From floating villages to whale-watching, this Central province is full of hidden gems.
Though Phetchaburi is ideally placed as a gateway between Thailand’s Central and Southern provinces, it’s often overlooked as a travel destination in favour of Cha-am and Hua Hin. But staying under the radar has helped preserve the area’s pristine environment, which has proved a boon for ecotourism, especially in Ban Laem district. Here are some of Phetchaburi’s highlight activities.
Floating Fishermen’s Village
Just a 20-minute drive off Rama 2 Road along Highway 4012, Bang Tabun is probably the best-known fishermen’s village in the Central region thanks to its idyllic seascape featuring tiny floating huts dotting the horizon. It’s also one of Thailand’s biggest spots for cockle production. We recommend an early start to catch the sunrise, here, when the serene shoreline is transformed into a golden sea. To get a closer look at some of the cockle farms, catch a boat from the pier in front of Bang Tabun Municipal Office (near Pak Ao Temple), which starts at about B800 per round. You can also take a ride along the Bang Tabun River, which is home to more fishermen’s villages as well as mangrove forests.
It may come as a surprise but Bang Tabun offers one of Southeast Asia’s top whale-watching experiences. Just be sure to choose an ethical whale watching company. Wild Encounter Thailand (091-105-1778, fb.com/WildEncounterThailand) operates whale-watching trips every week from May-Dec at B2,000 per person. Its founder, cetologist Jirayu Ekkul, says, “The activities of the Bryde’s whales (see above) at Bang Tabun are the most astonishing in this region. Nowhere else will you see resident whales so close and over such regular periods.” Eco-tour operator Hivesters (www.hivesters.com) will also restart its trips in August, the prime time for whale watching. These tours usually require an early morning, so be prepared for a full-day trip.
Krua Lung Ya Bang Tabun
Bang Tabun has a lot to offer in terms of seafood. We recommend Krua Bangtabun, also known as Krua Lung Ya (74/1 Moo 1 Bang Tabun, 032-581-297. Open Tue-Sun 10am-7pm), where highlights include nam prik khai poo (crab’s egg paste, B100) and steamed crabs (B550 per kilogram). Another fine option is Lear Laer Lae (Moo 3, opposite Pak Ao Temple, 032-489-046. Open daily 10am-9pm), a boat restaurant located at Bang Tabun River Estuary which offers scenic views of the gulf along with tangy dishes like fried sea bass with spicy lemongrass salad (B320) and local specialties like nam prik kapi (Thai spicy shrimp paste, B140) and kang kua poo bai chakram (roasted crab with seepweed leaves soup B200).
Sea salt farm
Sea Salt Spa
Refresh yourself at Ruen Sabai (open 10am-7pm) of iTara Resort & Spa (Moo 3, Laem Phak Bia Beach, Bahn Laem, 032-478-301-5, www.itararesort.com), which offers a range of treatments using the finest “flower of salt,” the thin hand-harvested layer of salt that rises to the surface of shallow pools of seawater. The high-end salt is believed to have many benefits, from removing old skin cells to killing bacteria. Try a facial treatment (B1,440/hr), body scrub (B1,290/hr) or hands and feet spa (B990/hr). If you’re hungry afterwards, the resort is also home to Rabieng Nam (open 7am-10pm), which serves local favorites like somtam poo ma Laem Phak Bia (spicy papaya salad with horse crabs, B260), nam prik rabieng nam (spicy shrimp paste with sweet pork, B200), and plahang tangmo (grinded dried fish with watermelon, B100).
Mangroves and First Sand
For some more fresh air, stroll along the picturesque wooden path through the mangrove forest at The King’s Royally Initiated Laem Phak Bia Environmental Research and Development Project (LERD Project, Had Chao Samran Rd., 032-441-265. Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm, Sat 9.30am-midday. goo.gl/ZwjlJ8). Chances are you’ll come across endangered birds, mudskippers and various species of crabs. At the end of the pathway, you can climb down a ladder for Sai Med Raek View Point (First Sand Viewpoint), considered the first beach of Southern Thailand.
Ban Laem has one of Thailand’s biggest salt production industries and even hosts an annual salt festival every March. There are many salt farms you can visit if you’d like to see the process or purchase some flower of salt (available at a very low price with a bit of bargaining, typically less than B100 per kg). For some pampering, though, we recommend buying salt spa products from Kanghuntong Sea Salt (032-405100, 086-544-4473, goo.gl/mVxV5t), who also offer a small range of treatments. Another local brand that makes for great souvenirs is Korakot (335 Moo 10, Ban Laem, 032-772-036, goo.gl/38S2Py), whose quirky bamboo furniture is regularly showcased at BIG + BIH.
WHERE TO STAY
iTara Resort & Spa (Moo 3, Laem Phak Bia Beach, Ban Laem, 032-478-301-5, www.itararesort.com) offers three choices of rooms: Seaview Deluxe (B3,000-4,200), Ocean View Villa (B4,500-6,200) and Beachfront Villa (B6,000-8,200).
Driving is the best option. From Bangkok, take the Rama 2 Road (AH2) until you reach Samut Songkram. From there, Road No. 4012 will lead you to Bang Tabun, Road No. 3178 will take you to Ban Laem and Road No. 4028 to Laem Phak Bia.