It doesn’t have the rolling blue waves of Samui or the sophisticated Beach Clubs of Phuket. It’s not known as a hedonistic spa destination or the place to go for an adventurous elephant trek, although you can do both here. What Hua Hin does have is over 20, gorgeous five-star resort hotels lining the beachfront from Hua Hin to Cha-Am and a charming vibe that’s both traditional and trendy at the same time.
Australians usually hit Bangkok airport and either head north to the mountains or south to the islands, bypassing this sleepy coastal resort town beloved by Bangkok's elite and European travellers. But to overlook Hua Hin as a wonderful addition to your Bangkok itinerary is a shame because it too has multiple attractions as members of Thai royalty discovered a long time ago.
On a hunting expedition in the late 19th century, Thailand's Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, happened to discover a sleepy fishing village blessed with a wide beach of white sand, rocky headlands and placid, blue waters. Infatuated by the beauty and peaceful ambience, he decided that this would be the place to build his beach bungalow, a coastal escape where his family could retreat from the humid days and nights of summer Bangkok.
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At the time, he didn't know that he would be setting the wheels in motion for Hua Hin's transformation from sleepy fishing village to a trendy holiday destination. King Rama V1 followed his lead in 1923, building a summer retreat by the beach. A few years later in 1926, King Rama V11 also built his Summer Palace, named Klaikangwong (translates as ‘far from worries') on a beachside block about two kilometres from the town's centre. The royal love affair with Hua Hin was well and truly consummated and continues to this day.
In the centre of town, the main tourist area radiates around the Hilton Hotel and Sofitel Centara Grand Resort, a historic building that traces its history back to the early 20th century. Walking through the winding, narrow streets lined with cafes, restaurants, bars and boutiques, it's easy to see why those who have discovered this gem keep returning. Relaxed, unhurried and unblemished by girlie clubs so popular in other tourist haunts, Hua Hin offers visitors yet another insight into the varied ebb and flow of everyday life in this amazing country.
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SEE AND DO
With over eight world-class golf courses found within 30-minutes of the town centre it's not hard to fathom why golfers come from around the world to enjoy some of the country's best golf courses.
Visit the Baan Sillapin Ar tist Village and enjoy a painting or sculpting lesson that will unleash your inner child as you daub bright, colourful paints on a jewellery box, teddy bear or T-shirt. It's guaranteed to be great fun as you dip into your hidden talents to create an original souvenir. The village includes large galleries of arts and antiques, so it's an interesting morning's outing and a great place to discover that unique piece of art to take home.
Take a 40-minute drive (or you can book a coach transfer) west to the scenic Hua Hin Hills Vineyard to enjoy a vineyard tour, a glass of award-winning wine and lunch. You might even get to ride an elephant!
Soak up the excitement at the local night markets as you barter for stuff you don't need, just for the fun of it. Held in the Hua Hin Centre between Petchkasem Road and the railway line, the market comes to life
at 6.30pm every night when traders line the street with their stalls selling various goods. The street's restaurants/bars offer fresh seafood and beers so it's a popular spot for a cheap meal.
Another fantastic market only open on weekend nights is the Cicada Market, which brings together Hua Hin’s many and varied artistic talents. Be enthralled at the range of hand-made crafts and clothing and best of all, it's all authentic. Located on Phetkasem Road, about halfway between Hua Hin town and Khao Takiab. cicadamarket.com
Vana Nava Waterpark is a unique entertainment centre that is just as much fun for adults as for kids. The park features over 800 metres of waterslides including a wave pool and wave river and Asia's tallest man-made waterfall at over 31 metres.
A gallop along the beach is a local pastime and a great way to see Hua Hin from one end to the other. Hire your pony near the Hilton Hotel beach markets and hit the five-kilometre stretch of white sand.
Step into the past with a visit to Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, (Palace of Love and Hope) built by RamaV1 in 1923 where the royal court moved every summer. It's a fascinating glimpse into how court life was lived and at the traditional teak building style with open verandahs and covered boardwalks stretching through the manicured grounds to the beach. Men and women lived in opposite ends of the palace and even had separate boardwalks. Open 8am to 4pm.
When in town check out the heritage train station that is similar to Maruekhathaiyawan Palace in architectural style with beautiful fretwork and colourful hand-painted tiles.
EAT AND DRINK
Hua Hin has always been a fishing town and it still is. It's a seafood lover's nirvana where the food is freshly caught daily and fabulous to eat, but so too is the range of other Thai and international food available at some lovely waterfront and street locations.
Living Room Bistro & Wine Bar is right on Hua Hin's most beautiful beach at the end Hua Hin Soi 51. In its past life, it was the vacation home of royalty built in a mix of traditional Thai and colonial-style. Now it's the diners who are treated royally with one of the best Thai/seafood menus around. Book a beachfront table and settle in for a few hours of fun with live music every day.
Brasserie de Paris is another great restaurant overlooking the beach, it's expensive but dishes up good French cuisine and has a great selection of wine.
Madame Green Jae Keao – they say you should always eat where the locals do so that would put this restaurant at the top of the list as it has been a local seafood institution for decades. It's hidden away on a tiny street so get directions first.
As mentioned earlier, some of the best and cheapest seafood is available at the street vendors at the night markets where you can try lobster, prawns, squid and fish taken straight from the ice to the grill. Enjoy it with a cold beer and a spot of people watching.
The street food vendors in Hua Hin are renowned for offering the very best mango and sticky rice snacks – great for a quick lunch or afternoon tea.
WHERE TO STAY:
There's no shortage of five-star hotels to choose from and we chose the beachfrontCape Nidhra Hotel. Situated just a ten-minute walk from the centre of town, you would be hard-pressed to find a more delightful place to rest your head. All of the suites are huge and sport a private pool but if you really want to be impressed book the Nidhrarom Suite which at 300 m2 is the hotel's premier offering with a stately bedroom, large living space, two ensuites and a full size pool – heaven on a stick!
Once you experience the food at Rocks Restaurant you may not want to go anywhere else – it's that good. After dinner make your way to the rooftop bar, On the Rocks, for a nightcap with a view.
The hotel has a wonderful spa, gift shop, library and friendly staff who will help organise your outings; so you will want for nothing.
NEED TO KNOW
GETTING HERE: Thai Airways flies from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane to Bangkok. Frequent buses leave from the Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal and take three hours; hire cars, minivans and taxis take two and a half hours. Most hotels arrange Bangkok airport transfers for guests. There's no problem in hiring a vehicle to drive yourself as the roads are fabulous and then you can get out to see more of the area. Trains run from Hua Lum Pong Railway Station in Bangkok to the historic Hua Hin railway station. Train tickets can be reserved 60 days in advance either in person at any railway station inThailand or online. The journey time is around four hours. To organise your travel you can use the highly recommended company, Absolutely Fantastic Holidays.