The Attractions Of The
My first impression of the Hin wasn't
one of fascination. The bus dropped me off on the main
street of Phetchakasem, I found a local hotel, and walked
the short distance into town. I saw a
McDonald's, a Burger King, and a Subway all within minutes
of each other. This was the quaint 'untouched' fishing
I moved to a local condominium near the beach to pursue
the kiteboarding. By day, I kited, and by night, I
investigated what seemed like very lame night life. I
was far from sold on Hua Hin.
Then, just three weeks
before my condo lease expired and I was scheduled to leave --
for good -- I was introduced to a
marvelous woman recently relocated to Hua Hin for work
and a whirlwind romance began.
Shortly thereafter, I informally moved into the townhouse
where she lived. Three weeks later, her parents showed
up and stayed for 3 months. I made myself scarce
during this period, traveling through Cambodia and Borneo,
but after they left, I made the complicated and lifechanging decision to relocate to Hua Hin and move in
with her and her son permanently. Only then did Hua
Hin's true charms become apparent. Little did I
know at the time but my de facto adoption into the family by
this woman and her son was part of the charm.
Hua Hin's appeal:
Kiteboarding along the 5 km beach (left) and golfing
on its more than half dozen professional and
economical courses (middle) can be as little as 10
minutes away; (far right) Doug sits in Plearn
Wan, Hua Hin's living museum of shops that look like
a relic from the country's past
To the casual and younger tourist in Thailand for a only a few weeks,
Hua Hin won't show up on their reality map, and indeed, whenever I saw
younger travelers around Hua Hin during my first two months there, I
questioned what they were doing there if they weren't interested in kiteboarding.
The Hin caters, predominantly, to two segments. The first is
wealthier Thais from Bangkok who've got second homes and come down
for the weekends and the holidays. The second is retired
foreigners, mostly Europeans, who relocate to the Hin permanently or
come while it's winter in Europe.
Take a cue from the King. He decided to live in Hua Hin fulltime.
Coming as a tourist can be relaxing, with great out-of-season deals on beach front hotels
and pool villas. We stayed in
one in 2007 and
another in 2011, and
economical beach front accommodation deals are probably why foreign
tourists continue to visit. The younger foreigners I've known to
come visit (who weren't there to visit me) complained that the Hin was
boring. What did it offer? Looking at individual elements,
it looks like they may have a point. The Hua Hin beach on the Gulf
of Thailand is nice, but there are prettier and cleaner beaches on the
Andaman Coast. Hua Hin has some good restaurants, but I can count
the ones I frequented regularly on one hand. The shopping
has gotten better in recent days, with a Power Buy and an IT Mall
opening up, but until around 2009, if you needed a reasonably priced
power adapter or a new computer, you had to go to Bangkok.
Hua Hin reigns supreme as a permanent living environment or a place to
spend a large chunk of time. Short stayers don't remain long
enough to comprehend this. I sure didn't during my first two months
there. What it does have:
You're never far from the beach. We lived 2 minutes away by foot.
Hua Hin and the surrounding towns (Cha Am to the north, Pranburi to the
south) are located along the beach. The main beach running from
the town center to Khao Takiap gets the most traffic and can get busy,
but not jam packed, on the weekends during the high season. Drive
further south and there are nice beaches at
Suan Son and
Sai Noi on the way to relatively undeveloped Pranburi, also home to
a stretch of untouched beach.
Except for holidays weekends and the occasional festival, the
traffic is rarely bad. Roads are being widened.
the dearth of parking in the center of town, getting around by motorbike
is easier than by car.
The town is compact and running errands is quick. Anywhere
you're likely to go shopping is near all the other places.
Contrast that to Bangkok where you may have to visit 3 or 4 locations
spread out further.
Drive ten minutes out of town and you're in the country,
where you truly feel like you're in Thailand.
While not offering the amenities, night clubs, and chic
star spots of Bangkok, Hua Hin still has plenty to pamper yourselves.
There are spas. Every June, there's a jazz festival.
There are enough quality restaurants covering a wide range of cuisines:
Indian, Italian, seafood, Isaan, Mexican. When I first got there,
there was a decent bakery or two, but now that's expanded, and you can
get yourself a great coffee and piece of banoffee pie together for about
USD 4. The Hilton offers an all-you-can-eat dim sum brunch for
under USD 16. A Sunday brunch right along the
beach at the
Hyatt Regency Hua Hin's McFarland House for USD 35 will
be a memorable occasion I guarantee you'll be praising me
for long after the kids and grandkids are grown, and you're
reminiscing about whimsical episodes in your youth.
You're only two-and-a-half to three hours from Bangkok.
It's easy to catch international flights, go in for a day trip, or stay
for a wild weekend.
Just writing about it, I'm reminded about
how much Hua Hin offers. It's a town of only 50,000
inhabitants (80,000 in high season), and yet it's more chic, more
cosmopolitan, and offers a better quality of life, in my esteemed
opinion, than U.S. cities with over 100,000 inhabitants. I can
speak from experience on this point. I grew up in such a town. I
had no beach or splendid golf courses. I couldn't do all my
shopping in under an hour on a motorbike. Our town didn't boast
Hin Hin isn't a paradise for everyone. Retirees like its
pace of life and that same, slow pace also makes it extremely suitable
for raising a young family. The young and single find the place
yawn inducing. They want stimulating night life, social clubs,
activities, and Hua Hin doesn't offer that. I've met more than
a few foreigners who've grown tired of Hua Hin after 2 or 3 years and
want something else. There are
English-language programs available for grade school children at very reasonable prices, the
tuition fees per year costing less than the school bus fee alone at an
international school in Bangkok, but the schools aren't great, and I
often heard from parents with older children that once Joey or Himesh
reached a certain age, they were going to send him/her to school in
Bangkok. For university, college students can attend
American-accredited Webster University of Stamford International
University. Thai institutions Suan Dusit University and Rajabhat
University have campuses here. As I've already stressed that
Hua Hin can seem uninteresting to the young and single, I question why
someone of university of age would opt to come all the way here for an
education that isn't that great.
I am biased, admittedly. Going to Hua Hin completely changed my
life. Would a visit there change yours?