With visitor numbers ever on the rise, it should be just a matter of time for Prachuap Khiri Khan to become solidly etched on the map of Thailand’s top tourist spots.
By Lekha Shankar.
The town of Prachuap Khiri Khan is one of Thailand’s many interesting ‘unseen’ destinations although is lesser known than neighboring Hua Hin or Pranburi. It is a small, quiet beach getaway, where one can go for a break if one is not too fussy over luxury accommodation or lethal excitements.
Prachuap Khiri Khan became a seaside resort during the reign of King Rama V. Famous for the three attractive bays – Noi, Pachuca, and Ao Manao — is also studded with beaches, caves, mountains, and forests.
What we enjoyed most during our visit was that it was not noisy or water-crazy, like the rest of Thailand (we visited during Songkran). It was a “walkable” town, and had enough ‘natural’ attractions to keep us busy, during our three-day stay. Our main complaint was there’s lot more that needs to be done to improve tourism infrastructure in the area, including better hotels and cleaner beaches.
For starters, it would be good to visit the TAT office and pick up a map. That’s so you can navigate the small town more easily. It is a ‘walkable’ town as we said earlier, and the roads are broad and less crowded. “Songtaews’ are available everywhere, with fixed rates to various spots.
Our sightseeing started from the TAT office because it is located near the famous Mirror Mountain with the Lhao Chong Krajok temple. This is a temple noted for its numerous monkeys, who greet you at the base of the Chong Krajok Mountain, and accompany you on the long 400-step stairway up. Chong Krajok Mountain is called the Mirror Mountain because there is a hole in the mountain from where you can have a unique view of the sky. Right on top is the small but arresting Wat Thammikaram built by King Rama 5, with some important Buddha relics, and where one can also have a wonderful view of the whole town.
From here, we walked to the town’s downtown, which is dotted with small cafes, parks, and street-shops. Most of these shops close early, the exception being the Night Market. But this is mostly a food market. Bus, van, and railways stations are all located downtown.
The main attraction in the downtown area is the grand and elaborate City Pillar, which has a temple and shrine with exotic Lopburi-style artwork. We stayed at the modest Bangnangrom Guesthouse, which was homey, comfortable, and has an excellent location.
The Prachuap Khiri Khan Bay was just a stone’s throw away, and we often carried our morning cup of coffee or evening glass of wine, and sipped it there! There was also a 7-11 shop closely on the main road, as also some good seafood restaurants. In fact, we ate some of the best seafood during this trip to: crab, squid, and king-sized fish — at the cheapest of prices.
We hired a songtaew with a friendly, English-speaking driver, Prateep, who soon became our friend, philosopher, and guide.
First day, was a trip to the interesting Noi Bay. We stopped at the grand Noi temple, whose walls were studded with artwork. After that, we proceeded to climb the 100-steps up a mountain, to visit the Khan Ka Dai cave temple, famous for its image of a Reclining Buddha. The climb was not too tough, and the stunning view of the seascape below, was an incentive to climb higher and higher. The large caves, when we reached them, were outstanding; with a grand Sleeping Buddha and many other smaller Buddha images, which inspire many people to pray and meditate. The stalactites on top and the gorgeous light-and dark spaces were a visual treat.
The next day was a trip to the popular Ao Manao Bay, so called because it is shaped like a manao (lime). This is located within the Wing 5 Airforce Base, the area where the Thai and Japanese armies fought during World War 11. It has a museum to commemorate this, and is almost a township by itself, with its ‘Ao Manao Square,’ which is studded with shops, cafes and public toilets where the water-revelers can bathe and change.
This bay with its white sands and translucent, shallow waters is the best beach in town and is the most popular among holiday-makers, with people of all ages, frisking about. This is also the only beach with all the touristic facilities: beach-umbrellas, tables-chairs, food, and drink. Indeed, a great beach to spend time in if one doesn’t mind the crowds. I was impressed by the way the beach was closed at 6 p.m., and was cleaned thoroughly, unlike the other beaches in the town.
Our last trip was to the famed Sam Roi Yod National Park and the Pranayakorn caves. We hired a car for this (THB 2500) because it was more than an hour’s journey from the town. This marine national park is worth visiting with its lush waters, limestone-mountains, and rich foliage.
The trip involves a boat-ride across the bay, a walk along the beach, a dip in the waters, and a climb up the Pranyakorn Mountain. The last is the worst, because there’s no proper mountain-path or steps, and unless one is daring and strong, one should not risk climbing the 40-minute trek up. It’s about time the tourism department develops a mountain-path, as the gorgeous caves are well worth visiting
Bit first things first. The fee is THB 200 per head to the park, and one has to wade through waters, to climb into the boat that would take you to the park. That’s why one needs slippers for this.
The boats have different rates, and the best one would be the cheapest THB 400- ride directly across. We made the mistake of hiring the THB 1,000-boat, which promised to take us on a tour of the shrimp farms. But we saw none of these. However, we got a long ride across the waters, and the visuals of the mountains all around, the waters in front, were quite breathtaking.
The Laemsala Beach, where the national park is located, is quiet and beautiful. One can hire a deck chair and loll on the sands or walk to the waters and have a leisurely swim for a total day on the beach.
The adventurous can climb the rough, treacherous path to the Phranakorn Caves, which my husband did, and came back with bruised knees and parched throat as he did not even get a bottle of water up in the caves! However, he was stunned by the visuals of the caves, including the wonderful lighting, grand spaces, and the unique Kuha Karihas Pavilion, built by King Rama V, which is what most Thais go up for to see.
Prachuap Khiri Khan is an ‘unseen’ destination that deserves to be seen more, as it is only 289km from Bangkok, and is excellently connected by train, bus, and the “lot tu” van. But it needs a lot more attention from the Tourism Department. It needs more sophisticated hotels, cleaner beaches, better transport for tourists, and more eateries. We had a great break, and we would like to go back – and hope the facilities had improved by then.
How to get to Prachuap Khiri Khan
By train from Hualumpong station, which is very comfortable
By van from Victory Monument, which ply every hour.
By bus, from the Southern Terminal. The journey from Bangkok takes about 4 hours.