16 Jan The Forgotten DiamondPetchaburi
VISITE 12.9649° N
THE FORGOTTEN DIAMOND
By Catherine Vanesse
16 January, 2017
Phetchaburi is often ignored or just passed through by tourists heading south. But with its rich history, its gorgeous temples and palaces and wide range of local treats, the city is a choice destination for travelers looking for serenity and old-fashioned splendor.
A stroll down the streets of Phetchaburi (meaning “City of Diamonds” in Thai) offers a rare opportunity to feel like you’re the only foreigner in the city. Provincial Phetburi (its nickname) is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, but it is still overshadowed by the more famous Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
Located between the provinces of Ratchanaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan, two hours from Bangkok, it is rarely featured as a destination for travelers or expats, even for a weekend getaway, which is a pity. It deserves at least a day, so let yourself be charmed by this forgotten beauty, which might surprise you all night long.
Sam Wang: the City of Three Palaces
The beginnings of Phetchaburi go back to the Dvaravati era, between the 6th and 11th centuries. The city became a royal fortress during the periods of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, then sacked and pillaged by the Burmese in 1767. Phetchaburi has much more to offer to those who love culture and history than neighboring Cha’am and Hua Hin. Also, Kings Rama IV, Rama V and Rama VI each built their summer palaces there.
Your visit should naturally start in the historical park of Phra Nakhon Khiri, a real emblem of the city on Khao Wang hill. The first thing you’ll see when you arrive to Phetchaburi will be the white chedi of Phra Nakhon Khiri, the Phra That Chom Phet. It will certainly give you energy and courage to climb up amongst the (numerous) monkeys to the top. Now a museum, the palace of King Rama IV was his summer residence throughout his reign, and also his observatory to admire the heavens and the stars. Built in 1860, all the buildings combine Thai, Chinese and Neoclassical artistic styles, a trend specific to King Rama IV reflected in the furniture on display in the museum. At this time, the city took on its royal status. Those who are less athletic can take the funicular for only 40 bahts and escape any untimely meeting with a macaque. With 92 meters of altitude, Khao Wang offers a very pretty view of the city and the Phetchaburi River running through it.
By continuing down this river, you’ll come across Phra Ram Ratchaniwet. Enter into the military base to discover the rainy-season palace built by German architect Karl Döhring for King Rama V. With its baroque style, it is reminiscent of the palace of Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin and will win over those who love beautiful colonial homes and Art Nouveau decoration. You can even visit the king’s “modern” bathroom and the queen’s privy, but no doubt the grand circular hall is what sets this place apart. King Chulalongkom decided to have it built in 1910 so he could spend the rainy season there, but it was only finished in 1916. The sovereign unfortunately died in the meantime, so he never had the opportunity to stay there.
To reach the third palace, Phra Rajnivet Marugadayawan, you’ll have to go a little further afield, to Cha’am, where the King Rama VI’s summer residence built on teakwood stilts, designed by the king himself with help from Italian architect Ercole Manfredi.
Had enough of royal palaces? Head to the cave of Khao Luang, the city’s second most famous attraction. After avoiding the monkeys yet again, you’ll find yourself in a cool refuge. Although the cave itself isn’t very interesting, its well of natural light bathes it with a special aura. Inside, there are no monkeys, because “they aren’t Buddhist,” as the drink and snack sellers at the entrance like to say. Some travel guides recommend taking a guide to chase away the monkeys, but the easiest thing is to join another group of visitors and keep your sunglasses on monkeys don’t like us to look at them in the eyes.
Temple after temple
As a royal city dating back to the 8th century, the Buddhist city of Phetchaburi has no less than some thirty temples scattered here and there within the greater city area. The main ones include Wat Mahathat, which towers over the center of the city with its 55-meter obelisk, flanked with four shorter towers, and in the middle, a cloister where statues of Buddha are aligned side by side. The construction of this temple goes back to the 13th century and it allegedly contains a relic of the Buddha (or of one of his disciples, perhaps?).
In the northeast of the city, you’ll find Wat Yai Suwannaram, dating back to the 17th century. It has a splendid collection of richly decorated building. The temple was the backdrop for the filming of the feature film The Legend of Suriyothai, a Thai megaproduction completed in 2001.
Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, a Khmer temple dating back to the 13th century, is located one kilometer to the south of Wat Yai Suwannaram. It has been less well preserved, and is clearly less imposing than the Khmer monuments in Buriram, but it still has its charm and architectural points of interest.
All Night Long
The day is over and it’s time to think about dinner. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the local desserts. Indeed, Phetchaburi is particularly known for all its sweets made from coconut, such as khanom mo kaeng. Starting at 5 pm, two food markets take place every day until late in the night, one at the foot of Phra Nakom Khiri hill and the other one in the city center.
The city center is split in two by the river, and is a jumble of tiny streets packed with restaurants, stalls, and old wooden buildings. Here you can discover one of the city’s charms, no tall buildings, but lots of century-old houses with traditional two-story architecture. Actually, if you ignore the 115,000 inhabitants (more than in Hua Hin), you might occasionally think that you’re in a village rather than a large city. If you have the chance to be in Phetburi on a Friday or Monday, don’t miss the night market that takes place at the foot of Phra Nakom Khiri hill. You’ll surely be the local attraction, but above all, this is the best place to bargain-hunt: spare parts for motorcycles, old televisions, CDs and even cassettes. There’s something for everyone, far removed from elephant-pattern trousers!
WHAT & WHERE
CHOOSE YOUR BED
Swiss Palazzo ***
A small pleasant and modern hotel, the Swiss Palazzo features a rooftop garden where you can enjoy views of the nearby Phra Nakhon Khiri Park. +66 (0)32 400 250
Address: 37/4 Tumbol Thonchai
Dream D Residence ****
The only 4-star hotel in Phetchaburi city centre, the D-Dream residence offers uniquely designed rooms, a rooftop pool and bicycles for its guests.
Tel: +66 (0)895 153 322
Address: 138 T. Tonmamuang
White Monkey Guesthouse **
Ouvert depuis 2014, White Monkey Guesthouse offre des chambres propres et modernes à prix raisonnables, à deux pas du Wat Mahathat Worawihan. Open since 2014, the White Monkey Guesthouse offers clean, modern and reasonably priced rooms just a few steps away from Wat Mahathat Worawihan.
Tel: +66 (0)32 400 209
Address: 78/7 Khlong Krachaeng Road
DO & SEE
Phra Ram Ratchaniwet
A palace in the baroque and art nouveau style, the home of King Rama V has now become a museum and can be visited daily from 8 am to 4 pm.
Address: Khlong Kra Saeng
Sirindhorn Environnemental Center
The centre, located in the middle of the mangroves, aims to protect certain species of plants and animals as well as to raise public awareness of environmental issues via a permanent exhibition.
Address: 1281 Rama VI Camp, Cha-am, Phetchaburi 76120 +66 (0)32 508 352
Located in a small alley with only traditional wooden houses, Cucina offers a journey through time and through Thai and Western cuisine as well as providing vegetarian options.
Address: Suwanmunee Rd
Rabieng Rim Nam
A small restaurant on the river, Rabieng Rim Nam offers delicious Thai cuisine as well as an art gallery. The boss speaks very good English and is a mine of tourist information.
Address: 1 Shee Sra Inn Road
With a chain of cafes and clubs featuring live music every night, one can go from one bar to another depending on one’s preferences.
A small bar just a few steps away from the restaurant Rabieng Rim Nam where local groups play current Thai songs: a spot that may not seem much but which has a very cozy atmosphere.
Address: Phong Suriya Road