Although I have left Thailand, this month's column features my last Bangkok Getaway as I thought it might be useful for the many EFLers based in the City of Angels wanting to escape the urban concrete jungle and enjoy the more worthwhile parts of the Kingdom. I haven't written any new stuff lately since I have been too busy relaxing in Sandalwood City and by the time you read this, I will be on my way to Vietnam, followed by Cambodia, in an effort to (re)discover these booming destinations in what was formerly known as Indochina. I'll try to keep you posted in future columns although spending hours in Internet bars is not my idea of travelling fun.
Petburi in a nutshell: a historical park on a hill, lots of temples and some monkeys thrown in for good measure
I went on this overnight trip to the scenic town of Petburi a few months ago. Tourist maps and road signs often refer to this city as Petchburi or Petchaburi but the believe me, the correct way to pronounce it is definitely Petburi. Unfortunately, transliteration of Thai script into the Roman alphabet is often neither clear-cut nor logical (just think of the airport: Suvarnabhumi vs Suwannapoom).
Petburi lies some 160 kilometres south of Bangkok and can be visited in one or two days. In order to get there, take either train, bus or van. Day trains depart infrequently from Hualampong train station in central Bangkok; buses depart every half hour from the new southern bus terminal (located what seems like 100 clicks southwest of the capital, but in reality it's only about 15 clicks); vans go all day long from Victory Monument to Hua Hin on a fill-up-and-go basis and can drop you off in Petburi.
Once in Petburi, you can either start the sightseeing immediately if you're on a day trip or you can find a hotel to stay the night as I did. Remember that there is quite a lot to see and day-trippers might find themselves longer on a bus or train than actually sightseeing. Also, after a few hours, you might get tired and not bother going the extra mile to discover some hidden gems. Instead, the only thing you'll want to do is down a few cold ones and lie down for a nap.
Once you reach the Petburi bus station (actually there is no bus station, buses just stop near the central market), motorbikes go just about anywhere in the city centre for a mere 20 baht or so. I had one drop me off at the Kao Wang Hotel, which is conveniently located next to Kao Wang Hill where the main sights are. The hotel was cheap at 250 baht for a fan room with bathroom (add 100 baht for A/C) but somewhat rundown (think not-so-new council flats or housing projects). Although the whole place was in dire need of a lick of paint, my room was airy and the bedsheets spotless. The bathroom sported a Thai toilet, which was okay as I prefer this to sitting on dubious toilet seats. If you like your western toilet though or if you're not into squatting, you might want to look for another place to stay or put your bowel movements on hold for the duration of your stay.
As I already mentioned, the main attraction of Petburi is Kao Wang Hill & Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park. Cobblestone paths lead up and around the hill which is studded with temples and various components of King Rama IV's palace. The views are great and the whole area is a photographer's dream. Fat monkeys loll about in the trees and on top of the walls along the main path. The walk up looks easy but is fairly strenuous, especially since there is a lot of ground to cover if you want to see the whole domain.(*) You needn't be a mountain goat but it might be a challenge for couch potatoes and Thais alike. Make sure to drink plenty of water, wear a hat or use sunscreen, and take either an extra shirt or a small towel for when you're drenched in sweat. Entrance fee is a giveaway 40 baht (just under a Euro, just over a dollar).
If you're on a day trip, you'll probably want to have a late lunch and then go home after seeing Kao Wang. If you're booked into a hotel, I suggest you have lunch followed by a shower and some rest before discovering the rest of the town. There are quite a few interesting temples in Petburi town itself, but seeing them will involve quite a bit of walking. The most picturesque temples are probably Wat Mahathat, Wat Chi Pra Keut, Wat Lat and Wat Yai Suwannaram (jut consult a tourist map once you get there). Instead of walking your way around town, you could hop on a motorbike to get you to the furthest temple and walk back from there. There are of course more temples than the ones mentioned here, but after a while temple-fatigue sets in and you might reach the point where you don't want to see any more of the bloody things, no matter how spectacular they are.
At night, there is a huge night market set up in and around the park located next to Kao Wang Hill. You'll find everything you've ever needed there, ranging from cheap T-shirts to fake designer jeans, take-away dinners, local sweets and desserts, tropical fish, cherrywood vases, pirated CDs and fried bugs. The fried grasshoppers are delicious and full of healthy proteins if you're into exotic foods. If the thought of devouring creepy crawlers upsets your appetite, there are a number of economical restaurants in the vicinity of the night market.
(*) partly taken from Lonely Planet Thailand
Picture galleries available at www.flickr.com/photos/philiproeland (just do a search with the keyword 'Petburi).