Pros aplenty in Hua Hin, but it’s not for everyone
Hua Hin: Thailand’s ‘first’ beach destination with a royal touch. Hua Hin is one of two 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.
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 our list of good points.
The PROS of Hua Hin – what’s good in this famous seaside town
Hua Hin is more a ‘Thai’ town, than ‘tourist’ town.
It 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 is also located here. 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 the beaches, hotels, restaurants are near-empty
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. The beaches, hotels and restaurants are all really quiet between weekends, and of course the service is that much better.
Hua Hin is an easy 2 and a half hour drive from Bangkok
Close proximity to Bangkok makes Hua Hin an ideal escape for foreign visitors with limited time. 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.
Old, popular Thai seafood restaurants over the ocean
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.
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 town.
Look in the 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.
Beachfront hotels & resorts from budget to 5-star luxury
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 the beach, while virtually all of the top-end resorts are indeed true beachfront.
The majority of mid-level hotels are also not on the beach. 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
The old town market, near the clock tower, with it’s stalls clustered in narrow streets is still going strong. 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.
New Mecca for retirees from around the world
In various lists of the world’s best places to retire, Thailand is often in the top 10. And within Thailand, Hua Hin is emerging as one of the favourite choices, particularly for northern Europeans. This seaside town has a good range of shopping malls, restaurants, golf courses and other facilities that retired people require. Plus has the leisure advantages of a beach town and is within easy driving distance of Bangkok and its airports.
Today, the growing expat communities in Hua Hin provide a good social life for different nationalities in their own languages.
As overbuilt places like Pattaya and Phuket become more crowded. We can expect to see the number of foreign retirees here grow substantially. The many new condominium developments here also give foreigners ample opportunity to own their own living space freehold.
Hua Hin offers 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.
A Drier climate gives more street life, street food
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 form the border with Myanmar and squeeze much of the rain out of the Southwest Monsoon as it sweeps over them from the Indian Ocean.
While this can hurt the local farmers, it also makes Hua Hin one of the best beach destination in Thailand to visit in the monsoon season.
With fewer rainy days than elsewhere in the country, Hua Hin has more street life and open-air activities, like markets and dining, than most Thai towns. With Thailand being a country that loves doing things outdoors at night, that means Hua Hin has lots and lots dining and other activities on the streets after dark.
Hua Hin – one of the top kite surfing beaches in Asia
Hua Hin is Thailand’s top kite surfing beach, 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.
During the northeast season from December – March a steady breeze blows across the Gulf of Thailand. Raising only small waves on this relatively small body of water. The onshore breeze gives wind surfers ideal conditions. There are many 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.
The region around Hua Hin is a 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.
A considerable number of family and other attractions in the region
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 Takiap, several night markets in the town more.
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.
Hua Hin is getting over-built, losing its traditional character
The hideous concrete blight slowly overwhelming Hua Hin is the same one affecting virtually all Thai beach destinations. Unplanned strips of development. Every major road has all trees removed. Then is sealed in by unbroken lines of concrete boxes, called commercial shop-houses. Add a tangled mass of wires above and dust, rubbish and rough footpath below. The end result is a contemporary Thai commercial centre.
Beach walls are eroding and destroying many of Hua Hin’s beaches
Building walls along the beach to keep out the ocean, and to secure your land from being eroded down in size, has always seemed like the smart thing to do. According to developers of beachfront hotels and condos. It has generally been the very first thing they build. Despite that today we know it is those walls themselves that initiate the erosion that then destroys the beaches.
The 33-kilometre strip of almost unbroken beach from Cha-Am to Hua Hin’s Khao Takiap is almost entirely walled in. And the erosion of sand is a severe problem in many places. Following big storms, the sand will disappear sometimes completely from kilometres of coastline, causing huge distress. Sometimes it comes back over the course of a year, sometimes not.
There are many stretches of this coastline with no beach whatsoever at high tide, just waves splashing against the walls. Then, come low water and there may be hundreds of metres of exposed sand banks in front. Considering the strange tides of the Gulf of Thailand that bring only two tides each 24 hours, this can mean no beach all day during some months, or no water and only dry sand banks all day at other times.
It’s a serious problem, and the direct result of human ignorance and greed.
Weekend crowds from Bangkok descend upon Hua Hin
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 each Friday night.
‘Others’ includes expat families of all nationalities; buses of Thai students heading for cheap flop houses; couples on motorcycles and groups in the back of pick-up trucks. During high season weekends Hua Hin’s central beach looks quite crowded. Finding a parking space within walking distance of the beach is a huge headache.
Unlike most cities, Hua Hin suffers its heaviest traffic, and downtown traffic jams, on Saturdays and Sundays. Beware, driving between Hua Hin and Bangkok on Friday evenings and Sundays often becomes dangerous. Highways become crowded with frustrated, and sometimes angry, drivers.
Fresh seafood is not as fresh as it once was
Seafood is no longer what it used to be, fresh: I’ve said it before for other beach destinations like Koh Samui. Nor is it in Phuket, Samui, Pattaya nor Hua Hin.
So few fish remain in Thailand’s waters that the huge Thai fishing fleets has now fanned out across the world. Boats supplying Thailand are typically at sea for weeks at a time. Storing their catch on ice. The sadly depressed, discoloured eyes that stare back from the fish markets tell stories of long ocean journeys.
And Hua Hin suffers the double indignity of having little but squid in its own waters in the upper Gulf of Thailand. It has to truck in those long-iced, ocean fish from major fishing ports.
More high-rise condos, less sun, fewer good resorts
As more and more high-rise condominium towers rise along Hua Hin’s long coastline, beachfront resorts fight for space, peace and sun. And as Bangkokians becomes wealthier, they travel more. Hua Hin also becomes ever more congested and the quality of life lowers.
Lowering quality of life in the capital powers the rise of ever-more condos in Hua Hin and Cha Am. More beachfront resorts thus find dark shadows creeping across them. Lowering their star-status and deterring repeat stays from guests.
Beaches & water have pollution problems
Hua Hin is famous as a beach destination, but is not famous for its beach. It’s the complete package here, including its lifestyle attributes, that has made this town famous and loved by many.
The beaches in Hua Hin are just mediocre. They have none of the stunning tropical beauty associated with Thai beaches on the southern islands or the Andaman coast.
The government’s pollution control division has assessed the water quality as 3-star from a possible 5-star best. A level that suggests it is just OK to swim in safely. All beaches high in the Gulf of Thailand suffer from the vast quantities of pollution cast into waterways throughout the country. A plastic bag discarded carelessly in Chiang Mai might eventually be washed down river. Passing through Bangkok, into the Gulf and end up ashore on a Hua Hin beach.
Beach access is poor along most of Hua Hin’s long coastline
A reasonable number of lanes give access to Hua Hin’s beaches from the main highway, Phetchkasem road. 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.
Then, if a family does manage to park in one of these lanes there is no open, public space close to the beach. It’s onto the sand directly. Which may be scorching hot. Or, if it’s high tide, the sand may have completely disappeared underwater. The kind of open public space by the beach found in Cha-Am, Phetchaburi and other places does not exist in Hua Hin.
Public beach facilities are almost non-existent
Hua Hin offers no wide public access to the beach of the kind found in Cha-Am. Which is where thousands of local families picnic by the sand each weekend.
Here there is just one seaside park where families can access the sand and water; that’s Queens Park just north of the royal palace. And here this is a high wall between land and sand. Visitors are required to use stairs to get down to the water.
At high tide the sand is completely submerged. So there’s no beach for the kids to play on half of the time. The park has a few trees, but not enough to shade many people in the heat of the day. Thus leaving the city’s only oceanside park little-used.
It’ a sad situation for the great majority who cannot afford accommodation in a beachfront hotel.
And that’s a wrap on the pros and cons of Hua Hin. I hope it helped you to decide if it’s a destination you’d like to visit in Thailand.
It’s ideal 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. But not ideal if you prefer to swim in the sea. Or have a picture book palm fringed beach on your doorstep. For that you should head to one of the many islands in Thailand.