Just three hours south of Bangkok, Hua Hin has been the resort residence of Thai royalty for decades. With the arrival of the Hilton in the 90s, Hua Hin began to attract mass tourism from Europe and China, and with it, the inevitable building boom dedicated to bringing in package tours. Condos, high-rise hotels and swank shopping malls have transformed this once sleepy fishing village; Hua Hin is in very real danger of losing its original charm. One hold-out – The Centara Grand Beach resort, complete with topiary and staff in pith helmets and jodhpurs, is a high-end and cultured nod to the past.
The broad white beach is still a major draw, but the historic area around the fishing pier is slated for demolition. Apparently, the plan is to take out that whole area, and put in a boardwalk with upgraded shops and restaurants. Needless to say, this is not sitting well with the locals.
Naresdamri’s seafront is filled with piers like this, offering waterfront seafood restaurants
An example of the original shopfronts that are in danger of disappearing
We walked out to the end of the main fishing pier (which will remain intact). This young boy sat in a lineup of fishing rods, carefully baiting his hook.
Buckets of beautiful, white squid being cleaned, right on the dock.
Fishing boats grounded by low tide.
Hua Hin is a love it or hate it kind of place, and our first impressions were not that great. At first glance, it is a bit of an overgrown, tacky town, with sleazy commerce front and centre. Beautiful young Thai women and much older white men are a common sight. Sex tourism is a huge thing in Thailand, and while I don’t want to start a debate about the ethics of men exploiting women’s dire economic states, I find it stomach-turning. A number of blocks in the centre core come alive at night; it is not so much a stroll as a scene. Even Stephen and I were solicited, which really does prove there is something for everyone here. We laughed, they laughed back.
Massage parlours line the streets – one needs to be a little careful about choosing. The girls tend to sit outside and call out, “hello, massage.” Prices run about the same – $10-$15 an hour – but the credentials bear checking out first. Chances are if the girls are in heels and hot pants, there may be a happy ending. Legit parlours will look like the one below:
Slowly, though, Hua Hin began to grow on us. We discovered our favourite places to eat, and spent hours wandering the streets, and let it all wash over us. Hua Hin is a popular destination for Scandinavian tourists, but we also heard German and Dutch being spoken everywhere. Canadians and Americans – we are in very low numbers here.
We met up yesterday with our friends from Nanaimo, Chris and Sue. They have lived in Thailand in the past, and come each year to a small town just south of here. Chris met up with us at our hotel and brought us treats from the market – small “cakes” with sweet and savoury fillings. As he took us on a tour of the town, we passed the lady who makes them.
Our Thai food education continued as we made our way through the market. Tamarind is very popular – this is what they look like.
The fish simply cannot get any fresher – everything that is sold in the market comes right from the waters of Hua Hin. The prawns are massive, the lobsters are tiny, crab comes in a variety of sizes and colours, and the squid are glistening and pure white. There is almost no fish smell going through that part of the market – the products are that fresh.
Some of the staples of Thai cooking – lemongrass, lemon leaves and a particular type of ginger.
We grabbed a Songthaew ( a collectivo-style truck with bench seats – one just stands at the side of the road and waves them down) to Chris and Sue’s place about half hour from Hua Hin. After a roadside lunch of papaya salad, we headed up to Monkey Mountain. There is a temple there and a giant Buddha, as well as staggering views of the town and bay, but as the name suggests, the big attraction are the hundreds of monkeys. Our first sighting was this fellow perched on a boat as we approached the hill.
It was such an incongruous sight, much like seeing a giraffe bellied-up to the bar. Like any other wild animal sighting, it was exciting until we discovered there were more where he came from. Many, many more…
There are hundreds of these monkeys, and tourists are warned not to feed them, and not to carry food around, as they will surely come and snatch it from you. All of this was fun from a distance, but as we made our way down the hill, Chris observed,”Well, we’re walking right through the monkeys.” And indeed we did, without mishap – the big males, the mothers carrying their babies, the young ones – they all scampered past us
After such a wonderful day, we ended on a high note – dinner at a weekend market with new friends. It is Festival of the Lanterns, and the entrance to the park was festooned with lit-up fabric horses.
The Cicada market is a collection of food stalls and handicrafts, ringed by tables on one side and entertainment at the stage at the back. You make the round of the stalls, much like a giant buffet table, decide what dish most appeals and then circle back and order.
I ordered a huge salad with pomelos, shrimp, noodles, vegetables – spicy at first, but then simply delectably flavourful. That is the joy of Thai cooking – fresh food, not too much meat or fish, lots of veggies, lovely noodles, exquisite spicing – so nuanced, so healthy – I could eat like this for the rest of my life, and I probably should. This was one of the curries.
After dinner, we checked out the crafts – all of them a cut above the usual market fare, and at incredible prices. Oh, such temptation – but what do I buy that I can carry for the next three months? Thanks Chris and Sue, for such a thoroughly enjoyable day and for all your insider tips to being in Thailand.
One last note…our unseasonable weather. We’ve been told weeks will go by without a drop of rain and this year everything has changed. There has been so much rain in the south (site of Thailand’s famous beaches), that roads and railway tracks have been washed out, so access to the beaches and the islands is gone for the immediate future. We’ve had rain in Hua Hin every day, but today it has been non-stop and torrential. We’re heading north tomorrow to Kanchanaburi, where The Bridge on the River Kwai is situated. Next time I post, it should be in sunshine.
18 thoughts on “Hua Hin: from Royal resort town to Scandinavian getaway.”
We are with you every step of the way!
Thanks Ginny for this great description of where you are in your travels. Pity too much rain! Now, if you see something you really like to buy, you can always mail it back to yourself, c/o the address of a friend, in Canada, closest to where you might start once back in Canada, etc…..If you would come back to Gabriola, for exp. I’d be happy to keep your treasures, if you’d like to mail it to my attention. Just in case, here is my address:
Lis Dieryckx, 1250-B Cappon Ln, Gabriola, BC V0R 1X7 Canada.
Warm hugs, from this frozen and wet area here too, we are so tired of all this cold, and snow/ice etc…Lis
Dear Lis – that is so kind of you to offer to take parcels for me. I think for the meantime, I will try and just admire things, since our goal was to get rid of our things, not add to them! It’s hard though – every country produces beautiful things.
We woke up to clear skies this morning – hopefully the weather will return to normal back home as well.
Hi Kris & Gord! You must be getting ready to head out on your adventures to Sicily soon? How exciting. An email is overdue – I’ll be in touch soon.
Sounds fantastic…. like we are there
thanks Roy – we’re really starting to get into this trip now – the strangeness of it all feels normal now.
another fascinating read. I could taste those delicious , healthy meals. Looking forward to the Bridge on the River Kwai
Me too. I have read that the souvenir touts outnumber the tourists, but I think it will be possible to look past that. There is so much to see in that area besides the war history – we’re there for 4 days so will have a good chance to take it all in.
Reading your post at breakfast this morning while the sun is trying to pierce through the clouds. Traveling, dogging the monkeys and buying those delicious looking fresh squid by your side now I have stopped laughing about last week’s Ratometer line!
Love and hugs to you both.
Hi Laurence – Yes, thankfully, the Ratometer has quietened down a bit. I know they’re out there, but there are way too many other interesting distractions to think about. You would love this food, my friend. For the first time in my life, I am eating fabulously well, and losing weight!
Love and hugs to you and Derrill.
As our friend Shirley would say – with every blog, we are living another holiday. We agree
& always look forward to the next one. Thanks Gin.
The 2 K’s
Hi 2 K’s – we had the most fun last night for our last meal out. It was pouring rain – torrential – had been like that all day. We sat down beside a Dutch couple and started talking – they’ve been coming here for 30 years. Anyway, we watched as the water levels climbed and climbed and finally spilled up over the sidewalk and began coming into our restaurant. Our walk home was fun – water up to mid-calf, and the poor party girls calling out to us – most of the bars were empty!
A dry day today for our travels to Kanchanaburi (Bridge on the River Kwai).
Thanks for all the memories, keep them coming. Warm rain is better than our freezing slush. Happy travels.
Your pictures and descriptions of Thai food are mouth-watering! I’m tempted to raid the fridge but I know I will be disappointed. Glad to hear the weather is improving for your next excursion.
This is so much fun getting to travel for free with your adventures. And to think you could have been here on a rainy day, and then gone to the Roxy to see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Who is choosing the movies? At least you got to hear Gene Pitney sing. Right?
Sorry to hear about all the rain. Hopefully you can get to the south before your return home. In the meantime cheap food, drinks, monkeys and the lush jungle of the North await!
Dear Ginny thank you for making your journey come so alive. At times it feels like being there with you.