03-May-2005 -- Of all the places in South-East Asia where I wanted to go during my weeklong spring holiday, Phuket was certainly not among them. In my mind Phuket was synonymous with places such as Pataya (or, on a smaller scale, Khoa San Road in Bangkok) where everything is designed to attract tourists interested in a pre-fabricated Western-style vacation with almost no Thai ingredients. This is probably the main reason why I’ve never been much attracted by Thailand despite its rich culture, lively arts, exotic islands, a tradition of friendliness and hospitality to strangers and one of the world’s most exiting (and hottest!) cuisines. I’ve crisscrossed the country several times, coming from the North and going South, coming from the West and going East, and vice-versa; most of the time only stopping in Bangkok for a few days to get a visa or to buy things that I couldn’t find in the neighboring countries.
But I had only one week and Thailand is an easy place to travel in and relax. So Yukiko and I decided to buy two tickets to Bangkok and thought we would make up our mind later about where to go to unwind. The only tickets left from Osaka were via Phuket. After checking on the Internet about the possibilities to spend a night on the island, I realized that all prices had been drastically cut following the tsunami that swept over vast tracts of Thailand and other Asian countries in late December. I found a place in a four-star resort overlooking Karon bay where the usual cost for a villa at 5880B (US$150) a night had been reduced to only 1499B (US$38). We booked for two nights and ended up staying there for five days. There were hardly any tourists. Wherever we went during those five days, we had an overwhelming sense of absence. We were under the same impression as Mike Snow of The Washington Post who went there a couple of weeks ago and wrote: "I came across surreal scenes all over the stricken region; small clusters of foreigners basking in five-star luxury alongside magnificent swimming pools, or strolling along picture-perfect ocean fronts so weirdly desolate that they seemed like private beaches, or dining in ornate restaurants where the musical performers onstage outnumbered the guests."
We went scubadiving, rented a motorbike to do a few excursions on the island, and the day before leaving for Bangkok we decided to try to find a nearby confluence still unvisited. Our first idea was to do it by motorbike but following an accident we had had on our first day in Phuket – fortunately without any injuries – we thought it would be safer by car and we rented a 4WD. We left Karon beach at 7:30 in the morning and drove northeast, making a first stop in Phang Nga two hours later, and a second in Ban Ta Kun at around 11:30. I was still searching for a good map. The only thing I had found so far was the bilingual road atlas called Thailand Highway Map that includes 1:1,000,000 Highway Department maps. I wished I had had the 1:250,000 map I bought two days later at the Army Map Department in Bangkok.
In Ban Ta Kun we went to the local police station to see if they could help us find the way to Ban Nang Ri which, according to the DCP website, is only located 1,9 km south of the confluence. But the police station had no map and couldn’t help us. We kept driving on the 401 towards Surat Thani and a few km later I turned my GPS on: the confluence was 7km further north. We turned left at the next intersection and headed for Amphoe Khiri Rat Nikhom. The point was now on our right, less than 4km away, but separated from the road by a range of hills. I tried a few tracks going through some rubber plantations but it was in vain. They all ended up at the bottom of the hills. We made a U-turn and came back to the main road to try to find a way around the hills. It was now past noon.
We passed a small bridge and at a small T-junction with a sign indicating Ban Ta Kun 19km and Phun Phin 40km, we turned left again. The confluence was now less than 5km westward. We drove through a small hamlet and ended up on another track going through some more rubber plantations. The road came to an end near a small hut in the middle of a pinapple field. The confluence was located only 20 meters from the hut at the edge of the rubber trees. We could have taken the pictures from inside the car.