An easy escape from Bangkok, Phetchaburi should be on every cultural traveller’s itinerary. It has temples and palaces, outlying jungles and cave shrines, as well as easy access to the coast. Best of all, Phetchaburi remains a sleepy provincial town, complete with markets and old teak shophouses.
Prachuap Khiri Khan
A sleepy seaside town, Prachuap Khiri Khan is a delightfully relaxed place; one of the real jewels of this part of Thailand. The broad bay is a tropical blue punctuated by bobbing fishing boats and there are tremendous beaches close by, all overlooked by honeycombed limestone mountains – scenery that you usually have to travel to the southern Andaman to find.
Cheap and cheerful Cha-am is a popular beach getaway for working-class families and Bangkok students. On weekends and public holidays, neon-painted buses (called ‘chor ching cha’), their sound systems pumping, deliver groups of holidaymakers. It is a very Thai-style beach party, with eating and drinking marathons held around umbrella-shaded beach chairs and tables.
Ban Krut & Bang Saphan Yai
What a nice surprise to find these lovely, low-key beaches (80km to 100km south of Prachuap Khiri Khan, respectively) so close to civilisation but yet so bucolic. Dusk falls softly through the coconut trees and the crystalline blue sea laps at a long sandy coastline.
Kaeng Krachan National Park
Wake to an eerie symphony of gibbon calls as the early morning mist hangs limply above the forest canopy. Hike through lush forests in search of elephant herds and other wildlife at the communal watering holes. Or sweat through your clothes as you summit the park’s highest peak.
Hat Sai Noi
About 20km south of Hua Hin, a scenic cove, Hat Sai Noi, drops off quickly into the sea, providing a rare opportunity for deep-water swimming. Mostly patronised by Thais, nearby are all the amenities: simple seafood restaurants and even small guesthouses. For ideal seclusion, come on a weekday.
Hat Khao Tao
About 13km south of Hua Hin, a barely inhabited beach stretches several kilometres south from Khao Takiab to Khao Tao (Turtle Mountain). It's far quieter and less-developed than Hua Hin's beach: there are no high-rises, no beach chairs, no sarong sellers and no horseback riders.