Prachuap Khiri Khan is unknown and unpronounceable outside of Thailand. But it couldn’t be one of Thailand’s “Hidden Gem” provinces – not because it isn’t worthy, but because so many people go there without realizing it. Confused?
“Why are all the hotels in Naha fully-booked?” Nori asked, scowling at the search results on Agoda.
“I don’t know. What dates are we going to be there again?” I replied.
“On the way in, September 30th through October 1st. Two nights. On the way out, Oct 7th. Just one night and then we fly out on the 8th.”
After checking all the boxes on a car rental form that I couldn’t read, we squeezed into an older blue van that had a slightly moldy pong. Ten years of wet swimming shorts draining into the seats, I surmised. Well, it was the cheapest rental we could find (at US$120/day!) and Japan just isn’t set up for a family of seven. So we take what we can get.
After four years in Bangkok, we had pretty much exhausted all the nearby weekend getaways. We had toured the aquarium in Suphanburi, fed farm animals in Nakhon Nayok, taken the train to Samut Songkhram, did a jungle hike in Khao Yai, hit the beaches in Hua Hin and Pattaya, cruised the rivers of Kanchanaburi and chilled out on Koh Samet.
On our first afternoon in the Yaeyamas, we took the easy, 15-minute ferry to Taketomi Island, renowned for its strong Ryukyu culture and architecture. I had hoped to cycle along the gravel paths, or at least take a slow water buffalo cart ride, through the traditional village.
An hour southwest of Bangkok, where the rivers of central Thailand empty into the sea, sit tiny Samut Songkhram and Samut Sakhon Provinces. (In Thai, samut means sea.) Many people pass right through them in their weekend rush to reach the beach resorts of Cha-am, Hua Hin or Pranburi.
Nori seemed too relaxed the next morning. She wasn’t rushing the boys at all.
“Do you still plan on catching the 9:20 ferry to Kuro?” I asked.
“No!? I thought you said we could catch the 10:30?” she replied, perturbed.
The answer, of course, is that you can’t. We’ve spent half our lives in Asia. We met each other here. Our four boys were born here. Over two decades we’ve made friends, built careers, learned languages and explored this huge, diverse, amazing continent from Uzbekistan to Sri Lanka, Sumatra to Kyushu and Harbin to Kathmandu.
Our last few months in Bangkok had been intense. I resigned and started informing clients, some of whom I’ve known almost 20 years. Nori sold our beloved “Black Bull” van, most of our furniture and a good share of our books, toys and art. We moved out of “Baan Brixen”, our Gatsby-esque triplex apartment in the sky. We cancelled our broadband service and extended our international driver’s licenses. There were leaving drinks and leaving dinners, occasionally with the same people multiple times. By the end, the organizing, pre-packing, packing, unpacking and repacking had drained us completely.
Our family of six was sitting on flimsy plastic stools and eating ba mee moo daeng (egg noodles with barbecued pork) from a Chai See cart parked in front of a 7-11 located beside a large wet market. We were somewhere in rural Buriram Province – all flat fields and big skies. Apart from us, the scene was pure, provincial Thailand. It put a smile on my face. Bangkok is amazing, but I love the “upcountry” – and we were going to be seeing a lot of it.