Mention Thailand's great seaside resorts and favorite escapes, and a short list of perennial holiday destinations roll off the tongue: Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Samui, Pattaya, and perhaps Koh Chang, Koh Phangan, and a few smaller islands.
Lately, however, another, more traditional Thai town is being quietly shared and acclaimed among those in the know: Hua Hin. Located a short 3-hour drive from Bangkok, it has long been the weekend getaway of choice for Thais with a bit of disposable leisure income and savvy expats looking for some down time after a hectic week in the capital.
In fact, this old world ambiance is a large part of Hua Hin's attraction: unlike other popular tourist destinations, there is a wonderful cultural mix of local, Asian, and Western tourists, all enjoying the peaceful charms of this classic hideaway by the sea.
Thai King Rama VII discovered Hua Hin's charms in the 1920s and subsequently built a palace here so he could enjoy the area during his longer stays. In many ways, the palace established the old world charm of the place, and was appropriately named Klai Kangwon Palace, meaning âfar from worries;â in a phrase, this sums up the Hua Hin area to a tee.
The town offers a laid-back and friendly seaside atmosphere with good infrastructure, excellent facilities, beautiful resorts, amazing golf courses, and a constantly-growing list of fascinating attractions, such as floating markets and themed shopping parks.
Being the Royal beach resort, cabarets, discos, and other nightspots are more regulated than normal and somewhat limited, which many will find refreshing, especially those with families and couples hoping for some restful quality time surrounded by sand, sun, sea, and abundant fresh seafood.
Hua Hin has a famous, stunning 5 km (3 mile) beach, lovely waterfalls, lush limestone mountains, and plenty of leisure activities. It has become world renowned as a superb place to rejuvenate at one of several internationally-renowned spas in a great location.
The central market sells fresh fruit and fish to locals as it's been done for ages. The night market is the ideal place to sample street food cooked fast and fresh. International travelers visit Hua Hin for the coastline and wonderfully natural hotels, but the locals arrive for the food, with the town's fishing fleet delivering baskets of prawns and fish every day, helping the town maintain its reputation as one of Thailand's top seafood spots.
Hua Hin is certainly one of Thailand's premier golfing destinations, with eight world-class courses and several driving ranges in the nearby area. Additionally, fishing, hiking, cooking classes, horseback riding, diving, and snorkeling are only a few of the other options for those with a more active disposition.
World-class shoppers need not worry either: With two night-markets, a local market, and numerous boutique stores, Hua Hin is an excellent place to shop for locally produced handicrafts, fabrics, souvenirs, and food products.
Coastal cruises, day trips around Monkey Island and Dolphin Bay, local fishing excursions, and night time deep-sea trips are all available from Hua Hin, while freshwater fishing, river cruises, and eco-tours run along the waterways inland. Half-day and full-day trips are available.
Popular destinations include: Pa-La-U Waterfall, a 15-tier feature in the jungle 60 km from town; Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand's largest reserve, stretching to the Burmese border; Sam Roi Yot National Park, a landscape of limestone peaks; Khao Takiab, a hill at the end of Hua Hin beach sprinkled with Buddhist shrines and well worth climbing for the panoramic view; and Monsoon Valley vineyard for wine, and superb restaurants with stunning views of the wine lands, or elephant rides among the vines.
Whether undergoing spa treatment, holistic therapy, learning Thai massage, taking advantage of the excellent medical services, horseback riding, or just relaxing and reading a good book, Hua Hin is the perfect place for those who love a more sedate holiday style in a gorgeous seaside resort. And who doesn't?