Offbeat Southern Thailand: Champuon 2014
Updated: Jan 4
After a very relaxing stay in Prachuap, where we shook off the effects of jet lag (and the now largely forgotten 27 hour door-to-door Windsor to Bangkok marathon), we hopped on a train for a two-hour trip down the coast to Chumphon. The scenery changed as we headed south: palm, banana and palm plantations replaced flat farmland, providing a more tropical vibe. As we passed through the Thai isthmus at its narrowest point, less then 12 miles from The Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea, we were taken by looming mountains to the west as we gazed upon Myanmar (though we prefer the more exotic sounding Burma, reminiscent of lost empires and Rudyard Kipling). The train was crowded with dour westerners, doubtlessly headed to one of the big three islands: Tao, Samui and Phangan. Ah yes… welcome to high season in one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth. Despite unrest in Bangkok—or maybe because of it—the hordes on the move in record numbers that year, as we would discover when we eventually reached the Andaman Sea. We were the only farangs (foreigners) to disembark at Chumphon—apparently not a hot tourist stop but potentially for great street food and a flash, inexpensive hotel. At the station we were met by a small tribe of taxi drivers: a motorcycle with side carriage. As we weren't exactly sure the exact distance to the hotel we were at the mercy of their inflated farang rates. But who can really complain as for only $3 we were swiftly deposited at the trés chic, modern A-Te Hotel, set back from the road at the end of a small lane. One of the easy ways to book hotel space throughout SE Asia is via the friendly website Agoda.com. It is our favoured tool, replete with fairly accurate descriptions, photos, special rates, and best of all—guest comments, which serve as truth in advertising. Only guests who have booked, paid and stayed through Agoda can comment, much like eBay’s review model. Lessons in Online Booking
We settled on A-Te for its pool, the hefty breakfast-included, and large clean rooms. Upon check-in we were concerned our booking only included one breakfast and we would need to pay for the extra person (read the damn fine print-lol). Complaining to the manager who told us we'd have to pay an extra $15 a night for the room. Turns out this particular Agoda listing on A-Te defaults to one guest - most unusual - as the norm for listings is to include 2 guests.
So it goes… After a bit of back and forth, I pulled out the honeymoon card and showed it to the manager; she acquiesced by upgrading us to a huge poolside room, as we agreed to buck up extra baht. I also used the "Win-Win" card favoured by my buddy Jack Renner, when dealing with service staff (I want to turn this into a 'Win-Win' situation for both of us); it’s a great technique for negotiating without being pushy, which should always be the last resort (so to speak), esp. with Thais who avoid conflict and losing face.
Our spotless upgraded room featured sliding glass doors with private patio and loungers, three feet from a huge, refreshing pool. It was an ideal retreat from the noise and heat of the tropics.
Two days in Chumphon floated by as we hung out at the pool. Chumpon’s eponymous Phad Thai street neatly morphs into a night market, in this case, ‘street food’. The first night, we sampled a cornucopia of treats: spicy Thai noodles, spring rolls, satays, fiery salads, velvety curries—on on it went. Incredibly cheap as well— $7 for two, including fresh fruit smoothies and those succulent round coconut desserts that are highly addictive.
A fair-sized fresh morning market was on the street right outside our hotel and here the nightly food treats were even more amazing and crazy cheap—less than $5 for dinner for 2! Other food highlights include a posh restaurant, where we dined on the most faboo meal of our trip thus far. In a country of gravity-defying curries, this one stood head and shoulders above the rest. Brimming with fresh crab, shrimp and fish, a symphony of hot, sour, spicy and sweet enchanted our taste buds. (And of course we mustn’t forget the entertainment: Karaoke — Thai style.)
Chumphon: a friendly community close to the coast (we never did bother to see the beaches as we can be very lazy travellers). Our one excursion featured a walk to the huge wet market, where we discovered a chaotic display of fresh fruit, vegetables, an assortment of seafood, and a meat market that could easily make vegetarians out of many carnivores!
We knew there was a river somewhere in the vicinity and sure enough, after departing the market and wandering along, and there it was. We followed a pleasant, two-toned paved path along its banks, only to behold ugly cement structures—most covered with black mould from the heat and humidity — a stark contrast to traditional wooden stilt houses perched gracefully over the water.
After two nights in this quiet town, we set out more for our next stop: Ranong, across the peninsula to the Andaman Coast at the Burmese border.