Settled since at least the 11th century, Phetchaburi (often spelled Phetburi) is one of Thailand’s oldest towns. It has long been an important trading and cultural center, and Mon, Khmer, and Ayutthayan influences can be seen in its 30 temples. During the 19th century it became a favorite royal retreat, and King Mongkut built a summer house here on a hill, Khao Wang, west of the center. This is now part of the Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park (see p334). Other major sights are the 17th-century Wat Yai Suwannaram, the five Khmer prangs of Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, and an old quarter that has retained much of its original charm. Despite such attractions, accommodation is scant. Most visitors come on day trips from Bangkok, 76 miles (123 km) away
Exploring Phetchaburi’s Outer Sights
Phetchaburi is divided by the Phet River, which weaves its way past this provincial capital’s 30 historic temples. Many, especially the Ayutthayan wats, are excellently preserved, their pinnacles dominating the skyline. In the distance, to the west, three large hills loom imperiously over the city.
Phra Nakhon Khiri, locally referred to as Khao Wang, translates as the “celestial city of the mountain.” This palace complex, perched on top of 302-ft (92-m) Maha Samana hill, was commissioned by King Mongkut (Rama IV) as a summer house in the 1850s. Extravagant use of European, Chinese, and Japanese architectural styles make this a bold study in Thai and foreign architecture. Set among natural woods, rocks, and caverns, it also offers fine vistas of Phetchaburi town and panoramic views of the province. The complex extends over three peaks. The Royal Palace and the Ho Chatchawan Wiangchai, an observatory tower (Rama IV was an accomplished amateur astronomer), are both perched on the west rise; the Phra That Chomphet, a white chedi erected by Rama V, stands on the central rise; and Wat Maha Samanaram, containing some fine murals, takes up the east rise. In 1988 the complex was made a Historical Park. A cable car takes visitors up the steep ascent to the palace buildings.
A short distance north of town is Tham Khao Luang, a cave containing stalactites, chedis, and Buddha images. To the right of the cave’s mouth lies Wat Bun Thawi, notable for its intricately carved wooden door panels.