Straddling the Phet River about 120km south of Bangkok, the provincial capital of PHETCHABURI (sometimes “Phetburi”) has been settled ever since the eleventh century, when the Khmers ruled the region, but only really got going six hundred years later, when it flourished as a trading post between the Andaman Sea ports and Ayutthaya. Despite periodic incursions from the Burmese, the town gained a reputation as a cultural centre – as the ornamentation of its older temples testifies – and after the new capital was established in Bangkok it became a favourite country retreat of Rama IV, who had a hilltop palace, Phra Nakhon Khiri, built here in the 1850s. Modern Phetchaburi is known for its limes and rose apples but its main claim to fame is as one of Thailand’s finest sweet-making centres, the essential ingredient for its assortment of khanom being the sugar extracted from the sweet-sapped palms that cover the province. This being very much a cottage industry, today’s downtown Phetchaburi has lost relatively little of the ambience that so attracted Rama IV: the central riverside area is hemmed in by historic wats in varying states of disrepair, along with plenty of traditional wooden shophouses. The town’s top three temples, described below, can be seen on a leisurely two-hour circular walk beginning from Chomrut Bridge, while Phetchaburi’s other significant sight, the palace-museum at Phra Nakhon Khiri, is on a hill about 1km west of the bridge.
Despite the attractions of its old quarter, Phetchaburi gets few overnight visitors as most people see it on a day-trip from Bangkok, Hua Hin or Cha-am. It’s also possible to combine a day in Phetchaburi with an early-morning expedition from Bangkok to the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak, 40km north; budget tour operators in Bangkok’s Thanon Khao San area offer this option as a day-trip package for about B600 per person. The town sees more overnighters during the Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair, spread over at least five days in February, which features parades in historic costumes, cooking demonstrations and traditional entertainments such as likay and lakhon.
Almost half the shops in Phetchaburi stock the town’s famous khanom (sweet snacks), as do many of the souvenir stalls crowding the base of Khao Wang and vendors at the day market on Thanon Matayawong. The most well-known local speciality is maw kaeng (best sampled from Raan Khanom Waan Mee Pin on the west side of Thanon Matayawong, just north of Phongsuriya), a baked sweet egg custard made with mung beans and coconut and sometimes flavoured with lotus seeds, durian or taro. Other Phetchaburi classics to look out for include khanom taan, small, steamed, saffron-coloured cakes made with local palm sugar, coconut and rice flour, and wrapped in banana-leaf cases; and thong yot, orange balls of palm sugar and baked egg yolk.