For a quick, easy getaway from Bangkok, spend a few days in Petchburi on the Gulf of Thailand. The drive takes 2 hours on Highway 35 then Highway 4 (Petchkasem Road), which is the same route going to Cha-Am and Hua Hin. As it is often overshadowed by these more popular beach destinations, Petchaburi offers a low-key setting with few foreign tourists, quiet beaches, intriguing mangrove forests, and lovely palaces and temples.
Below is a guide to exploring this area with the family.
Relax on the Beach
Located in Amphur Muang, Had Chao Samran is just south of Khlong Kra Saeng; take the turnoff and drive around 17 kms, heading east to the coast. A long stretch of sand, the beach exudes a relaxed vibe. The sand runs up to rocky beach breaks that can be accessed at low tide; some sections are ‘muddy’ with soft, oozy sand that sticks to your feet. Despite this less than appealing aspect, Had Chao Samran is great for children, with its warm waters, gentle waves and diverse wildlife, including sandpipers, hermit crabs, sea anemone, snails and clams. The latter can be readily found by digging under the surface of the sand, especially where the placid waves crash on the beach — a fun activity for younger children.
In addition to a sleepy fishing village that you can visit, Had Chao Samran houses convenience stores, restaurants, shops and several bungalow-style resorts such as Fisherman’s Resort, Loft Caravan Resort (where you’re actually staying in a caravan), and Oasis91 Resort. If traveling in a larger group, Manao Beach House comfortably accommodates 7 guests. It comes with a fully equipped kitchen, small saltwater pool, baby crib, high chairs, baby bathtub, toys and more, making it a peaceful and private place for families to relax on the beach.
As for food, fresh seafood and other choices are aplenty; eat right on the beach from beachside vendors and restaurants, or visit the restaurants in the aforementioned resorts (Fisherman’s Resort and Oasis91 both serve Thai and international cuisine; Oasis91 is famed for their pizza and pasta).
Explore the Wetlands & Mangroves
About a 5 to 10 minute drive from the road running parallel to Had Chao Samran, depending on where you are staying, the Laem Phak Bia project in Ban Laem district is well worth a visit. Initiated by the late King Bhumibol (Rama IX), the project tackles the environmental issues of wastewater; specifically, it encompasses four zones concerning wastewater treatment including oxidation treatment ponds, and grass, wetland and mangrove forest filtration systems. Visitors are welcome to tour the entire operation free of charge. Families will most likely enjoy the diverse wildlife that dwells in the different habitats contained within the project’s expansive grounds.
A tram leaves every half hour from the visitor’s center, shuttling visitors through the project, from 6am to 6pm. Alternately, you can rent bicycles at the entrance and explore the area yourself. Spot monitor lizards basking by the sides of the oxidation ponds, while looking for pelicans, egrets, gulls and other water birds.
Get off the tram or bikes at the entrance of the mangrove forest, and walk down an elevated wooden walkway where fiddler crabs, ghost crabs and mudskippers can be seen scurrying in the swampy grounds below. The 300-metre path leads through the mangroves all the way out to the sea; when you emerge from the dense forested area, you can view a large variety of birds (the gift shop at the visitor’s center sells a bird watcher’s guidebook for those keen on identifying the different types).
Go Whale Watching
In addition, Petchburi is home to Bryde’s Whales. From around August to December, when the seas are less choppy, you can arrange for a whale watching tour with a group or on your own. If you prefer to stay on dry land, the kids may want to check out a whale skeleton on display at Had Chao Samran Temple in the village. It is housed, along with large seashells and other oddities, in a single-roomed building at the entrance of the temple. Admission is free.
Take in Some Culture
In addition to its natural wonders, Petchburi features a rich cultural heritage, including a number of palaces and temples. We covered the cultural sites in a previous article. One highlight includes Khao Luang Cave, a natural cave containing a large number of Buddha images, including a reclining Buddha and several rows of Buddha statues lining the walls. Walk to the back where a part of the cave’s ceiling has collapsed and see the sunlight create dramatic effects.
On the whole, Petchburi is quiet, compared to the more popular beach resort towns, but it certainly doesn’t lack in character. Enjoy its slightly quaint, very local feel — and experience plenty of tranquil moments with the family.