Thailand’s Best Kept Secret: Prachuap Khiri Khan

Courtesy of Kirk Gillock
Courtesy of Kirk Gillock

Maybe I shouldn’t even be putting this out there on the internet… But you’re my friends and I trust you to keep this secret. I mean, people know about this place, mostly the French because they don’t much like to be around other people, so their equivalent of the Lonely Planet suggests places that no one else goes. There’s definitely a lot less tourists here than anywhere else I’ve been in Thailand, and if you’re anything like me, that’s what you crave. Koh Phagnan’s full moon party was a dream 10 years ago, a truly blissed out wannabe hippie’s dream. 5 years ago, you needed to pay for a wrist band to get onto the beach where one or two people died at each full moon by either drowning or setting themselves on fire whilst jumping through a lit hoop. Now, I don’t even want to go near it for fear of what it has become. The perfect beach isn’t perfect if it’s full of people, and there’s not many places you can go in Thailand now to find that paradise island you were dreaming of. Until now.

Sometimes I love Mickaël’s way of travelling, and sometimes it drives me mad. You know me, I like to research, find the hottest places to go or the “off the beaten track gems” with just enough going on to keep you interested. Once I have my hit list, I plan the route. Mickaël is more of a point to the map and go kinda guy. This is great when I you happen to find a gem that’s not on anyone’s radar, slightly annoying when I already have my perfect itinerary in mind. Luckily this time, it was the former. We gave ourselves a week of relaxing beach time before heading into the madness of India, we just needed somewhere close to Bangkok to go. The contenders were limited, as most of the best islands are a good 12 hours away if you don’t have the luxury of flying. To the east you have Ko Chang, Ko Samet and Ko Kood whose beauty cannot be disputed but whose prices certainly can. It’s peak season and booking a bungalow last minute doesn’t come cheap. Pattaya was out of the question, it’s seedy reputation precedes it and we had no interest in gawping at lady boys or seeing what the latest thing to fire out of a female’s genitals is (last time the darts popped every balloon above my head). Lastly, we were faced with a place called Hua Hin and further down, Prachuap Khiri Khan. Regarding the former, the Lonely Planet insisted that although it was more senior citizens and less backpackers, this shouldn’t be disregarded as a top destination to go to. The less backpackers for me, the better (or so I thought). Prachuap was touted as a sleep fishing village packed with charm, which also sounded appealing. Luckily I was speaking to my old friend Kirk (the owner of Isara where I volunteered as a teacher 5 years ago, now environmental enthusiast building a plastic bottle boat to sail through the gulf of Thailand next month!) and he just so happened to  be living in Prachuap, what luck! As a compromise, we decided to head to Hua Hin for a couple of days then down to Prachuap.

Hua Hin has literally the worst beach in Thailand. Do not even bother. No white sand, no calmness, just pensioners who have clearly spent too long in the sun eating too much ice cream, and they wear far too little because they just don’t care about other people’s feelings. It’s harsh, but true. And what’s worse is to get to this beach you have to travel for an hour! What a waste, but man did it put my weight issues into perspective. There’s an amazing restaurant here which made our stay worth it, Kota, on the main highway that runs through town, and a nice night market that will keep you entertained for a night or two with its noodles, friend chicken and banana pancakes.

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Hua Hin at sunset
Kota Restaurant
Kota Restaurant

Two days later and we were eagerly on our way to Prachuap Khiri Khan with high hopes of somewhere relaxing to rest our heads for the next 4 days. The minivan dropped us in the middle of town and we walked straight to the peer to find somewhere reasonable to stay with a view of the sea. For £14 a night, we got a huge air conditioned room in Suksant Hotel right by the main peer, a run down but perfectly adequate hotel. We told ourselves we’d find somewhere cheaper the next day, but we never keep this promise when we offer it. Such terrible backpackers we are, honestly. Just read about our journey through India to confirm this.

We hired a moped for £5 a day which is really the best way to get around this small town. Our first stop was to see Kirk and his amazing plastic bottle boat which will hopefully set sail in April. It really will stay afloat using over 12,000 plastic bottles, well hopefully anyway… And he does it all for his love of Thailand and passion for educating the people here about littering. It’s a huge problem in this country and its really inspiring to see him take such positive action to change it. To find out more you can go to his website or follow him at www.facebook.com/plasticbottleboat .

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We had a great catch up and talked for hours about our travels, his travels (he cycled on a BICYCLE through Laos and Vietnam!) and what the future had in store for us, when you travel for so long I can’t tell you how nice it is to see a familiar face, especially one that motivates you to do better and be better. Some say that the right people come along at the right time, and this is certainly true of this encounter, but more about that another time 🙂

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Sunset at Kirk’s office

Back to Prachuap, and the other reason we came here, beach time. Prachuap is a town of 3 big bays, the middle one being the centre of town. It’s pleasant enough for relax on, but not the best in Thailand you’ll ever see. But as we quickly found out, this far more to the perfect beach town than the quality of its beach. The nicest beach is a short ride away in the Air Force base south of town. It’s an interesting place to drive through, a massive resort for soldiers on leave perhaps, who knows. But the beach is idyllic, stretching out through a tree lined cove with plenty of deck chairs available to lounge on in the shade. This is not a beach for bakers, be warned. They have a food market right across the street selling ice coffee and a whole host of lunch time treats, it’s the perfect place to spend the day.

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If you want to bake but Hua Hin doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, the beach to the north by the temple is a good bet, but sadly there’s quite a bit of rubbish on the shoreline to wander past which somewhat kills the mood. It seems the Locals don’t know how much of a treasure they have here and they continue to litter, or maybe they do know and they use it as a way to put tourists off. Either way, Kirk’s inspiring environmental project couldn’t come at a better time.

There’s also an interesting temple in town, visible from pretty much everywhere in Prachuap and famous because it’s completely over run with monkeys, Jungle Book style. Monkeys intrigue and terrify me in equal measures because they’re so cute, so much like humans in the way the care for each other, yet vastly unpredictable in their temperament. This is the perfect place to watch them in their natural habitat, but do so with caution because if you stare at one for too long they’ll hiss, run after you and try to steal your phone. The views from the top of this incredibly high temple are unrivalled, and worth it even in 35 degree heat.

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Every night there’s a small night market in town with plenty of food on offer, but as an un-touristy town there are no menus in English. We wandered around aimlessly for a while until we were drawn to a particular dish we could see or smell, then point at it in just the right way to show we were not mentally challenged but in fact wanted the same thing. This often worked out in our favour and became so addictive that we’d share 3 or 4 dishes from as many stalls each evening. Pad Thai, satay, noodle soups or my personal favourite ga pow gai (stir fried minced chicken with chilli and basil) all delicious especially when eaten all in the same evening!

But the real star of the show in this town is the weekend night market, every Friday and Saturday evening, when the town really comes alive and everyone comes along to sample some street food or buy a t-shirt. Obviously, we were more interested in the food, and by we, I mean me. I got crazy eyes when we first arrived and sampled everything from every stall I could get my hands on. I was so excited to see all my favourite foods on offer, things I hadn’t seen since my teaching days in Nong Khai 5 years ago when the other teachers and I would rush down to the market on a Sunday evening to fill up on sweet corn treats, fish cakes and other fried goods. I tried to pack 2 months of this activity into 5 minutes at the market in Prachuap, which was slightly frightening for Mickaël. He handled it like a trooper though and dutifully handed me the wallet. I happily filled up on all of the above and gawped at the rest of the food I was then too full to eat, while Mickaël took his time to find the cream of the crop. He chose Vietnamese spring rolls packed with fresh vegetables accompanied by a sweet, tangy sauce and the most refreshing pad Thai over ever had (because I’m never to full to have a little taste). A successful trip all round.

curiously delicious unknown delicacies
curiously delicious unknown delicacies

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So all in all, I really think Prachuap has it all, and I hope after reading this post you agree and give it a try. It won’t be the paradise island of white sand beaches and buckets of booze that you may have had in mind, instead you’ll get a slice of the real Thailand with plenty to keep you entertained if you enjoy the simple things in life. Riding through town to the deserted beaches clinging to Mickaël with the wind in my hair was honestly the greatest I’ve felt on the whole trip. Never have I been so carefree, so at home and yet full of adventure, so content because this was it. This is what we had been looking for, and I hope one day you find it to.