Prachuap Khiri Khan on the Gulf of Thailand; what and where

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Prachuap offers the best beaches in top of the Gulf

This little-known strip of coastal land running 200 kilometres down the west side of the Gulf of Thailand secrets a number of beach destinations with beachfront accommodations – but they are mostly used by local Thai tourists. However, small numbers of foreigners are now discovering the low-key, tranquil resorts and empty beaches here; spread over so much isolated coastline these visitors represent little more than a few lonely specks on the sand.
Prachuap Khiri Kham province is especially long and thin, squeezed between the South China Sea and the Burmese border. At its thinnest the province is only 11 kilometres wide, and from Prachuap town the frontier with Burma can be seen – the top of the mountain range to the west. This is the narrowest part of Thailand before it expands again further south towards Phuket and Krabi.
The provincial capital of the same name sits right in the middle, with 100 kilometres of beach running both north and south. The best-known beach destinations lie in the southern sector, with the closest to Prachaup town being Klong Wan, just a 10 minute drive south, or a four-hour drive from Bangkok. The train takes significantly longer.
The best known of the beach resorts is perhaps Ban Krut, about another hour’s drive south, though Thap Sakae, Huay Yang and Bang Sapan all have both beachfront hotels and small numbers of visitors. Perhaps most surprising is the number of foreign retirees who have chosen the tranquil, bucolic countryside in this region and settled in dedicated retirement villages here. Most come from northern European countries.

A kilometres of sand to yourself; Prachaup’s beaches are empty & quiet

When comparing beaches in the Gulf of Thailand there are two simple realities to remember: 1) beaches on islands are always more beautiful than their mainland cousins 2) the beaches get wider, cleaner and more beautiful the further south you go in the Gulf. It’s a sad reality that the beaches high in the Gulf close to the major population centres, and the rivers that drain from the north, are narrower, often deformed by human activities and have polluted water.
Prachuap is the area of the Gulf where the beaches improve markedly. They are wider and sandier, have cleaner water and there is minimal deformity caused by humans. The photos here show it. The water is rarely the super clear stuff we find off Thailand’s Andaman coast, but it’s OK, and you don’t have to worry about your health when swimming as you would in Pattaya or Phetchaburi.
But there’s one great advantage of Prachuap’s beaches that Western visitors love so much – they are empty. The occasional fisherman will be seen on a beach, but then there might tens of kilometres of empty sand before the next fishing community.
There are some problems, however, and again they are related to human greed and corruption. Hwa Ko Beach just south of Klong Wan is being destroyed at a great rate. Most of the half dozen small beach resorts there have built retaining walls far out over the beach sand, and filled them in to claim extra land running out into the ocean. Nature’s standard reply to walls on the beach is to first wash away the sand and then attack the wall. Typically, man responds to this assault by nature with new layers of concrete and rock, and the once-pristine beach is rapidly transformed into ugliness. The photos here show the beginning of that process, and the brazen greed of the developers.
In Thailand all beach is public property – a true ‘private’ beach is an impossibility under Thai law. So why do the developers so blatantly steal and destroy one of the country’s best assets? And why to the authorities do nothing about it?
It’s easy to avoid this situation, however, by simply heading to one of Prachaup’s other beach destinations where the beaches are in near pristine condition.

Prachuap’s surprising, remote international standard hotels & beach resorts

The number of hi-end, international standard resorts that have popped up in the most unexpected, remote locations along this coastline is surprising. So, too, is their apparent success.
The half dozen 4-star resorts along Prachuap’s long coastline cater to two distinct target markets with highly contrasting desires; well-to-do Thais from Bangkok who generally abhor the idea of lying on a beach or seeking a lonely one with no other people, and foreign couples who yearn for loneliness and a kilometre of sand to themselves. The resorts that cater to these two opposing ideals are thus quite different.
The Bangkok Thais head to Klong Wan and its two flash, beautifully designed resorts, @T Boutique Hotel and Tri-Shawa Resort. These two are snug within a fishing village, and have virtually no beach. No sand is of little concern for the Thai visitors. They come for the view of the ocean, and more importantly, to eat the local seafood. Eating, drinking and talking within view of the ocean is the ultimate holiday break for Thai families from Bangkok, and they regularly drive four or five hours for the privilege. Don’t try to book a room in these two hotels over a long weekend.
The handful of really isolated upmarket resorts – four north of Prachuap town and three to the south – cater chiefly to foreign couples seeking a complete chill-out holiday in as quiet and natural an environment as they can find. These visitors happily forego the lifestyle attractions that are available in more popular resorts; good restaurants, shopping, nightlife and entertainment and other more touristy attractions.

A couple of these resorts provide access to a local fishing community; but even then there’s always lots of empty beach nearby. Bornok Beach, 25 kilometres north of Prachuap town, has three 4-star resorts while the very plush, minimalist X2 Kui Buri Resort sits by itself between here and the provincial capital.

Further south, with a longer drive from Bangkok, we find the unusual villa-style houses in the community-like establishment of Nishaville. This is at Huai Yang Beach, a surprisingly remote area with a significant number of retirees from Europe in residence. Further south, close to Ban Krut two more four-star luxury resorts have claimed space on one of the remotest beaches of all. Sunshine Paradise offers pool villas overlooking the sand while Sirarun Resort has a large pool with villa-style rooms on elevated walkways to each side. From either of these you can easily claim a kilometre of beach to yourself.

local 2- and 3-star beach hotels in Prachuap serve the mass Thai market

Mostly budget, 2-star establishments with simple bungalows and big beachfront restaurants, they’re the local beachfront hotels that serve a mix of holidaying families from Bangkok who arrive in private cars and bussed-in tours from across the country. Many groups are heading to the southern provinces and islands, with some on board here to see and experience the ocean for the first time. Others are headed in the opposite direction, to the see north of their country and experience cool mountain weather for the first time. And both use these beach hotels along the way.
Like their wealthier Bangkok cousins mentioned above, these mass-market Thais are not seeking beach tranquillity. Their fun and entertainment comes in the big groups they like to travel in.
Very few foreigners are seen here, and the hotels mostly appear rather deserted. Like their beaches.
These budget beach hotels far outnumber the up-market resorts above. But overseas visitors are always welcome, and are especially appreciated because they don’t follow the patterns of Thai holidays, and often stay longer.
Two- and three-star resorts are scattered all down the Prachuap coast, though there are significantly more in the 100 kilometres of beach south of the provincial capital. The single biggest concentration – if I can call it that – is in the area around Ban Krut, where the most beautiful beaches are found. There are several close to Prachuap town on the beach at Hwa Ko – those building walls along the beach.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is a tranquil provincial town

Prachuap Khiri Khan town is one of the country’s smaller provincial capitals, and distinctly serene in comparison to many of other bustling Thai towns. The sea breezes that constantly waft over the city seem to soothe the local soul and slow the inhabitants two steps behind the national pace. Peaceful? Distinctly.
Prachuap stretches along two kilometres of a classic curving bay with distinct sugarloaf mountains shooting skywards at each end. A waterfront road runs the length of the town, with a pedestrian promenade aside it. A wall plunges into the water, without beach or sand. Not surprisingly, this waterfront is the focus of much local social life, with numerous restaurants along here plus a popular night food market. In the evenings some families bring picnic meals and camp down on the concrete walkway to eat in the ocean breeze.
The centre of town only extends only three blocks back from the ocean before being cut off by the train line Navigate its simple rectangular blocks is easy. There is nothing really outstanding about this typical Thai town, with the standard cheap concrete shop-houses lining most streets. The big temple of Wat Thanmee at the northern landmark mountain is interesting, and its huge population of monkeys (crab eating macaques) entertaining. From late afternoon through sunset into evening the oceanfront becomes the most appealing part of town, when the restaurants and the food market come to life.

Klong Wan – a fishing village, seafood market and two 4-star resorts

Klong Wan is a large fishing community close to the southern edge of the provincial capital. This has seen significant development, some of it seemingly too heavy-handed with the concrete – especially along the waterfront. As the photos here show, there’s not a lot that looks traditionally Thai, yet this typifies many Thai communities in their current era of mid-level development. Not very beautiful, perhaps, and not always clean, but still there’s an ambiance that is distinctly Thai, and welcoming. A smile from a stranger, but it an old fisherman, a young child on the street or a noodle seller, is never far away. To wander through Klong Wan is to see Thai fishing villages in their normality.
The beach has been destroyed by the overriding survival needs of fishing families; to protect their homes from ocean waves, to unload their catches and to moor their boats in safety. Concrete has been poured in many places and in many ways, so that Klong Wan now has an oceanfront, not a beachfront. Access to the ocean walls and small patches of sand is blocked by waterfront houses, but there are a few alleyways that reach the water, and a couple of restaurants overlooking the ocean.
Klong Wan hosts the two 4-star resorts mentioned above that cater to Thai visitors from Bangkok, with just a scattering of foreigners.

Prachuap’s famous Sing Khon Burmese border town & market

This big border crossing between Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) is a major attraction for this province due to the large and diverse market selling all kinds of goods from Thailand’s western neighbour. Many people drive down from Bangkok specifically to catch the Saturday and Sunday markets, when in influx of people and products arrives from the other side. Traders also come to collect goods for resale in Bangkok’s famous Jatujak weekend market.
The range of goods entering is quite diverse, though there is a preponderance of forest products and items created at the village level. Heavy furniture made from tree trunks seems predominant. A range of wild orchids that produce stunningly beautiful flowers is always available, with photos of the flowers shown out of main March-April season.
Jewellery and similar hand-crafted accessories are also in abundance, and cheap rubies can also be found. Flowing in the opposite direction we see all manner of manufactured household products, indicating the poorly developed level of the Burmese economy.

things to do in the Prachuap Khiri Khan region

Prachaup’s local aquarium
While it might be up to international standards, this small aquarium a few kilometres south of Klong Wan is fun and makes a pleasant diversion. There’s a good chance you will find busses of Thai school children here, for education of Thai youth is a major function of this government-run facility.
The highlight here is the deep, circular aquarium with a half dozen huge groupers, the larger ones that might top 200 kilogrammes. Visitors can come nose to nose with these huge, but placid creatures – a revealing experience for children.
climb the temple mountain of Wat Thanmee
The Buddhist shrine atop the rocky mountain that marks the northern end of town is visible from all corners. At the bottom is the expansive monastery of Wat Thanmee, with a large, open-air image of sitting Buddha overlooking the town. Connecting the two is a long flight of stairs that makes a pleasant, invigorating walk while providing an ever-increasing panorama of Prachuap town and bay, and a view all the way to the Burma border which runs along the top of the mountainous watershed just about 12 kilometres to the west.
bicycle the beach and countryside roads
Bicycling is a great way to go in any part of Prachuap province, for the land is particularly flat, there are many roads with little traffic. Both the scenery and atmosphere are pleasant and relaxing. There is a beachside road for most of the province’s 200 kilometre length plus many small roads winding through the ever-present coconut plantations. The southern area between Huay Yang and Bang Sapan, encompassing Ban Krut, is particularly attractive.
local markets .
Local markets are a feature of Thai life everywhere, and while a visit to the permanent ones can be planned, there are also many ‘talat nat’ that require luck to stumble across. These latter translate as ‘meeting markets’. Typically, they are held in a particular village or location once or twice each week, and move constantly between districts. And their schedules and locations will rarely be the same from year to year.
Only the bigger towns have a permanent, daily fresh market.

Ban Krut, Thap Sakae, Bang Sapan & Huay Yang – quiet beach destinations

These three small, rural beach destinations lie south of Prachuap town, and thus require a little longer ride from Bangkok. All can be accessed by train, tour bus or private car. Thai families drive down to these beach escapes on long weekends and holidays, but at other times they slumber in loneliness. A growing number of foreign visitors is discovering the low-key, empty-beach lifestyle associated with such remote Gulf resorts.
Perhaps the single biggest advantage of coming this far from Bangkok is the beaches; the further south you travel, the better the beaches get. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the beaches in the top of the Gulf of Thailand are not particularly nice, and many have suffered negative transformations from man’s ‘developments’ particularly the building of walls right at the top of the sand, or even right in it.
Here in the south, however, virtually every view along the beach reveals few or no traces of human activity. These are completely natural beaches, with rarely a person in sight. The old Western dream of a complete beach to oneself is very easy to find here. The sand is much wider and cleaner that than on beaches further north, and the water quality is significantly better. While swimming in the ocean at places like Phetchaburi can sometimes be a health risk, here the pollution levels are low and pose no risk.

Ban Krut is the most popular and best known of these three beach destinations, though the great majority of its hotels are across a big road, and thus not qualified nor shown in this site. The true beachfront hotels are found on a second, much quieter and more natural beach on the north side of the big temple mountain that is the area’s major landmark, and a major attraction for Thai Buddhist pilgrims.

Thap Sakae is especially remote, with just three beachfront hotels and virtually nothing else close to the beach. The small town of the same name lies far back from the beach. Of the remote hotels here only Rocky Point could be called somewhat luxurious, with the other distinctly budget and basic. A holiday in this region will definitely be a quiet chill-out one. And you won’t have to worry about sharing your beach with others.

Bang Sapan, the southern-most of these four beaches, has only a thin scattering of beach hotels, all in the budget range with minimal facilities. There is no town near the ocean, just a local fishing community with a couple of small shops. Any holiday here is definitely an exercise in complete escapism. The long stretches of beach are guaranteed to be completely empty all year.

Huay Yang is a strange anomaly, for here is a remote Thai fishing community, a couple of widely scattered hotels on lonely beaches and scores of resident retirees from northern Europe. These foreign residents can be seen bicycling the back roads or wandering through the little fishing village. They live in modern villages set back from the ocean in the pervasive coconut plantations. These foreigners have sparked the opening of a few restaurants and other service industries in the area, including massage.

by John Everingham