Prachuap Khirikhan

Located approximately 318 km south of Bangkok, Prachuap Khiri khan and it’s surrounding area is quite possibly the best kept secret for travel and sightseeing in Thailand at the moment. Due to the fact it’s not that easy to travel to (you need to take a train from Bangkok or Surat Thani) it’s still an off the beaten track destination. The small number of travelers stopping off there obviate this. However, the word is getting out that Prachuap and it’s pristine beaches and majestic coastal scenery, is a place well worth taking a couple of days to enjoy.

The foreshore of the main bay in town at 8 am, no crowds to be seen anywhere

Getting there: There is no commercial airport at Prachuap Khirikhan therefore those wanting to travel there need to use the train or bus services. If you are coming from Bangkok you need to check the timetable –  http://www.railway.co.th/checktime/checktime.asp?lenguage=Eng – as not all the trains departing from Hualumphong will stop at Prachuap Khirikhan station. The safest bet, in terms of arriving at Prachuap at a convenient time of the day, is to take the 8.05 am (special express # 43) at of Hualumphong. This will put you in Prachuap between 12.30 – 13.00 (approx 4.5 – 5 hours travel time). As of Oct 2017, a one way fare is 455 THB per person for a first class seat.

Prachuap town has one of the most majestic coastlines of any town in Thailand. A sweeping hosreshoe bay which is flanked by magnificent karst peaks at either end. The beach road runs for approximately 1.5 km along the foreshore and, as expected, there are lots of good quality, inexpensive accommodation choices looking directly out over the ocean. A popular choice for many travelers and backpackers is Maggie’s Guesthouse. Located on the southern end of the beach road. Maggies Guesthouse has upstairs rooms with splendid beach views for approximately 700 THB per night. If you are looking for something a bit more upmarket then the Hadthong Hotel –  http://www.megaworldasia.com/hotels-and-accomodation/thailand/hadthong-hotel-prachuap-khirikhan/ – has nice rooms for approximately 1000 THB per night. Rooms have a/c, hot water showers, and in room WIFI. Tuk-tuk fares from the station to the beach front = 40 THB per person.

The Hadthong Hotel – beach front, Prachuap Khiri khan

Attractions in and around Prachuap Khiri khan:

There are plenty of noteworthy attractions in and around Prachuap Khiri khan township and the best way of getting about is on a rented motor scooter. These can be hired from vendors along the beach road and the going rate is approximately 200 THB per day. In no particular order this is a list of the worthwhile attractions in the area

Ao Manao Beach: This is one of the best beaches in the area and is the located at the next bay south from Prachuap. However, getting there involves an interesting little exercise; you need to sign in at a military checkpoint as the beach is located on a Thai air-force base. The air force base has been there since world war two and mainly serves as a training branch. It gained some notoriety during the war as it was the location where the Japanese army first landed to begin their invasion of South East Asia. The defense forces of the day put up spirited resistance and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese invaders, but in the end succumbed to orders from the prime minister to cease fire. There is a plaque commemorating the valiant efforts of the Thai air force in defending their country on December 8th, 1941 –   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Prachuap_Khiri_Khan

Khao Lom Muak Peak, at the southern end of the main bay in Prachuap

Khao Lom Muak Peak: Most people will normally head straight to Ao Manao beach but if you happen to be in town on one of the Thai public holidays there is the possibility of doing something a bit more challenging; climbing up the peak known as Khao Lom Muak. Use google maps to make your way to a location known as the “Monkey Monument.” This is where the stairway up to the peak begins. As mentioned, it is only open on special holidays (e.g., Big Buddha Day) and you should get there early (no later than 8 am) as the site gets crowded with locals wanting to earn merit by making the ascent. It’s also very advisable to make the ascent in the cooler hours of the morning, rather than midday or the afternoon, because the arduous climb will have you bathed in perspiration. It is a 700 meter ascent to the top however, the stairs only go half way up due to the steepness of the upper section. Where the stairs finish, haul ropes have been fixed in place to enable climbers to pull themselves up and over the steeper inclines. It’s advisable to wear good hiking boots as the rocks are jagged; sandals and flip flops will get cut to shreds (as well as your feet). A lot of the locals also had gloves to give better grip on the haul ropes. Take a good supply of drinking water as you’ll perspire profusely with the exertion of climbing the upper section. It will normally take an hour to make the ascent at a moderate pace. Once up there the effort is well worth it as the panoramic view is spectacular.

Haul ropes on the upper section

The view from the top

Khao Chong Krachok: This is a smaller peak, with a temple at the top, at the southern end of the foreshore road. Compared with Khao Lom Muak it is an easy ascent of about 300 steps. Most sightseers normally go up late in the afternoon to catch the sunset. To get there you’ll need to park on the temple grounds and then work your way through the hawker’s stalls to find the stairway to the top. Unfortunately, the hill top is inhabited by a large gang of monkeys and over the years, visitors have foolishly been giving them food. The monkeys have now become quite aggressive and will try to grab any loose items from sightseers, thinking it could be food. It’s advisable to keep things such as hats, caps, and sunglasses secured in a backpack. During my visit I had a bottle of drinking water ripped out of my hand and a local girl had her baseball cap plucked from her head. Once gone, there’s no getting the stolen items back as the monkeys will quickly move to a position out of reach. Be very careful with mobile phone use (taking selfies) as I’ve heard these have also been plucked from an unsuspecting visitor. Another negative about the site is the stench of monkey urine and faeces; it’s everywhere. This site is one of those places that you tick off the bucket list and don’t go back to.

The stairway to the top

Monkey business at Khao Chong Krachok temple site

A nice overview of the temple at sunset; beware of the monkeys

Khao Ta Mong Lai: This peak and its associated national park forms the headland at the very northern end of the main bay at Prachuap. To get there, follow the foreshore road past Khao Chong Krachok peak and then go right over the bridge to the beach area on the far side of the river. Follow the beach road around the curve of the bay until you eventually come to the parking area at the national park headquarters.  There is a trail from the park headquarters to the view point along the peninsula. It is a distance of about 300 meters. There is also trail up the peak but it is now closed. When I inquired I was told by the attendant staff it is “too dangerous” to allow free access. I offered to pay for a guide and was turned down. It seems Thailand is turning into a nanny state now when it comes to trekking or more challenging hikes. Everywhere adventure type activities are being restricted and controlled. Maybe it’s just too hot for the park staff to make an effort or perhaps those plump ladies at the park headquarters just want an easy life with no physical exertion. Whatever the case, it seems Thailand’s national park staff aren’t very pro-active in promoting their amazing country.

Khao Ta Mong Lai forest park and headland, as viewed from Khao Chong Krachok temple

Thailand, turning into a nanny state for adventure tourism

Morning view across the bay to Khao Lom Muak Peak

Khan Kra Dai Cave: This is actually part of the Ao Noi Temple complex. To get there use the same road to get to Khao Ta Mong Lai forest park. The road across to Ao Noi branches left a few hundred meters before the park headquarters. Follow the signage and you’ll eventually pass the new teak temple at ground level, before arriving at the parking area at the bottom of the hill. Khan Kra Dai Cave is probably the best attraction in the area. Being a few kilometres out of Prachuap town it has very few tourists going there. The majority of visitors are locals paying their respects to Buddha. There is a solid stairway of approximately 300 steps up to the cave entrance which then opens up to reveal a large reclining Buddha in the first cave chamber and a second, with rows of terracotta monks, in a chamber deeper within. I was fortunate enough to have visited this site some five years previously with a friend who knew the area extensively. Otherwise most people, even many who live in the area, have no idea of its existence as there’s no official tour to this site. To get there you will need to rent a motorbike in Prachuap Khiri khan and visit independently. There is no entry fee. Also, take a few minutes to check out the original temple at the bottom of the stairs – the one covered with sea shells. There is a small cave at the back with many Buddha statues inside. There is also a strange rock carving of a Buddha with a sword in his hand.

The original Ao Noi Temple, covered with sea shells, at the bottom of the stairway

The first reclining Buddha Khan Kra Dai Cave

Deeper within Khan Kra Dai Cave, the second reclining Buddha and rows of terracotta monks

The terracotta monks, with sleeping guard dog

Singkhon Pass: As the crow flies, this area is reputedly the narrowest part of Thailand – just 12 km from Singkhon Pass to the coast – and forms part of the Isthmus of Kra. To there from Prachuap Township use google maps and follow the winding road (via highway # 4 and route # 1039) until you arrive at the border pass. The main point of interest here is the border market which is predominantly staffed and run by refugee hill tribe people from Burma. The market sells a range of products derived solely from the jungles of Burma. Apparently, all the natural timber furniture, the jewelry and the orchids all come from the jungles on the Burmese side. Whether one agrees with the idea of the sale of jungle products (particularly teak furniture) is an entirely personal choice but it is an interesting and colourful market.

Colourful orchids from the jungles of Burma

Solid hardwood furniture

Kui Buri National Park: This is a bit further back along highway # 4 and is the best place in Thailand to see herds of wild elephants in their natural habitat. It falls within the Prachuap Khiri Khan Provincial and although approx. a 56 km drive (1 hour travel time) to the north, it’s still closer to Prachuap Township than Hua Hin. For a full report on Kui Buri National Park, follow this link: http://www.megaworldasia.com/thailand/kui-buri-national-park/

The wild elephants of Kui Buri National Park

All in all, I’d say the beachside township of Prachuap Khiri khan, and surrounding environs, is well worth a 3 – 4 day stopover to check out the pristine, beaches and some great, uncrowded sightseeing venues. Prachuap Khiri khan, definitely off the beaten track but go there before the word gets out.

Safe travels,

Mega.

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