Hua Hin Travel Guide.
Hua Hin is one of two major beach resorts within two hours drive of Bangkok – the distinctly quieter one. Pattaya, directly across the Gulf from here, is its action-packed, distant cousin. It is Thailand’s ‘first’ beach destination with a royal touch.
But Hua Hin is far from remote, and there are quite a few things to do here. This is a favourite of Bangkok families, Thai and expat, with thousands flocking here each weekend. This place is particularly suitable for those looking for a more ‘Thai’ experience. Check out the good (and not so good) aspects in this Hua Hin travel guide.
What We Love About Hua Hin
Hua Hin is more a ‘Thai’ town, than ‘tourist’ town
This Hua Hin travel guide hopes to show you that the town is unlike any other beach destination in Thailand, being a distinctly ‘Thai’ resort.
It was originally built as an escape from Bangkok for Thais. Even nowadays, it is still used by many more Thais than foreigners. A long-established royal palace, Klai Kangwon Palace, which was used extensively by King Rama IX, is also located here. It was built for Thai kings to escape the pressures of Bangkok. The strong foreign presence in Hua Hin is muted by the Thai flavour more than in any other major beach resort in the country.
Of the foreign faces you will see in Hua Hin a large number are those of retirees. Hua Hin is a major destination for retirees from Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries.
On Weekdays it’s Quiet
Since the major clientele of Hua Hin hotels and resorts are Thais escaping Bangkok on weekends, most have low occupancy during the week days. It makes an interesting contrast for foreign visitors not tied to work schedules. And also provides long quiet breaks after each Saturday – Sunday rush and crush. Hua Hin beach, the hotels and restaurants are all really quiet between weekends, and of course the service is that much better.
Hua Hin is near Bangkok
Close proximity to Bangkok makes Hua Hin an ideal escape for foreign visitors with limited time. It’s around two and a half hours drive south from the capital. Great for anyone wishing to add a few days on the beach to a Bangkok holiday. Hua Hin’s quiet ambiance is also a big contrast to wild, wild Pattaya, the other choice close to Bangkok. Many Bangkok taxis will make the run to Hua Hin in two hours or so if you avoid Bangkok’s rush hour.
It’s also possible to take a train. Hua Hin Railway Station is a small, beautifully restored 19th century station. A real step back in time. However, taking the train to Hua hin is slower than driving.
Popular Seafood Restaurants
Eating at the over-water restaurants in the heart of Hua Hin is a grand tradition. One that has been followed for generations by Bangkok residents escaping for the weekend. An evening meal, in one of the half dozen stilted restaurants that cover a central sector of Hua Hin beach, is an integral part of a visit here.
In recent years the traffic and difficulties of parking in the crowded inner streets has forced some families to seek alternate seafood restaurants. But still the restaurants here boom each weekend. Try them, and be assured of getting 100% authentic Thai dishes.
Small Bar Area
Hua Hin is sometimes called a ‘royal’ resort, or a more traditionally Thai one. However, despite its elite origins there is also a small beer and girlie bar scene here. A kind of soft-core, red-light area. It seems appropriate that in so a revered town the neon bar sign with female figures should be tucked out of sight, especially since it’s in the heart of Hua Hin.
If you’re interested, wander around the narrow small backstreets behind the Hilton Hua Hin Hotel and the famous over-water seafood restaurants – between there and the large Buddhist monastery along the main street.
Good Range of Accommodation
Hua Hin offers quaint little guesthouses, mid-range family hotels, romantic boutique resorts and luxurious 5-star resorts. The smaller, cheaper bungalows and guesthouses are generally not on Hua Hin beach, while virtually all of the top-end resorts are indeed true beachfront.
The majority of mid-level hotels are also not by the sea. Beware, for some of the roads that need to be crossed are big and busy. Surely the best-known luxury beach resort in Hua Hin is that right on the beach in the middle of the town. One began life as the colonial-era Railway Hotel, now renovated but maintaining its traditional style, the Centara Grand Beach Resort Hua Hin.
Great Night Markets
Hua Hin night market, near the old clock tower, with it’s stalls clustered in narrow streets is still going strong. It’s always a good spot for a cheap seafood dinner. However, just out of the centre, the new Cicada night market is now a major draw for residents and tourists. It’s a very pleasant place to grab some food, listen to live music or do some shopping.
Excellent, Authentic Thai food
For those who love real Thai food, Hua Hin has a lot of offer. Here is one of the few beach holiday destinations in Thailand with really high standards in the local cuisine. The reason is simple – restaurants here reply mainly on Thai customers, not foreign tourists. Thai food is invariably corrupted in beach destinations where foreign tourists are the main clientele. Many tourists demand the spicing and flavours be dumbed down, and as cooks try to satisfy different palates.
Not in Hua Hin. Most restaurants here have to serve dishes with authentic Thai tastes, and be good at it, or go out of business in this most competitive of industries. Hua Hin night market is another great place to try a multitude of inexpensive Thai snacks and desserts.
A Dry Climate
Hua Hin is one of the driest places in Thailand. It lies in a mini rain shadow created by the mountain range that starts just 20 kilometres to the back. These mountains both from the border with Myanmar and squeeze much of the rain out of the Southwest Monsoon as it sweeps over them from the Indian Ocean.
This makes Hua Hin beach one of the best destinations in Thailand to visit in the monsoon season. It has fewer rainy days than elsewhere in the country.
One of the Best Kite Surfing Beaches in Asia
Hua Hin beach is home to Thailand’s burgeoning kite surfing scene. It is, by far, and one of the best in Asia. Perhaps second in popularity and number of kites in the air only to Vietnam’s famed Mui Ne Beach.
There are many kite surfing schools set up along the beach, with new learners taking to the water each day. The number of kites in the skies at one time can reach the hundreds, providing a real spectacle.
Top Golfing Destination with 10 Courses
Thai men love golf, foreign tourists and retirees love golf. Hua Hin is well set up to cater to them with ten courses within 30 minutes drive of downtown.
With 20 kilometre strip of land between ocean and mountains being very flat, many of the courses here are too. However, there are a few exceptionally interesting ones which are found built on more interesting terrain either by the ocean or in the hills.
Family Friendly Attractions
Hua Hin is fast maturing as a holiday destination, with ever-more attractions and things to do opening here. When bored of the beach, hire a car and start driving – either that or rent a car and driver, for things are well scattered.
For Thai families the most important attractions are surely the various monasteries, with Wat Huay Monkol being by far the major site for Buddhist pilgrimage. But for sheer entertainment there are those many golf courses, two water parks, a floating market, a seafood market and restaurants by Khao Takiab, several night markets in the town more.
Vana Nava Water Park is located adjacent to Hua Hin Holiday Inn, just 5 minutes from the centre of town. Black Mountain Water Park is 10km from Hua Hin, near the well known Black Mountain Golf Course. Both offer a fun-filled day for families and anyone needing to escape the heat. Both parks feature water slides, a wave pool, lazy river, kids’ pool, and more.
A great day trip is the drive to the magnificent Phraya Nakhon Cave. This gold and green pavilion is hidden inside a hard to reach cave around 45 minutes drive south of Hua Hin. Phraya Nakhon Cave is located in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. It’s also possible to take a boat trip in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park to see the monkeys that inhabit the mangroves and love to swim and catch crabs.
One of the biggest attractions in Hua Hin is Khao Takiab. This hill at the southern end of Hua Hin beach is home to a hilltop temple. Visitors can walk to the top where there are awesome panoramic views of the city and beach. However, it’s also home to troops of monkeys that will try to steal any food or drink you are carrying. Take care!
For the more adventurous visitor, Kaeng Krachan National Park near the border with Myanmar. Around an hour drive from downtown Hua Hin. It is the largest national park in Thailand and is home to a huge variety of animals. Kaeng Krachan National Park is very popular for wildlife watching, camping and hiking.
The Downsides of Hua Hin
Yes, of course there are negative points in every place. Though sometimes it is just a matter of taste if a particular attribute is positive or negative. But there are some things that virtually everyone agrees are negatives. Like the traffic jams or pollution for example.
Because it is high in the Gulf of Thailand, the beaches are far from the best in Thailand. The important thing for new visitors is to understand the place well, before making holiday decisions.
Losing its Traditional Character
The hideous concrete blight slowly overwhelming Hua Hin is the same one affecting virtually all Thai beach destinations. Every major road has all trees removed. Add shophouses and a tangled mass of wires above and dust, rubbish and rough footpath below. The end result is a contemporary Thai commercial centre devoid of character. There are small pockets of old Hua Hin remaining, notably Hua Hin Railway Station and the royal palaces such as
Hua Hin’s five quiet days between weekends are a pleasant respite for the local residents, including the thousands of foreigners now in retirement here. But be prepared for the influx of Thai families and others from Bangkok every Friday night all year round. During high season weekends Hua Hin’s central beach looks quite crowded.
Unlike most cities, Hua Hin suffers its heaviest traffic, and downtown traffic jams, on Saturdays and Sundays not weekdays.
Lack of Public Beach Access
A reasonable number of lanes give access to Hua Hin’s beaches from the main highway. But these are so narrow and restrictive that a car cannot even turn around in most. They must reverse out the way they entered. When two or more cars want to move in or out, they can be in for a real jam. There is no public cark park along any beach near Hua Hin.
The kind of open public space by the beach found in Cha-Am or even Jomtien beach, Pattaya doesn’t exist in near Hua Hin.
And that’s a wrap on the pros and cons of Hua Hin. I hope this travel guide has helped you to decide if it’s a destination you’d like to visit in Thailand.
It’s great if you just want to chill by a pool; take a long stroll on the beach; do some kite-boarding or enjoy the great weather with friends in one of many hotels in Hua Hin.
But not ideal if you prefer to swim in the sea. Or stay in a beach bungalow resort. Or have a pristine palm fringed beach on your doorstep. For that you should head to one of the many islands in Thailand.