Looking for a true Thai experience in Prachuap Khiri Khan
Monkey's eye view
Monkey's eye view
Prachuap Khiri Khan might be off the tourist trail, but that won’t be the case for very long. The capital of the province that is home to the far more touristy Hua Hin lying an hour north, this city hugs the coast of the Gulf of Thailand with a shoreline that affords views you might think were from the Andaman. It is spots like Prachuap Khiri Khan that earn Thailand the right to prefix itself with the word ‘amazing’ in its tourism literature.
Even the most jaded traveller, who thinks they have seen every temple and beach Thailand has to offer, will struggle not to be wowed by Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Above all, the place induces a buzzing sense of excitement at having discovered it – as if it were you who has found it for the first time. In fact, there are so few westerners that at times it can feel like it. The majority of tourists here are Thais, with the odd continental European thrown in; there remains a distinct lack of Americans and Brits.
The main town beach at Ao Prachuap is on the whole unimpressive, and not a great introduction if you don’t know that better things lie ahead. Other beaches include Ao Manao, which lies in the confines of the Wing 53 Thai air force base and so involves signing in and out with the military – but it is worth the effort to spend time at what is a stunning, long sheltered bay of white sand and crystal clear water that remains shallow a fair way out from the shore, making it perfect for families to splash around in.
Besides walking the length of the beach and taking a dip in the sea, the main pastime here is simply sitting back and tucking into an assortment of delicious Thai food served right on the sand, from spicy Thai papaya salad to freshly caught seafood and fried rice dishes. Groups of family and friends come to spend the day leisurely enjoying the relaxed atmosphere that Ao Manao offers – it is a world away from the tourist traps of more popular island getaways, and that is what makes it so special.
Back in town, Khao Chong Krachok translates as Mirror Mountain but in reality is more of a large hill. Still, it is worth the climb up the 396 steps, each lined by fairly tame monkeys, to take in the utterly stunning view out over the coastline. It is difficult to find words to accurately describe quite how beautiful it is; glistening sandbanks make an appearance as the water shallows a little way out from the shore, and limestone outcrops jut out of the sea on both sides of the bay.
View aside, a little time spent at the top of Khao Chong Krachok gives you a chance to relax and soak up the incredible calm that prevails here – though the hum of the traffic on the road below is still within earshot, up here you could be miles away. Just as noteworthy for its sense of calm is Wat Ao Noi temple, a 15-minute and 120 baht motorbike taxi ride away. Set above the beach at Ao Noi, getting to this cave temple involves climbing another set of steep steps in the sweltering midday heat, but once again the reward is ample.
Waiting for you inside the caves at the top of the steps are two enormous and stunning reclining golden Buddhas, plus an equally mesmerising and ever so slightly creepy eight-deep set of smaller sitting Buddhas. But the real gem behind these Buddha images is the fact that you have them entirely to yourself – the sheer peace, isolation and tranquillity of the place is quite something.
The stretch of beach at Ao Noi just beneath the temple is equally beautiful – miles and miles of seemingly endless coastline, round the headland and then some more. The main temple building just behind the beach is well worth a look around, again for the calm feeling it exudes and the wonderful contrast of colours it provides – the dark red and glistening gold of the temple against the deep green of the hills and the rich blue of the cloudless sky paints an unforgettable picture.
For the most authentic experience, Prachuap Khiri Khan is best reached by train – the city lies between four and six hours south of Bangkok; convenient services leave the capital at 8.05am and 1.00pm daily, with tickets costing between 168 and 425 baht. Buses and minivans are also available.
The centrally located Yuttichai Hotel (032 611 055) has good value double rooms starting from 250 baht per night, while the Hadthong Hotel (032 601 050) offers more luxury in the region of 1,000 baht per night.
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