Local fishing boats bop in bays fringed with limestone mountains, beaches and national parks. At sunrise, the boats in the bay light up like soft candles in the distance as fishermen begin their day. We are in Prachuap Khiri Khan a pretty fishing town by the sea about 240 km south of Bangkok. However, it is not the sea that has lured us here, but a small colony of Dusky monkeys that inhabit a nearby beach.
We have always wanted to see these monkeys with the bright orange babies which have to be one of Thailand’s most adorable primates. The monkeys live at Ao Manao Beach which is famous for its wild population of them.
The Dusky monkeys are only found in Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia and considered a threatened species. The dusky monkeys are protected by the Thailand government and for this reason, a preservation area was made for them at Ao Manoa Beach.
After waking up to the view from our room of one of the prettiest sunrises in Thailand we have breakfast and hire a motorbike from our guesthouse. Ao Manao Beach is located inside the Air Force Base which is only about five kilometres out of Prachuap Khiri Khan.
The monkeys live in the sacred mountains and they come down the beach and hang out on a rocky outcrop on the northern end of the beach. The monkeys are wild but habituated and love human company. They approach closely and like to touch, but unlike a lot of other monkeys, they are gentle.
The black arms of the older monkeys encircle fluffy orange babies tight to their chests until they trust us. Black or grey fur, a long tail, black human-like hands and feet, and vivid white circles around dark treacle eyes make this one adorable monkey! Very affectionate with each other, they hold hands, hug and tell each other off by pointing a furry finger rather than aggression.
Babies are born bright yellow or orange. Between six and ten months of age they start to darken. It is not known why they are born so bright. One theory is they play, wander away and get lost, and being so bright the adults find them.
The older monkeys pass around and fight over the babies like little rag dolls. Smothered with affection, the babies end up looking a little battered and bruised after the rough and tumble love.
We spend time here watching these endearing endangered primates. As cute and gentle as they are, they are not beyond thieving, so keep an eye on your belongings.
Ao Manao is one of the best places to see a Dusky monkey in the wild. A world away from the popular beaches, Prachuap Khiri Khan is also a nice escape from the touristy crowds and makes a nice stopover while travelling south.
Prachuap Khiri Khan
Palm trees don’t sway over azure sparkly water and white sandy beaches, but it is laid back and a nice place to relax. On the esplanade, a few local restaurants look over the ocean. If you love seafood, you will be in paradise. We eat at a few local restaurants including a cosy pizza place that makes the best and freshest pizzas, including vegetarian. There aren’t a lot of vegetarian options on the menus, but most restaurants will happily create something special for vegetarians.
While here we also visit Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park which takes us about 40 minutes to get to on our motorbike. The scenery of limestone cliffs filled with honeycomb caves is stunning and there is a population of cheeky crab-eating macaques and wild dusky monkeys.
How to get to the Dusky Monkeys
Taxi 3000 Baht.
Bus or minibus 500 Baht. Minibuses leave every couple of hours from the Victory Monument.
Trains depart twice a day from Bangkok 200-400 Baht.
From Prachuap Khiri Khan
Ao Manao Beach is about 5 km from the town centre and takes about an hour to walk or you can go by tuk-tuk or hire a bicycle or motorbike. It is straightforward and easy to find with the map that the hotels hand out.
Motorbikes cost about 200 Baht a day.
Bicycles are available for 50 Baht a day.
The entrance is via the Airforce Base, and you need to register when you enter and depart which sometimes requires your passport.
The sheltered water at Ao Manao Beach is clear and remains shallow for a long distance out, which makes it great for families. On the beach, there are cool shady trees, food stalls and umbrellas.
We stayed at Sunbeach Guesthouse which is pretty, sparkly clean and in a great location. The restaurants are within a few hundred metres along the esplanade. Our room on the top floor has ocean views and we wake up to gorgeous sunrises fringed by limestone cliffs and fishing boats bobbing in the sea.
An Ocean view room is 1100 Baht for a night.