Think Thailand and it’s shopping in Bangkok or night life in Pattaya that comes to mind. Not keen on either, I decided to zero in on an unusual destination and chanced upon the beach city of Hua Hin. I was pleasantly surprised.
Hua Hin is a quaint place situated about 180 km from Bangkok and takes a couple of hours to reach on Thailand’s expressways. The eight-lane road itself is picturesque with salt pans and highway bazaars selling salt, fish oil and fresh catch lining it. As you approach Hua Hin, the landscape is flat and the first beach you encounter is the Cha-am beach.
A couple of tall buildings spring up a few kilometers down the road and these are either apartments that you can rent out — which are very popular with the Europeans and Americans — or luxury hotels that have been built recently.
A slice of history
The Hua Hin beach was discovered and frequented in the early 1920s by Thailand’s King Rama VII as a getaway from frenetic Bangkok. King Rama VII built his Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries) Palace, which remains an official royal residence to date, although it is not accessible to public. Over the years, the wealthy families from Bangkok began building luxurious beach villas in a row down the shoreline and before long, Hua Hin became the weekend getaway of Thailand’s rich and famous.
When the well-heeled Thais were not frolicking on the beautiful beach, they would head for a round of golf on one of the city’s eight golf courses. The Royal State Railway Golf Course, the first and, some say, the most beautiful golf course in Thailand, was built on a wooded hill estate across the track from Hua Hin station. After its transition to a democratic system in 1932, Hua Hin was almost forgotten.
Sights and sounds
As you enter Hua Hin, you feel relaxed as there are very few cars on the road, no hoardings screaming for attention, no tourist buses doing the rounds and no touts asking if you’d like to see the sights and sounds. You’re very much on your own.
The best indication of its laid-back lifestyle is the Hua Hin railway station — small and painted in red and cream. It is used mostly by locals to get around and has a coffee shop that sells souvenirs. At first glance, I spotted a beautiful lawn touching the station. Then I spotted foreigners on the lawns with their golf bags. Imagine a station with a golf course view!
Outside, a couple of relic train coaches are on display while Thai food stalls in the precincts do brisk business. The most notable landmark of Hua Hin is the statue of Pone Kingpeth — the first Thai boxer, a son of the city, to win a world boxing title. Pone won the world flyweight belt in 1960, and after the first nationwide Muay Thai competition, Pone Kingpeth was crowned the first champion of Thailand. The man still stands tall in a victory pose at the city’s busiest square.
Hua Hin isn’t at all fast paced — you can just walk around looking into stores, checking out Thai-style furniture, handicrafts and artifacts. Evenings are the best time to browse and buy. And if you are looking for everything under one roof, then the Market Village (less like a village and more like a plush, air-conditioned mall) is the place to visit. It has designer outlets selling clothes, a large section devoted to home décor, tiny stalls that sell handicrafts, cane bags, beachwear and plenty of interesting stuff.
To get a feel of the place, it’s best to sit outside one of the outlets with a drink or two (the Singha and Chang beers that are very popular in Thailand) and soak in the ambience. Great food is never a problem in this beautiful country, and Hua Hin abounds in both international chains and local cuisine.
The easiest way to get to Hua Hin is to take a taxi from Bangkok airport, which costs around 2500 Baht. Another option is to take an AC bus from Bangkok — just 175 Baht. The drive is extremely pleasurable.
Where to stay
Though Hua Hin has its share of beach resorts and hotel chains, the Rest Detail Hotel is a beautiful property smack on the beach. The plush rooms lead to an emerald green pool, that leads to the beach. The tariff per night will cost you as less as 4000 Baht.
What to eat
Hua Hin is a foodie’s paradise. You have everything from KFC and Pizza Hut to locally made sushi and Thai food on the streets. A great dinner is possible for less than 200 Bahts (Rs 250). The steak is recommended!
Aruna Rathod is a freelance journalist who just waits for opportunities to get away from the routine.