In the capital, we spent most of our time off the Khao San Road, a famous hangout for backpackers, I learned to dive in Koh Phi-Phi Don (the famous setting for Alex Garland’s The Beach), partied at the Full Moon Party in Koh Pha-Ngan, took some time out in Krabi and Ko Lanta before exploring the northern half of Thailand including Chiang Mai.
Our destination to Thailand’s original beach resort of Hua Hin, was only a few hours away by road. This was the main reason why we plumped to stay there. After such a long plane journey, we couldn’t face catching a connecting flight.
Hua Hin started out as a small fishing village but in the 1920s became Royal getaways when King Rama VI and Rama VII built their summer residences in the area – then the Thai nobility flocked to the coastal town in droves, making Hua Hin the place to be.
Now it is the safest area in Thailand. On our first morning on the beach we couldn’t fail to notice the two huge war ships patrolling the waters. Phra Ratchawang Klai Kangwon (Far from Worries Palace) is still a royal residence today and was just around the corner from our first hotel.
Hua Hin actually means ‘stone head’ which is illustrated perfectly by the rocks that emerge during low tide on the public beach and, even though both hotels we stayed in overlooked it, none of the accommodation lining the coastline are allowed to privatise their own stretches. Which we thought was a good thing.
On some evenings, it was lovely to see the locals mingling with visitors and enjoying the cooler sand and waters as the fruit sellers and horse wranglers moved swiftly up and down, vying for custom. And, while the beach is lovely, Hua Hin isn’t known for its sandy delights or crystal blue waters – for that you have to go elsewhere. But it’s a popular destination especially for city folk in Bangkok looking for an idyllic escape for the weekend.
Meanwhile, in comparison to our experiences of the seedier side of Thailand, Hua Hin wasn’t full of go-go bars and working women touting for business. At least, not on the main streets. The resort definitely has a more family feel to it and it was great to see so many other parents out with their children.
The locals certainly love kids judging by the reaction Monkey caused when we were wandering about. One night, Monkey angrily turned round to me and asked: ‘Why do people keep touching me, mummy?’
We both took it in our stride, however, explaining to him they thought he was adorable, which is why they couldn’t resist touching him! There was no point getting annoyed – not all cultures follow the very British stiff upper lip.
Hua Hin is full to the brim with upmarket hotels ranging from boutique luxury to grand scale international chains. It’s also well-known for its golf courses and famous night market. We spent a lot of time there, just pottering and taking in the sights and sounds.
It’s a great place to visit with stalls filled with a variety of wares from souvenirs and toys, to clothes and knock-off DVDs. But the best part about the market is the food stalls and the make-shift tables that spring up – the delicious smells emanating from the roaring fires that are cooking up seafood with rice and noodles, pork and fish balls on sticks, roast pork and fried chicken – and one of my favourite takeaway dishes, fresh pancakes with bananas and chocolate sauce.
It’s alive with noise, colour and life, the hub of central Hua Hin – everyone flocks there and all around in the surrounding streets you will find massage parlours (not the dodgy kind I hasten to add), restaurants, bars and tuk tuk drivers lined up waiting for their fares.
Hua Hin also offers much for food lovers. There are an endless choice of restaurants from traditional Thai and seafood, mainly located along the wooden piers stretching out along the seafront, to pizzerias, French bistros and Indian curry houses. We were often overwhelmed with indecision about our evening meals – leaving up to Monkey to decide what he fancied on occasion.
If you’re prepared to go further afield there’s plenty outside of Hua Hin to explore from Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, temples, stunning beaches, water parks, elephant sanctuaries, and even a vineyard and winery.
We ventured out to some extent during our two-week stay, but the main purpose of our trip was to bask in the glorious sunshine, have fun in the pool, and to eat seafood. Which we did in spades. Everything else was a bonus.
Since 2002, much has changed in Thailand. It’s not as cheap as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, in comparison to UK prices, it was still a steal, but it was easy to spend the cash on not very much – a tuk tuk ride here, a drink or two there. There’s much more construction than I remember, too – building sites and cranes dotted every spare corner in Hua Hin and its surrounding districts; new beachfront condos are being built around the clock, as well as shopping malls.
Due to the recent floods in the city, wealthy Bangkokians are looking to buy second properties away from the capital – a place to escape should trouble strike again. It’s hard to know if this is a good or a bad thing. Speaking to some locals, it would seem the latter – they’re already worried about how their beautiful coastlines are going to look in a decade, while the mounting litter problem is only getting worse.
However, none of this detracts from what a beautiful resort Hua Hin is – its rich culture, steeped in Buddhism; the Thai’s important traditions such as their unwavering love for their King and Queen, to the ornate spirit houses (san phra phum) that you find outside homes, hotels and public areas; and the friendly Thai people, who are always ready with a smile.
Hua Hin is a Royal playground fit for the aristocracy as well as high-society Bangkokians – plus thousands of visitors from all over the globe. And you can see why.
It’s not far from Bangkok with great transport links to and from the capital; it’s the perfect base to go beach hopping without the hassle of the more difficult transfers amongst the southern islands; it offers a good mix of city and seaside – there’s a cosmopolitan ambience, but it’s still possible to enjoy Hua Hin on a budget.
For us, though, it was the perfect place to unwind, and the perfect place to remember why we stayed in Thailand for several months all those years ago.