Many residents and frequent visitors to Hua Hin begin their Thailand experience and love of the culture, lifestyle, climate and natural attractions of the country by exploring Bangkok. However when that burgeoning metropolis becomes too overwhelming, they explore further afield looking for a more peaceful and relaxed location.
Hua Hin becomes the choice for those looking for a family friendly destination; being drawn to the beach lifestyle but still accessible to the ‘Big Mango’. However central Hua Hin has its own urban pressures and that is when the newly emerging location of Khao Tao beckons.
Khao Tao is not to be confused with the diving island of Koh Tao which is much further south off the Chumphon coast. The idyllic village setting of Khao Tao is a mere 12 kilometres from Hua Hin with an ambience of its own. For those who want to escape Hua-Hin’s relatively busy ‘city centre’, this is a place for you to discover.
Take Phetchakasim Road, the main highway south from Hua Hin, past Ratchapakti Park featuring the massive statues of Thailand’s great kings of the Chakri Dynasty. Soon after, Soi 101 is the entrance road which becomes Khao Tao Road. Once that entry road is taken towards the coast and after crossing the railway line, you’ll begin to experience the Khao Tao village ambiance.
There are a number of condo developments at the northern entry but they have remained separate from the main settlement. Towards the village, the entry road passes by the local school and temple as well as many small restaurants and coffee shops. An early browsing opportunity can be found at a royal project where silk weaving by local villages on hand operated looms is a traditional niche industry.
A little further on and the road meanders past small lanes with low density housing which provides easy access to the main wide sandy beach. A scenic lake on the other side of the road now comes into view. The lake was formed when a reservoir was built as the first royal initiative for sustainable water management. This royal connection resulted in an off-shore pavilion being built to celebrate the King’s 90th birthday anniversary on 5th December 2017.
There is an opportunity to sit at a lakeside bench and ponder this monument, casual fishermen, walkers or joggers who may circumnavigate the lake along on a wide circling path. You may be also be offered the chance to release some fish fingerlings as a tradition way to earn merit and good luck apart from maintaining the lake fish stock.
The area is usually not too busy although a bus load of tourists can appear on weekends or holidays. There is also a weekly ‘walking street market’ provided by local vendors and entertainers. The lake is also a spectacular venue for the annual Loy Kratong Festival each November with candle lit floats provide an amazing evening vista across the still waters. There’s also an annual paddle boat festival for some frantic action on the water each December.
At the end of this road the Khao Tao fishing enclave becomes an opportunity to discover the workings of the traditional Thai fishing industry with the freshest seafood you will ever find on offer.
For many the highlight of a visit to Khao Tao is to explore the Khao Tao temple complex with its Chinese influence and walkways past man-made caves, statues, shrines and viewpoints. At the lower level the final viewpoint features a turtle statue overlooking the bay and offshore islands.
Khao Thao may be translated as ‘turtle hill’ in recognition of the rocky outcrop overlooking which provides the backdrop towering over these temples (khao = mountain, tao = turtle).
The more adventurous and physically able may choose to climb to the higher levels where a giant golden Buddha statue commands even more extensive views north and south towards the secluded Sai Noi Beach.
Returning back along the main entry road you may wish to turn inland (Phrartchadamri Road) behind the lake and heading south towards the cove of Sai Noi beach behind the Khao Tao hill. Just a little further and you will reach the Pranburi Forest Park or perhaps the nearby Korea Huia Hin Golf Course.
Along the way you’ll pass a number of luxurious European styled villa complexes popular with retired or holidaying foreigners who are have found their scenic place in Thailand to relax, recharge the batteries and enjoy all the benefits that this piece of Thai paradise offers.
Khao Tao is rapidly becoming known as a relaxing vacation or retirement location south of the busier Hua Hin. It is destined to retain the natural surroundings and the relaxed yet invigorating lifestyle barely affected by modern developments. Discovering Khao Tao is another way to appreciate how the region has so much to offer.