Prachuap Khiri Khan, The Thai Riviera

ESCAPADE

Prachuap Khiri Khan,

The Thai Riviera

Catherine Vanesse

31 August 2018

Halfway between Bangkok and the famous Samui archipelago, far from the Full Moon Parties and the bustle of Hua Hin, the seaside resort of Prachuap Khiri Khan is still little-known. But it has so much going for it, with its pretty seafront, monkeys, beaches, and affordable seafood.

In order to ensure better distribution of the revenue generated by tourism, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports recently announced its desire to promote and modernize the “Thai Riviera,” which includes the coastal provinces of Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon and Ranong.

Latitudes chose to stop a few days in Prachuap Khiri Khan, the seat of the eponym province, which is often confused with its famous neighbor Hua Hin.

Located 280 kilometers south of Bangkok and 80 kilometers from the royal seaside resort of Hua Hin, the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan is literally wedged between Myanmar to the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east, with only 11 kilometers separating them at one point. It’s the only way to get between the center and south of the country.

The fishing port is a peaceful seaside town that is often overlooked by foreign tourists but is very popular with Bangkok residents during the vacation period. Prachuap offers a remarkable panorama, with its rocky peaks that seem to surge out of the ocean, similar to those you can find in Phang Nga and Krabi.

You’ll be seduced by the magic of the place while you’re here. Walk or take a bike along the seafront and admire the numerous traditional wooden houses, some of which are over 100 years old. Enjoy fish and seafood in the numerous restaurants and stands in the city at a value that will defy any competition. Stroll through the various marketplaces. Every evening, a small night market mostly made up of affordable restaurants takes place on the esplanade in front of the town hall, but this is nothing compared to the much larger and busier one that sets up on the berm along the seafront every Friday and Saturday night. This is surely one of the town’s most special feature: a walkway has been built along the coast between Khao Tamonglai and Khao Lommuak. Here, there are no hotels with direct access to the beach, unless you go to Klong Wan or Thung Mamao.

© Troup Dresser
© Catherine Vanesse
© Catherine Vanesse

Land of Legends

With the three bays of Ao Noi, Ao Prachuap, and Ao Manao, Sam Roi Yot Park (meaning “300 hills”) and the Burmese mountains to the west, Prachuap Khiri Khan deserves its nickname as “The City Where the Mountains Meet.” In fact, every name in the region comes from a famous Thai legend.

The story goes that long, long ago, in Ao Noi, there lived a family of a father, Tamonglai, a mother, Rampueng, and their daughter Yomdoy, whose beauty was famous all over the kingdom. Two suitors courted the young Yomdoy: a Chinese shopkeeper and the son of the governor of Phetchaburi. The first one asked for the young woman’s hand from her father, and the other one asked her mother. Up to the wedding day, the parents didn’t speak about the arrangements they’d each made on their own.

When the two suitors arrived at the ceremony, Tamonglai and Rampueng then started to fight, throwing hats (Khao Lommuak), chopsticks (Khao Takiab – Hua Hin), and pieces of wood that made holes in the islands (Koh Talu – an island off Ban Saphan), before coming to blows. The mother ended up dying at Ban Saphan (Ao Mae Rampueng). Tamonglai was driven mad with sorrow, grabbed his daughter and tore her in half (Koh Nomsaw, near Phetchaburi, and Koh Nomsaw, near Chonburi). Still in his madness, the father ended up killing himself between the bay of Ao Noi and Prachuap (Khao Tamonglai).

This is actually a perfect place to start your visit to Khao Tamonglai Park, which separates Ao Noi from Ao Prachuap, and then head toward the temple built entirely out of mahogany wood, from Ao Noi and the cave of Khan Khra Dai, then go back to the city center and head up the 460 steps of Khao Chong Krajok. From Wat Thammikharan at the top, enjoy a 360-degree view of the mountain chain in Myanmar and the bays of Ao Noi, Prachuap, and Ao Manao.

If you’re feeling particularly athletic, take on the mountain of Khao Lommuak (“the hill of the fallen hat”) toward the south. After the grueling 615 steps, the path winds even farther up, until only by using a rope can you climb up to the summit. Unfortunately, for the past two years, the entry has been restricted and it’s only possible to climb to the peak of Khao Lommuak on certain weekends during the year, usually during the vacation period and on certain Buddhist holidays, when tourists flock toward the difficult paths. If you can’t make this climb, take a walk on the hill, where spectacled langur monkeys live. They are much friendlier than the common macaques you can find in Khao Chong Krajok, they will gently come and take food from your hand, and if you’re lucky, you might see one of their babies, which you can easily tell apart because they’re canary-yellow!

© Troup Dresser
© Troup Dresser
© Troup Dresser

The Rebel City

After all this effort, treat yourself to a moment of relaxation in Ao Manao, one of the kingdom’s most beautiful beaches, located inside the Wing 5 Royal Thai Air Force military base. Far from the authoritarian image you might have of the military, in Ao Manao, the Air Force is mainly there to keep the beach beautiful and clean in a cheerful atmosphere, as well
as limit the city’s expansion upwards; because of the runways, buildings can be built no taller than seven stories.

Short history lesson: Prachuap Khiri Khan, particularly Ao Manao, was one of the seven entry points where the Japanese invaded Thailand on December 8, 1941. As part of the invasion of Malaysia and Burma, Japanese troops landed without permission in the kingdom at seven entry points: Chumphon, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Pattani, Samut Prakan, Songkhla, Surat Thani, and Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Despite the Thai people’s pride of never having been colonized and their desire to protect the kingdom, after only a few hours of combat, the Thai government signed the armistice and accepted the conditions of the Japanese. A telegram was sent to the different cities, which one-by-one ceased their fighting… except in Prachuap Khiri Khan!

In fact, when they received the telegram, aviators at the Wing 5 Air Force base thought it was a Japanese ploy to force them to surrender without a fight. Only three hours later,
a car of representatives of the Thai government arrived to confirm that they should cease the fighting.

Several street names commemorate the invasion of Thailand: Phithak Chat (“Defense of the country”), Salachip (“Sacri ce of life”), and Suseuk (“The Battle”), and this resistance and disobedience of a governmental order is still today a point of pride among the inhabitants.

Besides the pleasure of enjoying the beach, you can explore even farther off the path at Klong Wan, the aquarium and science park at Waghor, play a round of golf at the military base, or even rent a kayak and set off to sea, discover the canals, and even explore the national park of Sam Roi Yot on the klongs. Get Wet Eco Tours organizes kayak excursions tailored to their customers’ desires. On the water, Mariusz will be pleased to share his knowledge about the region’s fauna and flora. It’s also possible to camp in Wanakorn nature park 25km to the south or enjoy the cool spray at the Huai Yang Waterfall with its five-stage cascade.

The Thai “Stonehenge”

Although the border with Myanmar isn’t currently open yet at Prachuap Khiri Khan, you can still enjoy the space up to the border, where a Burmese market is held every morning, and is busiest and has more vendors on Saturday and Sunday.

Shortly before you get to the Burmese market, you might spot a sign reading, “Khao Hin Thoen – Stones Hang.” About one hundred meters further stand the enormous stones that almost look like you’re at Stonehenge, England. Although the site was in no way built by human hands, the place is still nothing short of magical with its granite boulders weighing several tons set on top of one another, some of which look like they’re about to topple over.

And the monk who’s been living there as a hermit for 34 years won’t tell you anything different. The Venerable loves to chat and is proud to show this place to visitors, and he’ll gladly answer questions about his life, the hill of “hanging rocks,” or about teachings of the Buddha.
Like the entire region, this is definitely a magical, peaceful place.

 

FIND YOUR BED

X2 Kuiburi Resort

Above the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, the long Thung Mamao beach stretches seemingly forever toward the north, and only ends in the south with a view over the mountains marking off the bay of Ao Noi. In this small fishing village, the X2 Kuiburi Resort welcomes travelers looking for serenity, nature, and luxury.

Throughout the enormous property, where wide open spaces welcome nature, the villas blend into the background with their rough stone walls and bamboo hedges to provide the utmost privacy.

In fact, even inside the rooms, thanks to a large bay window with visible stonework, and the seawater used in the shower room and the private swimming pool, the connection with nature is constant, especially for villas with a sea view.

In addition to the usual facilities provided with care, such as the restaurant, the bar, the large pool, and the spa, X2 Kuiburi also offers bikes and scooters so you can explore the small country roads or get to the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. They even provide smartphones to visitors with a mobile app developed by the resort listing activities, attractions, restaurants, and bars you can discover in the region.

www.x2resorts.com/resorts/kui-buri

Aleenta Resort Pranburi

To discover the Sam Roi Yot or Kuiburi national parks, the Aleenta Resort & Spa
in Hua Hin Pranburi is a perfectly tropical paradise where sea, sand, and coconut trees make up the setting.

The 23 suites at Aleenta form a superb collection of villas with roofs featuring either a terrace or pretty thatching. Some suites have their own private pool, and the ocean-view suites are only a few steps away from the sea.

Here also, the hotel complex blends into nature, and nature can also be found in the kitchen since the Aleenta restaurant only uses local suppliers within a radius of 30 kilometers. Using mainly organic products, the resort has its own garden where fruits, vegetables, and aromatics are grown. In this same garden, the hotel holds cooking classes to teach their clients all about the subtilities of Thai herbs and plants.

www.aleenta.com/huahin

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