One of the nicer and calmer beaches in Prachuap Khiri Khan is that of Ao Manao. It was located about 4 km South from the Ban Thai Hut Bungalows where we were staying. It is well worth the walk (as we did) or a taxi can get you there much faster otherwise 🙂 If you plan to walk, make note that you do have to cross a military checkpoint and sign in as a guest and part of your walk will include walking across an airstrip! Rules state that you can’t take pictures of it (go figure) so I of course ignored that… Kidding! Best part about this beach is that for 10 baht, approximately $0.31, you can rent a comfy lounge chair (all day!!!) completely shaded under umbrellas right on the beach. They even serve food and drinks (for an extra charge of course) right to you. It was quite the relaxing and pampering day! In any event, enjoy the pictures from the walk there 🙂
Jo and I rose early to meet a local and her son who had invited us for a hike to the top of Khao Lommuak. We had met Ploi and her 13-year-old son Noi Noi several days prior to the hike at a restaurant called Da-DoDo (by Dubai) that she and her husband (a native Italian) run. From the first time Jo and I had gone to Da-DoDo, the reception was unbelievably welcoming and warm. The food was also very delicious, and since it was only located a couple of doors down from where we were staying, well obviously, we had Italian more than just a few times, much to the dismay of my waistline, but NOT my taste buds! 🙂
We really weren’t all that keen about having to get up so early (we met Ploi at 6am) but knowing how hot it gets as soon as the sun rises around here, it made the most sense to get the hike started as early as possible. We hopped in to Ploi’s car and headed out to Khao Lommuak, one of the tallest of the islands in Prachuap that divide Ao Manao and the Prachuap bay. It really was a good thing that we had gone with a local because though Jo and I had already planned to do the hike at one point, we would have gone to the wrong place for it to begin with! See, we had already walked to the Ao Manao beach several days earlier and had spotted signs for the National Park just before reaching the beach. But this entrance is NOT the entrance to the hiking trail… So had we gone on our own, we would have been very lost as to actually finding the place.
In any event, once we arrived at the hike entrance, we were greeted by some lovely monkeys that live at the base of Khao Lommuak. I had never seen this particular primate before and came to learn they are called dusky leaf monkeys or spectacled leaf monkeys! They were quite the friendly bunch and eagerly accepted any food items we gave them. I had some peanut butter crackers I had bought for breakfast and as a snack on the way up the hill, but of course ended up giving them all away to the beautiful monkeys! Apparently, while the adults have a brown/black coat, the babies have yellow fur until they are about a year old, then it changes to the adult color:) We didn’t see any babies during our first visit, but were fortunate enough to see one when we came back down.
After about 20 minutes playing with the monkeys, it was time to get the hike on! The hike in total was 6 kilometers (round-trip) to a height of 240-ish meters from sea level. Honestly I was shocked to hear how little of a height that was, since it seemed a lot higher as we climbed up and looked down!! We started up the trail which first was just a series of steps with Noi Noi in the lead. I can’t recall now exactly how many stairs there were, but generally to keep myself distracted from the pain of climbing stairs I simply count. If memory serves however it was over 500! We were all taking breaks of course to catch our breath, drink water and collect ourselves before moving on. And of course I had to use the excuse that I needed pictures in order to rest a bit 😉
It was just before the stairs turned to a natural dirt and rock path that little Noi Noi decided to turn back. He had done the hike the day before and wasn’t up for doing the whole thing again, so he headed to the car. I had gone ahead up to the end of the stairs and started to climb up the rock path until I reached a little cave. Not sure of whether anyone else was going to join me however, I headed back down a bit to see what the plan was. Ploi also had apparently gone back down and Jo seemed uncertain of how far she would make it since Ploi had described part of the trek as ‘only using ropes to hoist yourself up to the top’… She was game to try as far as she could, but wasn’t certain yet how far that would be.
I was determined however no matter what lay ahead so I continued on. The natural path was outlined the entire way by a rope that clung to trees along the path. Honestly, as you can see from the picture above labeled ‘safe and secure’, the rope really didn’t seem to be all that secure (though it felt secure enough) because sometimes the trees that the rope was attached to were barely thicker than my ankle and they were rooted on the cliff edge! Kinda scary, but again it did feel secure enough. Up and up I went, at times literally feeling like I was rock climbing with the rope as a guide and assistance at times but otherwise just feeling my way up the rocks (which were really petrified coral so very sharp at times!!) until the next area to rest a bit. As I climbed, the views became even more spectacular as the vistas opened up to a panoramic view.
I won’t lie, there were some times while climbing up that I honestly questioned how in the heck I would get back down! Ploi had told us that the day before there had been a class of 40 students and a teacher doing the trek and all I could think of as I lay flat against the rock, trying NOT to look down and freak myself out, was that if we were in the States, there would be NO WAY a trek like this would be allowed for students to do without all the proper safety measures in place! It was quite impressive to think of, especially for the fact that it was 40 or them scrambling along the teeny path!
Finally, the end was in sight as the teeny Temple that stands at the top of Khao Lommuak began to come into view. The view from the top was absolutely incredible and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat, it was well worth the climb! I hung around enjoying the views for about 10 minutes or so, but since I didn’t know whether Jo and Ploi were behind me or whether they had gone back to the car, I didn’t want to spend too much time at the top making them wait on me. I was just about to start heading back down when both Jo and Ploi rounded the corner! Happy day! Now we could all enjoy the views and chill for a bit! As we relaxed and enjoyed the rest, more and more people started to show. It was nice to see that no matter the age or fitness level of the hikers, everyone was dripping in sweat as they climbed to the top (so it wasn’t just me being out of shape, lol!!).
I will say it was quite impressive to watch the locals walk around the top of Khao Lommuak. It was just their comfort level being up there! While I kept being very cautious of where I stepped and not getting too close to the edge, the locals just walked about and went freely to the edges as if they were walking on sea level. I was amazed and in awe of their bravery! At one point, an older falang made it to the top and stomped rather hurriedly past us to get to the Temple to ring the bell. He stayed for all of a minute, then headed right back down the path. Ploi explained to us that that particular gentleman did this hike 3 times EVERY DAY. Every day! Up to the top and back down 3 times in a row every day… His speed was remarkable as during the time that we were heading back down, he had passed us on his way up for the second time, down for the second time and up again for his third! Absolutely unreal! And he wasn’t a spring chicken either! He claimed the only reason he did the hike was to keep in shape so he could drink more beer… I can relate to that! Lol!
After all the pictures were taken and our energy was refueled by rest and water, we headed back down ourselves, stopping again to feed the monkeys (Noi Noi had spotted a baby this time!) some fruit purchased from a nearby fruit stand. It was only about a quarter to 10am, so instead of going back, we opted to head to the Ao Manao beach for some R&R. Though I did get a little R&R, and while the water did feel great on the muscles, I was exhausted more by the beach time than the hike! Little Noi Noi (who doesn’t speak a lick of English) and I came up with game after game to entertain ourselves and each other while playing in the water. First it was a hunting game where I stalked him pretending to be a shark, his only defense being to splash me, to which I would immediately retreat. Then we became hunters of the sea life on the ocean floor finding all sorts of crabs, hermit crabs, and huge clams! Of course everything was returned to the ocean floor, especially since Ploi kept saying things like ‘oh, those clams are really great to eat!’.
It impressed me that even without speaking each others language, Noi Noi and I were able to communicate and play for hours on end in the ocean. Just goes to show you how unnecessary the spoken word really is. We left the beach in the late afternoon (they had to get back to open the restaurant) and of course ended up having Italian for dinner that night. It was such an amazing day! The only ‘downfall’ was that the blister on the bottom of my foot that I’d gotten the day before popped open during the Khao Lommuak hike and stung like crazy as I swam in the ocean. But heck, for a day with so many other blessings, I can’t really complain!
I’ve debated several times whether to actually give away the location of this next place we traveled to (are still are after a week, with no plans to jump up and leave just yet)… I honestly can’t believe it hasn’t been discovered more! While there are a handful of Europeans living here, foreigners are a very uncommon sight. Thai tourists and locals (of course) are the ruling majority. It’s just my kind of place to really feel like a part of the culture and life!
We bought tickets for the mini-bus to this gem of a place from Hua Hin, and though were told it would only be an hour wait for the bus to arrive, it turned into almost 2 before we even got on. And when we did get on, the bus was so full that literally 2 of the passengers had people sitting on their laps, all the seats were taken AND 3 people had to stand (rather uncomfortably by the looks of it) in the aisle of the bus. Essentially a bus equipped to seat 14 passengers had 19 PLUS our huge travel bags (which are about the size of a small human). Luckily within the hour or so however people started exiting the bus, so space opened up a tiny bit to at least allow everyone to have their own seat. I suspect that the bus was so crowded because of the upcoming Holiday of Songkran.
Once we arrived, we set off on motorbike taxis to a place called Ban Thai Hut, where we were told had cheap accommodations. We settled on a tiny hut complete with a bed, bathroom, fan and TV (which we’ve yet to actually plug in or turn on) just a short walk across the street from the beach. The place is absolutely darling, and while very rustic (there are some parts of the room we fear to put too much weight on just in case the floor falls through) it has been suiting our needs quite well.
Prachuap Khiri Khan is the name of this adorable town. It consists of 3 semi-circular bays separated by jutting hills and islands. Farthest to the North is the little Ao Noi bay then the Prachuap Khiri Khan bay and finally Ao Manao. Each location offers so many outdoor things to do that it just boggles my mind when the locals say tourists only stay here for a couple of days because “there isn’t much to do”. Seriously?? They have a Wat inside a cave in Ao Noi, beautiful beaches on all three bays, hikes to a Wat on the top of a hill in Prachuap, a hike to another tiny Wat at the top of another hill (Khao Lommuak) which gives the highest panoramic view of the entire area, plus snorkeling (I still have to check that out myself!) and within driving distance several day trips could be planned to surrounding National Parks! There is so much to do around here that when you add in days to just relax and beach, you would need at least a week to get it all done leisurely!
But I digress… This place really is darling though! I would recommend it over and over but hope that even when it does get properly discovered, the integrity of the place as it currently is doesn’t get destroyed. The weather is always delightful (though admittedly quite hot), the beaches are never overcrowded, the beach water is deliciously warm and refreshing and there is a ridiculous amount of fun sea life to play with (hermit crabs, clams, sand dollars, etc). Seriously, what more could one ask for?