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Hua Hin
The paradise that creeps up on you


"I came to Hua Hin almost as a reluctant afterthought, but it completely changed my life.  Four years later, I was still there and had to be dragged away."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


It's February 2007.  I am relaxing on a tranquil beach on Koh Phangan after having completed a week-long detoxification regimen.  Looking through a local travel booklet advertising attractions and accommodation I noticed a company on the island promoting kiteboarding lessons.  Only three months before this, I had been vainly trying to surf on non-existent waves in Coolangatta, Queensland.  In the distance, I could see a kiteboarder skirting across the water without the need for waves, and I vowed to myself whenever I had the time, I would learn that sport.

I almost learned it in Koh Phangan.  Back then, there was only one school on the island, and it was located on a stretch between the island's two biggest 'towns', not the ideal places I'd like to be if I were going to stay on the island.  So I went online and researched other locations in Thailand where I might pick up the sport, and Hua Hin came up as a possibility.

Hua Hin

Mountains, beaches, golf, kiting, windsurfing, and clean air

I'd never heard of the place.  I looked it up in my outdated guidebook and barely a page was devoted to Hua Hin.  It was noted as a historic fishing village.  No mention was made that Rama VI liked Hua Hin so much that he built a summer palace here or that the current king (as of 2011) makes the Hin his full-time residence.  Hua Hin has to be worthy of something for the King of Thailand to spend the majority of time during his twilight years here. 

 
The Attractions Of The Hin

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 village? 

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. 


kiteboarding Hua Hin Palm Hills Plearn Wan
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:

Pala U Waterfall  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. With 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 eclectic restaurants.

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?


 

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Fascinating Ideas You Could Care Less About

  Hua Hin has so many gdam attractions. Want to see monkeys? Then hike Monkey Mountain. The King of Thailand loves it here and has a palace. He goes kiteboarding and golfing near the beach at Takiap. Sometimes he visits nearby Cha Am, Pranburi, and Plearn Wan