Monks, monkeys and mentalists… why these underdog towns will always reign supreme.
As many people would attest, so often when you travel it’s the seemingly crappy little towns that leave the biggest impression: the nondescript two-bit places with no visitors, quietly going about their business, content not to make a fuss. Back in April I spent some time in Phetchaburi in Thailand – an unassuming agricultural town of just 25,000 about 160km south of Bangkok. Any visitors that do come here, come to see the enormous cave temple at Khao Luang before quickly scarpering south to the beaches or north to the capital. Which is a shame, because it genuinely is a nice place to spend a few days, relax and watch the world go by. (Even if that world moves very slowly.)
Phetchaburi is a small Thai town not unlike many others: some temples, a busy night market and a virtually non-existent transport system. But if you get hold of a bike you can explore to your heart’s content and live like the locals do. This was one of the few towns on my recent travels where people did stop and stare at me a bit. Some people get pissed off at this, but I just see it as reinforcement that not many visitors actually pass through the town. Just smile and wave: 80% of the time people will smile back, and the other 20% of the time people will think you’re a nutter. Which is fun too. The night market is actually very good, full of all sorts of incredible (and cheap) food as you can see from the video below:
I arrived in Phetchaburi from Hua Hin – taking a minivan that dumped me on the main freeway on the outskirts of town. From here you need to flag down a motorbike to take you into the centre. I was staying at the 2N Guesthouse, and after a lot of hand gestures and blank stares I managed to hitch a ride. (Unlike busy Hua Hin just down the road, virtually nobody outside the tourist areas speaks English. I need to start learning Thai.) I should say at this point that the 2N Guesthouse was so, so good and if you do decide to come to Phetchaburi make sure you stay here: for 580baht a night (£11) I got a spotless room, wifi, an amazing breakfast and free bike rental. Nit and Nisa were great hosts, and it’s one of the best places I’ve ever stayed for the price. Check them out via Google as they aren’t on booking.com or agoda. (And no, I’m not getting paid by them to say this.)
Here’s a little video of me cycling about a random temple in Phetchaburi, as well as showing how good the 2N Guesthouse is. At the end of the video you can see just how many monkeys roam about up by Khao Luang so watch yourself 🙂
I ❤ Thailand
April is super hot – usually about 36+ during the day – so the morning is always the best time to do stuff before you fry at about 2pm. The caves at are a must-see. (I wrote about them here.) But cycling about with no real destination is just as fun, and actually my favourite pastime in any place I visit: getting lost, taking pictures and ending up in some ramshackle restaurant by the side of the road. I do love Thailand. I don’t care that the place has X amount of visitors now and is swamped with tourists in certain parts. In Phetchaburi I only saw one other westerner in three days – so it just shows you if this place can remain untouched, how many other random little towns must there be? Thai food is the best in the world and the weather is amazing. After four visits to the country I’d be happy to live there for a bit.
Same same, but different
In Phetchaburi every day is “same same, but different.” I’m kicking myself for resorting to this infamous Thai phrase but it’s true. (This phrase is used a lot in Thailand, especially in an attempt to sell something, but can mean just about anything depending on what the user is trying to achieve. Q: “Is this a real rolex?” A: ” Yes Sir, same same but different.”) One day while cycling along I heard loud chanting coming from somewhere in the distance. I followed the sound and stumbled across a monk ordination. Another day I walked into a local shop to buy water only to find three guys sitting there getting absolutely hammered on Thai whiskey, demanding hugs and pictures. At 10am it was a little too early for me to drink – although in my opinion when it comes to Thai whiskey no time is a good time. (Allan from Live Less Ordinary would disagree). Another day I watch a troop of monkeys jumping up and down on a shop sign much to the owner’s annoyance. Same same, but different.
Days in Phetchaburi are lazily spent: eating, walking past teak shophouses, eating some more, napping. There is no sense of urgency – which is possibly why the town lacks visitors. Many people visiting Thailand only have a few weeks, wanting to cram it all in, and so ‘wasting’ a few days in a town like this doesn’t hold much appeal. Even the monkeys move slowly, lying in the sun. But if you do have the time, pay Phetchaburi a visit. It’s nothing special. But that’s why you should go.
Have a look round the rest of the site to read about my travels in the rest of Asia & beyond.