Visit Hua Hin – Thailand’s Royal Town
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently published their “Lonely Planet Traveler Destination Awards 2015”. The awards were based on how readers of the distinguished Lonely Planet magazine rate the top tourist destinations in Thailand and internationally.
In The Land of Smiles, beach resort town of Hua Hin. which is a 2 hour taxi ride from Bangkok took the honors for “the best in travel town”, plus one of its 5 star beachfront hotels namely the Cape Nidhra featured as the most outstanding hotel for a beach getaway. With this in mind it is understandable why, according to Asia Coastal Tourism Destination Development, tourist numbers in this seaside destination exceeded 1.6 million back in this year already, a 49% jump from 2010.
This is a big deal for any leisure travel destination, especially one directly competing with the likes of Phuket and Koh Samui, but what is it that attract more and more visitors and also a growing expat community to this relative new player on the international leisure travel market?
Well, first of all it’s not new to the leisure travel scene at all. In fact, Hua Hin is the oldest beach resort town in Thailand dating back to 1910 when affluent Thais and even Thai royalty realized the location’s advantages, chose it as their preferred holiday spot and here are the reasons why.
As someone who spends extended time in the country, one of the most frequent questions I get from tourists is “where in Thailand will we have the best weather any given time of year?”. The answer to this question is easy, because it is an undeniable fact that Hua Hin offers the highest probability of good weather even during the rainy season and generally has the best weather year round compared to any of the other primary tourist spots in Thailand.
This is due to its surrounding hills which create its own micro climate with much less severe changes in seasons. If you like it cool with low humidity and no rain, come visit us November through January. February through April is hot and dry and if you plan well you can join in the Songkran (Thai new year) water festival taking place around mid April. May to October is the rainy season, which in this town is a good time as any seeing more sunny days than not.
Recreation and Sightseeing
Hua Hin is not a place where the hotel’s facilities is the only recreation at your disposal. From the cultural to the historic, natural attractions and adventure activities the things to do and see are endless and I suggest not staying less than 7 days to fit most of it into your holiday.
Firstly, families are not going to find it hard to keep the kids occupied, whether still small or restless teenagers. Besides sand and sea there are 2 water parks featuring slides, water tunnels, pools and even cable wake boarding. They can mount a pony on the beach and go for a ride, ride the surf on an inflatable banana and on a day when the weather does act up the Market Village Mall has a games arcade, movie theater and ten pin bowling.
I also recommend renting a car and visiting the Pala-U Waterfall. Leading to the falls the 70 km winding road cuts through rolling hills and jungle hiding cool places to at which to enjoy lunch and along the way you may even spot elephants roaming.
Sam Roi Yot National Park is less than an hour’s drive away and offers affordable accommodation along the beach. The park features the famous Phraya Nakhon Cave and taking boat rides or kayaking to nearby small islands are great past times for young and old. If you are the visually creative type there is an artist village 3 km outside town showing off local talent and also offer art lessons to visitors, there are cooking schools you can attend and the Hutsadin elephant sanctuary to visit.
In the town centre you will notice tour operators advertising boat tours and trips to nearby Koh Talu Island where you can stay over a night or two for some snorkeling in water clear as glass. Down the main road is Plearnwan where you can get a view of the Hua Hin of yester-year and for adventurous teens Hua Hin has an ATV quad bike park. Talking about adventure sports, there are several kite surfing schools around providing all the gear on the town’s main beach.
It is no secret that the world class golf courses of the area attract golfing enthusiasts in high numbers. Black Mountain as well as a multitude others offer challenging courses for experienced players as well as instructors for beginners.
Palm tree dotted beaches which shelves slowly and are safe for swimming stretch 30 km from the neighboring town of Cha-am, through Hua Hin and all the way to Pranburi and beyond to places like Pak Nam Pran and spectacular Dolphin beach. The best yet is that besides the busier central beach you will find many all but deserted making it feel like you have it all to yourself. A 10 km drive outside the city center is Khoa Toa featuring intimate Soi Noi Beach with its beach club featuring pools and beachside restaurants.
Where to Stay – The Hotels
Holiday accommodation cater to all, no matter your style or budget and with the area’s rise in popularity so also increased the number of hotels. Still, I have to say that one of the most noticeable things for me is that the beaches are not lined with boxed-in resorts with noisy beachfront bars intruding on your relaxation and making you feel trapped. In fact, there are few places along the beach where you will even find 2 hotels being right next to each other. Instead they are spread out affording space, privacy and many quiet spots.
The town and its main road runs parallel to the beach and if you do like it vibrant and want your accommodation base directly on the beach and at the same time be in the town centre, near nightlife entertainment and markets, then 5 star hotels like the award winning and historically important Centara Grand Beach Resort (the century old and formerly Railway Hotel), The Hilton Beach Resort and the romantic pool villas of The Cape Nidhra and Putahracsa as well as the luxurious InterContinental are ideal.
Scattered within this central part mid-range and cheap hotels as well as guest houses and holiday houses to rent short term are too numerous to mention. You can pick and choose from 4 star resorts like Laksasubha and Chomview right on the beach and walking distance to entertainment to places to stay right in the Centre of town surrounded by shops, restaurants and markets and still be walking distance to beach. To the southern end of the beach, approximately 3 km from the city center is the quaint Takiab suburb featuring the arty Cicada week-end market. It is a nice area if you prefer being just outside the buzz without being deprived of nearby shops and dinner joints. Similarly the northern part of the beach is also quiet featuring hotels like Dusit Thani, Asara Villas and The Sheraton.
If you hoped to find the sleaze you saw in Pattaya’s Walking Street, or the raunchy parties of Bangla Road in Patong Phuket you are in the wrong place and, it is exactly how the locals, expats and regular visitors like it, because unwanted elements are unlikely to be drawn here. Instead it is a more family friendly scene that represent itself, perfect for those who like things moderate.
Yet, don’t let this create the perception that a nightlife in Hua Hin does not exist and that you are setting yourself up for boredom after sundown. On the contrary, down by the waterfront a joyous nightlife unfolds. A multitude of trendy hang-outs and clubs spinning cool tunes, up-scale wine bars, beer and cigar bars are huddled together along the narrow lanes. In soi 94, an up and coming area places like the Saxophone Lounge has been hailed world-wide as the best Jazz joint in Asia as well as Electric Mango where the to-be-seen crowd hang out.
Food & Restaurants
It is undoubtedly a foodie’s paradise with an assortment of restaurants along the beachfront ranging from Thai cuisine to German, Russian and Swedish to Danish, Indian and Japanese Sushi joints. Fresh seafood restaurants line the narrow alleys down-town where the nightlife scene resides and then there is the Hua Hin Vineyards, a wine estate with a restaurant offering spectacular views. During the right time of year you can work up an appetite doing grape picking on elephant back.
As can be expected the town has no shortage of markets with vendor stalls selling those typical bargain clothes, hand craft and memorabilia. One of these is the Chatchai market featuring many great open-air places to eat in a delightful atmosphere. While browsing the stalls the wafting seafood flavors will inevitably draw you to one of them where you can choose your lobster, king prawn or steak fresh off the ice and watch it being cooked.
It is certainly not possible to include every positive aspect of a place such as this which is better experienced than explained. Being only 200 kilometers from Bangkok with VIP buses and taxis transporting tourists straight from Bangkok airport my advice is allow a few days in this top travel destination in your itinerary next time you visit Thailand, it could very well become and annual destination for you as it has done for countless others.