The beach destination of choice for Bangkok ex-pats
Hua Hin Thailand is the beach resort of choice for metropolitan Thais and ex-pats living in Bangkok. It was also reputedly once the beach of choice for Thai royalty. A little over two hours by road from Bangkok, it’s an easy day trip for any traveler who doesn’t have Thailand’s beaches and islands on their itinerary. Because it’s so popular with influential Thais, Hua Hin has been protected from the kind of rampant development that blights popular tourist beaches further south.
While not in the same class as famous beach resorts like Phuket, Pattaya, and Ao Nang, Hua Hin still remains a very creditable beach option for those on a restricted itinerary and a great opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok for a couple of days. There are some nice hotels here and lots of attractions to keep visitors coming back.
Cool things about Hua Hin
- Hua Hin is on the international rail line from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.
- There is a railway line running directly from Bangkok to Hua Hin, so it’s very easy to get to.
- Berjaya Air flies directly into Hua Hin Airport (HHQ) from Subang International Airport (SZB – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport) in Malaysia.
- Hua Hin is only 2-3 hours driving time from Bangkok or about 1 hour by plane.
- Hua Hin is the oldest and most traditional of the Thailand beach resorts.
- Hua Hin is the favorite beach resort of the Thai royal family and Bangkok locals, so it’s largely protected from over-development.
- The beaches of Hua Hin are wide, around 25 km long, and mostly uncrowded, except on major holiday weekends.
- The “glitterati” of Bangkok and many wealthy ex-pats own beach houses in and around Hua Hin.
- There are many special places to explore around Hua Hin including caves, waterfalls, beautiful parks, golf courses, and hilly peaks.
- It’s fun to stroll around the main streets of Hua Hin in the evenings and eat amazing seafood in the restaurants built on piers over the water.
- Hua Hin is quite a small city, with a permanent population of only around 50,000.
- Hua Hin’s climate is tropical, but it gets less than half of the rainfall that Bangkok gets so it’s often sunny all year round.
- Hua Hin’s “Railway Hotel”, now the Centara Grand Beach Resort, was used as the “Hotel Phnom Phen” in the movie The Killing Fields.
- Songthaews (public utility vans) are the preferred method of getting around in Hua Hin and are very cheap to use.
Top attractions in Hua HinHua Hin is all about the beach, and the most popular Hua Hin beach is called Suan Son Pradipat (1) and the main attraction is that it’s not infested by hawkers, jet skiers, and other distractions. It’s all pure beach because it’s owned by the Thai Navy who keep a close eye on it. Suan Son Padipat is about 15 minutes out of Hua Hin towards Khao Tao but it’s worth the taxi fare (or just jump on the orange bus to Pranburi and get off at the Army Rehab stop). You can rent a beach chair for about 20 Bt and if you go during the week you won’t be bothered by crowds. Hua Hin Beach itself is clean and pleasant and does not get very crowded but the area nearby is quite commercial and the sand is very reflective so it gets hot quite quickly. There are also areas where the jet ski crowd seems to have taken over to the detriment of others and there are problems with beggars at times.
If you’re a sports fan, Hua Hin offers some of Thailand’s best golf courses including the spectacular Black Mountain Golf Club (2), Although currently being extensively renovated, the course has stunning scenery and magnificent fairways and greens to impress the fussiest golfer. If you get tired of Black Mountain, visit the award runner-up – Banyan Golf Club (ranked the #1 attraction in Hua Hin by TripAdvisor readers). Banyan Golf Club has gorgeous views away from the mountains on the Burma border and offers layouts that will challenge even the most experienced golfer.
If you’re traveling with children, you need to check out Black Mountain Water Park (3), which offers everything a good water park should – nine big water slides ranging from exciting to heart-stopping, a thundering wave pool, a lazy “river” to float down on tire tubes and lots of shady spots with sun lounges to relax, catch a sun tan and keep an eye on the kids. The entry fee is just 600 Bt per adult and 300 Bt per child. If your kids are older and more adventurous, try Hua Hin Kite Surfing where they can get taught to sail kiteboards on the beach for 4500 Bt per two-hour lesson. You need three lessons before you’re allowed out on a kiteboard on your own and the cost then is 13,500 Bt for 30 minutes.
One of the lesser-known attractions in Hua Hin is the Klai Kangwon Palace (4), built by Thailand’s King Rama VII in the late 1920s as a weekend beach getaway for the Thai royal family. The name “Klai Kangwon” means “far from worries” in Thai and that’s exactly what Hua Hin means for many ordinary Thais too. You can visit the palace when the royal family is not in residence – they usually visit in March-April. The entry cost is around 20 Bt.
Other attractions in and around Hua Hin include:
- Wat Huay Mongkol (6), a temple house that was commissioned by the Queen of Thailand as a home for Luang Pu Thuat, a monk who was said to perform miracles
- Takiap Hill (7), located about 4 km out of town, offers commanding views of the local area and is home to a number of Buddhist communities
- Soi Bintabaht (8) and Soi Selakam, are both popular areas for nightlife in Hua Hin and are full of beer bars, discos, karaoke bars, and some nice pubs with live bands (not at all like Pattaya or Patong).
The best times to go to Hua HinThere are three major festivals held each year in Hua Hin:
Thailand International Kite Festival is held in March when the winds coming in off the Gulf of Thailand create perfect kite flying conditions. The festival is held at an army camp (King Rama IV Army Camp) just north of the city and has been running for over a decade. Kite enthusiasts come from all over Thailand and even other countries to compete. The Thai word for “kite” is “wow”, which conveniently sums up this event!
Hua Hin Jazz Festival is held in late May or early June and draws top jazz musicians from all around the world to Hua Hin to jam on the beach. The festival is held at the Centara Grand Beach Resort and is starting to be a showcase for Asian jazz with performers from Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/jazzfestivalhuahin/
Hua Hin Vintage Car Rally is held in December, usually the driest month of the year. The event gathers pace at the Sofitel Central Plaza Hotel, Bangkok, and then makes a leisurely convoy to the Sofitel Central Hotel in Hua Hin which usually includes around 60 or so vintage and classic cars.
Hua Hin Film Festival is held in late January, commencing last year. This festival is a great way to catch up on the major movies that have wowed Asian audiences in the past year including both Western and Asian blockbusters. The opening and closing ceremonies are held at the InterContinental Hua Hin Resort but are only open to invited guests. The movie screenings are held at the Major Cineplex in the Market Village and there’s also a parade of stars on the main beach. For more information, visit http://www.huahinfilmfest.com
Getting to Hua Hin ThailandIf you’re going to visit Hua Hin, you’ll most likely be starting out from Bangkok. You can’t fly to Hua Hin from Bangkok, oddly enough, although you can fly there from Subang in Malaysia three times a week. Most people travel to Hua Hin by train.
You can catch a train to Hua Hin from Hualamphong railway station in central Bangkok. Most westerners choose to travel 2nd class as it’s only a few hours on the train. You can buy 2nd class tickets in advance up to 90 days ahead of your trip and most travel agents can arrange them as part of your itinerary. Trains leave for Hua Hin from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays and from 8:30 am to midday on weekends and public holidays. The 2nd class fare is 380 Bt per adult and 190 Bt per child (children under 4 travel free). Check out the State Railway of Thailand for schedules. When you get to Hua Hin, check out the railway station before you rush off to your hotel … it used to be a royal pavilion and is a tourist attraction in its own right.
If you don’t fancy the train, you can catch a VIP air-conditioned bus to Hua Hin from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok. These buses run every half hour from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily and the trip takes a little over 3 hours. The cost is around 300 Bt per person. Buses will drop you near the Siri Petchkasem Hotel on Srasong Road in Hua Hin.
There are also direct VIP buses from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, straight to Hua Hin, which cost around 300 Bt per person and leave at 7:30 am, 9.30 am, 4:30 pm, and 6:30 pm every day. Find out more about these buses at www.airporthuahinbus.com.
An even cheaper option is to jump aboard one of the tourist minibusses that leave from the center of Bangkok, near the Victory Monument BTS Station. Just catch the BTS Skytrain to Victory Monument station and walk down the stairs to street level on the eastern side and you’ll see lots of minibusses waiting there to whisk you away. Just look for the “Hua Hin” sign or ask for the Hua Hin minibus and pay your 180 Bt fare. If there’s no minibus waiting, phone 080-090-6540 to find out when the next minibus will arrive.
Places to stay in Hua HinIf you’re looking for Hua Hin hotels, it’s hard to go past the Antara Hua Hin Resort, situated right on the beach at White Sand. The resort is set in beautiful tropical gardens running down to the beach and the lagoon or beach view rooms are worth the extra money. Guests in the lagoon rooms get their own private swimming pool and cocktails in the afternoon. Don’t eat at the resort though as the food is very expensive compared to the fantastic nearby restaurants.
If you’re looking for luxury Hua Hin resorts and especially if you’re traveling with children, you should consider the ever-popular 5-star Centara Grand Beach Resort and Villas and the Spa on the Cha Am beachfront. Like all Sofitel hotels, it’s predictably comfortable and well organized, with a great kids’ club and rooms with beach views but can get a bit crowded during peak season. It’s located a little away from the city center and the popular street restaurants but this also means it’s quieter. There are regular shuttle buses into the town.
Places to eat and drink in Hua HinYou’ll find plenty of choices for cafes, restaurants, and bars anywhere near the beachfront in Hua Hin, although the closer you get to the beach and to the top of Khao Takiap, the more tourist-focused they become. But there are some good places to eat between the beach and Khao Takiap, along Phetkasem Road and especially along Naresdamri Road where you can get some nice seafood with a great sea view.
If you’re looking for budget food, look no further than the Hua Hin night market or the food hall in the Tesco shopping center in Market Village. For good coffee, try the World News Cafe opposite the Hilton Hotel. And for a classy night out, try the Palm Bistro and Wine Bar, a few kilometers back off the beach (take the turn 0ff at the San Paolo Hospital) for food cooked by a five-star chef formerly from the London Savoy Hotel.