Into the woods
A post breakfast stroll with the crabs and mudskippers through the mangrove
With its sandy beaches, luxury hotels and private residence, Hua Hin inevitably conjures up images of a hedonistic weekend by the sea. Every Friday night, cars head out of Bangkok, their weary passengers checking into resorts a couple of hours later then retiring to the beach - or bar - for a well-earned two-day break.
But Samore Riang, as Hua Hin's was once known, has more to share with visitors than well-appointed rooms, pricey spas and the make-believe Plearnwan retro-style marketplace. A few kilometres further south on the road to Pran Buri is Pranburi Forest Park.
Founded in 1983 in response to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit's concerns of coastal area erosion in the area, this 800 acres of mangrove forest has become a safe haven for millions of small marine lives. And you don't have to be a mudskipper or fiddler crab to enjoy the swampy mangrove. The forest park, with nature trails that slither into the mangrove much like the residents themselves, is well worth a half-day's walk in the wood and the boat ride to the fisherman village on the other side.
"I come here every year on my annual visit to Hua Hin," says Tim, my British friend who lives in London in the summer and Hua Hin in the winter, as we stroll along the wooden path.
The forest park is wonderfully peaceful, so much so that I begin to suspect that the British, a race that enjoys walking, are keeping the mangrove swamp a secret. Here, surrounded by thick walls of trees, plants and roots, you are completely cut off from Hua Hin's tourist scene. The crash of cutlery and crockery is replaced by splashes, as a reptile goes after its breakfast. White-clad waiters and chefs are nowhere to be seen around the swamp though a flock of great white egrets waits patiently for their fish of the day. Pranburi Forest Park is definitely an ideal place for a post-breakfast walk.
Descending to the mid section of the trail, we find lot of interesting plants and some geology too, helpfully described by National Park Department which looks after the forest park. "Prong daeng" and "prong khao" read the sign post beside the trail, informing the visitor of what plants grow well in a mango swamp. To me, all the plants look more or less the same, with creepy knee roots bringing to mind those mysterious trees in Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings".
"There is a lookout tower in the middle of the trail. We can climb up and see beautiful views over the mangrove," says Tim enthusiastically, brushing off my concerns about wobbly steps and vertigo.
The mangrove swamp of Pranburi Forest Park actually stretches out along the coastline, making it one of the most plentiful mangroves between Hua Hin's south beach and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. The park itself is bisected by the Pranburi River, making it a fertile feeding ground for fish and marine life.
The walk ends at a small canal, where we jump into a small sampan for the short ride to the estuary of the Pranburi River. Tim, lifting his binoculars to his eyes, scans both sides of the swampy banks of the canal in the hope of seeing a small kingfisher.
"We're too early for a bird-watching," says Charoon, our boatman, adding that birdwatchers should come in the late afternoon when the canal is at low tide. "You will see lots of birds coming for the fish," he adds.
The slow boat takes us through the swampy mangrove, and within 20 minutes we're bobbing in the wider estuary. The scene changes from small fishing village to a bustling fishery industry, with fishermen busy unloading their catch from larger trawlers. Seagulls and other sea birds stand by on the poles, waiting patiently for their share of fish from the ocean.
And that reminds me yet again that we may be only a few kilometres away but the scene is an ocean apart from Hua Hin beach, where the weekenders are probably just starting brunch after partying the night away.
IF YOU GO
Pranburi Forest Park is about 20-minute's drive to the south of Hua Hin. Admission is free. A boat trip for four people through the mangrove swamp costs Bt400.