Photo: Ao Manao: A classic spot for an iced drink.


Bordered to the north by Phetchaburi and to the south by Chumphon, the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan is where Thailand slims down to its narrowest -- at one point only 11 kilometres separates Burma to the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east. The province, whose name translates to 'land of many mountains' thanks to the range lying near Burma, boasts a number of beaches and national parks along with a couple of interesting Thai towns.

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The provincial capital, Prachuap Khiri Khan, is often sidelined by foreign visitors stopping off in the province's more well known city of Hua Hin further north, or making a beeline for the Gulf islands further south, but if you have the time, it's well worth a couple of nights.

Ninety-three kilometres south of Hua Hin and 176 kilometres north of Chumphon, the city was more or less abandoned after the fall of Ayutthaya towards the end of the 18th century, to be rebuilt at the mouth of a canal during the 19th century, when its modern name of Prachuap Khiri Khan was adopted.

Prachuap Kiri Khan has a spectacular appearance, with a long sweeping bay bordered by enormous limestone outcrops to the north and south. There's a municipal beach along this main bay and slightly better beaches within bicycle distance to both the north and south. In particular, Ao Manao, the sheltered beach set within the Wing 5 air force base to the south, is noteworthy; Ao Noi, about a 45 minute bicycle ride to the north, is less so but still pleasant. In town, the monkey-infested hilltop temple of Chong Khra Chok offers a magnificent view and back at ground level, restaurants serve up excellent locally caught and very affordable seafood.

Make time to visit and you will be amply rewarded with a low-key, local atmosphere that has just enough of a developed tourist infrastructure and plenty of largely tasteful accommodation to make your stay comfortable. A pleasant, friendly city, it is at once relaxing and bristling with energy -- full of enterprising ethnic Chinese and other Thais who go about their business without centring their lives on the tourist industry. It's a bright spot as you head south, worth a visit just to soak up the vibe.

Outside the town are two national parks that can be visited by motorbike along with a border market (useful for those looking to stock up on cheap Burmese cigarettes - but no go for a visa run), and more isolated beaches.

In some people's minds, this place could well be Thailand's next big thing -- get there while it's still at least a bit of a secret.

All the major Thai banks are represented in Prachuap Khiri Khan, mostly on either Patikchart or Sala Cheep roads. ATMs are all over the place.

The city's post office, a few internet cafes and a travel agent are further along from the back of the Had Thong Hotel on Suesuk Road.

The police station and hospital are located on either side of the square that houses the main night market, just down from the train station.

A small tourist office can supply you with a decent city map and a brochure for the province. They speak English and we found them to be quite helpful. You'll find the tourist office on the beach road, going towards Chong Khra Chok (the hill in the middle of town and home to a million monkeys). Look out for the blue sign; if you reach the monkeys you have gone too far.

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