While Bangkok brings on the hovering high rises, great restaurants and markets, and snaking push of pedestrians and traffic, it is not hard to head south where some of Thailand’s best beach resorts lie within easy driving distance from the big city.
Hua Hin is one. Around than three hours from bustling Bangkok, Hua Hin in the thin neck of Phetchaburi Province connecting the north of Thailand to the resorts in the south, brings the miles of oft-deserted white sand beaches and a pleasurable town that mixes quaint resorts with world class spa, wineries, shopping and culture.
A sleepy town on the Gulf of Thailand, the city of 80,000 souls is so comely it served as the former summer home of the royal family. Hua Hin became Thailand’s first official beach resort when the train line was laid in the 1920’s for the purpose of providing comfortable transport from Bangkok to King Rama VI’s summer retreat in this area.
The city is still accessible by comfortable air-conditioned train (indeed, the Victorian/Thai-style train depot in Hua Hin is an attraction of its own), however, easy and direct freeways make the trip easy these days, often in Mercedes comfort if your client happens to be heading to Chiva Som.
Hua Hin Spa
Chiva Som is what is arguably Thailand’s most luxurious and legendary destination spa and a reason why many North Americans go the distance. The resort offers a series of stand-alone, Thai-designed cottages accommodating a maximum of 58 guests. A collection of Lanna-style pavilions offer yoga, meditation, massage treatments, consultations, group meetings and heart-pumping exercise.
The “haven of life” concept is practiced through stays ranging from 3 days to several weeks and adhering to custom-designed regimens that help the body detoxify and de-stress, build energy and gain beauty. For agents this means high-ticket earnings in packages that can run $1,000 a day, totally inclusive, with airport or Bangkok transfers in a stocked Mercedes. Location is on the beach, around 10 minutes drive from the town of Hua Hin (regular complimentary shuttles run through the day). Accommodations range from ambient Thai style cottages with king beds, garden patios and huge bath areas to rambling wood-decked suites overlooking this shallow arm of the South China Sea.
Hua Hin Attractions
It is not unusual for visitors to hub at Chiva Som and then visit the temples, attractions and shopping areas to be found nearby. One of the top attractions is the former palace of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) built in 1923 as a seaside summer retreat. (The royal family continues to make Hua Hin a summer retreat at a second, circa 1927 Spanish colonial style residence a few miles away). Made from golden teak salvaged from the demolished Hat Chao Samran Palace, Maruekhathaiyawan Palace (Palace of Love and Hope) is a period museum of single storey buildings supported by more than 1,000 pillars to avoid flood damage. It’s an easy way for visitors to spend an hour and pick up some authentic Thai history, ambience and unusual souvenirs in shady beach-cooled surroundings.
Naturally, Hua Hin possesses its share of temples, including the giant Buddha on a cliff overlooking the Gulf. But the most amusing temple would be Wat Khao Lad found on what is fondly referred to as Monkey Mountain. There, a golden Buddha some 60 feet high faces the sea and monkeys of all shapes and sizes face everywhere else. Families of macaque monkeys live on top of the mountain, and seem to do fine with donations from monks and tourists. Banana stands compete for business but the monkeys often go for whatever packages an unsuspecting visitors carry. The location is a cliff area about four miles south of Hua Hin.
Farther afield, the Siam Winery at Hua Hin Hills Vineyard is a good place to sample whites, reds and rosés from mountain vineyards and grab an elephant tour through the groves. The Sala Wine Bar & Bistro sits atop a hill overlooking the green fields. The tastings and tapas menus provide a welcome segue from the usual offerings at area Thai restaurants and the wine is worth the few extra miles. Hua Hin Hills Vineyards is about 30 miles from Hua Hin along a scenic mountain road passing country farms and homesteads.
Packages for individuals and groups include transportation, private wine tasting, lunch at Sala (an open air restaurant designed by a Norman Foster protégée), and elephant ride through the vineyards. Peninsula Bangkok adds helicopter transport from Bangkok and dishes prepared by the Peninsula executive chef and sells it as a full-day “Academy Experience” for around $9000 per couple (two weeks advance notice required).
Another unusual attraction to consider, especially if children are in tow, is Santorini Park, a Greek-themed amusement park with white washed facades (and signature blue trim) as well as cliff-top views of the ocean and a sweeping beachfront. Rides include a 120-foot Ferris wheel, double-decker carousel, G-MAX reverse bungee, G-MAX giant swing, XD Dark Ride 7D interactive game, and Asia’s first Wall-holla climbing structure. Clients will also find the telltale fast food counters and Greek themed cafes, along with 140 retail boutiques.
Shopping, too, is an attraction in Hua Hin as it is in many other parts of Thailand and the town features its own night market. It happens every night starting at 6 pm and running until around 11 pm. And while this four-block event on Petchkasem Road, town center, is a colorful affair of all manner of notions and household items, it is not the kaleidoscope of goods famously found at the Chiang Mai night market. Rather, the Hua Hin night market is a great place to sample local flavors (crab curry, fried mussel omelets, and dishes with spiny lobsters and king prawns) and pick up cheap notions and apparel.
More serious shopping can be found at Hua Hin’s relatively new outlet mall called Premium Outlet, also fairly central to the city and hotel districts. The modern, squat complex could be in any city, from Des Moines to Wuhan, and the brands touted — Esprit, Rip Curl, Nike, Reebok, Calloway and others – are also ubiquitous. But given the exchange rate in Thailand, shoppers will fare much better in Hua Hin than in Peoria and find their treasures in a number of warehouse retail as well as brand-dedicated boutiques.
Agents can suggest Hua Hin for jazz buffs who want to try an exotic take on their passion. Hua Hin hosts the Hua Hin Jazz Festival every spring in May and will be celebrating its 11th year next season. This year, it was held on the beach at Centara Grand Beach Resort and Villas. While the fest often brings in popular Western acts, this year it focused on Asian jazz, including Japanese ensembles like the Jun Abe Group and Les Frères, and Indonesian pianist Nita Aartsen.
Hua Hin Beach Resorts
With its miles of white sand and beach, Hua Hin is not in short supply of beach resorts, mostly along Phekasem Road lining the pristine, five-mile shoreline of Khao Takiab Beach. These include the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, the Amari, Intercontinental, Anantara, Evason Hua Hin and Six Senses Hideaway.
This group also includes Chiva Som where all retreats include light and savory gourmet meals, choice of daily massage per night, complimentary Wellness Consultation on arrival, participation in daily fitness and leisure activities and complimentary use of the Water Therapy Suite. A choice of themed retreats (weight management, de-stress, rejuvenation and more) are available and require a three-night minimum stay. Meet and greet round trip luxury car transfers from Suvarnabhumi Airport and/or Bangkok can be arranged in the packaging. Information: visit ChivaSom.
Evason Hua Hin is a luxury product with 240 rooms within a 10-acre garden by Pak Nam Pran Beach. It offers the Earth Spa in an ambient “cave” and delivers a menu of “experiences,” such as traditional Thai cooking classes, tours of Hua Hin, golfing at local courses (Hua Hin is fast becoming a golf retreat in Thailand with nine worldclass golf courses. It hosted the Black Mountain Masters in 2009), kite surfing and visits to local national parks. Starting rates remain very reasonable, at around $115 per night. Most rates include breakfast. Contact: (66) 2631 9777.
Hyatt Regency Hua Hin offers 205 rooms on the beach with a meandering pool off the Lanna-style open lobby area. There is a Regency Club onsite and plenty of business amenities for the working/vacation guest. Onsite activities offered include Thai cooking classes. Thai boxing classes, healing herbs classes, yoga, tai chi, golf and “making merit.” The property also operates the trademark Camp Hyatt program. Local tours to elephant camps, shopping, national parks and floating markets are also on the roster. Average daily rates start at $208, with value-added packaging available. Call (66 3) 252 1234 or (888) 96 HYATT.
The 187-room Anantara is a top name in Thailand for luxury leisure properties. The Anantara Hua Hin is designed as a Thai fishing village with a lagoon and beachside swimming pool, tennis courts, and cooking school. The property offers such activities as mountain biking and elephant trekking. As with most properties in Hua Hin, The Anantara runs complimentary shuttles to town and complimentary Internet comes with the average rate of $176 per night. The property has several excellent deals available, including a weekday specials and romantic getaways for two. The property hosts the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Official Tournament each year, traditionally a five-day spectacle of polo buffs on elephant backs scooting around a big field for a bragworthy purse. The popular event has become legendary as a tourist attraction and is usually enhanced at Anantara by a complementing package. Call (66 32) 520 250.
Hua Hin Resources
For information on Hua Hin, Contact the Thailand Tourism Authority and visit: http://www.tourismthailand.org/Where-to-Go/Hua-Hin. Call: (323) 461-9814.