk up the steps to the top. Along the way there were lots of monkeys but they didn’t bother us at all. It’s best not to have any food that is visible to the monkeys as they are prone to stealing it from you. Arriving at the top awarded us with beautiful panoramic views of the area.

Hua Hin Night Market

We decided to walk to the night market in the centre of Hua Hin, although crossing the busy roads to get there was challenging. The night market had a huge range of stalls selling homewares, clothing, souvenirs, food and beverages. It was quite lively and a very popular place for tourists.

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Hua Hin Night Market

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT)

One of the big draw cards for visiting Thailand is the unique opportunity to get up close and personal to their national animal, the elephant. Everywhere you go there are elephant images, they appear on posters, postcards and even on the Chang beer bottles. Chang is actually the Thai word for elephant so even their beer is named after this majesty creature.

Sadly though tourism has led to the destruction of their habitat and even worse the mistreatment of these iconic animals for financial gain.

I wanted my family to have the experience of seeing elephants but strictly at a genuine, humane sanctuary where elephants are not mistreated. After a substantial amount of research on the internet I found Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. WFFT is located around 40 minutes from Hua Hin and this was a major reason for our decision to stay in the city. Click here to read my full article about Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

Restaurants

We were only in Hua Hin for two full days so it wasn’t much time to discover the culinary delights of this region. We found a few local restaurants within walking distance of our guesthouse that offered tasty affordable meals.

Drink
Thailand’s Known for Exotic Drinks

Hua Hin is a popular resort and many of the restaurants along the sea front are upper market and expensive. The area prominently focuses on seafood from its heritage of being an ‘old fishing village’.

Did Hua Hin Meet Our Expectations?

Originally we had planned to stay in Hua Hin for five full days as it appeared there were plenty of things to do. Upon further reading we decided to break the stay into two sections and book seperate accommodation in Sam Roi Yot instead of visiting the National Park in a day trip.

I am very pleased that we didn’t stay longer than two full days in Hua Hin. Maybe my expectations were a little unrealistic as I knew that it was not renown for having tranquil beaches. What I didn’t expect was an urban jungle of high rise buildings and polluted congestion in the centre. Luckily our guesthouse was a peaceful oasis to return to at the end of each day.

The highlight of staying in Hua Hin was the full day excursion to Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand but in hindsight they offer transfers from other less developed places.

Where to next……

A short hop found us in Sam Roi Yot National Park.

Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Kanchanaburi

Way back in 1998 Thailand was my introduction to South East Asia and it was love at first sight. I was travelling with three friends and we planned to visit Kanchanaburi, however for one reason and another it didn’t happen. Subsequently in 2001 when I solo backpacked around South East Asia intending to make Kanchanaburi a priority it still didn’t eventuate. Fast forward to December 2019 and a holiday with my husband, two children, my 81 year old Dad and Kanchanaburi was the first destination on our six week itinerary,

It felt like the universe was telling me it was not meant to be with our airline deciding to strike on the very day we were flying to Thailand. This meant a possible delay in our arrival, hence pushing our itinerary days forward. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on Kanchanaburi again. So quick action was taken and we arranged to fly a few days early, hallelujah, my dream was back on track.

Getting to Kanchanaburi

Having the time we opted to take the 3rd class train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and experience the historic ride along what has become known as the Death Railway. There are two trains a day from Thornburi Station, one at 7.50am (a good option if you are visiting on a day trip) and the later one at 1.55pm.

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The best way to get to the station is to take a river boat to Thornburi Station Pier no.11. From here it is about a twelve minute walk past the Siriraj Hospital. My Dad had travelled from Thornburi station in 2002 and we expecting a large station building so it took us some time to find the current station. The original train station building was sold to Siriraj Hospital in 2003 and a new train terminus was built around 900 metres down the line.

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Alternately a taxi ride from Khao San Road should take around 20 minutes and 40 minutes from the City Centre. It is important to negotiate a price if the driver refuses to use the meter.

The station is very small with only one platform, public toilets and a ticket office. All tickets are 3rd class and cost 100 Baht per person for both Kanchanaburi and Nam Tok. Despite being 3rd class the train was surprising comfortable with padded seats, although we realised some carriages do have wooden seats. The journey took us around two and a half hours and when we arrived I was beyond excited to explore this beautiful town.

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My children enjoying Thai train travel

Siam Guesthouse – A little Oasis

Our accommodation at Siam Guesthouse was an easy 10 minute walk from the station situated at the end of a very quiet street but merely a few minutes walk from numerous bars and restaurants. Our booking included a family room (consisting of two interconnecting rooms and two bathrooms) and a twin room for my Dad. All rooms were spotlessly clean and provided a large fridge, air conditioning, towels, toiletries and other amenities such as toothbrushes and combs. The only amenity not provided was a kettle, although there is free tea, coffee and hot chocolate available all day in the communal kitchen area.

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Communal Kitchen Area
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Bedroom

The owners, Nueng and his family continually went above and beyond to make our stay memorable and their generosity was genuinely heartfelt. The real gem at Siam Guesthouse is their beautiful lush garden and courtyard. After a tiring day sightseeing in the heat we loved sitting in the shady garden enjoying a few cold refreshments.

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Things to See in and Around Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is well-known for its dark cruel history where thousands of prisoner of wars lost their lives during World War II building a railway from Thailand to Burma under Japanese brutality. It is also a place of exquisite natural beauty, rural and located on the confluence of Rivers Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai. It is worth taking your time to appreciate Kanchanaburi’s history and beauty.

The Bridge over River Kwai

A quick internet search ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ will soon render results of the 1957 movie with the same title directed by David Lean. Whilst being hailed an epic war movie at the time of its release the sad reality is that the six academy award winner doesn’t even come close to the truth. I guess the gruesome reality of events that occurred in Kanchanaburi would not fit your traditional Hollywood blockbuster. You can read further details on the history of the bridge in this great article written by Barry Fox for the New Scientist.

The Bridge really is the iconic image of Kanchanaburi and it is definitely worth spending the time to walk across the structure. We visited in the morning and it was very quiet and at times we had the bridge all to ourselves.

Located on the south side of the bridge is the Chinese Temple ‘Wihan Phra Phothisat Kuan In’, a great place to sit and admire unobstructed views of the bridge. The temple itself is also worth strolling around to enjoy the beautiful architecture and colourful ornate shrines.

Thai – Burma Railway Museum and War Cemetery

The Thai-Burma Railway Museum was the first place we visited in Kanchanaburi and for good reason. The museum is very well laid out and provides a wealth of information about the prisoner of war’s and the conditions they were exposed to whilst building the railway. In the gallery upstairs there is a 3 metre deep diorama of Hellfire Pass demonstrating how the cutting got its name. The museum charges 150B for adults and 70B for children.

Across the road from the museum is the Don Rak War Cemetery where 6982 prisoner of war graves are laid out amongst neatly manicured lawns.

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JEATH Museum

We hadn’t planned to visit this museum as I had read that the Thai-Burma Railway Museum is more informative and better organised. However, we had a few hours to fill in so we decided to take a look and I am glad we did. Ok so I will admit that the reviews are spot on, this museum is a little run down and there was no real logic to the positioning and relevance of some of the exhibits. Having said that when you’ve only paid 40B per person it is not really a major issue.

JEATH is an acronym for the nations that were primarily involved in the war; Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland.

Not many people realise that there were in actual fact two bridges built in Kanchanaburi by the POWs, the famous steel and concrete one and the less well-known wooden one. The wooden bridge was built several times (due to bombing) 100 metres downstream from the steel bridge. We discovered that within this museum there are remnants of the original wooden bridge despite lonely planet saying nothing remains. Another highlight upon entering this obscure museum was feeding the large fish of which looked like they’d eat your hand given half a chance!

Hellfire Pass (Konyu Cutting)

Konyu Cutting infamously known as Hellfire Pass aptly named because of the glow at night from burning torches were said to resemble scenes from hell. The 600m stretch is a place of great historic significance and has become a memorial to those who worked on the railway. It is one thing to visit the museums in Kanchanaburi and learn about the sickening brutality and cruelty inflicted on innocent POWs but a visit to Konyu Cutting brings it to life in an unfathomable way.

The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail built and maintained by the Australian Government is a located 1½ hours by bus from Kanchanaburi. We caught a local bus (8203) from Kanchanaburi bus station at 8am at a cost of 80Baht each. In hindsight it would have worked out cost effective for us to hire a tuk tuk for the day. It would also have saved us some extra walking as the bus drops you off on the highway and it is around 500 metres to the entrance of the centre.

The Interpretive Centre is an introduction to the atrocities that occurred at Hellfire Pass with narratives of the men involved at Konyu Cutting. The information and digital media is displayed respectfully and with great sensitivity. It is truly heart breaking to discover the extreme mistreatment of fellow human beings. It is difficult to even begin to imagine the suffering these men endured and it is unthinkable how some of them survived the torturous conditions.

The Memorial Walking Trail is linked to the Interpretive Centre by a boardwalk and stairway. The centre provides free audio guides that explain each section of the walk. There are two parts to the walk, the memorial walk and a section that takes you further along the railway line to Hintok Cutting. The memorial walk takes around 30 – 40 minutes including stopping to listen to the audio guide. If you chose to walk further along the trail to Hintok Cutting (around 5km) the centre will equip you with a two way radio for your safety as certain parts are steep, uneven and rocks are prone to falling.

Upon touching the rock along the cutting my heart sank, with every step along the track another tear rolled down my face. I can say with my hand on my heart that I can’t remember any other time where I’d felt so emotionally moved.

Wampho Viaduct

Sadly this trestle bridge is the only one to survive along the Thai – Burma Railway, although originally the bridge was built with bamboo and has now been replaced with wood. The bridge consists of 164 trestles up above the Kwai Noi River and appears to cling to the side of the mountain. Incredible to believe, this section of the railway was considered to be ‘lucky’ as only 4000 men died.

You can get to Wampho Viaduct by taking the train to Tham Kra Sae station and just a few hundred meters down the line brings you to the trestle bridge.

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Strolling along the line to Wampho Viaduct

Walking over the bridge is not for the faint hearted with a fear of heights and you will also need to consider the time of the trains crossing the bridge. The walk beneath the bridge is equally as rewarding as you get to marvel at the engineering prowess of this structure.

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Wampho Viaduct

On the far side of Wampho Viaduct is the Suansaiyot Resort and the Bridge Bistro Cafe, a great place to stop for a refreshment and admire the bridge against the beautiful back drop.

There are two train stations at each end of Wampho Viaduct.

Wamphu Map

We chose to walk back over the bridge so we could ride the train over the viaduct and it was an incredible experience. The train rides so close to the mountain but the best views are on the other side of the carriage. It’s fascinating that such a heavy train can still meander its way over this ‘pack of cards’ bridge. The journey back to Kanchanaburi took around one and a half hours.

Pak Prak Heritage Street

Meaning ‘crossroads’ in Chinese Pak Prak Heritage Street takes you back in time and displays 20 heritage buildings of mixed architectural styles. Each of the significant buildings have signs explaining the construction and architectural details. It also details how the building were used during the Second World War, some of which were occupied by Japanese officers and others by wealthy families who profited from the war.

Pak Prak

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls came as a welcome relief, not just from the emotions of the devastating historic events of Kanchanaburi, but also from the humidity and heat. We had planned to catch a local bus to the falls but as I mentioned previously it was cost effective for us to hire a tuk tuk for the day. For those that catch the bus; it departs from the bus station hourly from 8am to 5pm, costs 45 THB per person and takes around one hour.

The entrance fee does seem expensive especially as the locals pay so much less than tourists but I felt it was worth the money. Firstly, it is a full day out and secondly, it is apparent that the money is used for conservation and keeping the park clean.

The falls are made up of 7 tiers each with a refreshing pool. Food and drink cans are not permitted past tier two to stop the spread of litter and if you take a drink bottle past this point you will need to pay a 20 THB deposit.

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Clear walking tracks to most of the tiers

Is it worth trekking to all seven tiers of the falls? Firstly it depends on your level of fitness. Sections of the path are very steep and the last section doesn’t really consist of a clear track, at times we were climbing over trees and rocks. Having said that my 81 year old Dad managed to get to the top, although he is much fitter than your average pensioner. It is also very slippery in places so it is sensible to wear good walking shoes or sandals. Secondly, consider how much time you have at the falls, it took us almost an hour to reach the top. I had read on several sites that the first two tiers are very busy and as you progress it gets quieter and quieter, so I was expecting to have the seventh tier to ourselves but it wasn’t the case. In hindsight I’d have probably spent more time at tier five where the swimming was equally as good.

Just one word…FISH!!! Not just any fish, fish that nibble on your dead skin. It doesn’t hurt at all, it just tickles. At tier 5 we noticed that there were really big fish in the pool and we were afraid that they’d nibble our skin but thankfully we discovered it’s only the smaller fish that have that fetish.

Overall we had a wonderful day out in what can be described as paradise on earth.

Restaurants

Kanchanaburi has a wide range of places to dine and has the added appeal of many riverside restaurants. The vast majority of restaurants are located along Th Mae Nam Khwae a kind of ‘backpackers’ street although the quality of food varies greatly.

Here’s where we ate:

Zeb Zeb

We ate at Zeb Zeb on our first night in Kanchanaburi due to its close proximity (a 2 minute walk) from our guesthouse. The restaurant has ample seating inside and a few tables outside. The vibe is quite lively although not too raucous that you can’t enjoy your meal. The food was delicious although like most restaurants in Thailand it doesn’t come out to the table all at once. It was so good we ordered extra dishes from the menu.

The Good Times Resort

The Good Times Resort is a great place to enjoy the peace and quiet with a beautiful river view. The dishes we ordered for lunch were large portion sizes but I found my curry wasn’t overly flavoursome. My husband and son however really enjoyed their dishes. Their prices were also higher than many other places in the area.

Keeree Tara

Keeree Tara restaurant is located a few minutes walk north west of the famous bridge. Many people go to the Floating Raft restaurant due to the close proximity to the bridge but we had read mixed reviews about the service, high prices and food. Keeree Tara has equally good views of the bridge and the ambience and garden-like environment are truly charming. The food was so delicious and excellent value for money that we ate here twice.

Blue Rice Restaurant by Apple & Noi

I have to say hands down Blue Rice was my absolute favourite place to eat in Kanchanaburi and we visited twice just to be sure! It is located on the opposite side of the river to the main strip but it is worth the effort to get there. We walked to the restaurant and travelled back in a tuk tuk, yes, 3 adults and 2 children in a single tuk tuk. This restaurant has everything going for it, a perfect view on the river, a lovely owner and friendly staff and last but not least some of the tastiest Thai food we’ve eaten.

On’s Thai Issan

Considering On’s Thai Issan only serves vegetarian food and being a meat eating family we were really pleasantly surprised. It is a very small place and the owner has a cooking station at the front of the restaurant. They don’t serve beer but they happily let you bring pre-purchased drinks from the store next door.

The Balcony

If you find yourself along Pak Prak Heritage Street then you must stop by at The Balcony. The interior is delectably modern with satisfying decor that you’d usually only expect in the western world. Wonder through to the back of the cafe and you find a hidden beer garden. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy a meal here but the snacks and drinks we ordered were amazing . To top it off the owners were super friendly and the prices are very reasonable.

Did it live up to my expectations?

Kanchanaburi offered my family so many beautiful memories with it’s history, culture and overwhelming natural beauty. I can truly say that it far exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t imagine anyone not finding pleasure in this fascinating town. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Kanchanaburi or maybe it is on your must see list.

Where to next….

After five fabulous days exploring Kanchanaburi it was time to move on to our next destination….Hua Hin.

Booking accommodation, Choosing a hotel, Hotel Reviews, Hotels

Finding the Perfect Accommodation

Now that the flights are booked it’s time to look at your accommodation options. After flights this is the next biggest cost of your trip. Your search will primarily depend upon the type of accommodation you wish to stay in. Your first decision is to work out what style of holiday you want; luxury, self-catering, backpacking, business etc. Most people know the type of travel they are going to be doing so the first decision should be fairly straightforward.

Choosing a Location

When I book accommodation for my family I always start by researching information in regards to the location of tourist attractions, accessibility to public transport or parking if we are hiring a car and whether there are facilities such as restaurants / shops in the local area. Sometimes it is cheaper to stay outside of the center and catch public transport. It is also worth checking the cost of public transport to double check that the savings are worthwhile. Also we noted that in Singapore it was always cheaper for our family of four to take a taxi instead of buying four separate metro tickets, crazy hey?! I then go onto Google maps and look at the area noting whether there is an adequate amount of accommodation. Street view also gives you a good indication of the type of area, for example, residential, business, touristy, trendy etc.

Booking Websites

It first appears that there are a myriad of hotel booking sites but in reality two key players own most of them. Priceline Group bought Kayak and they also own Booking.com and Agoda while Expedia Inc own Trivago, Wotif Group, Travelocity, Orbitz and Home and Away. On the other hand Airbnb is a privately owned company that provides a service for people to list their property as a place to stay.

If you are new to booking online it is best to use a comparison booking site such as hotelscombined.com or Trivago.com. Over time you will find your favourite site to use, however it is always beneficial to check for the lowest price (see further down for information about prices) on different sites.

I personally have successfully booked with Booking.com, Expedia.com, Home and Away, Wotif.com as well as booking directly with several accommodation hosts.

Search Criteria

Entering the correct search criteria is crucial as getting it wrong could cost you more money. First enter the name of the place, e.g. Melbourne and then enter your travel dates noting that the second date is the day you check out. Some sites may want a check-in date and then ask for the number of nights instead. It is also important to enter the number of guests including all adults, children and infants. Usually there is a drop down button that allows you to change the search from a double room to other options such as family rooms or multiple rooms. I will also try different search criterion; for example, sometimes it has been cheaper to book two double interconnecting rooms instead of a family room.

Filters

Most of the booking sites have options to filter the results displayed. It is pointless trailing through hundreds of accommodation options if a number of them are not appropriate for your needs. For example, the price is above your budget or there is no car parking available. Think of as many filters that apply to your needs, maybe you need a kitchen to prepare food, you will require baby sitting services or you want to eat breakfast at the hotel. Usually on the left hand side of the page it lists the different options that can be selected or deselected. Set the price to your budget on the slider bar and you will get the best results for your needs.

Coming soon, my article on many other considerations when booking your perfect accommodation.

Check the Reviews

Once you have narrowed down your search to a few choices it is time to do a little detective work to make sure the pictures and information are true to form. For 18 years Tripadvisor has become a useful resource for reviews on all types of accommodation as well as tourist attractions, restaurants and other travel information. The only downside to Tripadvisor is the possibility of astroturfers, the practice of writing false reviews in favour of the accommodation. It is worth reading the reviews on the booking sites as they tend to use reviews from clients who have booked the accommodation through their site. It is also worth noting that some people will complain about everything, for example, a complaint about no lift may not bother you.

Best Price

Ok, so now you have found a few places that meet your requirements and the reviews are fantastic. How do you get the best possible price? As previously mentioned the comparison websites such as Trivago and Hotelscombined are terrific to see which sites offer the lowest cost. It is also worth checking directly with the hotel to see if they can offer a better deal. However this may not give you the best price as detailed in the explanation below from the Choice website, link; (https://www.choice.com.au/travel/accommodation/hotels/buying-guides/hotel-booking) written by Zoya Sheftalovich and Jodi Bird.

An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation found Expedia and booking.com had parity clauses in their contracts with Australian hotels. These clauses bind the hotels to offer the best price and availability to the online travel agencies – the hotels can’t offer better rates on their own site.

Parity clauses aren’t unique to Australian hotels. The booking behemoths have similar clauses in many markets. This explains why in our mystery shop, the prices on the hotel’s own sites were the same as on the online booking engines.

Some competition authorities in Europe are fighting back. And the ACCC reached agreement with Expedia and booking.com to allow accommodation providers to “offer lower rates through telephone bookings and walk-ins, offer special rates and deals to customer loyalty groups, in addition to offering deals via Expedia and booking.com”.

That’s not much use if, like most people, you book online. The contracts still prevent accommodation providers from even marketing or publishing offline rates on their website.

So if you find yourself stonewalled by the same price for a room everywhere online, get on the blower and ask for a price over the phone.

Time to Book

Before you press the book button have a look to see if they offer free cancellation before a certain date or if they offer best price guarantee. Both these options will allow you to back yourself in the event you find a better deal at a later date.

And finally….don’t forget to either save or print your reservation confirmation.

Happy holidays!