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Hua Hin Travel Guide
Hua Hin is a district in the Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of Thailand, 295 kilometers from Bangkok and 90 km from the provincial capital. It is the oldest and most traditional of Thailand’s beach resorts combining the attractions of a modern holiday destination with the charm and fascination of a still active fishing port. Beaches are located in the east of the province, including a 5km stretch of white sand and clear water. Although it has developed to cater for tourists from all over the world, the resort which began its development over 70 years ago, remains popular with Thais too, a good sign for those looking for an authentic experience.
The resort was originally founded in 1830s, when farmers, moving south to escape the results of a severe drought in the agricultural area of Phetchaburi, found a small village beside white sands and rows of rock, and settled in. The tranquil fishing village was turned into a ‘Royal resort’ becoming popular among Siam’s nobility and smart-set.
Accessibility was greatly enhanced by the construction of the railway from Bangkok, which brought visitors from wider social groups, and kick-started the industry which would bring tourists from other countries. The first hotel – The Railway Hotel – was built in 1921 and it still stands today continuing to serve tourists as the Sofitel Central.
Hua Hin was made famous in the early 1920s by King Rama VII, who decided it was an ideal getaway from the steamy metropolis of Bangkok. He built a summer palace and this was echoed when King Rama VII ordered the construction of the Palace of Klaikangwon (“far from worries”). The latter is still much used by the Thai Royal Family today.
The resort continued to develop slowly, protected to some extent by its Royal reputation. Its fishing port grew alongside golf courses and all the big hotel chains are now represented. Many of Bangkok’s rich and famous and a growing number of expats have built their own summer homes along the bay, making the resort more cosmopolitan every year.
Development has taken over much of the prime government land, so the coast road suffers from obstructed views of the sea these days, but Hua Hin is trying hard to retain its beach-side atmosphere. Compared to Pattaya, the resort remains relatively serene and attracts families and older travelers. The beach has a gradual slope, into clear warm water which so far has escaped pollution of any kind.
Further afield, the Prachuap Khiri Khan Province is a charming region, where limestone cliffs and islands, bays and beaches, are home to a national park, and several temples, and travelling through this area will be a welcome experience for those hoping to avoid the tourist traps found further South. Driving from Bangkok through Prachuap Khiri Khan takes around three hours, a journey punctuated by summer palaces, huge temples, beautifully kept gardens and salt flats.
Visitors head to Hua Hin all year round. The area has one of the lowest rainfalls in the country, and there’s usually a gentle sea breeze to punctuate the heat, particularly welcome in the summer season between March and September.
Things to see and do in Hua Hin
As you would expect with a resort boasting a 5km clean white beach, sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling are popular pastimes. Swimming is safe, and with one of the driest climates across Thailand, there’s plenty of opportunity to dry off in the sun afterwards.
Possibly due to its noble history and elegant clientele, Hua Hin has the highest density of world class golf courses anywhere in Thailand, although it has yet to be discovered by the international golf tournament circuit. Green-fees and other costs are surprisingly low, given that course maintenance and services are superb. The Royal Hua Hin course is one of many, but considered to be the best.
Shop till you drop
Chatchai Market is colourful and inexpensive and is one of Hua Hin’s major attractions. Vendors gather nightly in the centre of town, where they cook fresh gulf seafood for hordes of hungry Thais and provide a spectacle for visitors. As well as plentiful food shops, it offers much that will appeal to souvenir hunters too.
Klai Kangwon (which means ‘Far From Worries’ ) is the Royal Palace built by King Rama VII in 1928. It was designed by Prince Iddhidehsarn Kridakara, an architect and the Director of the Fine Arts Department at the time, and officially opened in 1929. Further structures have been added over time, including a mansion ordered by King Bhumibol (Rama IX) for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and accommodation for the royal entourage, built in the style of the original buildings so as to preserve the harmony of the palace. Although Klai Kangwon is still in regular use by the Royal family, it is also open to the public.
Hop on a train
Or more importantly, visit the railway station. Built in the reign of Rama IV, the brightly painted wooden buildings somehow combine traditional Thai ideas with a Victorian feel, and in 2009 Hua Hin made it onto NewsWeek’s Best Stations list, in great company such as New York’s Grand Central, and London’s St Pancras.
Although one of the joys of Hua Hin is its serenity and calm, if you’re keen to take in more, its fairly easy to find trips which will take you to many of the other southern beach destinations such as Koh Nangyaun, Koh Toa, Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi and Koa Sok. You may find however that some of these legendary destinations have suffered more at the hands of the global tourist industry than Hua Hin has.
Khao Takiab is referred as Monkey Mountain, but as well as the mischievous residents, it also boasts a hilltop temple with sensational views of Hua Hin, a pagoda-style shrine and a giant golden Buddha which faces the sunrise.
Walk in the Park
The region boasts several parks, and natural attractions, such as the Kangajan National Park, and the Koa Sam Roi Yod Marine Park. You’ll find miles of good walking, amongst lakes, caves and waterfalls, and you’ll be in the company of as elephants, tigers, wild dogs and leopards.
Eat, drink and sleep in Hua Hin
As more affluent ex-pats from all over the world gather to weather the winter, or snap up beachfront properties in Hua Hin, the restaurant scene becomes more cosmopolitan. French, Italian, German and Scandinavian restaurants are all here, in case anyone feels homesick. However, there are also rustic seafood restaurants, especially on the pier, and at several of these you can choose your own fish from the fish market right outside and waiters will bring you the finished result.
There are plenty of simpler local restaurants both inside and out on the streets where you can sample authentic Thai food too.
If you want to try to cook your own Thai food in Hua Hin, the very best place to buy your ingredients, not because it’s the cheapest, but because it is a fabulous experience, is the night market. Right in the centre of town, it opens at 18:00. It’s also a terrific place to buy handicrafts, souvenirs and clothing.
The Chatchai market is a great day market and the place to go for the best street food, as vendors grill, fry, boil and dress the fabulous local fish and shellfish, but don’t forget to leave room for a real local speciality. Roti Hua Hin is a delicious dough-based snack filled with strawberries, custard or raisins.
In a side street just off the market is the Hua Hin Thai Show, a pagoda-style restaurant which combines great food with a nightly musical performance, where you can sample folk with your fish or classical over your clams.
Unlike many Thai resorts, here you will also find more elegant dining, including Thai and Vietnamese food with a more upmarket touch for a real treat. Monsoon is the most romantic and expensive, but it’s worth it for the wine list and the elegant atmosphere. If your budget doesn’t run to dinner, you can enjoy afternoon tea on its teak-decked terrace.
Hua Hin isn’t as lively as many of its neighbours, but that doesn’t mean it’s no go for night life. There are quite a few live music venues, including El Murphy’s the Irish bar, which has its own local band rocking the town with rock and blues classics. There are a couple of country music pubs, and several nightclubs, but for a really classy experience, head to Satchmo’s where a vibrant Filipino band will serenade you as you drink the best Mojito outside Mexico.
Hua Hin has more than its share of upmarket and luxury accommodation. All the main hotel chains are here, and most have lovely grounds, top facilities and restaurants. There are elegant luxury boutique-style hotels too, many with villas and private pools. Sadly, there aren’t as many budget options as there used to be, but if you’re prepared to do some research you can find clean an friendly guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts at reasonable rates. If you’re planning to stay a while, a rental apartment can be a good option; many of the holiday homes owned by people who live abroad can be rented for at least part of the year. Wherever you stay, Hua Hin is an oasis of calm in a country of exciting contrasts.
Map of Hua Hin
Map of Hua Hin