Hua Hin / Prachuap Khiri Khan
Prachuap Khiri Khan is the name of a long narrow province a few hours southwest of Bangkok. Hua Hin is its most famous beach resort and one I've visited numerous times. However, there are about 150 kilometers of province south of Hua Hin and a bit more to the west of which I've seen, well, some of. I do not profess to be a Prachuap expert but that doesn't mean I can't waste a little internet bandwidth telling you about it.
This is a big beach resort popular with middle-aged European tourists and anyone who can't be bothered to go any further south. Well, I'm not European nor am I middle-aged (I think) so I guess that puts me in the latter category.
I spend a weekend here a couple of times a year, usually as an excuse for the significant other and I to flee Bangkok for a day or two. As a weekend getaway I like the place but with so many better beaches and islands in Thailand I'd be disappointed to center a Thailand beach holiday solely around this place.
The beach is plenty big and runs for a few miles south of town and it's an enjoyable hour or so long walk from that southern end back to town. Since I first visited here in February 1998 I have noticed an increasing amount of garbage on the beach with each successive visit. Still, I've seen worse and the water is always warm and quite gentle. However, there's no snorkeling whatsoever, you'll have to head much further south for any of that, and there's not much else by way of watersports either, head up to Cha-am for more of that. Also be careful of jellyfish that make an appearance here from time to time. Well, you can always take a pony ride up and down the beach.
Accommodation in Hua Hin runs the entire range from flophouse to four-star resort. The guesthouses with rooms out on the pier over the water seem a bit pricey for what you get. Nice views and relaxing decks, but not much by way of a room.
Much to choose from to eat, western and Thai, as Hua Hin is equally popular with Thais as well as foreigners. Local seafood is the staple and would be your best choice. There's a lively nightmarket along Thanon Dechanuchit, center of town a couple blocks up from the beach, and at the corner with Thanon Sasong is, in my opinion, where you can find the best seafood in town. Go to the tables in front of the 7-11 at the northwest corner of the intersection. It's a crowded and noisy environment and the food prices are jacked up a little here, but I've never begrudged a meal I've had. The nightmarket offers almost every conceivable snack/dessert you could think of, or at least think of in a Thai sense. Hua Hin has plenty of drinking holes accommodating all tastes. There's a good Italian ice cream shop on the road leading from the train station to the beach.
In Hua Hin there are plenty of tuk-tuks/pick-up trucks that will take you anywhere you want to go in the area and there are also plenty of motorbike rental shops. Most bikes are the 110cc scooter variety as well as Honda Phantoms, which only look like a big bike until you actually start driving one and you realize the motor is but a wimpy 125cc.
Though there is a train station in town it's much easier to take a bus from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal in Pinklao. Buses run from every half-hour to every hour or so. Just turn up when you're ready to go. You can also fly in and out now on Bangkok Airways.
One thing about the bus. On the way back every bus makes a pit stop around the town of Phetchaburi. The main purpose is so the Thais can pile off the bus and stock up on khanom (sweets). There are huge outlets selling a wide variety of Thai junk food here and few Thais would return home from a trip through Phetchaburi without stocking up on some khanom for the folks back at the Bangkok office. If you're a tourist, do use this opportunity to try out a few things, though for much of the Thai khanom, enjoyment is an acquired taste, but how else are you going to acquire it? As I once said to my girlfriend, "you know you've been in Thailand a long time when the bus pulls up at the khanom outlet and you're the first one off." And yes, I now buy as much junk as any Thai.
This is a waterfall about an hour and a half maybe two hours west of Hua Hin near the Myanmar border. We rented a motorbike and took a trip out here in early December 2002. It's a fairly scenic ride. The waterfall is, like so many waterfalls, part of a national park and as such has the pricing of 20 baht for Thais and 200 baht for foreigners. A few polite words of Thai out of my mouth and I was let in for the local price of 20 baht, which is often the case and in this instance particularly fortunate. While not only did it save me 180 baht, I would have been rather disappointed to have paid 200 baht to see the Pa La-u waterfall. Granted, It's a multi-stage affair, but the stages aren't particularly awe-inspiring and it takes a bit of walking through some sometimes thick brush and over slippery rocks to reach the second and certainly the third stage. Still, it's a nice ride in the country.
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
This is a big national park along the coast south of Hua Hin. I haven't been there yet so I can't tell you anything about it. But if I didn't mention it then somebody would probably e-mail asking me about it. My apologies if a search engine brought you here under this category... but as you're here...
Prachuap Khiri Khan
The name of the province is also the name of the provincial capital which is a nice little fishing town and certainly a more charming place than Hua Hin, though it is lacking for a decent beach.
We spent a weekend here in August 2003. It being the rainy season we weren't so much looking for a beach to visit but rather a seaside place with something else to do than swim. And eating seafood was also a priority. I had heard that the seafood here was every bit as good or better than in Hua Hin and for about half the price. So we wanted to see if this was true or not.
We took the bus from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal, needing about four and a half, maybe five hours to get here. A word of caution if going to the bus terminal. The ticket window for Prachuap Khiri Khan is one of the only windows in the station that does not have the name of the destination in English. So if you can't read Thai, look for the window for Hua Hin or Pranburi and then look for a window next to it with a long place name and no English equivalent. That should be Prachuap Khiri Khan.
We stayed at the best place in town, the Hadthong Hotel. A decent seaside room was going for around 650 baht plus the usual add-ons. The price was 20% off high season rates. The rooms have a fridge, air-con, balcony, and satellite/cable TV but no English-language channels. At least not in room 224, anyway.
The town itself is small, you can walk around it in an hour or rent a motorbike. Only small 110cc bikes appeared to be available. The Hadthong Hotel has bikes as well as a few other places in town that didn't seem to make much of an effort to advertise this fact. We sat down at a coffee shop a block or so from our hotel and asked the girl working there if she knew of any motorbike rental places. Well, the coffee shop has a couple of bikes available but to find this out you either have to read the fine print on the coffee menu or ask the girl working there if she knows of any rental places in town, to which she'll name her own shop possibly after mentioning one or two other places first.
After lunch we walked over to the "beach". The beach was more like a couple of meters of muddy sand but if one wanted a swim I see no reason why you couldn't do so right then and there. There's a single pier where several fishing boats were docked at the end. We walked over, first passing a bar/restaurant inhabited by a few drunk young men who at the presence of a western guy and a Thai woman made a few comments all of which we ignored. Reaching the end of the pier we found several boats preparing for the evening's expedition. One boat had dozens upon dozens of laborers crammed in what looked like most uncomfortable surroundings. We thought a few or more of them might be Burmese. The Myanmar border is only a dozen kilometers away. Unlike the bar/restaurant we passed a few minutes earlier nobody said anything obnoxious and after a minute of standing around taking pictures the two of us took up conversation with a few of the boathands. No, not Burmese (or at least not admitting it). Yes, very crowded on board, something like fifty or sixty of them. Only go overnight and back in the morning with the fresh catch. And of course who was I, how long in Thailand, how come I could speak some Thai, and so on. Friendly group of characters.
We then walked to the north end of town to Khao Chong Krajok (English: mirror tunnel mountain) which is home to Wat Thammikaram and great views of the area as well as home to dozens (hundreds?) of monkeys. I don't like monkeys. My girlfriend doesn't like them either. And we almost didn't go up top as there were so many of them and neither of us relished the idea of being attacked by one of those psychotic creatures. Well, we persevered and made it up to the temple and found the most pleasant of surprises. A 10-week-old Rottweiler puppy!
Click here to see more silly pictures of the Rottie puppy.
There's obviously someone breeding a lot of Rotties in this province because we see one or two every time we come, but this was the first time we had met a puppy. We played with the pup for awhile, before paying our respects to the Buddha and then taking some time to look at the views up and down the coastline and off to the mountains of Myanmar. Then it was back to the pup to play around with her some more.
Tearing ourselves away from the pup we headed back to our hotel for a short nap before we would stuff ourselves with seafood. There's a large nightmarket in the center of town as well as a number of food stalls next to the town park, Suan Saranrom. We opted for the latter and ate well and cheaply. However, the quality of the seafood at this particular place on this particular night was in fact inferior, though not significantly, to what we've had in Hua Hin, though it was about half the price. Perhaps we ate at the wrong place or the catch was off that day, I don't know.
Next to our hotel is the Phloen Samut Restaurant which I've heard is quite good, if not more expensive. It was crowded with both Thais and foreigners when we passed by. If we had another night we would have eaten there. Next time, I suppose.
Prachuap Khiri Khan is a nice place to spend a day. It's attracting more foreigners now. We saw about twenty, though that's still a tiny fraction of what was probably in Hua Hin this same weekend. While I wouldn't go out of my way to visit here, if you can squeeze an extra day in your schedule and certainly if you're an expat based in Bangkok looking for a weekend getaway, do give this place a try.
Bang Saphan (Yai/Noi)
There are two Bang Saphans. Bang Saphan Yai is the main one and Bang Saphan Noi is not. Guess what 'yai' and 'noi' mean in Thai? If you guessed large and small you win the grand prize. Both are located at the far southern end of the province. We visited here once in December 1999 having heard there might be some quiet beaches. Well, there might be. See, we arrived late morning having spent the previous night in Hua Hin and no sooner did we get ourselves checked into the Hat Somboon Sea View Hotel that it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And rain. And then it started to pour. And we sat in the room and among other things, watched the rain. Then we ran across the street to the restaurant, a very good restaurant I might add, and in between bites of food we watched the rain some more. Then we went back to Bangkok and the rain stopped.
This town is actually in Phetchaburi province and is the closest beach resort to Bangkok on this side of the gulf. It's very popular with Thais but gets a handful of foreigners as well. I've only been here once in 1998. Sitting in a beach chair eating cheap crab for an hour or two was a real highlight. When I ventured for a swim I was the only foreigner among dozens of Thais and heard more than enough shouts of "farang!" for one afternoon so I decided sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella eating crab was a better alternative as I got less attention and more satisfaction. I don't recall where we stayed but it was one of the many mid-range hotels along the beach and it was perfectly adequate for the price.
Phra Ratchaniwet Marukhathayawan
This is a royal palace constructed of teak wood located between Cha-am and Hua Hin and if you have your own transport and an hour to spare it's a pleasant way to spend part of an afternoon.
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.