Most weekend road warriors tend to avoid the provincial capital of Phetchaburi, sticking to the main north-south highway that grazes the town and sighing with relief as road-hogging buses turn off for a short stopover en route from Bangkok to Hua Hin or other destinations further afield.
Phetchaburi is not even considered a worthy weekend destination, especially as Hua Hin is only another 60 kilometres further down the highway. In many ways, that's a shame, as this town and its environs have many attractions and the lack of tourists gives it a wonderfully unhurried feel.
Just 123 kilometres from Bangkok, Phetchaburi has managed to retain both bucolic charm and royal grandeur. For variety and distinctiveness, it's hard to beat, from royal palaces and quiet beaches to a cluster of sleepy fishing villages and home-cooked seafood. For those who have had enough of mega-resorts, it's an ideal destination for a peaceful weekend retreat.
In fact, the provincial capital served as a mellow haven not just for the Thai elite; members of Siamese royalty were regulars here long before Hua Hin came onto the scene.
Chao Samran beach, a 10-minute drive from the town centre, and the first stretch of sand you see when travelling from Bangkok to southern Thailand, remains relatively empty most weekends. Well-shaded by the tall pine trees that line the beach, it has everything that Hua Hin boasted a century ago. Forget beach parties or music festivals. Here, beachcombers relax under the trees. At low tide, the beach is as big as a football pitch and early in the morning, locals dig for hoi siab (a type of clam) that they'll later pickle with garlic.
Fishermen haul their catches right on to the shore, landing tons of small shrimps, the raw material for making kapi, or shrimp paste.
It's a scene that hasn't changed much since 500 years ago, when King Naresuan of Ayutthaya vacationed here with his future successor King Ekathotsarot. The two kings were said to be so taken with the beach that it was named Chao Samran, meaning "Happy Kings", or "Had Chao", as it's called locally.
King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) liked it so much he had a palace built near the beach in 1918. The environs were later deemed unhealthy, so the royal residence was relocated to a drier and cooler site a few kilometres down the coast at Huai Sai Nua in Cha-am district and renamed Marukhathaiyawan Palace.
Visitors to Chao Samram can find accommodation at the inexpensive bungalows that dot both sides on the road running along the beach, or in Ban Laem, which is home to a cluster of high-end resorts.
You need to rise early to savour the local seafood, which is available at stalls in front of the bungalows and at the market near the only temple in the area. The grilled fresh shrimp and squid are top draws at the market.
For a full-scale inexpensive seafood meal, check out Auntie Chaliew's near the PTT gas station on 4018, the road that runs from Chao Samran Beach to Cha-Am.
A 15-minute drive will take you to Marukhathaiyawan Palace, a visual treat that shouldn't be missed. Also known as "the palace of love and hope", the residence boasts three clusters of elevated buildings: the front court, the royal suite and the inner court.
Designed by the Italian architect Ercole Manfredi and fusing Thai and European styles, all the buildings in the royal compound comprise a single storey built of golden teak and perch elegantly on a total of 1,080 concrete pillars. They are joined by covered wooden corridors, and the high ceilings and fretwork walls ensure ventilation from the sea breezes.
Although few people lived nearby, not too far from the palace is the residence of the king's aide, Chaophraya Ramrakop, the design and location of which is well worth seeing, with even the lavatory offering a sea view. The park nearby is a good spot for cycling in the late afternoon.
Next time you have a free week, visit a bygone age with a trip to Phetchaburi.
Phetchaburi is less than two hours by car from Bangkok. From Bangkok, take the southbound expressway to Dao Kanong, exit at Phraram Song (Rama II) Road and connect with Highway 4 leading to Phetchaburi and southern provinces.
From Phetchaburi, follow road 3177 to Chao Samran Beach. Road 4018 leads from Chao Samran to other beaches in the province as well as to Auntie Chaliew's seafood restaurant.
To get to Marukhathaiyawan Palace from Chao Samran, take any road that connects with Highway 4. The Palace is on the Phra Ram Hok (Rama VI) military base.