Hotel Reviews, Thailand, Travel

Sam Roi Yot National Park

No matter how prepared you are, travel doesn’t always go to plan, sometimes you end up travelling in the wrong direction! Well that’s exactly what happened to us and it just happened to be on the shortest leg of our trip, how embarrassing.

We were travelling from Hua Hin to Sam Roi Yot, a journey that should take around 45 minutes. It was convenient that there was a mini van station right next door to our guesthouse (Baan Talay 51) or so we thought.

Tickets purchased and a few moments later we were stuffed into a minivan like sardines, bags and all. No more than 10 minutes into the journey it hit me….we were going the wrong way. It transpired we had bought a ticket to Phetchaburi and we were meant to be going to Pranburi. Being at the back of the van involved every single person having to hop off to let us alight but to their credit nobody seemed to mind.

After a few minutes confusion we found someone who was willing to take us in his songtaew all the way to our guesthouse in Sam Roi Yot.

Songthaew

Beach Box @ Pran

We had originally booked three nights at the Oriental Pearl Resort as we wanted to splurge and pamper ourselves for the Christmas period. On the surface the resort appeared to offer a taste of luxury with spa baths, a large swimming pool and a poolside bar. Upon further investigation reviews on the internet expressed that the property was in need of maintenance, the private spa baths were dirty and many didn’t work at all and it was a fair distance from the beach. We are not fussy people when it comes to accommodation but we do like to get value for our money. I cannot comment personally on the state of the resort and it would be grossly unfair if I did as we didn’t experience the place for ourselves. We stumbled across exceptional reviews on accommodation called Beach Box Pran and our stay there backed them all up.

The hosts Mo and Maem made our stay exceptional and memorable, always going well beyond our expectations. Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted with a delicious refreshment. We had booked two rooms, a deluxe family suite and a superior twin room. Both rooms were impeccably clean and had all the amenities you could possibly need including robes and slippers. An unexpected surprise was the roof in the bathroom retracted so you could shower under the sky or stars at night.

Beach Box Bathroom
Spacious Bathroom
Beach Box Room
Modern Family Suite

It’s clear to see why Beach Box Pran gets such wonderful reviews. The grounds are beautiful and include a huge swimming pool with well maintained gardens. They also provide free use of bicycles and kayaks and if you are staying for a few days they will give you a free transfer to Phraya Nakhon Cave, a place not to be missed. Breakfast is included in the rate and they offer a wide selection as well as an egg station.

The location tops off this exceptional choice in accommodation being 100 metres from the beach and within a couple minutes walk of amazing restaurants. If you find yourself in Sam Roi Yot do yourself a tremendous favour and stay here.

Things to See and Do around Sam Roi Yot

It is clear to see why Sam Roi Yot means ‘three hundred mountain peaks’. The limestone cliffs surround you and create a stunning backdrop to this stunning coastline. Many people chose to visit Sam Roi Yot as a day trip from Hua Hin, however, if you have the time I believe it is worth spending a few days here to enjoy everything this place has to offer.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

Phraya Nakhon Cave is located within Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and is without a doubt the biggest draw card for the area. It is possible to visit the cave as a day trip from Hua Hin, however, if you want to spend more time at this remarkable site then it is advisable to stay locally.

There are differing opinions on how the cave was discovered. Some believe a local ruler Nakhon Srithammaraja discovered it 200 years ago when he was forced to take refuge from a storm although many historians think a nobleman named Nakhon stumbled across it in the 17th century. Nevertheless, it is a truly majestic place to visit.

In 1890 a small pavilion was constructed in Bangkok and assembled inside the cave to commemorate the visit of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Every morning at around 10am the morning sunlight floods the cave and radiates the pavilion. In later years it was visited by King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).

What you need to know before you visit:

Now you are familiar with the history of the cave it is advisable to know what is involved when visiting Phraya Nakhon Cave.

You will read several accounts from people who have trekked to the cave and most will agree that it is not an easy walk. As a family we walk regularly and as a whole are reasonably fit, however, this was a tough trek. Having said that my 81 year Dad managed to get to the top, although he admitted that it was almost ‘broke’ him. Adding to the element of difficulty is the extreme humidity, expect to sweat bucket loads!

Sam Roi Yot Map
Map of Sam Roi Yot National Park

You will be dropped off at the village of Bang Pu where you need to pay the entrance fee of 200 Baht per person to enter the National Park. From here you have two options to access the beginning of the walk, on foot or by boat. The walk will take you around 45 minutes and it relatively easy but bear in mind that the next stage is incredibly challenging so it’s best to save your energy and take a boat. The boat costs 200 Baht per boat not per person as I believed, hence why we walked.

Walk to Temple Gramps
The walk before the hard part!
View - walk to Temple
Rewarded with beautiful views

Signage leads you a few hundred meters from the beach to the start of the walk. Make sure you carry plenty of water and wear sunscreen. There is a rustic restaurant and toilets available before you start your ascent.

Sign walk to temple
Good to know!
Beach before temple walk
The beach area just before the uphill climb

Take your time, stop often to catch your breath and enjoy the remarkable reward once you reach the pavilion. It really is worth the effort and believe it or not the pavilion is more beautiful in real life than in the pictures on the internet.

Beaches and the Local Scenery

To be honest the beaches at Sam Roi Yot do not even compare to the paradise of the beaches located on the Southern Islands of Thailand. Having said that they are still beautiful in their own way and offer a much less crowded experience. The long stretch of sandy beach at Ban Phu Noi (Dolphin Bay) offers a safe swimming environment for children and is a great place take out a kayak in the calm waters.

Kayaking

The roads are very quiet and the area is relatively flat making for an easy exploration by bike and within a few minutes you are cycling in remote countryside.

Bike Ride beach
You get the beach all to yourself

Bike ride

Restaurants

Surprisingly for a such a small resort there are a variety of excellent restaurants, the majority of which are situated along the beach front. One great place was Phen Thai, a family run restaurant situated right next door to our resort and we had been given discount vouchers to top it off. They offer a traditional Thai menu and an extensive drinks list, you can chose to sit in the restaurant area or across the road on the beach. The food was delicious and very fresh, just don’t expect the food to come out all at the same time (this is typical of most Thai restaurants!).

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Phen Thai Restaurant

We then discovered Blue Beach Restaurant, tucked away in a tropical surrounding just a couple of minutes walk from our resort. The atmosphere was fantastic and both nights we visited we saw the same people as the previous night! Once you discover this gem of a place it’s hard to go anywhere else. The food was amazing, we tried a variety of dishes and they were all exceptional and the drinks were very good value.

Did Sam Roi Yot Meet our Expectations?

Sam Roi Yot not only met our expectations but the place went above and beyond and exceeded them. If you are looking for a quiet resort, away from tourist crowds and loud music then this is the place to visit. We could easily have stayed longer and explored the area further if we’d had more time. A stay in Sam Roi Yot will definitely be on our list again so we can discover the many walks and places of interest we didn’t have time to visit on this trip.

Where to next….

A four hour minivan trip and we were ready to explore the delights of Bangkok.

Australia, Camping, Travel

Dadswells Bridge and The Grampians National Park

It has been seven years since we last camped in the Grampians region and we decided it was time to rediscover this wonderful ancient landscape. The Grampians is located 260kms west of Melbourne and 460kms east of Adelaide making it an ideal stopping point between the two major cities. Previously we stayed at Halls Gap however this time we chose to stay to the north of the National Park at Dadswells Bridge, known for the ‘Giant Koala’.

Grampians Edge Caravan Park

We stayed on a powered site at Grampians Edge Caravan Park for five nights. We were staying over the New Years period, a busy time and despite the powered sites being fully booked it did not feel overcrowded. The layout is well designed with an immaculate amenities block located in the centre of the park surrounded by the powered sites. Beyond the powered sites there is ample space for unpowered camping and these have the added bonus of offering stunning views of the Grampians National Park in a bush like setting. Other accommodation options include onsite caravans and cabins. Facilities include an outdoor pool, indoor and an outdoor camp kitchen and a games room. The owners Steve and Jen are so welcoming and go above and beyond to make your stay perfect. They have not owned the park for long and it is evident that they are working hard to improve the facilities and the overall look of the park. I would highly recommend staying here for that extra special experience. For more details and contact information visit their website here.

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Dadswells Bridge is located along the Western Highway in the Wimmera region only 37kms south east of Horsham and 30kms north west of Stawell. It is a great base to explore the northern region of the National Park including Mount Difficult, Mount Zero, Beehive Falls and Gulgurn Manja Shelter. A slightly longer drive of around 40 minutes gets you to MacKenzies Falls one of the biggest draw cards in the National Park.

Beehive Falls

One of our great pleasures as a family is to go for beautiful walks in the natural environment. Beehive Falls is a gentle undulating walk of 2.8km return along a well maintained track that begins from the roadside car park at Rose’s Gap. Towards the latter part of the walk you cross a wooden bridge onto a series of large rocks that need to be stepped on and over to reach the small waterhole at the base of the waterfall. We sat for sometime listening to the trickle of the water passing over the rocky outcrop. We had the place to ourselves and it was blissfully peaceful (well apart from our chatty ten year old!). The entire walk took us around 1 hour to complete and it was at a leisurely pace. I recommend taking a water bottle, wearing a hat and applying sunscreen in the warmer weather as there’s not much shade along the track.

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Mount Zero

We chose to have our lunch at the Mount Zero picnic area where there are several tables in the shade and a drop toilet. The picnic ground is the starting point for the Mount Zero walk as well as the longer walk to the summit of Mount Stapylton. Whilst we were enjoying our lunch we saw several rock climber enthusiasts set off as this is a popular area for climbing. Feeling rather less adventurous we decided to trek up to the summit of Mount Zero, a 2.8km return walk. The walk is graded as medium with an elevation of 150 meters and takes approximately 1 hour to complete. The weather had turned up a notch and in the sun it was around 33 degrees. The first section of the walk gently slopes upwards on a well compacted path offering next to no shade. Shortly along the way there is a section of sand on the track before coming to a series of wide steps. Unbeknown to us this was the easy section of the walk as the remainder was quite steep and at times you had to scramble and climb up large rocks. Despite the energetic level required the reward at the summit was worth every heavy breath. The vista offers views to Mt Stapylton and the Wimmera Plains. Although we endured the heat on this walk I would not advise doing it on a hot day as the rocks get very hot and there is no shade to take a respite. It is also worth noting that there is not a hand rail towards the end as advertised on many websites.

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Heatherlie Quarry Walk

This is a gem of a place to visit offering an insight into the workings of the stone quarry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Surprisingly this significant place is not well advertised in brochures and doesn’t even appear on the tourist maps. It is located about 9kms south of Rose’s Gap along Mt Zero Road. The walk is 2.4km return along Heatherlie Track and is graded easy.

About ten minutes into the walk we stopped to read the detailed information board. It also displays a map of the walk highlighting key features including machinery, the powder magazine, power plant, rail tracks and three stone cottages.

We found the quarry fascinating and enjoyed reading the information boards at each feature. The stone quarried here has been used for prominent buildings such as Victoria’s Parliament House, Stawell’s Court House and Town Hall. We spent about 2 hours absorbing the historic and natural elements and we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. For more information about this incredible historic site click here.

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Boroka Lookout

Boroka Lookout is located along Mount Difficult Road 15km from Halls Gap. If you are limited on time then I would recommend visiting this viewing platform as it arguably offers some of the best views in the National Park. It is only a short stroll to two platforms that overlook Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield. Although we had visited this lookout on our previous trip it did not disappoint, the panoramic scenery of this ancient land is breathtaking.

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Zumsteins Historic Walk

Zumsteins is a historic site, it was developed by Walter Zumstein and his Scottish wife Jean as a holiday retreat. During the 1930s the couple built three pisé cottages, a tennis court and hand dug a swimming pool. Water for the swimming pool was sourced from the nearby MacKenzie River. The short walk of 250m return tells the story of this development.

It is certainly worth the 20km drive from Halls Gap to experience the atmosphere of a bygone era. There is also a picnic area with well maintained toilets. We also enjoyed dipping our feet into the MacKenzie River from the timber board walk. A lovely treat for our weary feet on a hot day.

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Giant Koala

Funnily enough we had driven past this big structure numerous times before we decided to actually stop and see it properly. It is situated on the Western Highway midway between Stawell and Horsham at Dadswells Bridge. As one of Australia’s iconic ‘big things’ it has touristy attractions such as a petting zoo, a souvenir shop, a cafe and a motel next door. I cannot comment on the petting zoo as we chose not to partake in this attraction.

The Koala made of bronze on a steel frame is 14m high and weighs 12 tonnes. If you are passing by or you are a fanatic of these larger than life sculptures then it is worth the visit.

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A Day in Horsham

Our daughter, a keen admirer of art, celebrated her 14th birthday whilst we were in the Grampians so we decided to spend her special day in Horsham. I had read about the Art Trail around Horsham and the town’s Regional Art Gallery so it seemed the ideal spot to spend the day. Horsham is located in the Wimmera district 300km northwest of Melbourne. It took us 25 minutes to drive to the centre of Horsham from Dadswells Bridge.

We popped into the information centre to pick up the brochure that had a map and explanations of each stop along the walk. We were blown away by many of the exhibits and they are all accessible for free along this easy walk. There are two sections to the walk, one along the river and the other around the CBD. One piece of artwork that stood out for us was the Bradbury Lane Mural, created by youth groups under the guidance of Nichola Clarke. It’s so apparent that Horsham embraces the creativity of its community, there was even a public piano along the walk where people were encouraged to play.

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After a relaxing picnic along the Wimmera River we visited the Regional Art Gallery. Whilst being a small gallery, there is a significant national collection of photography and interesting regional artworks. For more information and current exhibitions click here.

Horsham Botanic Gardens was our final stop before heading back to Dadswells Bridge. The gardens were designed in the 1870s by William Guilfoyle and it is certainly worth spending at least an hour here.

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Wineries

There aren’t many holidays where we don’t visit at least one winery. We are so lucky here in Australia to have such a diverse range of wineries in different regions. The wine of this region is consistent and full bodied due to the all year round good weather and the good terroir. It is well known for it’s Shiraz and Reisling but also produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We chose just two wineries, Best’s Wines and Seppelt Wines. Best’s Wines has been owned by two families since 1866, the Best family who started the winery and more recently the Thomson family. The winery has a rustic, pure country feel right from the start and it is not difficult to visualise the history of this place. The historic building in which we tasted the wines has a hand dug cellar that dates back to the 1860s. We couldn’t resist exploring the cellar that was free to enter. Seppelt Wines had a completely different atmosphere and appeared on the surface very modern in contrast. In reality Seppelt is steeped with history and is well known for their heritage listed underground cellars. The cellars known as ‘The Drives’ runs for three kilometres making them the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. You are able to take a guided tour of the underground cellar at a cost. Unfortunately we arrived after the last tour was conducted so we just sampled the wines.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our 2nd visit to this picturesque ancient land of the Grampians National Park. We didn’t get a chance to see some of the aboriginal art work on this trip so that will have to wait until our next visit. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another seven years!