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HUA HIN TRAVEL GUIDE

Hua Hin, Cha-Am, Pranburi and Khao Takiab are located only a short distance from Bangkok, and are ideal locations for a short respite from the rigors of the Thai capital or even a full-fledged holiday in the tropical sun. It’s been a fashionable weekend retreat for Royalty and high society since the 1920s, and the same appeal it had back then is still evident today.

Beaches, water sports, historical sites, golf courses, shopping opportunities and much more await visitors to this trio of tropical resorts. Less hectic and more laid-back than Pattaya, they are ideal for families and travellers who want to take life easy while enjoying a never-to-be forgotten holiday in the tropics. Its scenery is inspiring, dining experiences will delight your taste buds, and the hospitality of locals will charm you.

• How to get there

Hua Hin is about a 3 to 4-hour bus ride heading south from Bangkok. If you like a leisurely jaunt through the countryside then maybe you should consider the train, which takes a little longer, but can make for a very interesting trip. You will also arrive at one of the most popular attractions, the Hua Hin Railway Station.

• Food and Accommodation

Hua Hin has an up-market reputation but is none the less an affordable destination. Local food and small restaurants abound and is on par price-wise with the rest of the country. The top-end hotels and some of the beach seafood bars may cost a little more, but there are plenty of 3-star options as well. As usual the Thai food is exceptional, especially the fresh seafood.

• Health and Safety

As it is not too far from Bangkok, healthcare should not be an issue. Hua Hin has a few smaller provincial hospitals and clinics. Being a little more sedate and suited to families, the risk of petty crime is probably less than some of the more active nightlife places, but you should still be attentive to your belongings. Use common sense and you will be fine.

• Where to go

The best things to do in Hua Hin are tailor made for family fun by the seaside. It is true that most Thais envisage Hua Hin as a romantic and elegant gateway holiday destination, a notion started off about 100 years ago when the Royal Family members and the well to do would spend their summers here. As a result, Hua Hin now has countless lovely seaside houses, villas and a few attractive vintage summer palaces. These are all popular Hua Hin attractions, but the newer, purpose-built shopping and sightseeing villages mean there is something for all generations.

Hua Hin is usually full of people taking a break from Bangkok at weekends and as it’s just a short drive away its popularity has remained. Much of Hua Hin’s attraction lies in the town’s charming old-world feel, best illustrated in Hua Hin Railway Station and the Maruekhathaiyawan Palace.

Maruekhathaiyawan Palace
Like so much in Hua Hin, this summer seaside palace was built in the early 1920s during the reign of King Rama VI. It was designed by an Italian architect and features lots of verandas, latticework and covered boardwalks using golden teak from the demolished Hat Chao Samran Palace. The beautiful passage from them leading to the sea is one of the many charming features of the complex.

Set on a vast manicured landscape fronting idyllic Cha Am Beach, the candy-coloured mansion comprises three one-storey pavilions with more than 1,000 pillars supporting them to avoid flood damage. All buildings are connected by covered boardwalks, designed to catch cool breezes from all directions, leading all the way to the beachfront.

When approached from afar, the sight of the palace against the backdrop of white sands and cerulean-blue sea conjures up an image of a place suspended in time. You can almost imagine court servants scurrying down the corridors, going about their daily business, while the king and royal consorts take residence in the royal chambers.

Back in those days, each of the three buildings had clearly defined functions. A series of halls located in the south wing served as the residence of the king and royal consorts. These consisted of royal sitting and relaxing rooms, the royal chamber of the princess consort and a reading room. The north wing served as accommodation for court servants, and the two-story open pavilion or ‘Samoson Sewakamat Hall’ served as the official venue for royal functions as well as for theatre and entertainment.

Today, the royal halls and chambers are set up as a walk-through museum, decorated with royal artifacts and framed vintage photographs. Photography is not permitted in some of the rooms, and be sure to dress respectfully when you go (no shorts, skirts, tank tops or strappy tops).

Hua Hin Railway Station
Built during the reign of King Rama VI, and only a short distance from the centre of town, Hua Hin's railway station and adjacent royal waiting room are undeniably attractive. The brightly painted wooden buildings that are Thai in concept and design somehow manage to have a 'Victorian' feel to them. Even if you don't arrive at the resort by train, go and have a look. It’s charming, quirky and photogenic.
The story about the birth of Hua Hin as a royal seaside getaway town would be incomplete without a mention of this historic railway station. Back in the early days, there was no road access to this idyllic beach town, and train travel was a new and delightful alternative to get from Bangkok to Hua Hin instead of by boat.

Cicada Market
Cicada Market is all about art, handmade crafts and good times. With an open-air market concept, it brings together Hua Hin’s artistic talents and those who wear ‘freedom of expression’ on their sleeves. Besides the crafts market, you’ll also find an art gallery, beer garden and live music.

Open only on weekend evenings, the market is usually packed with weekenders from Bangkok. It is located on Phetkasem Road, about halfway between Hua Hin town and Khao Takiab.

The market has four sections: Art a la Mode, Art Indoors, Art of Act and Art of Eating. Art a la Mode occupies the majority of the outdoor space and is dedicated to clothes, decorative items, home wear, and handmade accessories. Art Indoors is situated in the art gallery where the bulk of painting, sketches and sculpture are for sale. Housed inside the same building as the art gallery are a handful of shops selling creative knick-knacks and souvenirs.

Art of Eating, an open-air food court, enjoys an idyllic garden setting. Find all kinds of savoury snacks, sweets, salads, deep fries, stir fries, all the way to steaks, pastas and seafood barbecues. A separate bar and beer garden offers a good selection of alcoholic drinks.

Part of Cicada Market’s philosophy to help promote Hua Hin as an art destination, Art of Act provides a platform for local art groups to express their talents and creativity.

All in all, Cicada Market reflects Hua Hin’s laid-back yet vibrant personality. It’s not just another outdoor night market but a place where you can chill out, appreciate art and join in the fun.

Black Mountain Water Park
Black Mountain Water Park offers a fun-filled day for families and anyone who likes to get wet. The park features nine different water slides, a wave pool, lazy river, beach pool, kids’ pool, and more – all set on a vast mountain-hugged landscape fronting a main-made lake just 10 km north of Hua Hin.

Most of the park is open spaces, with pockets of trees and greenery dotting the landscape. The nine water slides are grouped together, so you don’t have to walk very far to try them all. Some are built for speed, with long, narrow tubes that plunge straight down or in successions to the pool below, while others go round in circles before spitting you out in one big splash.

From the water slides, you get to the slide pool and lazy pool. Ride an inner tube, or just float, and simply go with the flow. The swim-up pool bar is ideal for quenching your thirst, while the spa pool and fountain pool offer a little break from all the adrenalin-packed activities. The wave pool sends out huge waves every 20 minutes, and the beach pool is, well, like a natural beachfront.

Upon entering, you will get a mini waterproof bag and an electro-magnetic bracelet which is your locker key. Other facilities include a restaurant serving Asian and Western fare, a souvenir shop and first aid room.

It’s a good idea to arrive in the morning to avoid the midday sun. Bring a hat and wear sunscreen to protect yourself. Also remember to take a break and drink lots of liquid.

The Venezia
The Venezia is the newest theme shopping and attraction village in Hua Hin, following the growing popularity and undeniable success of other similar weekend destinations in Thailand. Palio in Kao Yai was probably one of the triggers for such epidemic frenzy for pretty villages, followed by the beautiful Santorini Park in Hua Hin and the now famous Asiatique in Bangkok.

The concept of a shopping village is simple: instead of building a boring shopping plaza with rows of anonymous shops, pick a photogenic world destination or a fun theme, add plenty of romantic photo opportunities, plus a couple of attractions and entertainment venues, and there you have it: weekenders will flock to your village every weekend to play the romantic photographer and incidentally eat, shop, play and ultimately fulfill the real purpose of such a theme park: spend money.

The theme chosen by The Venezia is obviously Venice and you will not miss the San Marco's bell tower replica when driving through Cha Am on your way to Hua Hin. With 73,600 sq.m. and 316 shops, the park is immense and even includes a 200 meter 'Grand Canal' on which you can actually get a ride on iconic Venetian gondolas. Colorful Mediterranean houses, shops and terraces are lined up on each side of the canal which ends in front of an Italian looking garden and two large church-like buildings: one is a Villa-Market (imported products supermarket) an the other a mini zoo. Another half of The Venezia is sheltered under an immense roof, and if you are too lazy to walk around this massive park you can always chose to do your shopping in the most unusual way: in a horse and cart.

The Venezia features quite a few attractions: mini zoo and 3D museums now so popular in Thailand, but all require an extra fee to enjoy, even the small garden which appears to be nothing more than a photo playground. The several attractions available at the Venezia are sold together or separately and tickets are available at the entrance.

HUA HIN TRAVEL GUIDE

Maruekhathaiyawan Palace
MARUEKHATHAIYAWAN PALACE
Hua Hin Railway Station
HUA HIN RAILWAY STATION
Cicada Market
CICADA MARKET
Black Mountain Water Park
BLACK MOUNTAIN WATER PARK
The Venezia
THE VENEZIA