Most of my stay in Petchaburi town was taken up with one very important task. That task was trying to get my kids to walk past the room next door without looking in. This was because the next door room was occupied by a middle-aged man who sat at his computer all day in just his pants, with the door wide open. Now, I am not terribly traumatised by the thought of my kids seeing a middle-aged man in his pants, what I am traumatised by is the fact that they would be prone to loudly enquiring “why is that man just sitting there all the time in his pants?”. I have no idea what he was doing, but I was dying to ask him. The funny thing is that this was the third time we had come across a middle-aged man who sat in his pants all day in front of a computer. None of them spoke to anyone, so I never had a chance to ask any nosey questions to find out what they were doing. Then I thought, maybe they aren’t doing anything really, maybe they are just living their own version of ‘the dream’, sitting by yourself, in your pants, playing Warcraft or chatting to Russian princesses online, with no one to answer to but yourself. We each have our own idea of paradise eh? Or maybe they were the less glamorous reality of what the lifestyle bloggers like to sell us as ‘location independence’, travelling the world while making your living online, which I suspect may quite often translate as, ‘sitting in a cheap, sweltering room in your pants all day, staring at a screen’.
There is so much to do in Petchaburi that we were out and about most of the time anyway. There are enough temples, palaces, caves and great food to keep you busy for at least two or three days, although watching the rapid turnover of tourists coming through, most people are only on a quick stopover before heading on down to the beaches, or back up north to Bangkok and beyond. We were blessed with enough time to wander around at leisure, and lucky enough that Buzz’s foot was getting back to normal, so I only had to backpack the little blighter around half of the time.
Below is a bit about some of the highlights from our visit. With the exception of the caves, we went everywhere in Petchaburi on foot.
Khao Luang Caves – Someone, a few years ago, decided to invest some money in the Khao Luang Caves, and rightly so. They put up a shiny new sign, built a fancy new information centre and put in some refreshment stalls. But then, they forgot to put any funds aside to actually keep the place maintained. Nowadays the site looks like a dusty relic of better times. The shiny letters have fallen off the sign, the information centre has mould on the glass and looked like it hadn’t been opened for a while. There are a couple of cackling old ladies sitting at the dilapidated refreshment stalls selling drinks and gossiping with the drivers who ferry the more adventurous tourists up from the town. Then you climb the hill and get to the top of the steep concrete steps that drop away into the darkness of the caves and notice that they seem to have come almost completely away from the walls and are somehow still standing, a structural miracle, perhaps maintained only by the grace of the Buddha himself. What do you do? If you are like me, you will decide that you would rather descend the steps of death into the blackness than risk going back down the hill past all the effing macaques by yourself, because your husband who has gone ahead has taken the stick with him.
I can tell you with great confidence that, if you do go on down it will be worth it. The huge main cavern is lit from above by a ray of sunlight that breaks through the rock and washes over the tiled floor, gently illuminating the rows of surrounding Buddha images and the whole effect is beautifully atmospheric. There are only a few further, smaller caves and it might only take you a few minutes to look around everything, but it is also the sort of place that might tempt you to sit still for a little while and just have a bit of a think. Even the kids sat quietly beside me for a while, quite a testament to the silent power of the place.
Phra Nakorn Khiri Historical Park – Known locally as Kao Wang, this is a Nineteenth Century palace complex spread over three hills. We spent ages wandering around up here. There are various royal buildings and assorted chedis and temples to explore. The kids had a great time following the paths to see what they could find, and the views were pretty good. You can get a cable car up, but we just did the steep but short walk up the hill. There is a 150 baht entrance fee if you walk up, and minus points are given for all the bloody macaques hissing at everyone and generally being little bastards as usual.
Wat Yai Suwannaram – My fondest memories of Petchaburi are related to this temple. Originally built in the Seventeenth Century, this is still very much a working Thai temple and the obvious age and condition of some of the murals and doors brought out a serious case of conservation angst in me. I just wanted to lock all the doors and put everything behind a barrier. There is a tiny and very unusual wooden scripture library built on stilts above a large pond. However when we were there it was a bit of a disaster zone and it looked like some of the pond had caved in. There is a whole complex to wander around and it isn’t immediately apparent which bits are which so it pays to just peek round doors and investigate around corners. I should just say that peeking round doors and investigating around corners goes entirely against my nature, but no one appears to mind at all as long as you use some common sense. We came across some old ladies preparing food and, as we tried to apologise and scarper, they beckoned us in, got the kids some ice cream and engaged us in a bit of banter. We also bumped into a young Cambodian monk who told us all about himself and was very keen to have his picture taken with Buzz. Another kindly monk took the kids under his wing and showed them how to rub gold leaf onto the Buddha images, he then tied a sacred white thread (Sai Sin) onto each of our wrists for good luck.
Petchaburi turned out to be a great place to take the kids. All the sites we went to were quiet and easy to access, there weren’t even that many Thai tourists around. Local people were happy to engage and help us out when they could and we ate some seriously delicious food. If you are in search of a little bit of culture, away from the bustle of Bangkok, this could be the place for you.
Finally, for the benefit of any of my dear readers who are planning to go, I now present my indispensable…
Really Useful Travel Tips for Petchaburi Town
- I can recommend a stay in the Saibaidee Resort, in one of the two lovely upstairs rooms. I am not sure if having two rooms and a few bamboo bungalows in your back yard technically makes you a resort, but we really liked the place and it is obviously quiet enough that if you want to just sit in your room in your pants all day, no one will disturb you.
- If you stay at the Saibaidee, eat at the Rabieng across the road. The staff is just charming, from the super-shy young lads who take your order, to the lady with her feet up telling everyone what to do. The entrance isn’t obvious, just make your way down the side of the building, the restaurant is overlooking the river. Try eating something new off the menu, everything we had was good.
- We had the best meal that I have had in any of my three trips to Thailand while in Petchaburi; somewhere on the road that goes out of town towards Phra Ram Ratchaniwet. It was just a family place with blue tablecloths and I am not even sure I could find it again myself, but if I went back, I would definitely try.