Researching Thailand as a travel destination was disturbing. So many accounts online gave the impression that the place was ruined, literally overrun by tourists. I knew that was the case in Phuket, which is why I’ve never bothered going there, but the entire country? Surely not.
Of course, there would be many towns, many places, with nary a farang in sight – probably because there was nothing much to see. Yes, we were after a glimpse beneath the bonnet of Thai society (and no traveller gets more than a glimpse, to which anyone who has lived in a foreign country initially travelled through will attest). But we’re not anthropologists! We wanted to do our glimpsing in locales with more going for them than mere ‘authenticity’! A gorgeous coastal town, perhaps. Sites of historical interest. Regions famed for speciality dishes. The usual tourist stuff, in other words – but without hordes of tourists.
Mission impossible? Well, it began to seem so. Then we came across a reference to a little place that sounded promising: Prachuap Khiri Khan, a “typical small Thai town” (whatever that means) set on a picturesque bay 100K or so south of Hua Hin. A fishing town and administrative centre of the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan from which it takes its name, it was too sleepy for most tourists, claimed our source. As a result, accommodation was far cheaper than in Hua Hin, as was the seafood, locally caught and as fresh as it gets. OKaaaay…
PKK presented as an ideal first stop: an opportunity to experience a little of Thai life in microcosm, and a quiet, relaxing prelude before the clamour and chaos of our next destination, monstrous Bangkok.
You’ll recall I had emerged from the train at Hua Hin sick as a baited dog, had a heave next to the platform on a fenced-off patch of lawn that my partner suspects signified something culturally special, then we took a mini-bus straight to Prachuap Khiri Khan. It dropped us in the centre of town.
We declined offers from the tuk-tuk drivers to take us to our hotel, which was on the seafront, just two blocks away. Easy walking distance. Or so my partner thought. I would have accepted a ride if the hotel had been only 50 metres away, but I figured she had the right to inflict a bit of punishment on me for coming down so sick and useless right at the beginning of the trip.
We grabbed our gear, and with the searing mid-afternoon sun ratcheting up my headache to yet another level, my entire purpose in life came down to placing one foot after the other in simple trust that we would make it to our hotel before I collapsed.
The two blocks to the seafront seemed to take an age. To the right, a few hundred metres ahead, was our hotel. I really doubted I could make it. Madame J marched ahead without a backward glance, fancying, perhaps, that she was dragging me along in her slipstream. Prachuap Khiri Khan bay lurched past in my periphery, and even in the blurred glare of that trial of endurance I noted that it was lovely. Not that I cared less at the time. I was fully engaged in resenting the uncaring figure striding out in front and wallowing in bounteous self-pity.
Hours later, having showered and slept a while after managing to keep down a cup of tea and biscuit and drop a couple of painkillers, I came to in greatly improved condition, and the view from the hotel room window revealed itself in all its splendour. Throwing open the blinds to that luscious tropical panorama was to become a daily ritual to treasure – a marvellous start to the day.
Things were on the up, and not before time. I had resigned myself to not eating much, if anything, that night, but suddenly I had an appetite. Sunset was approaching, the restaurants and the night market only a walk away, and all that recently harvested local seafood just waiting…
So began our love affair with PKK.