Want to experience Thailand but can’t be bothered with the standard tourist attractions?
Don’t fret! There’s a promising city in southern Thailand called Chumphon.
You’ll find serenity in this lesser-known town at a sanctuary that’s a reservoir, a cave and a temple all in one. Watch raptors at Hawk Mountain and let panoramic sea views and volcanic hills blow your socks off. Enjoy a picnic on a long crescent-shaped and palm-fringed beach with the locals, revel in the view of an authentic fishing village, and get a slice of Thai history at the Prince of Chumphon Shrine.
The high-speed ferries from the popular islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui will take you there in less than half a day. You can also reach Chumphon via express train, sleeper train, second class train or by bus from Bangkok and enjoy the thrill of the journey.
Whichever way you prefer, take these five trip ideas and dive into Chumphon – one of the country’s last under the radar cities.
Experience serenity at Wat Tham Thale Sap, a temple, reservoir and hill cave
Wat Tham Thale Sap is situated some 27 miles north of Chumphon’s city center and only ten miles west of the airport. The temple sits right beside the hill cave and the reservoir, and if it weren’t for the handful of monks who live here, this holy place would appear totally abandoned.
As you enter the temple grounds in the stifling heat, you instantly pick up the peaceful feel of this site. Birds twitter uplifting melodies in the branches, and the exotic “boop-boop-boop” calls of the Nok Ka Pud – as Thais call the Greater Coucal – have a soothing effect you don’t want to miss.
As you approach the cave, you might also hear an Asian Koel pipe up from a tree – Thailand’s famous cuckoo – advertising its presence with loud, plaintive cries as if craving some attention. Temple dogs are around too, but they scarcely bother to speak up and prefer to sleep in the shade.
Walking up some stairs and around the corner, you step on crackling leaves and twigs, and sweat oozes out of your pores. But once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with the sight of the awe-inspiring stalactite and stalagmite cave where a white Buddha statue sits gratefully on a pink, lotus-reminiscent platform.
The musty, stony smell in the cave doesn’t invite to linger, though. Instead, the lake and the relaxing Thai music in the distance do make you pause for a moment as you gather your thoughts.
Just around the next corner within the temple complex, you meet golden Buddha statues that are adorned with flowers and protected behind glass at the large hall made of tree trunks.
In a nutshell, Wat Tham Thale Sap is a retreat to enjoy nature sounds and experience true calm.
Admire Khao Dinsor, a raptor-watching viewpoint
Imagine a raptor-watching viewpoint set high atop a steep hill overlooking an endless bay. Picture this point with eagles, Black Bazas, hawks, and other birds of prey circling high in the sky over the mountains.
This place exists.
Snuggled into Khao Dinsor, Chumphon’s 500m-high hawk mountain, this observation point some 12 miles north of the city center does not disappoint. Raptors flock there every year in mid-August when it’s too cold in the north, only to migrate back to the north in mid-November.
It’s one of Asia’s best spots to watch migratory raptors, and it also offers spectacular views of the sea and Chumphon’s vast, volcano-looking hillscape.
There’s a small shop at platform number 1 that sells drinks, ice cream, and snacks, but there’s nothing on the other three platforms apart from orange, yellow, white, and black butterflies with purple spots that must be from Eden.
Still, it’s worth hiking up to the second, third, and even fourth platform if you don’t mind the humidity and being soaked in sweat as though you’d just finished a marathon. Up there, it’s so quiet you can even hear the faintest buzz of a fly passing by – a silence that lets you feel at one with nature.
Relax on Haad Thung Wua Laen aka Cabana Beach
Seven miles from Chumphon’s railway station is Haad Thung Wua Laen, also known as Cabana Beach, and for good reason. This part of the coastline stretches for some 2 km along the Gulf of Thailand and resembles Rio’s Copacabana Beach. It features coconut trees that have grown across the soft, light-colored sands, and it’s popular with locals who come here for a picnic in the evenings and on weekends.
If picnics are not your thing, you get your money’s worth at Cabana’s seaside restaurant. To name a few of their mouth-watering delicacies, they serve sea bass, khao pat boo (crab fried rice), deep-fried shrimp with sweet chili sauce, soft crabs, steamed squid with squid eggs and steamed mussels.
If you’re keen to experience a tropical island feel while getting a tan, Chumphon’s Haad Thung Wua Laen is the spot to hit. Enjoy a walk along the beach, take in the salty sea breeze while listening to the waves washing ashore, and get that Instagram shot of you climbing a coconut tree that’s grown towards the sea.
Witness staggering sights at Khao Matsee Viewpoint
Want to ooh and aah in admiration? Khao Matsee viewpoint some nine miles east of the city center offers a bird’s eye perspective of Chumphon’s vast landscape and the gigantic, crescent-shaped Paradonphap Beach as well as the nearby fishing village of Pak Nam.
Just as staggering as the green scenery are the numerous waterways that meander through Pak Nam like slithering snakes before they enter the silent ocean.
To appreciate the overwhelming sights on your own, grab the swing and look down to a small island that’s accessible by foot at low tide. Kids can feed the orange-white Japanese ‘good luck fish’ in the pool, and a Chinese deity sits proudly on a platform as though allowing only a set number of tourists to turn up here.
Khao Matsee is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a decent amount of privacy. The freedom you can experience here is epitomized by dragonflies hovering effortlessly in the air like delta wing gliders.
Make a wish at Kromluang Chumphon Khet Udomsak Royal Palace, the Prince of Chumphon Shrine
A half hour car-ride from the city center towards the south is the Prince of Chumphon Shrine. This shrine is where Thais go when they need help. The prince was an important marine soldier and King Rama 5’s son. He’s highly revered among Thai people who believe he has powers to make their wishes come true.
Entering the premises, you hear marine march music and catch the sweet scent of incense. Inside the shrine, you see Thais prostrate, praying on their knees and sticking golden stickers to the prince’s statue as part of the spiritual procedure to ask for help. The shrine is colorfully decorated with red and white roses, framed images of the prince, and a myriad of tiny, golden stickers that are attached everywhere.
When desires have been fulfilled, people come back to the shrine to say thanks by burning ear-splitting firecrackers. Khun Sa Det Tia – as the prince is called with his nickname – also helps farangs who truly respect him and believe in his powers.
To visit this shrine, you can use a private taxi. Hiring some guy enables you to do the whole trip in a day if you want, but you can also stay overnight at a resort along the way.
While Chumphon is lesser-known among Thailand visitors, this city certainly has the potential to become a popular tourist destination within the next few years. You’d better show up once you can travel again before Chumphon has become another tourist magnet.