Guest house thrives in tranquil Phetchaburi
Phetchaburi is one of the country's tourism provinces, with an abundance of attractive sites including beaches, a national park, historical temples and palaces. Phetchaburi city's downtown has kept its historic tranquillity and simple way of life, but unfortunately domestic travellers tend to pass the city by.
In downtown Phetchaburi, tourists can witness the traditional market, where life gets busy at dawn. Conventional outlets open their doors for simple breakfasts, and some culinary items and desserts are found that are rare in other cities. Throughout the day, tourists can enjoy activities in nearby areas.
The simplicity of this charming downtown scene has captured a growing number of foreign tourists, mainly from Europe and, more recently, China. Rabieng Rimnum guest house is one of the venues sharing in the city's rising prosperity.
Founded 25 years ago on the banks of the Phetchaburi River, the 10-room guest house is considered one of the pioneers for this kind of accommodation in the local area. It is recommended by "Lonely Planet", the internationally recognised travel guide.
The place is also used as film setting sometimes. One example is "Sing Lek Lek Tee Riak Wa Ruk" ("First Love"), starring Mario Maurer. The film was a hit in China, which led a large number of Chinese fans to fly to Thailand to check out the guest house.
"I started my business by opening of a small coffeehouse," said Peeraya Sungworn, owner of the guest house. "Later, a lot of farang came here asking me where to stay and go. Then I realised that running a guest house would be a promising business. The people I knew opposed the idea, but I have proved its success."
The guest house, in a building more than 120 years old, charges only Bt120-Bt240, depending on room size. Friendliness of both staff and Peeraya's family members has attracted a large number of foreign tourists, especially during the New Year season, when its occupancy rate is 100 per cent. Revenue also comes from food and beverages, bike rental, and organising small tour groups to Kaeng Krachan National Park.
The Phetchaburi native is very fond of her home town.
She wants her city's prosperity to be sustainable by not forgetting its traditional identity and roots. It is evident that foreign tourists visit here because of its peace and simplicity.
'See us for who we are '
"They come here to see us for who we are. We possess black eyes and hair. There is no need to colour our hair to become blond to please them to boost tourism," she said.
Given its big potential, it is unfortunate that the province has no clear plan for sustainable tourism development, especially in downtown Phetchaburi, she added.
"I do not want the province to be developed for money-based tourism. Let's take a look at Pattaya, Patong, Phi Phi, and many places nationwide: they are environmentally damaged and some of them are faced with mafia gangsters. Then, what is the value of the place?" she asked. Peeraya is an activist against corruption, to secure the economic growth of her home town.
She urges the local administration to play an active role in creating a long-term foundation for tourism and day-to-day tourism management in the downtown area. Public funds should be used to make ensure a fruitful return. Also, the Tourism Authority of Thailand should promote the province as a whole with a practical plan, not only for major destinations.
"In fact, Phetchaburi does not have only Cha-am Beach and Kaeng Krachan," she said.
The local temples are an example of the lack of attention and planning. Stray dogs are allowed in and some foreign have been bitten. The abbots have insufficient knowledge to renovate the temples, leading to a loss of their historical value. Wat Yai Suwannara, for example, has 300-year-old mural paintings of mythical angels.
In organising tours to Kaeng Krachan, the country's biggest national park, Peeraya has seen irregularities involving authorities working there, especially over deforestation. For a while, her tour business was prohibited from entry, accused of killing wild animals and serving them up as "uncommon dishes" to foreign tourists.
That dispute has ended and her business has resumed. But she insisted on lodging the case with the court, and now it is proceeding. The park's rich national resources should be kept for the next generation and sustainable tourism, she says.
Asked what she can do to secure her business in the long run, Peeraya said that even as a small player in the market, the easy thing she could do was to provide a fair service to foreign guests. For example, she rejects the dual-pricing practice of some Thai entrepreneurs: foreigners pay the same rates as her local guests.