Since the early 20th century, the seaside haven of Hua Hin has been popular with the Thai royal family and the Bangkok elite for its laid-back charm and pretty beaches. Nowadays, it’s a favourite family holiday and retirement destination for Westerners, located just over two hours’ drive from the capital. The destination weddings in Hua Hin are also thriving, and its natural beauty has been attracting many couples from all over the world.
Visitors and expat residents love the resort’s combination of sophistication, functionality, activities, sun, sea and sand, and Hua Hin’s aristocratic roots are still strong. Nowadays, the present monarch, King Bhumibol, is mostly permanently resident in the charmingly-named ‘Far from Worries’ Palace, built by his early 20th century predecessor King Prajadhipok as a refuge from the capital’s searing summer heat.
Getting to Hua Hin
Getting in and around the resort town is straightforward, whether by train, luxury coach, taxi or self-drive. Set just 170kms from Bangkok, the fastest way to travel is by car, with the trip via Southern Highway 4 taking around 2.5 hours. Train travel from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong and Bang Suey terminals is cheap and comfortable but takes between four and six hours due to frequent stops. Hua Hin rail station lies in the centre of the downtown district and offers taxis and local buses to local hotels and guest houses.
If you’re arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airpark and heading for Hua Hin, there’s a direct VIP coach service right on the airport complex. At a cost of around 300 baht and with a journey time of under four hours, it saves an expensive and time-consuming taxi trip on the congested roads between the airport and the rail stations. Coaches run every two hours between 07:30 and 18:30.
For those already in Bangkok, VIP coach services run every 20 minutes from Sai Mai bus terminal to Hua Hin, taking around 3.5 hours, and minibuses run from a stop close by the Victory Monument. The cost of a minibus trip is around 200 baht, but nervous passengers might feel more comfortable using the VIP coach service. Hua Hin’s inter-regional main bus station lies on Petkasem Road, some three kilometres from the centre of the resort, and is supported by local tuk-tuks and songthaews for onward travel to hotels and other accommodations.
For convenient, private travel between the capital and the resort it’s possible to hire a long-distance taxi. A good choice can be had at Suvarnabhumi Airport, but negotiation is necessary to avoid being vastly overcharged. Average fares at the beginning of 2014 ranged around 4,000 baht, far cheaper than the long-distance limousine service also located on the complex. The return journey from Hua Hun to the airport works out at around 2,000 baht.
What to Do and See in Hua Hin
Hua Hin is the most charming, least crowded and quietest of all Thailand’s beach resorts, retaining a good deal of its traditional ambience due to the local authority’s commitment to restricting the type of development known to have blighted Pattaya and other seaside towns. Its single, 5km long, beach is narrow and reasonably clean, and the town is surrounded by stunning natural beauty featuring forests, peaks, waterfalls, caves and a national park, all perfect for walking, trekking or just admiring the scenic wonders of the region.
Nearby attractions include traditional fishing villages dotted along the rocky coastline, remote Buddhist temples and tiny beaches in sheltered bays. Hua Hin offers a peaceful, romantic location for couples and is often chosen for a memorable Thai honeymoon after a traditional Siamese-style wedding. If lazing on the beach or exploring underwater treasures isn’t enough, there’s plenty to do, see, eat and enjoy in this fascinating region, including a selection of international-standard golf courses.
Hua Hin offers a variety of visual delights, with those arriving by train from Bangkok setting down next to one of Thailand’s most iconic architectural sights – the historic Royal waiting room adjacent to the station itself. This quaint red and white pavilion hosted Siam’s royals and nobility every summer, and is a unique, much-loved part of the country’s history as a result.
Favourites with locals and visitors alike, the town’s night markets are crammed with traditional artefacts including glowing silks, exquisite wood carvings, embroideries, pottery and baskets. In addition, there’s locally designed jewellery, gold and silver artefacts, finely-crafted Buddhist images, fashions, shoes, bags and unique items for the home, all at great prices. Outdoor food and drink stalls serve local seafood dishes, and streetside massage parlours refresh tired feet and legs.
Some 60kms from Hua Hin is Sam Roi Yot National Park, a haven for local wildlife and migrating birds, with its mangrove swamps, limestone outcrops, deserted beaches, rushing waterfalls and caves complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The park can be reached by road or by boat along the shoreline from the resort, and guided tours are the best way to see it all.
A visit to Thailand without an elephant encounter is unthinkable, and viewing these magnificent, endangered beasts in a natural setting is by far the best option. Hua Hin’s non-profit Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, known worldwide as the country’s most important conservation organisation, gives the chance to see elephants, bears, tigers and many more of Thailand’s wild creatures. All visitors can join in their projects, and English is spoken.