Thailand's Genteel Beach
In the early 1920s King Prajadhipok decided to build a summer retreat from Bangkok's politics and from its soaring pre-monsoon temperatures and high humidity. He chose to build his new palace near the tranquil fishing village of Hua Hin, and the place hasn't looked back since. He named it 'Klai Kangwon', which means 'Far from Worries', a name that could not have been more inappropriate as, whilst on holiday here in 1932, he was toppled from power in a typically-Thai bloodless coup that replaced nearly 700 years of absolute monarchy with a constitutional one.
Over the following years Hua Hin became a holiday destination for the court and nobility and later, after the building of the southern railway, it evolved into the kingdom's first beach resort.
Early guide-books dubbed the resort Hua Hin-on-Sea, as in the 1930's Hua Hin was a bit like a Thai version of an English seaside town. This historical similarity, plus the presence of salty water, are the only things that Hua Hin has in common with English towns such as Blackpool. For travellers who like to be stung in the eyes by cold rain, eat greasy food and battle it out with lager louts, our advice is to go to Blackpool.
Hua Hin lies at a similarly close distance from Bangkok as does Pattaya, so for visitors with only a short time in the kingdom both are possible destinations. The two resorts, however, cater to entirely different visitors' needs. Whilst Pattaya is wild and hedonistic, Hua Hin is a place where quieter, usually older people prefer to spend their holidays and to buy holiday homes. Whilst the standards of its resorts, spas, golf and cuisine are at least as high as those in Pattaya, Hua Hin is a much cleaner place, in every sense of the word.
Young adults will surely get bored of its genteel atmosphere and early closing times, and there are better theme parks to amuse young children in Pattaya. Budget travelers will dislike the high prices and lack of a youth culture. Hua Hin is not a very exciting place, but for holiday-makers after peace and quiet and who don't have long in the kingdom, its proximity to Bangkok make it the best choice.
The 5 kilometre long beach is wide and as relatively clean as is the sea. A little south of the Marriott, check out the tiny sand crabs digging away industriously and leaving convoluted patterns in the sand around their beachfront residences. Visitors can rent a pony for a ride down the beach, but are advised to treat with skepticism claims by the owners that these animals are strong enough to carry average-sized Western men, as they are about the same size as the ponies 12 year old English girls typically ride to gymkanas.
Golf is extremely popular in Hua Hin and the area has seven international-standard courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus. There are a number of first class spas in and around the town, of which the most famous is the spa at the Chiva Som Resort, pioneers in holistic health services who thankfully don't use that annoying word 'wellness' to describe what they do.
Kaeng Krachan National Park, 63 kilometres north of the town, is Thailand's largest and supposedly supports populations of elephants and tigers. Visitors are, however, rather more likely to see much smaller wildlife, such as the myriad butterflies that flutter around the 11-tier Pa La-U waterfall, accessed via trails through the virgin rain-forest.