Hua Hin caters primarily to the domestic market and is fueled almost exclusively by weekend vacationers, as overnighters come down from Bangkok after work – but it has everything for everybody indeed!by Dave Stamboulis
For many overworked and urban-grind weary Bangkokians, Hua Hin is basically the nearest beach escape; perfect for city dwellers wanting some sand and seafood. Hua Hin also have the distinction of being the only place in Thailand where one can ride a horse next to the sea, and the relaxing resorts here tend to have a bit more privacy than some of their southern neighbors, making for a great weekend getaway. Additionally, the town and surrounding area has a bevy of non-beach activities to enjoy, making it well worth a trip or two.
Hua Hin is a bit different than other Thai tourist spots. It caters primarily to the domestic market, over 70 percent cent in fact, and is fueled almost exclusively by a weekend market with overnighters coming down from Bangkok after work. This means that one can count on good and authentic food at fair prices, less hassle and tourist scams like those commonly found in Samui or Phuket, and it also means that if you come during the week, you’ll practically have the place to yourself.
While many visitors just want to spend their weekends relaxing on the beach, there are various options other than enjoying the sun and the surf. Families and those looking for some thrilling wet fun want to make sure to head over to Vana Nava (www.vananavahuahin.com) – Hua Hin’s knockout waterpark. Vana Nava opened in December of 2014 and sits of 56,000sqm of land, making for a lot of space.
The park’s got plenty of greenery, Asia’s tallest manmade waterfalls, along with the largest waterslide in Thailand, as well as a vertical loop slide that whisks riders along at 60km per hour! There are also obstacle aqua courses, long rivers, and plenty of other rides to keep visitors entertained and wet for the entire day.
For something a bit more refined, spend half a day doing some wine tasting. Set in the hills above Hua Hin, about an hour from town, is the scenic Hua Hin Hills Vineyard (www.huahinhills.com), which feels a bit more like South Africa than Thailand. The area of almost 600 acres is home to Monsoon Valley wines, and features “new latitude wines” (wine produced outside of the traditional 30-50 latitude growing belt). In addition to wine tasting and enjoying the sweeping views from the Sala Wine Cellar open-air pavilion, one can also tour the grounds on an elephant, or bike throughout the property.
There are several open-air theme parks around Hua Hin, some being “kitschier” than others, but certainly worth a wander. The best of them all is Plearn Wan (www.plearnwan.com), a living retro museum celebrating the vintage past. Plearn Wan means “the joy of yesteryear,” and the mood is recreated in the old wooden indoor section where hawkers sell traditional and often hard-to-find Thai sweets, surrounded by old black and white photos, 1950s televisions, jukeboxes, and plenty of other nostalgic bric-a-brac. There is also an old-style fairground here with game booths and an outdoor cinema.
Another themed attraction is Santorini Park (www.santoriniparkchaam.com), built to resemble a slice of Greek island paradise in Hua Hin but is actually located just north of the town, closer to Cha Am Beach. There are plenty of blue and white colors, whitewashed houses, and a multitude of shops, restaurants, and even an amusement park for entertainment. While the park is not right on the ocean, there are plenty of water-related themes, such as dancing fountains, water balls for kids, and manmade waterfalls.
Even kitschier than this is The Venezia (www.theveneziahuahin.com), another themed shopping plaza and this one resembles Venice. While there is a San Marco bell tower replica out the front, plus a 200 meter canal where one can go for gondola rides, this park goes over the top with a 3D art gallery, a wax museum, an upside down house, a mini-train, and a petting zoo on the premises.
There are even horse cart rides around the Mediterranean-looking grounds! Needless to say, there’s also plenty of dining and drinking options available here, plus lots and lots of shopping.
If you are in town on the weekend, make sure to catch the Cicada Market (www.cicadamarket.com), an evening market held from Friday-Sunday at the southern end of Hua Hin, which features local art and handicrafts as well as other creative artistic endeavors. The market is held in a garden that is lit up by sparkling lights, and has a low key and relaxed vibe. There are traditional puppet shows, live music, dance performances, plus food and drink. The market has sections selling handmade bags, fashion items, paintings, sculptures and cards, and is an outlet for young artists looking for a venue to generate an income for their work.
While in downtown Hua Hin, do make sure to call in at the Hua Hin Railway Station. It is one of Thailand’s oldest train stations, built by Rama VI in the 1920s, and features the Thai-style Royal Waiting Room, used to greet the King and his court, built in the same style as the Maruekkhathayawan Palace in Cha Am. The station has a rather Victorian feel to it, and is quite photogenic, painted in bright red and yellow hues.
It’s also worth getting up early to visit the old fishing pier at the northern end of the town. There are fabulous sunrises here in the morning, and in the evening you can watch plenty of colorful fishing boats and fishermen mending their nets. Young couples come on romantic dates, locals stroll along the long concrete pier, and plenty of folks drop their lines right off the pier and do some angling.
Seafood is one of Hua Hin’s biggest draws. Saeng Thai Seafood (032 512 144) is right off of the fishing pier and serves up an astounding array of cooked marine options. Chao Lay Seafood (032 513 436) is another popular option, set in a large house with semi-outdoor seating, and extremely fresh catches of the day top-off the extensive menu.
The Night Market (Damnoen Kasem Road, next to the train station) may not have air conditioning and fine silverware, but is well worth a visit, with vendors dish out generous portions of curried crab and king prawns along with plenty of other fresh seafood every night.
But plenty of other places serve more than seafood.
The Living Room Bistro and Wine Bar (032 530 485) is the latest player on the burgeoning Hua Hin gastro scene, serving up fusion dishes in a 50s-style wooden beach house. True to its name,
La Birra (084 567 6989) serves up a variety of excellent imported beers to go along with Italian pasta in an al-fresco Mediterranean style bistro setting. If you’re craving a Moroccan tagine, the sensual Al Hamra (032 616 777)), in the opulent Marrakesh Resort, creates Moroccan and fusion dishes served in an authentic Moorish setting.
Of course, these are just a few of them.