About a month ago, while in Prachuap Kiri Khan, I was responsible for my son mangling his foot horribly in a bicycle wheel. I haven’t written a blog post since it happened because I was waiting to see if the foot was going to turn gangrenous and fall off before I came clean and confessed to my bad parenting. Luckily, it is fine, if a little scarred, so I can now tell my tale of disaster, panic and the awesomeness of complete strangers, instead of pretending nothing happened and taking all future pictures of a footless Buzz from the knee up.
With Ban Krut behind us we caught the slow train to Prachuap Kiri Khan (or Ketchup Kiri Khan as my hilarious kids like to call it). Again, a place not exactly off the beaten path, but with only a small amount of tourist activity. We didn’t have much planned; wandering around the town, visiting some monkeys, checking out the local beaches; we thought we would stay three or four days before heading further up the coast. Prachuap Kiri Khan is a quiet and easily navigable place, so following on from our previous success touring around on bikes, we decided so rent a couple more for a few days. We found two near our guest house that could seat the kids, and congratulating ourselves on our good fortune, we set off to explore.
Now, the best beach in the area is, rather unusually, located on the local Air Force base (known as Wing 5). The Thai Air Force is rather more relaxed than their British counterparts with regards to security. Access formalities vary from a cheery wave to the chap on the gate or, if they are feeling strict, a trip to the guard-room to sign your name in a book. My dodgy-looking husband must have made the gate man suspicious, as we got the command to go sign the book. However, moments later we were cycling off through the base, happy as Larry and looking forward to a swim.
Then the noise happened. I cannot describe the noise to you here because, much like childbirth, my brain has erased the details to protect my fragile mind from the horror of it all. All I can tell you is that it was a terrible, terrible noise that could only have been made by something going terribly, terribly wrong. My poor little son had, while searching for a toehold, inserted his foot in between the spokes of his dad’s bike while he was on the move and the motion had pulled his foot right into the wheel and made a mess of it.
In slow motion, I pulled him off the bike and put him down on the grass beside the road. His face had gone white and his eyes were massive in his wee face, but worst of all, he wasn’t crying, and all parents know that is a really bad sign. His foot was bloodless and floppy and he just kept repeating in a confused voice, “Can I go home now mummy? Can I go home now?”, as if taking him home would somehow remove him from this awful thing that was happening to him. Then the shock wore off and he began to shriek, and just as I was wondering what the hell I should do, and wishing that a proper competent grown up would come and sort this nightmare out for me, one did.
A man in a tracksuit appeared beside us, took one look at Buzz’s foot, did the international tooth sucking noise that translates as “that’s not good”, and started talking rapidly into a radio he produced from his pocket. Moments later a military police car pulled up and the driver jumped out, opened the back door and ushered us all in. I didn’t know it at the time, but this quiet and unassuming driver (let’s call him Iceman, after everyone’s favourite Top Gun, because sadly I never knew his name), was to be our saviour (and wing man) that day.
Iceman drove us to the base hospital, driving faster as the volume of Buzz’s wails grew louder in the back. The doctor there could not have been more than a few months out of medical school, but, ably assisted by a couple of smirking, embarrassed 16-year-old medics, he got Buzz on a trolley, poked around at his foot and communicated that we would need to go for an X-ray to make sure nothing was broken. Meanwhile the 16-year-olds were given the responsible task of cleaning out the big gouges that had been taken from the outside of Buzz’s ankle, and for that I had the first of many experiences of holding down my screaming son while strangers inflicted pain on him for reasons he did not understand.
Phone calls were made as we sat uselessly by, and the next thing we knew the Air Force ambulance was there. Iceman ushered us inside to be taken to the local hospital to get an X-ray. We were dropped off at the emergency door and we were quickly seen by various nurses and doctors. Buzz had his wounds poked, cleaned and dressed again while he screamed. By the time we were told to take him for an X-ray he had fallen into an exhausted sleep. As we left A&E, I was stressing about how I was going to find the X-ray department, but right outside was Iceman. He had followed us in his car and was waiting patiently for us on a plastic chair outside the door. Later my husband told me that while I was dealing with the doctors and nurses, Iceman had found him and taken him to the Registration Department to show him how and where to sign Buzz in as a patient as well.
Anyway, Iceman sat outside while Buzz had his X-ray, he waited with us for the results, he showed us back to the Emergency Department and again he waited patiently while the docs reviewed the film and, to our great relief, confirmed that there was no break (it turns out that 2 year-olds are remarkably bendy). Iceman’s final job was to take us up to the pharmacy to get some pain medication, and then take us to the cashier to pay our final bill. What, you may be wondering, did it cost for all that medical expertise, dressings, X-rays and medicine? Hold on to your insurance policy while I reveal……a whopping 420 baht (that’s about £7.80). I would happily have paid ten times as much, and more.
As so we emerged from the hospital, relieved and tired, with a little boy who had a couple of really nasty open wounds on his now badly swollen ankle and who wouldn’t be walking for quite a while. Iceman was there again, wordlessly guiding us back down to his car for a lift back to the base where our two abandoned bicycles had been neatly parked outside the gate house. And, as I got the kids out of the car and discussed with Spud how we were going to get back to our guesthouse, Iceman quietly disappeared.
Spud decided he would relay the bikes back if I got a taxi with the kids, and off he set. Meanwhile I went in search of Iceman to try to thank him for all of his help but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Two other Air Force staff appeared, to find out why this overwrought woman was aimlessly wandering around the base with two children. When they found out I was going for a taxi they ushered me into another car and took us back to the guesthouse themselves, almost moving me to tears with their kindness. I am pleased to say that just as we were leaving, Iceman reappeared and I was able to use one of the very few Thai words I know to say thank you, thank you, thank you. He just looked a bit bemused. I suppose for him it wasn’t a big deal. He spent the morning chaperoning around some foreign muppets who couldn’t look after their own kids properly. It’s very likely that he considered it more of a pain in the arse than a good deed, but he probably can’t imagine how much more stressful it would have been without him and all his colleagues looking out for us, making phone calls, driving us around and showing us where to go and what to do.
I am sorry to say that our belief that the worst was over was sadly misplaced. The doctors instructed us to bring Buzz into the hospital every day to get his wounds cleaned and redressed, as they were concerned about infection. The next day I had to hold Buzz down again while a nurse poured raw alcohol into his wounds and swabbed them out, at one stage I thought he was going to pass out with the pain. Then I had to do it again the following day and my son officially hated me. On the third day they said the wounds looked good and we only needed to come back every other day. I decided then that I wasn’t going back and I going to do the dirty work myself rather than hold him down and let strangers do it. I reckoned I had enough experience now to know what to do.
In the meantime Buzz was adapting beautifully to his new situationaking to his hands and knees whenever he had the chance and getting carried about like a little prince when we needed to go anywhere. Another positive was that I finally got the chance to use the Ergo sling I had been cursing for the previous two months. I had stuck it in my bag as an afterthought in case Buzz had been unable to manage the long days on his feet, but I had never used it and it was taking up valuable pack space. Now, it was the best thing I could have brought, the ability to stick Buzz on my back meant we could still carry on almost as normal, getting out and about and continuing with a spot of sightseeing.
Our vague travel plans were now in a bit of disarray. We had planned to head up into Laos but now I wasn’t keen to leave Thailand while there was still a risk of infection for Buzz, so we decided to just keep moving slowly up the coast and see how we got on. So, armed with half of the pharmacy, we packed up and checked the train timetable. Next stop, Hua Hin. I was pretty sure I was going to hate the place but was determined to stay open-minded, after all, it must be popular for a reason, right? And anyway, everyone knows that beaches are great places to take small children with wounds that need to be kept clean and dry!
I will end my confessional by saying that we did learn a very valuable lesson while in Prachuap Kiri Khan. A lesson about becoming a bit too complacent. The bikes we hired were old and they didn’t have the wheel guards on them that were necessary to stop little feet from getting mangled (you can see these in the video of the bikes we had in Ban Krut). We should have checked and we didn’t, and my son paid the price for that. We can’t (and don’t intend to try to) protect our children from all risk, that wouldn’t be fun or healthy for anyone; but we should have done better in this case and we can consider ourselves lucky that the outcome wasn’t worse.
However, despite the whole foot debacle, we really loved Prachuap Kiri Khan and would heartily recommend it to anyone as a great stop off if you are heading south from Bangkok and have a couple of days to spare. So here, as always are …
My really useful travel tips for Prachuap Kiri Khan
- Stay in Maggies Homestay. It’s a proper old school backpacker place, of the type that is dying out and is really hard to find these days. It is so laid back that when you arrive you can wander around alone, look at the rooms and check yourself in on the board in the garden. Some of the rooms outside are a bit dark and pokey but the rooms upstairs in the main house are huge, light and lovely. We paid 450 baht for ours and it was one of the most expensive ones. There is a communal kitchen and fridge and there is a really friendly, social vibe.
- Want to see some monkeys? Visit the very sweet and gentle spectacled langur monkeys on Wing 5 rather than getting abused by your garden-variety bag-snatching temple macaques on Wat Thammikaram. You can take some fruit and veg to feed them. As always with these things, consider that feeding wild animals random things you bought in the market might not be that good for them.
- You might want to consider taking a stick out with you, especially when walking or cycling at night. There are a lot of dogs hanging around and some of them are quite aggressive. On one occasion I counted a pack of 10 together not far from our guest house.
- If you aren’t already staying there, go and visit Ning for breakfast at her guesthouse on the seafront. She does a range of good value set Western breakfasts and enjoys a good chat about the area which is always a good thing in my book.
- There is a market on Friday and Saturday night on the seafront which is great for eating little bits of this and that, as well as some good value people watching.
- If it can be made out of a pineapple, it can be bought in Prachuap Kiri Khan.