On the sunrise coast of the Gulf of Siam sits Hua Hin, one of Thailand’s hidden gems, where the Thai royal family have a summer palace right on the beach.
It’s easier to define what Hua Hin is not, rather than what it is. It is not overdeveloped, it isn’t overrun, and it hasn’t the brashness of Pattaya, where the nightlife spills out of the jammed bars and pubs from late afternoon until early morning and where it’s sometimes difficult to find a quiet spot on the beach.
Hua Hin is the antithesis of all this and perhaps because of its cosmopolitan restaurants and energetic nightlife and bars, it attracts the more laidback and relaxed type of traveller. It retains an authentic provincial flavour seen in the mid-20th-century wooden houses that are still found among the maze of streets that lead to the seafront, and in the old-fashioned striped deckchairs on the beach that remind one of long ago summers on English sands. The revered King Bhumibol now permanently resides at his beachfront palace, and this fact is credited with making Hua Hin one of the safest resorts in southeast Asia.
Hua Hin is where the Bangkokians escape to at the weekend to pack the fish restaurants along the seafront and sit on plastic stools in the night market savouring delicious wok-cooked dishes and home-made ice cream served from an old-fashioned freezer on wheels.
With hundreds of small guest houses along the seafront and at the back of town, plus a selection of five-star hotels with fabulous beachside locations, like Dusit Thani Hua Hin
, Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, Sofitel
, plus some exquisite small boutique hotels, the town has something for everyone. Hua Hin isn’t noisy but for seekers after a really quiet location, the Dusit Thani
, a firm favourite with both Thais and discerning overseas visitors, sits right on the beach just 10 minutes outside town, surrounded by green lawns and lotus-filled ponds alongside superb swimming pools.
If you can tear yourself away from the five restaurants in the Dusit Thani hotel
(French, Italian and Thai), Hua Hin itself offers just about every cuisine you can imagine, from Swedish to Vietnamese, German to Bulgarian, and one of the best Chinese restaurants outside Bangkok is on the top floor of the Hiton Hotel
. Off Naresdamri Road are narrow streets lined with cafes, restaurants and bars, where tiger prawns, crab, crayfish and pancakes can all be sampled.
Never make definite plans in Thailand because life has a way of upsetting those plans. If you can pace your trip, it’s a good idea to have a day on the beach after a day’s touring. Three of the most popular trips to make are: to the Tiger Sanctuary, where you can be photographed with one of the big cats resting his head on your knee; to the Bridge on the River Kwai to see the infamous railway built by POWs during World War II; and a full day spent on the varnished decks of the restored fishing junk Mai Thai, which sails through the Marine National Park of Sam Roi Yod.
Apart from this there is elephant trekking in the nearby hills, Bangkok and the floating market, Monkey Mountain at Khao Takiab, national parks and as many red and gold temples as you can fit in. And shopping – everyone’s favourite pastime! Shopping for silks, cottons, carvings, buffalo skin pictures and tailor-made suits, jackets and trousers can take up all your time if you let it.
There is no better way to start your day of rest than by strolling along the beach at dawn, marvelling at the beauty of the sands as the rising sun turns them an opalescent pink before enjoying a fabulous breakfast of exotic fruits and other delights.
Sport centres mainly around the beach, the hotel tennis courts, gyms and, at the Dusit
, horse-riding. But it is golfers who are the real winners here, for Hua Hin
has no less than seven championship golf courses, from the Royal Hua Hin, where players first teed off in 1924, to state-of-the-art courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Max Wexler – truly a golfer’s paradise.
Hedonists love this royal town because it is the spa capital of Thailand, with some of the best treatments in the world available in hotels and at stand-alone spas.
Nearby is Chiva-Som
, the world famous spa that attracts stars and high society icons like Roger Moore and the Beckhams. Hua Hin offers the quiet sophistication that the stressed out workaholic needs and hotels like the Dusit Thani
and the Sofitel
have superb grounds in which to relax, be alone or mix with other people.
The royal summer palace is known as 'Klai Kangwon' – meaning 'Far From Worries'. It could be Hua Hin’s motto, for nowhere else in Thailand is quite soooo far from worries.
Dusit Thani Hua Hin
(1349 Petchkasem Road). A superb family hotel with two magnificent pools flanked by gardens, both leading on to the beach. Also, five restaurants, three bars, stables with ponies for riding, and weekly seafood barbecue. Very popular with all ages, the Dusit lies halfway between Hua Hin and Cha’am, excluded from the noise of the town but with hourly minibus service to town (10-15 minutes).
Sofitel Centara Grand Resort & Villas
(1 Damnernkasem Road). The original old Railway Hotel, now much restored. A sophisticated hotel right on the beach and in the centre of the town, with pools, gardens, restaurants and bars.
(73/4 Petchkasem Road). The best in the world, say those who frequent it; expensive but exclusive, and the treatments are wonderful.
Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa
(33 Naresdamri Road). Hiltons are too well known to need describing, but this one has the best Chinese restaurant in Hua Hin on its top floor. In the centre of town, virtually on the beach.