Long before tourists flooded legendary Thai beaches like Phuket and Samui, Hua Hin was the most fashionable beach destination in Thailand. Hua Hin has been popular among Thai locals since the 1920s, when it became a favourite vacation spot for the Thai royal family and aristocracy. Even today, the current Thai king still maintains residence in this beachside town.
Located about 2.5 hours away from Bangkok, Hua Hin is not on the typical Thailand tourist route, instead mostly populated by a mixture of Bangkok residents on short weekend vacations, and long-term expats from all over the world. Like much of Thailand, Hua Hin has seen particularly rapid development over the past few decades, with luxury resorts and Western food eateries increasingly jostling for space on the streets and tarnishing the skyline. Although it’s certainly not as prominent as in Pattaya or Phuket, there’s also a not-so-subtle market for sex tourists in certain areas of the city.
Despite these changes, you can still see glimpses of Hua Hin’s former fishing village charm. Along the pier, the air always smells like freshly-caught fish, and locals carry buckets to collect the tiny crabs they swiftly pluck out the water.
Hua Hin’s main beach is aptly named Hua Hin Beach. I can’t say Hua Hin Beach matches up to the jaw-dropping gorgeousness of the Thai island beaches, but it’s still a lovely wide stretch of white sand and clear water. This long beach is actually split in two by Khao Takiab hill (sometimes spelled Khao Takieb), dividing it into Hua Hin Beach on one side, and on the other side, my favourite beach in the area: Khao Takiab Beach.
Located 14 km outside the main town of Hua Hin, you can reach Khao Takiab Beach by hiring a tuktuk for 200-250 baht (or perhaps less if you’re a better haggler than me) each way, or if you’re comfortable driving a scooter, you can save money by renting one for the day for around 150-200 baht.
While the views on Hua Hin Beach are slightly marred by a cluster of towering resorts, the view from Khao Takiab Beach is nothing but sand and mountains. Unlike the Thai islands, where the crowd is mostly backpackers and other international tourists, it’s mainly Thais stretching out on Khao Takiab’s soft sands. You can rent a deck chair and beach umbrella for about 40 baht or grab a beer at one of the little restaurant’s lining the beachfront.
Monkey Mountain – Khao Takiab Hill
If you’re hoping to see monkeys in the (relative) wild, then Khao Takiab hill is a reliable place to do it. This definitely isn’t an elusive maybe-you’ll-spot-one kind of situation – there are literally hundreds of macaque monkeys roaming all over the hill, prowling for snacks to snatch from unsuspecting tourists (watch out for that, by the way).
Khao Takiab hill is one of the highest points in Hua Hin, so in addition to the monkey-related amusement, head up here for gorgeous views over Hua Hin Bay. The hill is also home to Wat Khao Takiab, a temple that, according to legend, contains one of Buddha’s teeth.
The Night Markets
There are a few great night markets scattered around Hua Hin, but Cicada Market is easily my favourite. I find that you tend to see the same stuff at markets across Thailand, even as you move from city to city, but the spread at Cicada Market is a little more unique. Open Friday-Sunday, this market is slicker than your average Thai market, with lights strung through the trees and its name illuminated in a water sculpture at the entrance. Prices are also proportionately higher, but in most cases, so is the quality of everything being sold. The market focuses on handmade clothes, vintage items, and contemporary art, but there’s also a decent collection of food stalls and a large outdoor amphitheatre that often features concerts and other shows. It’s located at the entrance to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on the road between Khao Takiab and Hua Hin, so it’s an easy stop on the way to or from Khao Takiab Beach.
How to Get There
The best part about Hua Hin is that it’s only a slight detour if you’re already following the usual tourist route south from Bangkok, with trains leaving daily from Hua Lamphong Railway Station. I love traveling by train in Thailand. It’s slower than going by bus, but it’s often cheaper and the scenery is always amazing. Plus, in tourist-tired Thailand, train travel is a remaining slice of genuine Thai culture, with rickety tracks, creaking overhead fans, and vendors walking up and down the aisles selling chicken and sticky rice. Traveling to Hua Hin by train also gives you a chance to check out Hua Hin Railway Station when you arrive, a pretty popular attraction among Thai tourists, which is considered to be the most beautiful train station in the country. From Hua Hin, you can continue south by train to Chumphon or Surrathani, and connect to the Thai islands from either place.
Alternatively, you can travel to Hua Hin by bus, with departures every hour from Sai Tai Mai terminal in Bangkok. The journey takes around 3 hours, and like with the train, it’s easy to catch another bus south to the islands or even north back to Bangkok or Chiang Mai after you’ve had a chance to explore Hua Hin.
Brent and I almost always stop in Hua Hin on our way south, because this town continues to grow on us a little more each time we visit. For us, it’s definitely worth the detour.
Have you ever been to Hua Hin? Does it look worth a stop-over to you?