This province located just about 120km or so from Bangkok have kept the many intrinsic qualities that make Thailand such a delightful holiday destination intact.
By Percy Roxas
Not too many foreign visitors to Thailand think of Phetchaburi when planning their trip. In fact when they go to Cha-am, the twin-sister of the popular beach destination of Hua Hin, they are technically in Phetchaburi. Cha-am is under the direct administration of Phetchaburi Province. But Cha-Am is not the only attraction that the province can be justifiably proud of. The entire province, sandwiched between the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Tanaosi mountain range forming the boundary to Myanmar, is full of both natural and manmade attractions that should have made it a major tourist destination. The capital, Phetchaburi, is an old royal city dating to the 8th century. The relics of its rich and checkered past, such as the Khmer-styled prangs of Wat Kamphaeng Laeng and the place built by King Rama IV in 1860, the Khao Wang (or officially, Phra Naklhon Khiri) and the royal temple Wat Phra Kaeo, clearly reflect its importance to the kingdom.
Eco-tourists will be glad to know that Phetchaburi is home to Thailand’s largest national park, the 3,000sqm-Kaeng Krachan National Park, which covers nearly half the province. This park protects mostly rainforests in the mountains and the Kaeng Krachan reservoir. There are several caves to explore here; most notably the Khao Luang caves, where Buddha statues are illumanted by a hole in the roof. Beachcombers will enjoy Cha-am Beach, one of the most popular beaches in the country favored by Thais. This beach area is one of the remaining real Thai-style resort, although modernization is advancing fast and more and more tourist facilities are beginning to mushroom. Still, for the most part Cha-am is a relatively quieter than other major Thai beach destinations and therefore, a great relaxing place to be. Culture lovers will find the many temples most interesting, such as Wat Tham Klaep, which has a very large hall and chapel with beautifully carved door panels, Wat Mahathat Worawihan with its five-topped pagoda constructed in accordance with the Mahayana concept, Wat Yai Suwannaram, which contains 300-year-old mural paintings of mythical angels and houses a preaching throne with intricate woodcarvings and gold gilt works of Bangkok design, Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, originally a Khmer place of worship, attested by its sandstone walls and four Khmer style pagodas; Wat Khao Takhrao and Wat Kuti, which has a ceremonial hall made entirely of carved teakwood. Those searching for more of the essential local touch, Phetchaburi seems to have successfully retained the many intrinsic Thai qualities that make the country such a delightful holiday destination. Immerse yourself in a place where ever-hospitable locals who know how to laugh and have fun reside. It’s always great to be with people who seem to be attuned with their surroundings.
More to see and do
Beyond Cha-am Beach, which is considered by many tourists – rather mistakenly — as a separate unit, Phetchaburi City probably attracts more visitors than the rest of the province. Here is located the Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, a beachside wooden palace formerly used as a royal summer residence by King Rama VI in the 1920s, but is now open to the public. The palace faces the open sea and a day spent there will make one understand why it is referred to as “the palace of love and hope.” The Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park covers a hilly area with an old palace and historical temples. It consists of royal halls, temples and groups of buildings, constructed in splendidly harmonious Thai, Western neoclassic and Chinese architectural styles. Just two kilometers south of Khao Wang is Khao Bandai It, site of an ancient temple (Ayutthaya Period) and several caves. Phra Ram Ratchaniwet, a palace in European architectural style was built as a rainy season palace by King Rama V in 1916, and was used to welcome state visitors during the reign of King Rama VI. And yes, there are other beaches: Hat Chao Samran, Hat Puek Tian, and Hat Laem Luang, which stretches with two kilometres of white sand. We mentioned the Kaeng Krachan National Park, which is still largely unexplored. You might also want to see the 760m-long and 58m-high Kaeng Krachan Dam, which provides a beautiful scenery of the reservoir and its islands. Other “must-see” sightseeing options are the Lao Song or Thai Song Dam Tribal Villages and the Huai Sai Wildlife Breeding Center, just 14km south of Cha-am, a conservation area for wild animals. Oh, if you have the time, don’t miss the exciting rafting adventure along the Phetchaburi River. If you’re coming around February, time your visit with the Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair at Khao Wang Compound. The five-day fair presents a parade of people enacting the procession of monarchs who ruled Phetchaburi during the Dvaravati and Srivijaya Periods. Apart from that, there are exhibitions on Phetchaburi’s history and archaeological objects. Cooking demonstrations on the province’s famous dishes and sweetmeats are among the main attractions of the fair. Also featured are various kinds of entertainment and contests. In April, they also have the Thai Song Dam Festival, an event that includes a merit-making ceremony, folk plays, and grand displays of authentic Thai Song Dam village cuisine for all to enjoy.
Eating out should not be a problem as there are hundreds of restaurants and cafes serving almost every variety of Thai food except there is almost no English translation (from the name of the place to the menu) except maybe in Cha-am; but that can become part of the adventure. If you don’t have a Thai guide or you are not that knowledgeable in the local language, this could pose a dilemma. However, rest assured that whichever place you stop by to eat, you’ll be served with wholesome Thai dishes at very low prices. If you want to be safe, better stick to hotel restaurants close by. Or otherwise, be content with Western-style franchises such as KFC, Chester Grills or McDonald’s. Besides a few Chinese restaurants, fast food franchises and pizza parlors, it is almost impossible to find anything other than Thai food in the city.
In Phetchaburi town, many tourists have randomly tried and enjoyed their experiences at Datofarm (087-116-4504), a four-room guesthouse; also organizing exciting tours by car or boat to major attractions in the area;
2N Guesthouse (081-817-1134), which offers a nice standard of accommodation with breakfast; and Royal Diamond, (near the by-pass) although it is not especially convenient because it is not close to the market area (but close to Khao Wang). There are some interesting hotels in the market area too, mostly old converted shop-houses. In Cha-am, a wide range of accommodation is now available. You can choose to stay in inexpensive guesthouses and hostels, new intimate boutique properties, or something like the Marriott Cha-am or Holiday Inn Cha-Am, among many others.
Before you return to Bangkok make sure you buy some local products. Phetchaburi is famous for its sweets, especially the one made with palm sugar local dish (which is cooling and very popular during the summer season). Khanomchin Thotman (rice noodles with fishcakes) is also popular, not to mention fruits.