Hua Hin is perfect for those who love a more sedate holiday style in a gorgeous seaside resort. And who doesn’t?
By The Lookeast Team.
Mention Thailand’s great seaside resorts and favorite escapes, and a short list of perennial holiday destinations roll off the tongue: Phuket, Samui, Pattaya, Krabi, perhaps Phi Phi, Koh Chang, and Koh Phangan and a few smaller islands. But another Thai town is being quietly shared and acclaimed among those in the know: Hua Hin. Located just a short three-hour drive from Bangkok, it has long been the weekend getaway of choice for Thais with a bit of disposable leisure income, and the breakaway refuge of many savvy expats looking for some down time after a hectic week in the capital.
For me, the main attraction to visit Hua Hin, even from the beginning, was its Old World ambiance. Perhaps, the romantic in me long for those days back in the 20s when the stately Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin was still called The Railway Hotel, and I feel like I am one of those characters in a sepia-toned movie when travel wasn’t yet for everyone. Those were the days when King Rama V first discovered the charms of this town and built his palace, which he called, Klai Kangwon, meaning “far from worries.” In a phrase, this sums up the Hua Hin area to a tee.
While it can be argued that its old world charm is slowly evaporating, Hua Hin remains a holiday spot that is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as very different from other Thai destinations. Perhaps one reason for this is that unlike other popular Thai tourist destinations, here you are bound to meet a wonderful cultural mix of local, Asian, and Western tourists all enjoying the peaceful charms of this classic hideaway by the sea.
Also, being a royal beach resort, cabarets, discos, and other nightspots are more regulated here than normal and somewhat limited than say in Pattaya, Phuket, or Samui, which many tourists find refreshing, especially travelers with families or couples hoping for some restful quality time surrounded by sand, sun, sea, and abundant fresh seafood.
Hua Hin has a famous, stunning 5km (3-mile) beach, lovely waterfalls, lush limestone mountains and plenty of leisure activities, and it has become world renowned as a superb place to rejuvenate at one of the several internationally renowned spas in a great location. Besides its laidback friendly seaside atmosphere, Hua Hin is a resort than never stands still. Through the years, it has continued to develop good infrastructure, excellent facilities, beautiful resorts, amazing golf courses, and a constantly growing list of fascinating attractions.
Hua Hin’s bucket list of new attractions and hotspots is perhaps a better reflection of how varied it has become as the travelers it attract nowadays.
For the Golfer
On my recent Hua Hin holiday, I stayed at the Banyan The Resort Hua Hin and Golf Club. Banyan The Resort Hua Hin (Tel: 032 538 888 // www.banyanthailand.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) combines a private residence resort with an adjacent golf course rated as one of Southeast Asia’s very best. The resort’s villas are set in a landscaped environment among lush tropical gardens, with infinity pool, spa, and fitness center. The design for the villas acknowledges the visual impact of contemporary architecture combined with local cultural values, completed in traditional Balinese arrangement for an exotic, cool, calm, and tranquil residence. For some it’s the idyllic lifestyle they want to buy into.
But it was the championship 18-hole golf course that was really the crowing glory of the resort. Designed and constructed by Thailand’s leading golf course architect Pirapon Namatra. Asian Golf Monthly awarded the course and its clubhouse in the Top 3 “Best” places for three consecutive years. To complete the experience, four exclusives golf suites furnished with luxurious interiors (one featuring a private infinity pool) are available at the clubhouse for those eager to be the first on the course at daybreak. All these reasons make Banyan The Resort Hua Hin the complete golfer experience out there.
Hua Hin is certainly one of Thailand’s premier golfing destinations, with eight world-class courses and several driving ranges in the nearby area. These include the Jack Nicklaus’ designed Springfield Royal County Club, which offers 27 beautifully landscaped holes, the Palm Hills Gold Club, which provides a world-class 18-hole golf course designed by Max Wexler; and Black Mountain, which—since its opening in 2007—has been winning international accolades for every gold award body worth its salt.
Of course, as far as sports and games are concerned there is more to Hua Hin than golf. Fishing, hiking, horseback riding, diving, and snorkeling are only a few other options available for those with the active disposition.
For the Young and Young-at-heart
Today, the resort has been attracting the younger crowd because of places like Vana Nava Water Jungle, a waterpark located right in the heart of town. Vana Nava Water Jungle is billed as Asia’s first water jungle, and brings arguably the best waterpark experience in Hua Hin. The waterpark was built on a 20-rai property filled with great rides, state-of-the-art technology, and modern facilities.
There are two more waterparks in Hua Hin, Santorini Park Waterventures, which is the first and only digitally controlled waterpark in Asia; and the Black Mountain Water Park, which has been consistently rated as one of the best waterparks in Asia since it opened in 2011. These waterparks have further diversified the profile of Hua Hin guest demographics, attracting as they do not only the big millennial crowd but also the younger members of the family.
One might even say that Hua Hin is fast becoming a town of parks, as parks of all kinds are emerging in all sorts and guises. Opened in September 2015, Rajabhakti Park is a theme park honoring past Thai kings from the Sukhothai period to the current royal house of Chakri. Built by the Royal Thai Army on Thai Army property, the THB 1-billion, 222-rai park was called “Rajabhakti Park,” which means “the park that has been built with people’s loyalty to the monarchs.”
The park consists of three distinct areas. The first, covering an area of five rai is dominated by the statues of seven notable Thai kings: King Ramkhamhaeng (1279-1298) of the Sukhothai period; King Naresuan (1590-1605) and King Narai (1656-1688) of the Ayutthaya period, King Taksin (1767-1782) of the Thonburi period; and King Rama I (1782-1809), King Mongkut (1851-1868), and King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) of the Rattanakosin period.
On a smaller scale, other parks have opened recently as well, inclduding the Sirirat Rajini Ecosystme Learning Center, which is located inside the Pranburi Forest Park and is the first such center for mangrove reforestation.
Hua Hin may not be like Bangkok, but shopaholics need not worry either: With two night-markets (Toh Rung Market and Chat SIla Market), a local market, and numerous boutique stores, Hua Hin is an excellent place to shop for locally produced handicrafts, fabrics, souvenirs, and food products. Even at Plearnwan (www.plearwan.com), which was established to serve as a living museum, the main activity besides eating is shopping. Plearnwan is especially interesting to foreign tourists because it recreates the old days of simple joys and pleasures in Hua Hin, a kind of nostalgic ride that deepens your understands of today’s Hua Hin. Of course the newer markets must be mentioned: Cicada Market, Tamarind Market, Village Market, Khomapastr, Seenspace, and SamPan Nam Floating Market.
Coastal cruises, day trips around Monkey Island and Dolphin Bay, local fishing excursions, and night time deep-sea trips are all available from Hua Hin, while freshwater fishing, river cruises and eco-tours run along the waterways inland. Half-day and full-day trips are available. Popular destinations include: Pa-La-U Waterfall, a 15-tier feature in the jungle 60km from town; Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand’s largest reserve, stretching to the Burmese border; Sam Roi Yot National Park, a landscape of limestone peaks; and Khao Takiab, a hill at the end of Hua Hin beach sprinkled with Buddhist shrines and well worth climbing for the panoramic view; and Hua Hin Hills Vineyard home of Monsoon Valley wines, has a superb restaurant with stunning views of the wine lands and elephant rides among the vines.
Whether undergoing spa treatment, holistic therapy, learning Thai massage, taking advantage of the excellent medical services, horseback riding, or just relaxing and reading a good book, Hua Hin is the perfect place for those who love a more sedate holiday style in a gorgeous seaside resort. And who doesn’t?
Eat & Drink
The central market sells fresh fruit and fish to locals as it has done for ages. The night market is the ideal place to sample street food cooked fast and fresh. International travelers visit Hua Hin for the coastline and wonderfully natural hotels, but the locals arrive for the food, with the town’s fishing fleet delivering baskets of prawns and fish every day, helping the town maintain its reputation as one of Thailand’s top seafood spots.
Most restaurants and eateries, especially those in the 5-star resorts, are geared toward high-end gourmet level, but there are all kinds of cuisine available for all kinds of food lover – although we can’t mention them all in all fairness. By the way, if you’re curious about where the Thais are going for great daytime street food, try going to Hua Hin 51, just a few walks toward the beach.
Awesome 5-star hotels and resorts are now the norm, such as: Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin, Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, Hilton Hua Hin, Sheraton Hua Hin, InterContinental Hua Hin, Marriot Hua Hin, Anantara Hua Hin, Evason Six Senses Hua Hin, and of course, Dusit Thani Hua Hin, not to mention some hot names in resorts such as Putharacsa, V Villas Hua Hin, Asara, AKA, Alila, Veranda, and more recent additions Sofitel So Hua Hin and Radisson Hua Hin among the many others, which beckon to all kinds of holidays: romantic escapades, weddings, family retreats, weekend getaways, or incentive travels. There’s so much to choose by way of accommodation to fit a traveler’s requirement for a perfect stay.
The town is home to Chiva-Som, one of the world’s leading health resorts, although it is by no means the only place to visit for a fabulous spa indulgence.
How to get there
By Bus Services are available on an hourly basis from Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai Bus Terminal, Pinklao) 4 a.m.-10:20 p.m. Prior reservations are required to secure seats, and tickets have to be booked at the bus station in person. Ticket costs about Bt160.
By Minibus Minibuses, which ply the route every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., are much faster than buses but have a limited seating capacity (11-12 seats). Minibuses start from Ratchawitee Hospital near the Victory Monument in Bangkok. Ticket costs Bt200.
By Car You can either flag down a cab or approach a travel agency either directly or through your hotel, to hire a cab. However, decide on the fare before the trip, as it can vary accordingly — usually between Bt1000 and Bt3000. You can also rent a car and drive all the way to Hua Hin.
By Train A safer and comfortable way to reach Hua Hin from Bangkok’s Hua Lum Pong Railway Station. Train tickets can be reserved either in person or online.