Could you go wrong when you’re getting travel tips from bikers over morning beers and bloody marys? Maybe. I figured I’d find out as I stepped out of the mini bus into Prachuap Khiri Khan. Word of mouth can be as good a way to pick a destination as any.
The morning I left Hua Hin, I was having breakfast at El Murphy’s and started getting into a conversation with a couple motorcyclists that now lived in Thailand. They invited me over to join them and the ensuing conversation become about cycling the country and a local friend of theirs who sounded like a Thai version of John McClane, Jack Bauer, and Dirty Harry all rolled into one. Eventually the topic came up as to where I would be going.
I hadn’t really decided myself, as my guidebook was still open on the bartop where I had been eating. I still had a few days to pass before Koh Pha Ngan and the Full Moon Party. And a fairly short stretch of land to pass that time in.
I had randomly thought Ao Manao could be a fun little beach town based merely on the sound of the name. A bit further was Prachuap Khiri Khan; a town they both agreed was a nice one, though not necessarily the greatest lounging beach. That was perfectly fine with me, as I’m rarely one to just sit on a sunny beach all day long.
A half-block away from the drop-off point was a great little budget place called Yuttichai Hotel, where I got a room for 150 baht. And, the train station was only a half block in the other direction. After dropping my bag off, I went out into the town, as it was still early afternoon. Plenty of time to look around.
The bikers had told me 4 specific things about Prachuap. There are monkeys. There is a mountain temple right over the town. The best swimming beach is just north of the town. And, there was an excellent local fish dish I had to try while I was there.
Sure enough, Wat Thammikaram, the mountain temple loomed over the town on its small, limestone outcropping. Almost more prominent than the temple itself, though, was the path shone by the stairs leading up to the temple. That was going to be the first stop. As flat as the rest of the area was, that would give a fantastic view of the entire town.
On the way to the hill, I crossed the Lak Mueang, the city pillar shrine found in the provincial capitols all over the country. This one, reminiscent of a brown Angkorian prang, was surrounded by a rich and colorful gardenscape.
On a few blocks away, I came to the temple at the base of the Wat Thammikaram hill. And it was here that I came across my first monkey in Thailand. Casually crossing the road, I followed in as it walked into a park full of its kin. Many sat on the edge of a fountain adorned with a large stone monkey itself. They roamed free and carefree all over this park, most completely indifferent to the few people walking through looking at them.
The stairs look a bit intimidating to the top at first but did not end up being bad at all. Halfway up is a small covered rest area where I found 2 monkeys picking things off of each other. The seemed quite content and did not seem to mind when I sat near them to look over the town.
Continuing on, I had a few more monkeys racing up and down the stairs pass by me. At the top was a large gate cracked just enough for these small simians to go in and out. Pushing it inward, I was careful not to hit any of them. I was surprised when, on the other side, an extremely happy dog greeted me.
Inside the large walls of the temple were many of the common white and red structures found at wats around the country. The grounds and many of the walls were made of a common-looking concrete.
On the eastern ledge, at one of the highest points was a beautiful gazebo filled with sleeping monkeys, though a few looked as if they, too, were meditating in a Buddhist fashion. This gazebo provided a spectacular view of the entire area in all directions. The bay and mountains to the south were particularly impressive.
Sitting down to take in the view, one of the smaller monkeys walked over nonchalantly and lay down at my feet. Slowly, he began playing with the soles of my shoes and running his hands and feet over them. It was curious to watch, though I did have to shake him off lightly when he started to climb up my leg.
Only a single monk seemed to be inside the walls of the hill temple, and he didn’t acknowledge me more than a small nod as I was looking around, which I didn’t mind at all.
The hill is called Mirror Tunnel Mountain, apparently given the name because a hole in the mountain gives the impression of mirrors. I noticed neither the hole nor any mirror effect on my walk around the base of the hill.
Back at the base of the hill is a larger temple complex, presumably part of the same wat. Here, the silence was broken by a cart vendor yelling at some more active monkeys than those I had seen at the peak. Some were trying to take food from her cart. Others were taking turns jumping in the pools that surrounded the temple. They also seemed to have a very playful relationship to the dogs that populated the temple.
Walking back into town along the beach, I was surprised at how empty it was. I knew the bikers had said a better swimming beach was to the north, but this was still a 2 kilometer stretch straight through then center of town. And it was the hottest time of year. And nobody was swimming.
A few zigzags through the town over the next couple hours gave me a nice sense of it. Splintered boats and retarded mannequins. Gasoline sold in whiskey bottles. It was an extremely relaxed Thai town with some nice spots. A market had popped up in the park near where the minibus had dropped me off and I got some dinner there.
Across the street, I noticed a few Thais and a couple foreigners sitting at on table on the sidewalk. Going to check it out, there was a small reggae-ish bar being run by a Thai who was dressed very much like he was trying to be Native American. He loved the fact that I was American and we all sat around talking in English for a few drinks.
After that, and another day down, I was back at the Yuttichai Hotel with a train ticket south to Surat Thani for the next morning. Prachuap remains one of my favorite relaxing towns in all of Thailand. I just wish I could figure out that mystery of why nobody swims in the town beach.
So, travel tips from bikers? Okay by me.