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Hua Hin

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Hua Hin has developed at quite a pace in recent times. Once the preserve of well-to-do Thais and select few foreigners, recent years have seen a major boom in building, both resorts, apartments and houses. The skyline now has a multitude of high rise condominiums, hotels and resorts. However, Hua Hin is one of the oldest, if not the actual oldest, beach resort in Thailand. Still, just because Hua Hin is "Thailand's oldest beach resort" doesn't mean it's Thailand's best -- it's not. It is still popular with Bangkokians and Thailand's royal family, it has been a resort since the beginning of the twentieth century, today the town is popular with foreign retirees, tour groups and Bangkokians escaping the heat and dust of the Thai capital some 200km north of here.

Hua Hin first appeared on the tourist map in the 1920's with the opening of the Thai-Malaysia train line -- the line runs very close to the coastline here, with Hua Hin train station only a couple of hundred metres from the water's edge, and it isdefinitely one of Thailand's finest. The location's beach -- at that time a largely undeveloped stretch of almost white sand -- made for a perfect rest-stop during the long journey south, and once the Railway Hotel (now the Sofitel Central Hua Hin) was constructed, there was a perfect place to stay as well.

The 1920's also saw the Thai royal family take a fancy to Hua Hin with the construction of Wang Klai Klangwon (Far From Worries Palace) under King Rama VII's watchful eye. Unfortunately the palace didn't help keep the worries at bay, and King Rama VII was in residence at Wang Klai Klangwon in 1932 when a coup in Bangkok brought Thailand's absolute monarchy to an end. In the past the palace has been open to the public when royalty is not in residence, but Thailand's current King now lives there full time so, unless you're on first name terms with the King, chances are you'll not be seeing inside.

With a fishing village heritage, a fine hotel and a royal seal of approval, Hua Hin developed over the subsequent decades into a very popular destination, but today it's past its prime and has shifted gears -- developing now into more of a retirement destination than a tourist hot spot. Indeed Hua Hin, as with nearby Cha-Am and Pranburi sees rising popularity as a place for foreigners to buy real estate in the form of condominiums (which, unlike land and houses, can be purchased outright by foreign citizens, with certain conditions) rather than as a place to go on holiday to.

The heart of the town is wedged between the train station and the beach, with the Sofitel to the south and the large fishing pier to the north. Everything within this area is within walking distance. The most interesting part of Hua Hin are the old squid piers that now house a bunch of (admittedly very ramshackle) cheap guesthouses -- this is the heart of the old fishing village Hua Hin, but you only have to walk fifty metres from here to be surrounded by tourist restaurants, bars and shops.

On the topic of accommodation, while Hua Hin is a less popular stop among independent travellers and backpackers, there's nevertheless a fine array of inexpensive guesthouses and cheap hotels to choose from -- especially clustered around the Soi 67 area in the southern reaches of town. Most of the options in the centre of town are either mid-range family orientated hotels or more upmarket digs.

When you first arrive in town you will be amazed that so much fits into a relatively small space. There are all the trappings of modern commercial cities, all the major multinational franchises are represented in town. McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and any number of pizza joints and coffee houses all vie for space along the main drag in town. If you want modern western comforts, fast food and coffee then you will not be disappointed. Also, it would be remiss not to mention tailors at this point. Hua Hin is riddled with tailor shops. Seemingly every 10 metres there is another tailor shop house. We counted at least 20 tailors in town. This is an extraordinary high percentage of tailors for the space available. The associated touts and annoying sales tactics are one side of Hua Hin which may bother some (but obviously works on others due to the huge number in operation).

Hua Hin boasts all the amenities of a modern Thai town, there is a train station, a bus station and an airport (which only services private flights now). There is a large central Post Office, Police Station and regular local government facilities. There is also on Phetkasem Road, a Thai/foreigner help centre which is useful for anyone staying any length of time.

For a town of this size, Hua Hin has a ridiculous number of foreign eateries and bars and there's a growing number of rather seedy establishments that would be more at home in Pattaya or Patong, but regardless of that, if you've a hankering for cheap western food, you'll not starve. If trawling seedy joints is your thing, then the town has what you need, just bear in mind that with the seedy side of life there is certainly more risk. Thefts, druggings and skullduggery are definitely features of this side of life in Hua Hin (and the rest of the seedier resorts in Thailand). As for traditional Thai food, having fishing village roots generally translates into good seafood, but in Hua Hin's case you're better off heading south to Ao Takiap -- a ten minute drive away -- for very good -- and more reasonably priced fare.

The best stretch of Hua Hin's beach sits in front of the Sofitel and Central Hotels, but is densely packed with deckchairs and touts -- the hassle factor is substantial, so if being offered a massage, a beer and a pineapple every five minutes bothers you, head further down the beach -- the further you go, the quieter it gets. Better still, hire a motorbike and head further afield -- the beaches in the surrounds are good and far less busy than the main strip at Hua Hin proper.

Hua Hin also serves as a good base for visiting the nearby Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and Kaeng Krachan National Park (though the latter is more conveniently visited from Phetburi). Organised tours are available throughout town, or if you've your own transport, they're straightforward to reach.

For live music fans, the Hua Hin Jazz Festival (held in June annually) is worth noting in your diary. See the Hua Hin Jazz Festival website - for more information.

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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.

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