Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SICHON

VISITED MARCH 2017


Sunday afternoon - SICHON Beach.


The mainland coast south of the DONSAC FERRY PIERS to the islands is pretty laid back and way less developed than further north. However there are a number of nice beaches, largely split between the KHANOM and SICHON districts. There is a scattering of resorts covering most budgets in both areas, but mainly used by Thai holiday makers. Western visitors are pretty scarce, particularly around SICHON.

I've often looked at this section of coastlIine when coming in on a ferry from SAMUI, PHANGAN or TAO and thought "Whoa, looks interesting - bet there are some neat little beaches along there." So latest trip instead of hopping on a SURATHANI bound bus at the pier I hung around for a minibus traveling that way. I first stayed a few days in KHANOM after which I headed a bit further south for SICHON.

GETTIN THERE 
FROM KHANOM 
It's 20km in a direct line between the two towns (and only abt 3km between KHANOM DISTRICT's southern most beach and SICHON DISTRICT's northern most beach) but because the main road heads inland my trip was more like 35km.


The minivan from KHANOM to NAKON SI THAMMARAT dropped me alongside main road 401 on the outskirts of SICHON TOWN. This is bigger than KHANOM TOWN and is a real bustling regional capital. I began to walk from my highway drop-off towards nearby town central and was soon picked up by a motorcycle taxi which took me to my accommodation at the beach-side holiday enclave of HIN NGAM 6km east. Arrival was a bit of a giggle - my pilot had no idea where THIPBUREE RESORT was located (on reflection this makes sense - the area is just about 100% used byThai holidayers - these people are mid income and have their own cars - have no reason to take a motorcycle taxi to the area).
But after asking at a few joints we found my place. I tipped my guy 20b over the agreed 70. No idea if this was fair except he seemed happy.

FROM DON SAC (50km) - pier area for SAMUI, PHANGAN, TOA 
Minivans from the SEATRAN ferry terminal heading to NAKON SI TAMMARAT will drop you alongside route 401 on the outskirts of SICHON TOWN

FROM SURATHANI - 90km
Go to bus station 2 and grab a minivan to NAKON. This will let you out at the same outskirts highway stop as above.
There should also be minivans right into town but these may be less frequent.
You can also jump a SLOW BUS which goes thru town central - I think the final destination may be NAKON. I got the impression these run roughly hourly.

FROM ELSEWHERE TO THE NORTH
Express buses starting from various destinations to the north and heading for NAKON SI THAMMARAT (70km from SICHON) will also be able to drop you on the outskirts. This will include buses from BANGKOK. I know one bus a day heading for SUNGAI GOLOK much further south passes by. There has also got to be at least one express bus a day from BANGKOK's SOUTHERN BUS TERMINAL right into SICHON TOWN - like smaller THANOM gets one.

FROM THE SOUTH (MALAYSIA)
You will come in via HAD YAI, SUNGAI GOLOK or SATUN. In all cases, grab a bus to NAKON and minibus from there.

FLYING and TRAINS 
You can fly or chooty-puff into both SURATHANI and NAKON. The former will have more services, particularly trains. From both catch a minibus to SICHON (at SURAT you will probably have to go into town to the bus station on one of the frequent shuttles).

HIN NGAM
The resort enclave of HIN NGAM is the peninsula between SICHON BCH and HIN NGAM BCH plus the area behind the former. This is 100% resorts -  maybe a half dozen or so ranging from the mid range (maybe better) PRASARNSOOK BEACH VILLARESORT far north end of beach to my lower-midrange THIPBUREE . 
The thing is that in my 3 days in this area I did not see one westerner on the beach although SICHON CABANA just south of PRASANRNOOK is a known WINDSURFING hangout that attracts westerners.


THIPBUREE seemed very new - it was in the style of a western motel. Seemed that was its main function - a place for southerners heading north to put in for the night - lotsa cars parked outside units (Sunday night had 70% occupancy) which ranged from my modest single storey place to similar 2 level joints and some rather nice looking individual villas.


This was an okay room. Big enough for 3 plus gear, very clean, well equipped (check the minibar - a half size frig although unstocked), sinfully quiet aircon. Big bathroom with good hot water. Very quiet area (no traffic). 50m to beach.
Not perfect of course - lights main room a bit dim plus I couldn't change TV channels. Resort doesn't have a restaurant.English speakers were scarce - a couple of times they called up the teenage son who had a couple of words but most times I managed to communicate my wants okay.
Overall fair value at 1200b pn high season.


Hit nearby SICHON BCH - you have the north section in one direction.....


....the south section the other. A pretty nice beach, quite clean considering the strong onshore winds that had only ceased the day before (I've got an idea the various resorts groom the beach pretty thoroughly) with fairly clean water that shelves more or less normally.
This was shot on a Monday morning - not the lack of people.


There was a reasonable crowd of beach-goers on my arrival Sunday afternoon - I got the impression a lot were locals enjoying a splash or a meal at the beachside restaurants, most of which are associated with resorts (these set up tables on the sand - see shot top of page). There were at least 2 wedding groups eating and doing snaps. The rest of the beach-goers were probably Thai tourists - I was the only non-Thai.
It's kinda nice being the only westerner around - contrasts so much with the islands to the north.
On the Monday and Tuesday the beach was very uncrowded - me and a couple of fishermen.


HIN NGAM BEACH is to the south - it's a stone beach backed by a few inexpensive restaurants and some holiday villas. Headland in distance (may be clearer if you click-expand image) separates this bay from SICHON BEACH. White building is part of a fisheries research center - has a significant pier.

EATING
The absence of a restaurant at THIPBUREE was no problem - all other resorts in the area seemed to have one. I initially went next door to ISSARA BEACH RESORT - this is a midrange joint in the older Thai style with a nice open-sided restaurant right behind the sand which seemed to attract quite a few passers-by. The place had a comprehensive menu (but no western dishes) - prices were mainly slightly more than budget but one dish, the omelette with pork at 60b was a relative bargain, not small and quite yummy - made an excellent breakfast and not too bad for a main course at dinner. Large beers here were the least expensive of my whole trip.
Service excellent and the view good.

I tried a few other restaurants on SICHON BEACH, was a bit disappointed in not being able to find a genuinely bottom budget joint (maybe those places behind HIN NGAM BEACH could have done it) - btw if seafood is your thing there is no shortage of fresh stuff with the fishing port only 2km away.

SEARCH FOR A CLUB SANDWICH
For my last night dinner I fancied a club sandwich with fries - most of the restaurants on the beach don't do western - the only exception was at SICHON CABANA where the CS was overpriced. But that morning I had found a real nice resort about 15 minutes south overlooking loooooong HAD PITI and remembered it did a CS at a decent price.


Bargain priced club sandwich at SEA STONE HOTEL - bit small but had the most unique and yummy sauce instead of the usual mayo.


The restaurant was adjacent this nice rim pool - naturally I had to take a dip. 
SEA STONE is a pretty modern looking place, definitely in the mid-range. Position is great - at the northern end of HAD PITI which extends nearly 40km south, nearly to the main regional city of NAKON SI THAMMARAT. I understand there are only a few resorts along there - mostly a handful of Muslim fishing villages.

SEARCH FOR A RENTAL MOTORCYCLE - the touring map I'd picked up at my KHANOM accommodation a few days before showed the greater SICHON area had some nice beaches north of the river. Trouble is, the best (PHIAI DAM BEACH which also has an okay waterfall a bit inland) is most distant about 20km from town. 
I needed to rent a motorcycle but no-one seemed to have one. I asked at reception and nearby resorts - NADA. I walked up town in search - about a km up the road some motorcycle taxi guys didn't know what I was talking about until they called a young English speaking guy over from an adjacent business - no-one knew of motorcycle rentals. This shows how few westerners this region attracts - Thai holiday makers are mainly middle-class and have their own vehicles (however Thais from BANGKOK tend to rent motorcycles on the islands - seems they prefer the islands and similar to SICHON beaches around CHUMPON-HUA HIN way closer to BANGKOK.
So I decided to see as much of the town and surrounds of my accommodation on foot as possible.

Town central near the hospital - the MAIN ST is on a branch to the lef in far distance.


The road back to HIN NGAM skirts the river about 800m from the beach. The fishing boat piers are in background. 


The mouth of the river with its distinctive breakwalls is a short distance north of HIN NGAM beach.


Back at THIPBUREE I decided to walk south - got the shot up-page of stony HIN NGAM BEACH. These budget restaurants are behind the beach - seemed to be doing good business for a Monday.


5 minutes on I found the rather nice SEA STONE HOTEL of club sandwich fame, situated....

....at the northern end of 40km long HAD PITI. With a bike I would have gone further south - apparently there are some good Muslim fishing villages down there. Not many resorts though.


Back on SICHON BEACH I decided to explore the headland at the north end.

A walkable sea-wall extends along the peninsula with good views back over the beach (these panorama images click-expand nicely).

The headland is covered by bush - I wandered across the central track to the southern side - had okay views south down HAD PITI but the shots I took were not great.
Back on SICHON BEACH I has a sweet swim - I was the only one in the water. As a matter of fact there was only one other person, a fisherman, on the beach. A bunch of local ladies were having afternoon tea behind the sand at ISAARA's nice restaurant. Time for a beer.

Next day I caught a motorcycle taxi up to the bus stop in the main street and caught the local slow bus to SURATHANI. Ran the usual gauntlet of rip-off travel agents at the bus station and got myself a ticket at the official counter for the next bus to PHUKET (flight home the following night). Unfortunately the bus was side-swiped by a dopey pickup driver on the outskirts of town - which added an hour and a half to the normal 4 hour trip to the north end of PHUKET. I finally made my destination at NAI YANG BEACH adjacent the airport some 10 hours after leaving THIPBUREE.
SICHON may be laid back but traveling around the south can still be a hassle.



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