Hua Hin, Thailand
Hua Hin is a seaside resort on the Gulf of Thailand, in the southern Thai province of Prachuap Khiri Khan. Once a quiet fishing village, it grew into a fashionable escape for residents of Bangkok after the 1920s, when the Thai royal family built summer palaces here. Hua Hin Beach, popular for kitesurfing and other water sports, is the main stretch of sand, lined with high-end hotels and seafood shacks.
Hua Hin’s inevitable rise to become Thailand’s first glamorous getaway began in 1922 when King Rama VII instructed his Italian architect to construct Phra Ratchawang Klai Kangwon (‘Far from Worries’ Palace) in what was then just a humble fishing village. Today’s royal family still commutes regularly to the palace to unwind from the pressures of keeping the army and politicians in line in Bangkok. Rama VII’s endorsement made the town the place for be for Thai society, and Hua Hin, (like Cha-am), settled into a low-key role as a favourite spot for holidaying Thais.
In the 1980s the renovation of the Hua Hin Railway Hotel by the luxury hotel group Sofitel sparked overseas interest and ignited development geared towards foreigners. Today all the big hotel chains have properties in Hua Hin, and in recent years a growing number of expats have chosen to live in the seaside town that’s fast-forwarding to become one of Thailand’s most cosmopolitan cities. High-rise condominiums and planned housing subdivisions are creeping across the surrounding hinterland, and French, Italian, German and Scandinavian restaurants create a little slice of home for sun-kissed escapees from the European winter.
With rapid development comes challenges, and Hua Hin has witnessed the growth of a small sex industry, and the fishing-village ambience of the old piers is largely masked by hotels, restaurants and tailor shops. Development has encroached onto government land, and trying to spot the sea is a frustrating exercise along many parts of the beach road.
Despite the development Hua Hin is bravely clinging to the beachside atmosphere that kicked things off back in 1922. Compared to Pattaya, the other main beach destination near Bangkok, Hua Hin is (relatively) serene, and is a favourite with families and older travellers. Don’t come looking for a party-at-all-costs backpacker scene. Instead you can fill your time with 18 holes at the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course or go horseback riding on the beach. After dark there’s a cosmopolitan restaurant scene to explore, rustic seafood restaurants on the pier to visit, or the simple culinary charms of one of Thailand’s best night markets to sample. The city’s 5km of beaches are the cleanest they’ve been for many years, swimming is safe, and Hua Hin continues to enjoy some of the peninsula’s driest weather.
And the following day when you’re relaxing on a deckchair drinking cold beer and steamed crab, you might think not much has changed in Hua Hin after all.