Hua Hin might not be as well known as Phuket or Koh Samui, but this wonderful city which sits opposite Pattaya on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand has become very popular with travellers who don’t want the over-development characteristic of Phuket, or the gaudy, in your face nightlife of Pattaya. It is notably more sedate, being popular with Thai holidaymakers and even the Thai royal family who maintained a residence in the city and is a great value destination with a fantastic, 4km long beach. The city offers a more authentic Thai experience than some of Thailand’s other, more touristy destinations and as such is a bit more laid back, but there’s still enough to see and do to keep you busy during a two-week vacation. Also, it’s less than three hours drive from the capital so has become a popular weekend getaway for locals and expats alike. With a wealth of shopping and dining options, bars and nightclubs, markets and attractions, you will be unlikely to find yourself bored in Hua Hin. Here are the top 5 things to do during your visit.
Hua Hin Beach
Undeniably the greatest attraction for most visitors to Hua Hin, this beautiful, 4km long white sand beach with clean and clear water is ideal for swimming or just relaxing and topping up your tan. Unlike some of the other, more popular beaches in Thailand, this one doesn’t get as busy or as noisy and most visitors will find it very pleasant. Activities on offer include horse riding, jet-skiing, waterskiing, canoeing and parasailing, and when you’ve had enough there are plenty of restaurants and bars with tables and chairs on the beach serving super-fresh seafood. There are notably fewer touts and vendors on Hua Hin beach than, say, Chaweng or Patong making for an altogether more relaxing experience, plus because Hua Hin is relatively compact, you may well be able to stroll to the beach from your hotel. Don’t miss it.
This palace, built by King Rama VI in 1923, is located around halfway between Hua Hin and Cha-Am and is constructed from locally-sourced Thai teak. It was a seaside retreat for the then king, who suffered from arthritis as at the time it was believed that the sea air was beneficial and would help with his condition. Unfortunately, the sea air did not help him and he sadly died 2 years later. There are three groups of buildings in the complex, connected with covered wooden walkways, all built out of hardwood in a colonial-style (the designer was an Italian). Set in delightfully manicured gardens, the buildings are no longer used as a royal residence, but have been converted into a museum housing many royal artefacts, old photographs and paintings. It’s about 20 minutes from Hua Hin in a taxi, but admission is free (modest dress is required to enter the buildings).
Khao Takiab, also known as “Chopsticks Hill” is a hill at the northern end of the beach. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb the steps to the temple at the top of the hill, and get the best view of Hua Hin and the surrounding area. In addition to the temple, there is a small lake with several restaurants serving very good quality seafood and several other restaurants dotted around the hill, with most serving up Thai food and a few offering western staples such as pizzas, pasta and hamburgers. The hill and surrounding area are home to hundreds of mischievous monkeys, if you’re travelling with children they’ll love getting the chance to feed them, just take care of your belongings as they can and will try to grab anything. Once you’ve visited the temple, had lunch and fed the monkeys, then the Cicada Market is only a couple of kilometres north, or Khao Takiab beach is a few minutes walk south.
Phraya Nakhon Caves
This cave complex is arguably the most stunning in Thailand and offers incredible photo opportunities that will wow your friends. It’s located around 60km south of the city, a taxi can get you there in about 45 minutes but don’t let that put you off, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get a chance to see anything like this again. After a fairly steep climb, you will descend into the first of two caves before crossing a stone bridge into the second cave, where you will be greeted with a spectacular and mystical sight. The roof of the cave has an opening and during the daytime, shafts of sunlight come down and illuminate a stunning gold and green Thai pavilion building at the bottom of the cave. It’s an amazing sight, and after all that exertion, there are a couple of restaurants nearby where you can grab a meal and a drink. For the best photo opportunities, you’ll want to arrive in the morning, and you’ll need to pay an admission fee of 200 baht ($6.60) per person.
The Venezia Hua Hin
A vast shopping and dining complex designed to look like Venice, complete with an artificial canal and gondola rides; The Venezia is not exactly what you’d expect to find in Hua Hin. With hundreds of shops and restaurants and numerous activities for children to enjoy, you could easily spend half a day or even more here. There are dozens of interesting statues, artworks and a 3D gallery along with the usual fairground rides, a mini train to ride and lots of great photo opportunities as well as some fantastic restaurants, but expect prices to be a little inflated due to the location. Part theme park and part open-air shopping mall, it’s certainly an interesting experience and well worth going if you are travelling with children. Note that there is a (very low) entrance fee and that you will need to pay for any of the rides/attractions on top, and be warned; it gets very hot during the daytime so it’s best to try and arrive late afternoon (The Venezia is open from 10 am until 7 pm daily).