Looking at Prachuap Khiri Khan on the map, it’s as if the province were a balloon being pinched and tied off, the air forced upward and filling out the vast expanse of Isaan, the central plains, and the very far North. At its narrowest, the distance between the border with Myanmar and the Gulf of Thailand is a paltry 11 kilometres—an easy bike ride, even a light jog for some. And here, where Thailand tapers to a thin strip of land, the sea is never far.
From stem to stern, Prachuap Khiri Khan has an abundance of beautiful beaches with postcard seascapes. Some are empty and serene, others besieged by the growing swell of weekenders venturing south from Bangkok. There’s something for everyone, in other words, and all easily reachable from Hua Hin, making day-trips to hideaway beaches a breeze.
A piebald hill with a Buddhist temple teeming with monkeys, just visible in the distance from the packed sands in front of the Centara Grand Hua Hin, separates the main five-kilometre drag from another seemingly boundless beach. Khao Takiab, the name of the hill as well as the beach and neighbourhood, doesn’t have the fine bleach-white sands of Hua Hin, but it makes up for its lack of sex appeal with solitude. Its mostly vacant shoreline, incorporating Suan Son, lined with softly stirring casuarina trees and sitting adjacent to a golf course, has a comforting receding quality, the horizon extending step after step, the end never really seeming within reach.
Roughly 15 kilometres south of Khao Takiab lies Baan Khao Tao. The seaside village is home to an inland lake (the first Royal Project-designated reservoir in Thailand), lots of seafood restaurants, and two beaches divided by a headland. While Haad Sai Yai draws larger crowds, relatively speaking, the diamond in Khao Tao’s tiara is Haad Sai Noi, a small patch of sand with uninterrupted views of the Gulf and not much else—especially not many tourists.
One of Thailand’s most underrated national parks, Khao Sam Roi Yot occupies roughly 100-square-kilometres of stunning landscape about 30 minutes south of Hua Hin. On a clear day, limestone hills ripple the window cleaner-blue sky like soft peaks of meringue. Those hills also hide a couple superb beaches. While not great for swimming, owing to its long high shoal, Laem Sala scores points for sensational views of a glass-flat sea and its small islands, shaded groves for reprieves from the sun, and blissful emptiness. Behind the beach is the entrance to Phraya Nakorn Cave, an alternative to idle R&R. Phu Noi, found between the park and Pranburi, has a similar feel—brilliant seascapes, but only decent swimming.
Moving even further south to the provincial capital of Prachuap Khiri Khan, the land truly attenuates, practically funnelling visitors toward the region’s best-kept secret, Ao Manao. Located just beyond a Thai Air Force base, the beach combines the tranquillity and views of Laem Sala with the convenience of Hua Hin. Every day, vendors set up hundreds of beach chairs under a never-ending row of casuarina trees, the seats sold for a mere B10 a day, and grilled chicken, som tam, fried rice, and more are available for fair prices at a breezy food court across the only road running through the base. The beach itself is a concave stretch of soft white sand that grows only slightly more convex as the tide recedes. In the morning, beachcombers can watch Thai parachutists circling down to earth. As the sun starts to set, the ectoplasm green lights of squid boats twinkle on the horizon. Although it lacks the exotic glamour of certain island bays, Ao Manao is about as good as it gets on the mainland.
But if the goal is to truly get away from it all, drive another 23 kilometres to Haad Wanakorn, a vacant beach inside one of Thailand’s smallest national parks. Found near the border of Chumphon, this park is a popular stopover for bird-watchers hoping to spot owlets and snorkelers exploring the well-protected coral and marine life. Apart from hiking the well-maintained trails or taking a trip to the small islands off-shore, activities are pretty much limited to relaxing on the vast golden sands. Those not in a rush to get back to Hua Hin might consider shacking up in a seaside villa at the luxurious NishaVille in Huay Yang village, next to Haad Wanakorn. Few resorts are as far from the madding crowd as NishaVille, where the sand and sea seem reserved for guests alone and white noise remains remarkably absent.