Despite the literary connection – Elspeth Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika – and being the first major town on the way from Nairobi to Mount Kenya, THIKA is a dull little place, not even redeemed by the profusion of flame trees you might expect. These days, it's essentially a satellite of Nairobi. Pineapples, introduced in 1905, are Thika's contemporary claim to fame. Thousands of acres flourish here, easily confused with the sisal also grown in the area. Until 1968, most of the valuable export crop was produced on shambas; since then Del Monte has held the lion's share of the plantations.
A laid-back, friendly sort of place, Thika is off the tourist route – or at least the main road to Mount Kenya. You can get here using matatu #237 from the Kencom Building in Nairobi, and there are also Thika matatus from the BP station on Ronald Ngala Street. Thika has Barclays and Standard Chartered banks with ATMs, and Internet access at Mbambu Cyber Café on Uhuru Street. There are Mathai supermarkets in Thika Arcade and a couple of streets west of Kwame Nkrumah Street; the market is east of town, past the thriving street stalls at the stadium roundabout.
The best-value accommodation is New Fulia Hotel, Uhuru Street (PO Box 1161; Tel:067/21840; 2) which has s/c rooms; also good is its sister hotel the New Fulia 1987 on Kwame Nkrumah Street. Other slightly more expensive possibilities include December Hotel, Commercial Street (PO Box 156; Tel:067/22140; 3), whose enormous rooms have telephones (ask for s/c), and White Line Hotel, Stadium Road (PO Box 290; Tel:067/22857; 2), which is acceptable and has a lively bar, though the single rooms are non-s/c. The upmarket choice, out of town on the Nairobi– Murang'a road, is ABlue Posts Hotel (PO Box 42; Tel: & f067/22241 or 21086; 5), which is older than the town itself, dating from 1908. The old place has been refurbished and rooms in the Chania wing are excellent, en suite and with balconies overlooking lush gardens. The grounds contain both the Chania Falls and the Thika Falls – with a five-minute walk between the two.
The Blue Posts' restaurant has a sweeping view of the Chania Falls and good lunchtime buffets for Ksh600. Restaurants in town include the relatively swish (and expensive) Prismos Hotel, MTC Building, Uhuru Street; the New Fulia's bar-restaurant, which is a deal cheaper; New Fish World, which has great fresh tilapia and squeezed juices; and good local eats at Golden Plate and Porkies Garden. For a decent cup of coffee (the plantations around Thika are the nearest to Nairobi), the December Hotel has a great Parisian-style pavement café which was opened by Kenyatta himself in December 1970.
Foot-tappers should try out NK Bar on Kwame Nkrumah Street, which plays Congolese music and reggae, sometimes live. Otherwise, the Cascades Disco at the Blue Posts entertains Nairobi clubbers, while heavy-duty drinkers can fade away at Sky Motel Day & Night Club or the less-than-sparkling Brilliant Bar, another good place to meet inebriated locals. More dignified clubbing can be had at Thika Sports Club, Bendor Road, which has a golf course set amid the pineapple and coffee plantations. The clubhouse is unusually rustic, with a large fireplace and wooden beams running along the ceiling.