Bay watch

Prachuap Khiri Khan's Ao Manao is the perfect getaway for those interested in seeing a combination of nature and history

The sun gradually rose behind the silhouette of Lom Muak Hill, shining its light over Ao Manao (Manao Bay) in Prachuap Khiri Khan. A group of soldiers jogged while singing marching songs along the footpath that runs parallel to the long coast.

Sunrise at Ao Manao.

Its beach was also extended, especially during the early morning when it was low tide. Some children tried to create sand sculptures while other kids chased ghost crabs. Some adults exercised under rows of casuarina trees.

Ao Manao is named because of its semicircle bay shaped like a slice of lime (manao). The quiet bay belongs to the Royal Thai Air Force’s Wing 5. This beach has a remarkable history. During World War II Japanese troops came ashore at Ao Manao at 4am on Dec 8, 1941. The troops planned to invade Myanmar via Dan Singkhon border passage in the Muang district of Prachuap Khiri Khan, one of the six southern provinces that were raided by Japanese armed forces at the time. The Japanese soldiers outnumbered the Thai air force so local policemen and civilians also joined to protect the homeland.

The battle lasted about 36 hours before a ceasefire agreement was signed by both parties when the Thai troops were informed by an urgent telegram from the government that the country was an ally of Japan. During the battle, lives of 42 Thais and 417 Japanese soldiers were taken.

To honour the war heroes of the Kingdom, a monument was built at Ao Manao, as well as a historical museum to inform public about the fight. There are also old aircrafts on display next to the museum and a large carved stone telling story about the battle.

A walking distance from the war memorial stone, there is the shrine of Chao Pho Khao Lom Muak whom locals call the guardian of the bay. According to folklore, the guardian was once a Chinese immigrant who settled down in the area of Ao Manao in the Ayutthaya period. He was known as a good man who liked to help people. After he died at the age of 97, locals built the shrine for him. It was said that during the battle in 1941, some locals and Thai troops used the shrine as their protection from Japanese air raids. Fortunately, no one got hurt from the attacks so locals believed that it was because of the divine power of Chao Pho Khao Lom Muak.

Nearby the shrine is a trail to climb to the top of the Lom Muak Hill, about 300m above the sea level. At the top is a Buddha’s footprint built in the period of King Rama IV. The top of the hill is a viewpoint where visitors can have panoramic views of several bays such as Ao Manao, Ao Prachuap and Ao Noi. But those who are not fit for the rocky trail are advised to stay around the foothill.

The area of the foothill covered with tall trees is home to a number of dusky leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus obscurus), which is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the threatened species and also has been protected by Thai law since 1992.

The monkeys can be easily identified by a white patch around the eyes and mouth while the head and body is covered with grey fur. The palms and soles are black without fur. They can use their hands to grasp food or branches of trees like we use our hands to grab things. Adults can grow up to 61cm height with a tail length from 50-85cm, and weigh up to 7.4kg.

In contrast to the adults, the newborn monkeys have bright yellow to orange fur with pale pink face and ears. The fur changes to a greyish colour by six months of age.

The animals eat fruit so there is a small corner in the shrine of Chao Pho Lom Muak where raw sliced cassava is on offer in a large plastic box. Those who want to buy a pack of food should put 15 baht inside the box.

The monkeys are quite familiar with visitors and even kids can offer the fruit to the monkeys by hand. The monkeys are also polite—they do not fight each other for food, but wait until someone reaches out a hand to offer it. After one monkey grabs one piece, another monkey will show up to get another piece. If one monkey wants two pieces of food, it will quickly take one piece into the mouth and grab another piece in one hand and climb up to the tree canopy and eat. When finish, they will look for more offers. If they are already full, they will not pay attention to food at all.

At weekends, visitors keep coming to feed them all day, so do not be upset if some monkeys do not take your food.

In addition, the Wing 5 also houses a small outdoor zoo for visitors to feed deer, rabbits and ostriches. For those who like riding banana boats, the service is available next to the zoo.

Ao Mano can be a weekend family vacation and an alternative to little commercial sites such as Pran Buri and Hua Hin. For those who look for calm seas and scenic views, the Wing 5’s Ao Manao can truly fit the bill.

About the author

Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Position: Travel writer