The central gulf of Thailand between Hua Hin and Chumphon is, for the most part, off the standard tourist route. On a map, roughly 13 km from the Myanmar border, where the country is at its slimmest is the sleepy fishing community and beach town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. Void of mega malls and big name resorts dotting the coast, Prachuap is a scenic gulf coast hideaway. Its crystal blue waters, white sand beaches and sparkling temples offer a step back in time to an undisturbed Thailand. The towns modest attractions and the understated charm of the people are a breath of fresh air for those looking to unwind.
With coastline to the east and mountains to the west, the landscape surrounding the city is relatively flat. One of the town’s main attractions which is impossible to miss upon arrival, and has been inhabited by moneys, is Mirror Mountain. Perched atop 396 monkey-lined steps is a small Buddhist monastery. The monastery houses a footprint of the Buddha as well as a breathtaking 360o view of the coast and valley below. The calmness combined with the faint sound of the waves and picturesque views make the summit a small slice of nirvana.
Just south of town, inside the gates of the Thai Air Force base is Ao Manao beach. Stretching as far as you can see in both directions, the beach forms a cove of soothing tropical waters ideal for relaxing as the waves gently lap against the shore. Vendors line the beachfront selling tasty BB-Q chicken, som tam and other Isan snacks great for a beach day picnic or cure for the post-swim hungers.
Getting onto the base is easy and foreigners don’t even need to show ID. All that’s necessary for access is filling out the main gate’s log book with a name, signature, nationality, passport number along with date and time of arrival and departure. Once in the gates, follow the signs towards Wing 53 and get your toes in the water and butt in the sand.
To the north end of town is the small fishing community of Ao Noi. The village sits at the base of a neighboring mountain and its cove is loaded with colorful fishing boats. A few small shops, one school and a fresh local afternoon market give this community a very traditional feel. Here, Wat Ao Noi was originally built on the mountainside but has since been moved just a few hundred yards away. The temple now stands on a white tiled pedestal with the mountain and beach as its backdrop and a shinning golden Buddha at its entrance.
Exploring the original mountainside temple and following the semi-overgrown trail up the side leads to a mesmerizing discovery. The path ends at the mouth of an isolated cave, which upon entering opens to two chambers housing massive reclining golden Buddhas and three rows of large sitting Buddhas.
The complete emptiness of the cave and the size of the Buddhas creates a hypnotizing and spiritual effect. Both the dedication and feasibility here will get the wheels in your mind turning trying to figure out just how this was accomplished. It might also have you sitting and staring for a while so, be sure to bring a flashlight and a watch.
The true Thai vibe of Prachuap makes it easy to enjoy this hidden gem. As the tourist path expands and Prachuap is discovered by the masses, it’s only a matter of time before the slow pace of life is replaced by the ‘fast-lane.’ Arriving here from Bangkok is easy. Train 43 leaves Hua Lamphong station at 8:05am and has you beachside by 12:30pm for just 425 Baht ($13.85), which includes an aircon train car, a small meal and snacks. The later 1:00pm train arrives in town at 6:35pm for 245 Baht ($8.00). As finding an untouristed destination is becoming harder and harder, I highly recommend making your way here to enjoy the tranquility.