A mere 20 minute's drive away from bustling Hua Hin, peaceful Pran Buri lures visitors with its tree-lined coast road, vibrant fishing villages, fresh and sun-dried seafood and endless empty beaches.
But at just 281 kilometres from Bangkok, it's impossible not to notice the changes that are taking place in this district of Prachuap Khiri Khan as locals sell their land and new resorts mushroom. Property development has taken root, but there's still plenty of rusticity to be found. And while tradition is co-existing with luxury in this old-fashioned resort area, one cannot help but wonder how much longer that harmony will last.
Once in Pran Buri, you won't want to leave. Aside from sun and sea, there's lush forest, ubiquitous coconut trees and powdery white sandy beaches that seem to stretch on forever. But Pran Buri has never been a favourite resort town for the jet-setting elite from Bangkok or indeed for the Siamese royalty. It's considered as one of Hua Hin's satellite beaches and is a key military town, with Burma just over the border.
The drive to Pran Buri from Hua Hin offers breath-taking views. Road 3168, off Highway 4, rises and dips along the low hills that are part of the nearby national park. Many visitors pull over at Khao Kaloke, a hill right in the middle of Pran Buri beach, to eat at one of the seafood restaurants or food stalls hawking Isaan fare.
Another popular stop, particularly with western diners, is Sawadikarn Restaurant on the other side of the hill, where you can sit at bamboo tables overlooking a bay dotted with stationery fishing trawlers.
South of Pran Buri, you'll find the villages of Baan Nong Baan Kao and Baan Rua Yai. Here, the beach is long and wide and usually empty. Even a fisherman pushing a cart loaded with shrimps - a common sight elsewhere - is rare here. For many decades, this has been one of the most beautiful beachside roads in southern Thailand, flanked by the blue sea on one side and acres of greenery on the other. Today, the view is marred by signs for land sales and ads for new resorts.
The metalled part of the road extends southwards from Khao Kaloke for about three kilometres ending at a small sala with a blue tiled roof. This is a pleasant place to park and rest awhile, contemplating the sand and sea, before continuing along the dirt track to other villages further down the beach and eventually to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, 20km away.
Southern Pran Buri offers true rustic charm with sleepy fishing villages and a few quiet and inexpensive bungalows. Enjoy an overnight stay here and you're guaranteed a solitary beach walk as the sun rises.
There's plenty to engage you in northern Pran Buri as well. A trip back up the road leads to the much-acclaimed Evason Hua Hin before finishing at Paknam Pran at the mouth of the Pran Buri River.
Here you can take a boat inland along the river for glimpses of fishing villages, shrines, the mangrove and several species of bird. On your return, explore the fishing villages at the mouth of the river and stock up on dried squid and shrimp at very reasonable prices.
Rest in the small sala at the end of the road overlooking the mouth of the river and watch the fishing trawlers as they plough the waves. The dark green water of the river as it meets the blue sea makes for a stunning picture.
There are cheap bungalows in Paknam Pran too, and unlike those in northern Pran Buri, they are run by villagers and come with great seafood.
And if the sun is too hot, chill out at The Bar of the Evason Hua Hin right on the beach road - afternoon tea can be had for a very reasonable Bt450.