With a selection of soft, sandy beaches, a host of family-friendly attractions and a well-developed infrastructure, the Hua Hin area is an excellent choice for a seaside holiday. The twin resorts of Hua Hin and Cha Am have been a popular beach escape for Thai tourists for almost a century. It was the arrival of the railway in the 1920s which would transform Hua Hin from an unassuming fishing village to Thailand’s first seaside resort. The area remains as popular as ever with Thai tourists and although it is now also an established destination for international tourists, Hua Hin and Cha Am still manages to retain plenty of its local atmosphere.
Where to stay in Hua Hin and Cha Am
When deciding where to stay, take into account how close you would prefer to be to the heart of Hua Hin. There are accommodation options all along the extended stretch of coastline that takes in Cha Am to the north, Hua Hin in the centre and continues south to Khao Takiab and on towards Pranburi. Hua Hin city has the most to offer in terms of attractions and things to do, but for quieter beach areas consider Khao Takiab and Pranburi. The first hotel constructed in Hua Hin in the 1920s to cater for the affluent visitors from Bangkok was the Railway Hotel. The historic beachside hotel with its exquisitely manicured gardens and wonderful location in the middle of Hua Hin is still here today under the name Centara Grand Beach Resort and Villas.
What to see and do in Hua Hin and Cha Am
One of the big advantages of holidaying in Hua Hin or Cha Am is the sheer number of things to do away from the beach. There is an abundance of attractions in the area to keep all the family happy. Whether it’s shopping, golfing or splashing around in a waterpark, visitors of all ages should never get bored during their Hua Hin holiday.
Beaches and natural attractions
Travellers to Hua Hin can visit a number of different beaches during their stay. The beach in central Hua Hin has a fine stretch of soft sand extending south from in front of the Hilton Hotel and Centara Grand Beach Resort. The beach features pony riding and although the rides are short in length, it’s hot and arduous work for the horses. Further south, the beach at Khao Takiab is quieter than central Hua Hin with ‘Chopstick Hill’ and the standing Buddha providing a scenic backdrop. If you are feeling energetic, the climb to the temple at the top of the hill provides pleasant views of the coastline. There are monkeys around so don’t carry food with you or carry anything in your hand that may tempt them to come too close to you. On the way down from the hill, relax with a Thai massage in the open-air sala overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.
The picturesque beach at Suan Son Pradipath is part of a military facility, but open to the public. It’s very popular with local families who come here to unwind and eat Thai food under the shade of the sea pine trees. Another popular location for locals is the bay at Khao Tao (Turtle Hill) where the hillside temple and viewpoints provide lovely views over the Hua Hin coastline. To the north of Hua Hin, the long beach in central Cha Am is the least attractive stretch of sand in the area. Despite that, the proximity to Bangkok means that Thai visitors flock here at weekends and on public holidays.
To get an overview of Hua Hin, take a trip to any of the city’s viewpoints. The most convenient is found in the heart of town thanks to the Hilton Hotel’s White Lotus Sky Bar. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to drop in for a sundowner or cold beer and watch the sun drop below Khao Hin Lek Fai (‘Flintstone Mountain’) as the twinkling lights of central Hua Hin spring to life. Even more expansive views of Hua Hin and the coastline stretching to Cha Am can be seen from the viewpoint on Khao Hin Lek Fai itself. If you’re up for the challenge, you can walk to the top of the hill up the paved pathway in less than an hour from the centre of town. If it’s too hot, hire a tuk-tuk to take you there and back. You can also enjoy fine views from the top of the hills at Khao Takiab and Khao Tao, but it does involve some effort to climb the steps.
A trip to Kaeng Krachan National Park with its scenic reservoir and Pala-U waterfall is a good option for a trip away from the beach. Khao Sam Roi Yot and the amazing cave at Phraya Nakhon Cave and the royal pavilion shouldn’t be missed if you are in the area and the same is true for the Khao Daeng viewpoint. Wildlife lovers can visit Kui Buri National Park which is reported to be the best location in Thailand to spot elephants in the wild.
There is a wide choice of options to keep younger members of the family happy during a holiday in Hua Hin with water-parks at Vana Nava and another at Black Mountain. If that isn’t enough watery sanuk to keep you entertained, you’ll find another water-park in the Cha Am area at Santorini Park where children can also enjoy trampolining and various amusement rides. Also worth a visit are Baan Sillapin Artists’ Village which gets favourable reviews from families as does the Swiss Sheep Farm in Cha Am.
The Hua Hin area has long been a favourite with the Thai Royal Family. The Thai monarchs, Rama VI (King Vajiravudh) and Rama VII (King Prajadhipok), both built summer palaces to take in the sea breezes and enjoy some respite from the heat and humidity of Bangkok.
Klai Kangwon Palace (‘Far from Worries Palace’) is located a few miles to the north of central Hua Hin. The palace is still an official Royal residence and there is no entry to the general public. Instead, take a trip out to elegant Marukhathaiyawan Teakwood Palace with its pastel coloured buildings and beautiful gardens. Nearby in Phetchaburi you can also visit the impressive royal palaces at Phra Nakhon Khiri and Phra Ram Ratchaniwet.
In the centre of Hua Hin, the photogenic railway station was used by visiting Thai royalty from the 1920s onwards and makes for a pretty backdrop as tourists snap selfies on their phones. South of Hua Hin, there are an impressive collection of giant statues honouring various Thai kings at Rajabhakti Park.
The Hua Hin area offers some of the best golf in Thailand with six world-class courses to choose from including Banyan Golf Club, Black Mountain, and the Jack Nicklaus designed Springfield Royal Country Club. Located just behind Hua Hin railway station, the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course was the first golf course established in Thailand and dates back to the 1920s.
Cyclists can enjoy some wonderful excursions in Hua Hin with rides taking in coastal roads and national parks. For more details check out the trips available from Spice Roads and Hua Hin Bike Tours. Kiteboarding is available on Hua Hin beach and over in Cha Am, the Cha Am ATV Park offers rides on all terrain vehicles as well as archery and paint-balling
Food, drink and shopping
Hua Hin is famous for its seafood and there are an array of restaurants to choose from. Some of the most popular seafood places in town are long-standing favourites like Platoo Restaurant. Other well-established restaurants close to Hua Hin pier may be forced to relocate with redevelopment planned for the area. In the centre of town, the lively Night Market is lined with eateries and small bars to keep you going during your souvenir hunting. On the same road as the Night Market, Bird Chilli is a good choice serving up tasty seafood and an array of Thai dishes in an informal atmosphere with reasonable prices. Adjacent to San Paulo Hospital is the Grand Night Market which is popular with locals and hosts some great little food stalls.
You’ll find good value Thai food at Chatchai Market and all around Hua Hin there are restaurants and cafes serving up a selection of international cuisine including Italian, French and Scandinavian. In front of the Hilton Hotel, nightlife lovers will find a cluster of bars along Soi Bintabaht and the lanes leading off it. Another bar area can be found along Soi 80 which tends to attract more expats and long-term visitors.
Open from Friday to Sunday, all fresco Cicada Market is a lovely place to visit with good food, a pleasant atmosphere and local artisans selling their wares. Modern air-conditioned malls can be found at Market Village and Bluport, both on the main Phetkasem Rad in Hua Hin. Another modern shopping experience, but with an old-fashioned feel, can be found at Plearn Wan Vintage Village.
Wine lovers should definitely make the short trip out to Monsoon Valley Vineyards (previously known as Hua Hin Hills Vineyard). The quality of Thai wines often surprises tourists and with a scenic setting and an excellent restaurant, this is one of the hidden gems of Hua Hin. If you are serious about your food, take a food tour with Feast Thailand. Better still, enhance your inner Masterchef under the expert guidance of the chefs at Anantara. The Spice Spoons Cooking School includes a visit to a local market to source the ingredients for your culinary masterpiece.
Travel and local tips
To reach Hua Hin from Bangkok the quickest option is by taxi which takes around 3 hours depending on traffic. The fare is approx
imately 2,000 Baht from central Bangkok. Alternatively, for more comfort use a premium transfer service from a reputable company such as Oriental Escape. At the other end of the cost scale, the cheapest option is to sit in the third class train carriage from Bangkok Hualamphong for just 44 Baht. The ride is slow and sweaty, but has a certain charm. The more comfortable and quicker second-class air-conditioned trai
n service (including a meal) costs just over 400 Baht. More details on Thai train services can be found on the excellent Seat 61 website.
From Suvarnabhumi airport there is a bus service to Hua Hin for 269 Baht with a journey time of approximately 4 hours. Most other public buses from the Thai capital to Hua Hin operate out of Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal with fares approximately 150 Baht.
There is a small airport in Hua Hin, but currently the only scheduled passenger services are run by Kan Airlines with flights between Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. The service is good when it works, but unfortunately Kan Airlines has a habit of cancelling flights at short notice on this route. Another transport option which could prove useful to some visitors is the new ferry service which was recently launched linking Hua Hin with Pattaya. The boats are being operated by Royal Passenger Liner, but there have been some initial teething problems with the new service.
Some of the bigger resort hotels are on lovely and quiet beachfront locations, but are a short drive away from central Hua Hin or Cha Am. This means you may need to use the hotel shuttle service or local taxis to get to the main shopping and restaurant areas. The taxis/tuk-tuks tend to charge relatively high fares but are open to negotiation so do it with a smile! The cheapest option to travel between beaches is to use the local songthaews and buses with prices starting from 10 Baht. Pay a visit to the helpful Tourism Authority of Thailand office (on the corner of Chomsin Road and Phetkasem Road) for a map to see the various locations of where to catch local transport.
by Roy Cavanagh www.thaizer.com
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