After the short and quick minivan ride to Hua Hin from Bangkok, I arrived in Hua Hin and set straight for Dtor and Peter’s shop, The Family Tree (this place is so amazing it deserves it’s own blog! Next!!). The only problem was I didn’t know exactly where it was, so it gave me a chance to sit in ‘The Shed‘ guest house bar and order another shake, and check out the directions on my iPhone.
It was on a parrallel road, I’d just gone one road up, so I knew where to go and texted Peter that I’d arrived in town. I had the wrong number of course, didn’t add the +66 in front, so some poor so and so has got a text saying “The driver reckons we’ll be there for 2:30” ha!
Hua Hin is a beautiful place, full of ex-pats and English speakers, it’s the type of place – near the beach – that people come for a two week holiday, not really a stop on their travels. A bit more up-market than most of the other cities in Thailand.
Finishing my shake and heading over to the shop I was greeted by a huge smiling Dtor, Peter’s wife. We had a quick chat about my travels so far and she suggested a good place to wait for Peter, next door, with a nice shake.
There’s loads of gastro, Italian, English and Spanish restaurants, owned by ex-pats so the food is authentic, not like the fakes you see in most other places. Peter walked past and I hailed him, as usual he beamed his huge smile and went quickly to chat to Dtor, then joined me for a coffee.
Talking with Peter is an extraordinary affair, full of good vibes, and positivity, a dreamer and head in the clouds much as me. We talked about my travels, and about his – whereupon he said we should grab some cold beers and sit and talk about how he came to be 12 years in Thailand.
We had to get back to his kids, as he said he’d be out for 5 minutes at 11am, and it was now 3:30, so we headed back to his via a local and super friendly fish seller for Peter’s dinner. When we arrived at his – rather beautiful, secluded and pretty idyllic – home, his kids were at the window greeting me with “Hello Uncle Matt!” Rosie is 3 and Louie is 6, they’d all been ill recently, but very smiley faces greeted me all the way.
I settled for a moment, grabbed a shower, and we all went out to the local park in Cha Am for some kickaround and to have a walk and a play.. Peter is a father with a very subtle but effective discipline, always showing his kids what’s what and where’s where.. Louie being the oldest can speak more English, but both can speak great Thai.
After the park we headed to a local pizza place because Louie was after pizza (even though when it arrived he hardly touched it.. kids!) and Rosie will eat or try just about anything.. Finishing up we headed home, it was New Year’s Eve so we stopped for some beers, some snacks and then got back.
The kids had long since fallen asleep in the car so they were straight to bed, and me and Peter watched Hanna and before we knew it Dtor had arrived back home and we could plan what we were all going to do to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
THE best game you can play with multiple people, you win some, you lose some, the beer had been finished so me and Peter went to the shop again for a small bottle of Jack and a bottle of wine, plus more snacks.. We sat and chatted for a while until around 11:30 when the 7/11 was nearly stopping selling alcohol, the Jack had been finished as had the wine, so we went to get some more.
When I say small, it’s not the half size like you get in the UK, it’s the half again size, maybe 20cl so it only went round 5 people once.. I have to say this was the least alcohol I’ve drunk on a New Year’s Eve since I found out about alcohol.. But the company was great, the Jenga was ongoing, and we saw in the New Year with good company, hot weather, and Chinese lanterns floating up in the air!
We’d discussed what we’d do the next day, go and try and see elephants at Kui Buri national park. Peter was raving about what a massive experience it was when he went and saw 20 elephants, so I was very excited about the prospect.
Breakfast was typical full-English! Followed by a long period of sitting on the couch groaning that we’d all eaten too much! Around 2:00 Peter called the Kui Buri national park warden and he was told it’s likely the elephants would be around and visible at 3:30.. so he called Dtor back home and we readied the kids, then set off when she arrived on the wild elephant journey!
I fell asleep most of the way there thanks to breakfast, but we came close and I perked up and readied my camera. We reached the national park station and paid the 200 Baht each to go and see the elephants. I moved into the back seat so the warden could take up the front seat and we set off across dusty rocky roads to the viewing point.
Along the way we saw an elephant’s bum, but we didn’t stop long enough to wait for him to turn around.. we carried on in anticipation. The warden explained that they’d set up artificial watering holes and feeding spots to keep the elephants in the park and away from the town, to stop them bothering farmers..
We finally arrived to the viewing spot.. this place is so breathtaking, a massive, vast area of space both forested and plains that is home not just to elephants, but birds and mammals of all kinds.
We got out and reached the crest of the hill.. so, so beautiful.. there were binoculars already set up to watch out for elephants in the distance, and we waited, and waited, and waited… All of a sudden there was a cry from someone to the left that there was a chang (elephant) in the distance.. Thank god I brought my 70-300 because my 35, or 50mm wouldn’t have got anywhere near to seeing it.. sadly it was pretty shaky at far zoom, so as you can see the photo isn’t amazing.
Then another cropped up to the right, which was a bit closer and I was able to get a shot which was a bit less shaky. I was in awe.. wild elephants, not 80km from civilisation, and I’ve seen 3 so far! My heart sang to see such a beautiful, natural sight. The one on the right soon moved away but the other was still there, showing her bum to the camera and binoculars..
After a couple of hours we decided to get back into the 4×4 to return home.. we’d seen 3 elephants, mission accomplished. A shame not to see them closer up but hey – this is nature we’re working with, not some zoo enclosure!
On the way back we went past the intermediate ranger spot, and asked if there were any nearby.. they said no, and we headed home.
Not far from there is a deer enclosure with some cute baby and adult deers, which I snapped while the kids were trying to feed them some grass.. The ranger nearby was explaining what they did when an elephant charged.. climb a tree! He pointed to a nearby tree which – and lets be fair – only the most skilled would be able to climb at short notice.. it was vertical with no branches and a smooth trunk!
The brief chat was over so we headed back to the main ranger station.. about 50 metres down the road we were told by the ranger to stop, there were elephants there in the trees! OMFG.. three, hidden to my camera sadly, but very visible on and off – I was just very unlucky not to shoot any. Peter’s request to get back in the car was very adamantly adhered to incase we were charged by the elephants, so we set off again. And then another 20 metres and there were two more!!
This was the closest I’d ever been to a wild elephant in my life, and here were two, just grazing and going about their business.. this time they were on my side of the car so I managed to get some shots.
Finally satisfied that I’d seen a wild elephant up close we left, enlightened, uplifted and happy – seeing an elephant on New Year’s day is very good luck.. the only thing that could have made it luckier is if they were the extremely rare white elephant.
Driving past the artificial watering hole and once again!! A baby elephant drinking water from the hole. We stopped long enough for me to get around 20-30 good photos of him! So cute, and apparently happy!
After getting out, and dropping the ranger off and giving him a tip to express our gratitude, we headed home for a BBQ – The oddest, and most satisfying New Year’s Day I’ve had ever..
After pigging out on BBQ I fell asleep very happy, to be given this opportunity, to spend it with such amazing and welcoming people.. definitely the highlight of my trip so far, not sure it can be beaten, but I’ll give it a go!