Hidden Gem

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A trip to this hidden paradise of Baan Krut brings back memories of the Thailand of old.

by Dave Stamboulis

BKrutWat5AAWhile most Bangkok folks go to Hua Hin and Cha Am for their weekend beach getaways, these destinations tend to be overcrowded and not exactly the relaxing city escape a lot of weekend warriors are looking for. Enter Baan Krut, one of Siam’s better-kept secrets.
Baan Krut (also spelled as Baan/Ban Krut or Ban Krood) is a small fishing community located almost 40km south of Bangkok, just south of Prachuap Kiri Khan. The village sits on a 12km swathe of powdery white sand fronting a gorgeous bay in the Gulf of Thailand. Accessible by express train in less than five hours from Bangkok and probably three-and-a half by car, the beach and its handful of low-key resorts has become popular among Bangkok Thai weekenders plus a few expats in the know. But during the week it is fairly deserted. A trip to this hidden paradise brings back memories of the Thailand of old.

Why go
For that feeling of being in a secluded beach area without any of the tuk-tuk or jet-ski mafia, overpriced vendors, or the excess of crass-shopping plazas, DVD marts, and beachwear stalls that mar most islands these days. There are no 7-11s, massage parlors, girlie bars, or much else for that matter, other than a handful of small-scale resorts, some good places to chow down on seafood, and a chance to laze on the empty and serene beach all-day without being asked to buy a sarong or pineapple. This place is the real deal, and while nightowls and party animals might find it a bit tame, the loads of open space on the sand are sure to win over just about any beachcomber. And heck, even the local tuk-tuk drivers smile, chat amiably, and offer fairly priced rides, Bt25, from the train station to the beach.

BKrutBud1AAWhat to see
The prime sightseeing spot in Baan Krut is the giant Buddha statue and Disneyland castle-like temple that sits on top of the mountain at the northern end of the bay. The Buddha statue has an interesting story behind it. For eight years, a U.S.-Thai consortium tried to build two coal fired electrical power plants in Baan Krut, and the giant golden Buddha was thrown in as a fat bribe to the community! But the locals held their ground, bringing in Greenpeace to back their protests, and the power companies eventually backed off. The Buddha remained, and is now a tourist attraction, with tour groups coming up the steep road from town to pay respects and then to visit the fabulous Wat Tang Sai, which sits on top of Khao Tong Chai, dazzling golden in the late afternoon sun. Fabulous views of Baan Krut and the surrounding coastline can be seen from up here, and viewed from the beach the pagoda really looks more like a German fairytale castle or something out of Hollywood than a Buddhist temple.

What to do
There really is not much to do other than relaxing. The beach runs for 12km and is quite empty, making for some good long distance strolls, and most of the local resorts rent out bicycles, so one can ride the length of the beach, trying to outrace the local grilled squid or ice cream vendors, who drive motorcycle sidecars with their goodies along the beach road. The hike up to Wat Tang Sai is pretty exerting, and will take you a few hours. There is a small island north of the bay called Koh Lamra, which has some decent snorkeling and it’s usually easy enough to finagle a fishing boat for a halfday trip. There is also a morning market up near the railway station in the inland village, which is worth a wander, it tends to run until about 11 a.m. each morning. There is also another temple in the area called Wat Tham Khiri Wan, which has a cave full of golden Buddha images.

BKrutWat8AAAEat and Drink
For such a sleepy place, there are actually enough places to feed you and quench your thirst along the beach, and most resorts also have eateries as well. The hands-down best place to eat though, is Nu Pochana, the most happening and atmospheric spot along the beach road about 200m from the Y junction, serving up lots of fresh seafood and authentic Thai dishes. A lot of Westerners favor the Beach Bar and Restaurant, which serves European and Thai food along with cocktails. You can get your Italian fix at Kasama’s Pizza and Pasta and there is also a great burger joint called JJ’s next to Ban Sala Thai, a nondescript little restaurant that serves seafood on the beach plus excellent papaya salad, grilled pork, and Isan specialties.

Sleep
Several upper-scale resorts have sprung up on Baan Krut over the years, but not enough to spoil the views or atmosphere. The Banito Beach Resort (Tel 032-695-282, 081-866-1354, www.banitobeach.com) is a good choice, centrally located out on the beach with a range of accommodation types ranging from Bt1000 to Bt2000 depending (rates are just slightly higher on weekends). The Baan Grood Arcadia Resort boasts a lovely swimming pool and spa, with prices starting around Bt1500 all in (Tel 032-695-095, 080- 650-9393; www.bgaresort.com). Prao Thai Beach Resort offers comfortable hardwood floor bungalows from Bt800. Tel: 089-682-4484. Make sure to reserve on weekends as a lot of Bangkok Thais drive down to stay.

How to get there
On public transport, you can take the convenient Special Express #43 train, which leaves Hualamphong Station in Bangkok at 8:05 a.m., getting into Baan Krut at 12:47 p.m.. Alternatively, buses leave the Southern Bus Station for Prachuap Kiri Khan from where there are local departures to Baan Krut, but this takes much longer. A rental car is most practical.
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