Prachuap Khiri Khan is located some 281kms. south of Bangkok. After old town was abandoned during the fall of Ayutthaya, a new settlement was established in 1845 in the reign of King Rama IV. The province today is more famous for its natural charm of beaches and mountains than historical attractions. Hua Hin, its major attraction, is one of the Thailand's most popular seaside resorts among overseas visitors as well as Thais.
Prachuap Khiri Khan is now divided into 7districts and 1subdistrict: Amphoe Muang Prachuap Khiri Khan, Amphoe Bang Saphan, Amphoe Bang Saphan Noi, Amphoe Hua Hin, Amphoe Kui Buri, Amphoe Pran Buri, Amphoe Thap Sakae and King Amphoe Sam Roi Yot.
Stretching south from Bangkok, the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand offers the classic ingredients for the perfect family vacation in the sun. Facing the sunrise are the beach resorts of Cha-am and Hua Hin. Close by are a wealth of historical and cultural sites, as well as the natural beauty of a splendid coastline. Different from Pattaya on the opposite chores of the Gulf, Cha-am and Hua Hin offer a quieter, more relaxed retreat amid surroundings which preserve a typical Thai ambience.
Although the emphasis is i n a tranquil time away from the bustle of the city, both Cha-am and Hua Hin are well established with full facilities. There are hotels in all categories, restaurants suited to all tastes and sufficient sporting and entertainment to please all preferences. At the same time, nothing detracts from the peace of a splendid natural setting.
Long, sandy beaches, unspoilt and uncluttered, are typical of both Cha-am and Hua Hin. Characterized by the broad sweep of a casuarina-fringed shore, Cha-am is the smaller if the two resorts, bit it is nearly all beach, Facing the sea is a wide choice of hotel accommodation, ranging from deluxe resort style, with full recreational and entertainment amenities, to inexpensive but comfortable bungalow.
Larger and more luxuriously developed, Hua Hin is similarly renowned for a magnificent beach which, separated at one end from a fishing village by a rocky headland, curves gently for some three kilometres to its southern point where Buddhist temples cling to the cliffs. Beyond lies another, more scheduled beach, Hat Khao Tao.
A sense of identity
In spite of moving with the times to offer all modern amenities, Cha-am and Hua Hin have retained their own enduring Thai identity. The main attraction of both resorts is a peaceful time lazing on the beach soaking up the tropical sunshine,, complemented by the fun of a variety of watersports and a delight in relishing some excellent seafood. All can be enjoyed amid an atmosphere and setting which preserve a true Thai character.
Hua Hin in particular, presents typical scenes. Unlike younger resorts, such as Pattaya, Thailand's oldest seaside holiday town has never sought an international image. It remains content in itself and a stroll down by the little fishing port gives a refreshing insight into the traditional life of a Thai coastal settlement, perhaps a trifle more prosperous than most, but unpretentious nonetheless.
Exploring the coast
Although the keynote of a stay at either Hua Hin or Cha-am is relaxation, the coastline in this region is well worth exploring. South from Hua Hin, through Pranburi and down to Prachuap Khiri Khan, there are numerous quiet coves and tiny fishing villages, ideal destinations for day excursions.
There is also Khao Sam Roi Yot (Mountain of 300 Peaks), National Park, a short way south of Pranburi. Covering 60 sq. Kms, it is a place of wonder where the stunning landscape is a breathtaking blend of forested hills, deep valleys, waterfalls, caves, beaches, mangrove swamps and coves. A profusion of tropical vegetation makes the park a sanctuary for various animals and birds.
Further south, Prachuap Khiri Khan, a provincial capital, is a fishing town with a scenic bay. The beachfront Mirror Mount, where there is a small pagoda and a troop of playful monkeys, afford a stunning panorama of the coastline and seascape.
Beyond is Chumphon. More than a day excursion from Hia Hin, this coastal province is a beach destination in its own right, offering some good hotel accommodation, some fine, near deserted beaches, offshore islands and perfect condition for snorkeling and scuba diving. Access is by road or rail, and if the journey is long, there is more than ample reward in Chumphon's complete lack of crowds.
A rich history
For visitors interested in Thai history and culture, an excursion 65 kms. north of Cha-am to Phetchaburi is not to be missed. Today a provincial capital, Phetchaburi is an historic town and was a major artistic centre during the Ayutthaya period. This is witnessed today in the superb temple murals of Wat Yai Suwannaram and Wat Ko Kaew, which rank among the finest examples of their kind.
There are other fascinating temples around town, while dominating the northern outskirts in Phra Nakhon Khiri, a hilltop palace and observatory built in the 19th century by King Rama IV. The buildings have recently been restored and a small museum added. A visit is also rewarding for the fine views of the surrounding countryside afforded by the vantage point.
A short distance from Phra Nakhon Khiri is Khao Luang Cave, a splendid grotto which is revered as a sacred shrine and contains a number of Buddha images.
Inland, southwest of Phetchaburi is Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand's largest protected area, where superb scenery is complemented by accommodation overlooking an extensive landscaped reservoir.
Closer to Hua Hin, just a few kilometres north of the resort, is the magnificent summer palace of Phra Ratchaniwet Marukhathaiyawan, built in 1923 for King Rama VI. Designed by an Italian architect and constructed out of golden teakwood, the building is a dazzling composition of verandahs and latticework in regal proportions. Now restored to its former glory, the place is well worth visiting.