Unlike so many other countries, Thailand’s tourist industry doesn’t rely on one major market. Whether it’s for sun, sea, sand and mountains, or big city life, cheap thrills and shopping malls, people come to ‘The Land of Smiles’ from everywhere. Yet despite its white sands and proximity to Bangkok, tourists heading for the beach tend to hit the islands, often avoiding the three-hour trip south to Hua Hin. It’s a mistake.
As I was told so frequently on my recent visit, Hua Hin is the home of the king. The palace there, Klai Kang Wong, is his summer residence. Nestled on the Gulf of Thailand coast at the top of the country’s skinny waist, the presence of royalty means that the nightlife in this city is a little bit more low-key. Or so I was told.
The difference is the lack of open-scale, Pattaya-style debauchery. As I discovered, at night Hua Hin is still pumping, but just not with the same compulsive madness of elsewhere. A perfect tonic to too many nights in the big city.
But few come to Hua Hin for nightlife, it’s for everything else. There are 10 golf courses here, four or five of which are considered world-class. And the white-sand beaches outside the main central area easily rival those of the islands. Here you can still find that image of paradise. The weather is also said to be the best in Thailand — and overlooked by mountains that stretch the short distance to the border with Myanmar, you can see why.
But what struck me initially was the food — I had Thai meals as good as anything else I’d eaten in this country — and the accommodation. I was lucky enough to stay in the Hyatt Regency. That it is only rated as one of the top resorts in the area says a lot.
The quality and variety of accommodation at all ends of the spectrum is enough to inspire envy. And for me, the Hyatt Regency was already hitting those luxury holiday heights that we like to dream of. Lush vegetation, a large pool area, well-appointed rooms and the quite stunning spa next door at The Barai — the sister resort to the Hyatt — make this oasis of indulgence a perfect holiday retreat.
On my final day I took a motorbike out to the recently inaugurated Hua Hin Sailing Club and, camera in hand, got myself out on the sea on a dinghy. It was exhilarating. I then headed to the city’s train station, daubed in traditional red and beige and still with all its early 20th century, royalty-inspired wooden fixings. A photographer’s dream. But after hitting the viewpoints over the city — there are many — and a Chinese pagoda on the seafront, what really got me was the artists’ village 5km outside of Central Hua Hin.
Creative, contemporary and wide-ranging (artworks cost from pennies through to thousands), there was a relaxing, almost spiritual atmosphere out here. It’s a drive out of town, but worth every second.
Golf in Hua Hin
Prior to starting Hua Hin Sailing Club, Richard Vine ran golf tours to Hua Hin and its neighbouring town, Cha-Am. Here are his tips for the top golf courses in the area.
According to Richard, the top golf course is Black Mountain (the course fee is THB3,500 for walk-in customers — blackmountainhuahin.com). This is closely followed by Banyan (THB3,000 — banyanthailand.com) and Springfield (THB2,500 — springfieldresort.com/golf). Of all three, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Springfield has “probably the best layout and is really fun to walk, and great to play”.
After that, you’ve got Palm Hills (palmhills-golf.com) and Lake View (imperialhotels.com). A round at both courses costs about THB2,000.
The standard caddy fee is THB300 per round and the best time to go is during the Hua Hin Golf Festival (Aug. 1 to Sep. 6). Throughout this period, course fees at all participating golf clubs start at THB1,000.
“Otherwise,” says Richard, “check directly with each of the golf clubs to see if they’ve got any deals going.”
At the time of writing, THB1,000 was the equivalent of VND650,000
Hua Hin is 220km south of Bangkok. A THB2,000 (VND1.3 million) taxi ride from Central Bangkok, there is also a direct minibus service to Suvarnabhumi Airport. The trip takes three hours.
Hyatt Regency Hua Hin
Room rates start at around THB6,000 depending on the season (VND3.95 million).
The Hua Hin Sailing Club
The Artists’ Village
Known in Thai as Baan Silapin, do a search on Google for information. The so-called artists’ colony comes up as one of the main attractions in Hua Hin.