Continuing along the highway south from Hua Hin leads to the country ‘suburb’ of Pranburi district, which has become a popular coastal alternative for Bangkok Thais. Ever more popular, some even go so far as to call it the ‘Thai Riviera’. Locally, the fishing village and nearby beaches are known by a more humble name: Pak Nam Pran (mouth of the Pranburi River), which designates its geographic location only.
A coastal road separates a string of small villa-style resorts, and an increasing number of condo developments, from the beach. With each successive rainy season, the ocean claims more sand and a breakwater is being constructed along parts of the coastline. Since most of the visitors are Thai, the disappearing beach is of minor consequence. Instead, most domestic tourists come for sea views and the village’s primary product: dried squid. Every morning the squid boats dock in the river, unload their catch and begin the process of sun-drying. It is a pungent but interesting affair with large drying racks spread out across town.
Bordering the river is an extensive mangrove forest, protected by the Pranburi Forest Park. Within the park is a wooden walkway that explores the mangroves from the perspective of a mud-dweller, and a sea-pine-lined beach and accommodation facilities. The park also offers boat trips along the river and small canals.
The coastal road provides a pleasant trip to Khao Kalok (Skull Mountain), a mammoth headland that shelters a beautiful bay on the southern side. This southern beach is wide and sandy and far removed from the hubbub of Hua Hin and even from Pak Nam Pran for that matter, though it does get busy on weekends. Lazing along this stretch are several secluded boutique resorts that are ideal for honeymooners, or anyone looking to escape the crowds without traveling too far from civilization.
The next southern bay is often called Dolphin Bay, because of the seasonal visits (February to May) from bottlenose dolphins and finless porpoise. Sculpted, jungle-covered islands sit scenically offshore and the beach is a lovely, wide strip of powdery sand. This area is a family favorite because the resorts are value-oriented, traffic is minimal and nightlife is nonexistent. You’re also a few kilometers from the northern entrance to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.