It’s actually by coincidence that we ended up spending 4 days in the temple city of Phetchaburi (Phetburi), Thailand. While traveling in the South of Thailand I somewhere picked up a German version of the Lonely Planet. I flipped some pages and ended up reading about a place that I honestly had never heard of before: Phetchaburi.
Phetchaburi: rich in temples
The German guidebook calls it the ultimate place ‘für Wat fans‘ (translated in English as the ultimate place for temple lovers). Lonely Planet continues to state that Phetchaburi should be on every cultural traveler’s itinerary. A sleepy provincial town with lots of temples, palaces and old teak shophouses with relatively few foreigners visiting. As our family hardly ever shows any sign of temple fatigue and we love places off the beaten track, Phetchaburi sounded like heaven to us!
So we decided to change our travel plans after reading the Lonely Planet. We usually tend to travel without booking hotels in advance, so we were totally flexible. Instead of visiting Koh Samui (after our stay in Khanom) we bought ourselves train tickets from Surat Thani to Phetchaburi (via Hua Hin).
I love to travel by train, don’t you? What I love about trains is not only the hypnotic sound of the wheels on the track, but also watching fellow passengers and the beautiful landscapes passing by. In Thailand there is always something going on in trains: people selling drinks and local snacks, passengers who hardly speak any English but still try to ask where you come from. It’s just ultimate travel fun.
First impressions of Phetchaburi
And so we arrived in Phetchaburi. The first impressions where overwhelming. The Wat Mahathat temple is truly the center of attention. A beautiful white royal temple with a five-tiered Khmer style pagoda that can be seen from all over town.
The temple grounds offer a great place to sit down and watch the daily hustle and bustle. There is always something happening there: from kids visiting on a school trip to funerals that last three days; we went back many times. But don’t forget to take off your shoes when you enter a temple!
On that first day we walked around the temple grounds a bit until we found a special entrance somewhere at the back, near a building where young buddhist novices went to school. From there we entered the main temple and could even climb parts of the pagoda. Beautiful, and not a single tourist around!
On our way back we were surprised by a lot of smoke. No idea where that suddenly came from! Didn’t seem to be harmful as yound buddhist novices just ran through it, laughing and playing hide and seek.
Where Wat Mahathat already made us happy, the next day we discovered more great temples and palaces. Phetchaburi is not that big, so make sure to rent a bicycle. It’s the best way to move around town.
From the many tempels we loved Wat Yai Suwannaram and Wat Ko the most. Wat Yai is a superb wooden temple colored red. Inside the temple you will find old frescoes and an immense collection of Buddha statues. Below the temple you find monks sleeping in tents….
One of the monks took out his own mobile phone and kindly asked us to take pictures of him and our son.
Another monk just watched us from inside the temple and laughed. He didn’t mind having his picture taken.
Wat Ko, the other temple we liked the most, is a bit hidden behind buildings at the end of a dead-end road. But worth the effort finding it.
Passing through the streets of Phetchaburi it all felt really good. The atmosphere is pleasant; local kids still look up surprised when they see you and all shout “Hello!!” at the same time. People are happy to see you, a bit curious. Although it’s only a 1.5 hour drive from Bangkok, the place seems to be untouched by tourists.
The narrow streets with the old teak shophouses make you step back in time. We spent 4 days in Phetchaburi where after only two days we already greeted familiair people on the street! Our kind of town…
Into the Khao Luang cave
One place you must visit is the Khao Luang cave, couple of miles outside the city. It’s one of Thailand’s most impressive cave shrines. The cave is famous for its magical atmosphere: the sunlight shines directly into the cave, illuminating some Buddha statues while leaving others in complete darkness.
The way to the cave is a challenging one if you are afraid of monkeys. Because they appear in big numbers! There are local people to help you get into the cave though. They carry a big stick to scare monkeys away. Because yes, the monkeys will steal your food and drinks if you carry it around clearly visible.
What to avoid in Phetchaburi
What to avoid? Aggressive monkeys! Near Khao Luang cave but also all around the Khao Wang palace that sits on top of a hill overlooking Phetchaburi (Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park). Here we saw monkeys everywhere. We were planning to walk uphill to visit the palace but honestly speaking the monkeys prevented us from doing so. Really. The first monkeys we encountered showed us their teeth and that looked quite aggressive I can tell you. We didn’t want to be scratched or bitten by one of them so we quickly said goodbye to our plan to visit the palace. Not worth the risk.
P.S. There is a cable car going up the hill from the West side, but they charge a hefty 200 Thai Bath per person (>12 years).
Where to eat in Phetchaburi
We had dinner three times at the Rabieng Rim Nam riverside restaurant (recommended by Lonely Planet, a place were travelers gather at night). Great food at very reasonable prices. The last night in town we went to a peaceful park at the end of Phetkasem Road. Locals join here in the early evening to play, run or just sit and relax. Some nice restaurants around the park, including the luxury Swiss Palazzo.
Where to stay in Phetchaburi
White Monkey Guesthouse! We had a fab time at this new guesthouse. Situated in the middle of the city we cannot think of a better place to stay. Rooms are very clean and breakfast is included. You are sharing a bathroom with one other room. They have rental bikes and perfect wifi. The guesthouse has a rooftop terrace which great views on the temple next door. Our recommendation!
What do you think? Would you put Phetchaburi on your list?