Going South? Not Today!

Day 31 – Chumporn  – Friday 1st April 2011

Nic and I were up early, so we went for a walk to check at the Railway Station and TAT office. We thought it was an April Fools prank when they said no trains south for 4-5 days.

Despite the weather improving where we are, there are still large parts of Southern Thailand underwater. Roads and train tracks have been washed away, there are landslides, and buildings are collapsing due to structural damage. The death toll is still rising, and some areas have been entirely cut off to outside communications for days.

Although shocked by this new revelation, we still had plenty of time on our side. We found a brochure in the TAT office, “Chumphon Tourist’s Attraction,” which lists loads of things to see nearby.

We decided to stay put for a few days and explore this area. First on the list is a beach day to make up for the washout Koh Tao trip.

Finally a beach

We got a Songthaew to Hat Thung Wua Laen beach, which was highly recommended in the brochure. The Wikipedia page for Chumporn says this about the beach:

Hat Thung Wua Laen (??????????????) is perhaps Chumphon’s most popular beach. Both native swimmers and experts will enjoy this beach as its fine white sands slope gently into the sea. Sea fans, marine flowers sponges and a tremendous variety of reef fish make the scenery below the surface of the water every bit as spectacular as the beach itself.

 It didn’t disappoint. 25 minutes from our Guesthouse and we were frolicking gayly in the surf of a white sandy beach. The sun was shining, palm trees swaying, and mountains providing a beautiful backdrop to it all.
I Christened the day “Fuck Koh Tao Day.” I love Chumporn.
Note: Chumporn is frequently spelled differently, like many words in Thai, there are no exact English translations. Some versions we saw were Chumporn, Chumphon and Chumpon. There are probably more, but I chose to standardise on the Lomprayah Catamaran spelling, “Chumporn”.

Train to Ninh Binh

Day 21 – Hanoi to Ninh Binh – Tuesday March 22nd 2011

We had a free bread and jam breakfast whilst our Hotel owner booked us a taxi to the Railway Station. We packed our bags and then forced our way through the busy daytime streets to the main road. We found two waiting taxis, but only one had a driver so we chose that one. We are smart travellers.

We loaded our backpacks into the boot and all got in. The driver ignored us and left the ignition off. We showed him a picture of a train on he map, but he wouldn’t get going. For fear of him driving off with our stuff, we opened the boot and unloaded our stuff while Frank went round the corner to get the Hotel owner.

The driver and Hotelier shouted at each other for a few minutes. Then we got the thumbs up. This time, he started the car and we were off. It was only a short ride and cost about a quid.

At the railway station, we couldn’t help think that the title on the ticket desk was a bit misleading. She didn’t seem to want to sell us tickets. We eventually coaxed the tickets out of her, but had a few hours to kill before the train to Ninh Binh was due.

We wanted to lock our backpacks in the lockers, but were told by the attendant that we couldn’t use the lockers. We would have to leave our bags with her behind a desk. We didn’t like the sound of that, so took all our stuff back out to the busy street. We needed to find somewhere to chill out and waste some time. In this part of town this proved easier said than done.

The pavements were again full of motorbikes so we ended up walking along busy roads until we reached a small park and lake. Actually more of a muddy puddle. We sat in the windy park for a while, and then took shelter in a small restaurant. It was a locals only place, but we managed to order some food and drinks. The drinks were fine but the food was awful. The driest piece of chicken I had ever seen, on a bed of raw vegetables. Lovely.

We hadn’t quite wasted enough time yet, and as we wandered around, thought we had hit the jackpot when we saw a KFC! We went in, but it was closed. At lunchtime! Madness. We ended up at another bad restaurant where Nic had some food which was almost as bad as mine.

Train to Ninh Binh

The train was on time and busy. Some people had so much luggage that they must have been moving house. They had bags, boxes, TVs, books, lampshades and anything you could imagine.

We arrived at the tiny Ninh Binh station which had no maps or guides at all. We didn’t have a clue how to find our Hotel. Frank asked in a guesthouse next to the station, and the woman was kind enough to give us a photocopied hand-drawn map of the area. She even marked off our hotel for us.

It was a few minutes walk through town and we could see instantly that this was a much more relaxed place. Apart from the massive main road, the other roads were actually quite safe to walk down, without fear of being run over.


On the way we had children coming up to us and saying hello and old people smiling as we walked past. Much nicer place.

The Ngoc Anh Hotel was exactly where our map said it would be. It was tidy and quite new. The rooms were pretty new and had decent bathrooms.

The staff here were really helpful and were happy to arrange trips too. We booked a trip for tomorrow. We get our own driver in a 4×4 to take us round the nearby national park. It cost $40 USD but between the four of us that’s pretty good going.