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Impressions of Phetchaburi: the place to be for temple lovers

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

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!

Shoes in front of 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!

Young monks

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.

Exploring Phetchaburi

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.

Monk smiling from temple window

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.

Old Thai woman

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.

Monkeys near a temple

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?

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Sara September 1, 2015 - 11:28

Definitelly love to travel by train! In the meantime you can enjou views and meet other travelers and have a good conversation! I’ve been to Thailand before, but just to Phuket, so I haven’t visited Phetchaburi yet. After reading your post, it’s on my list!

Emiel van den Boomen September 2, 2015 - 20:53

You should definitely explore more of Thailand! But I guess your bucket list is already a long one, right? 🙂

Molly Sears-Piccavey August 28, 2015 - 11:57

One of the best things about reading blog posts is being able to travel from your living room to such beautiful places like this. I haven´t been to Asia but these photos certainly give me an idea of what I am missing out on.

Emiel van den Boomen August 29, 2015 - 17:33

So true Molly! The only thing to worry about is reading blog posts about so many places that you have no idea which destination to choose… But I guess these kinds of blog posts are more about inspiration. Not only the specific place to go but also ways to change and improve your travel style.

Megan Claire August 26, 2015 - 03:47

Thanks for this great guide – had never heard of Phetchaburi either until reading your post, and what a lovely introduction! So glad you decided to spend time there, it truly looks like a fascinating and lovely destination, and while tru you probably just have to watch out for the odd agressive monkey I would take them over hoardes of tourists anyday 😀 Really looks like an authentic travel experience.

Love the look of Khao Luang Cave! Thanks for the inspiration!

Emiel van den Boomen August 29, 2015 - 17:30

My pleasure Megan. I think you will like my upcoming post about Khanom, Thailand too. 🙂

hikebiketravel August 24, 2015 - 21:28

Love the photos and admire your families attitude to explore the untrammeled places and do it a moment’s notice. Thank you for taking me somewhere I’ve never heard of before.

Emiel van den Boomen August 25, 2015 - 20:44

Pleasure! It’s kind of our goal to find places like this. That is what we love most about traveling.

Null & Full August 24, 2015 - 13:20

I have never been to Thailand and never really wanted, to be honest. I was bored with hundreds and thousands of blogs by young backpackers to whom Thailand seems to be a top destination. I know That Thailand is beyond my comprehension and that I will never understand its religion, culture, language nor people. But I enjoyed reading your text very much. And especially your beautiful pictures made me think if I’m not wrong…

Emiel van den Boomen August 25, 2015 - 20:43

Before we first went to Thailand back in 2009 we had the same feeling. Is was too popular in a sense. But we changed our minds after that first visit. Especially with kids its a perfect destination. Transport is easy as well as finding accommodation. Food is great. We fell in love with Bangkok and have been back to that city quite a few times. Thank you very much for your lovely comment. Hope you will give it a try someday (I will post another time about a same kind of untouched destination in the south of Thailand: Khanom).


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