Hua Hin is Thailand's original beach resort. Starting late in the nineteenth century, it was visited with increasing frequency by the Siamese royalty. The arrival of the railroad in the 1920s opened Hua Hin to a wider audience. The charming Victorian-styled Railway Hotel was built soon after. Today, the hotel has become then Sofitel Central and is a rare opportunity to experience the feeling of a bygone era.
In 1926, King Rama VII built a summer palace that he named Klai Kangwon, which means "far from worries". The name is somewhat ironic, when you consider that the King was in residence here when the 1932 revolution to overthrow the absolute monarchy started in Bangkok. The current King now spends much of the year at Klai Kangwon.
The rapid development that many other Thai beach resorts experienced over the last 25 years mostly passed Hua Hin by. As a result, Hua Hin has appealed as a family destination with very little of the sleaze that seemed to follow the development of other beach resorts. However, you will find the big hotel chains in Hua Hin, which these days is attractive as a get-away from Bangkok that is more relaxed than Pattaya.
The challenge of getting to Hua Hin is one of the reasons it is not as developed as many of Thailand's other beach resorts. Many would say that's a good thing. To get to Hua Hin on your own, you have the following options:
There are a number of hotels and resorts in and around Hua Hin. There are many up-market accommodations, in keeping with Hua Hin's more patrician reputation. However, many of these are quite competitively priced, so a trip to Hua Hin is a real opportunity to pamper yourself. Aside from The Oriental in Bangkok, the Sofitel Central is the only colonial styled hotel surviving from the early twentieth century. Built in 1923, the Sofitel is truly Thailand's first 'resort' hotel. The hotel's location right on the beach in the center of Hua Hin is nearly perfect.
Hua Hin is particularly popular as a spa destination, with some of the world's best spas calling it home. The Chiva Som is consistently voted as one of Asia's best spa resorts, offering a complete range of health experiences, whether you want to take off a few pounds or just pamper yourself.
There are not very many sights within Hua Hin itself. This is very much a place to relax, sit on the beach, and maybe play a little golf. The Klai Kangwon ("far from worries") palace is the only real point of interest in the city, but it is only open to the public when the royal family is not in residence, and in recent years, His Majesty has chosen to spend most of his time here, far from the noise and pollution of Bangkok.
At the southern end of the the beach is a rocky hill called Khao Takiap ("Chopstick Hill"). On the beach side of the base of the hill is a large standing Buddha statue, while at the top is a tall white chedi. Behind the hill is a smaller stone hill covered with many small shrines of different types and styles. At the base of the hill is a funerary temple.
Hua Hin does make a practical base for exploring some of Thailand's most untouched protected forests. North of Hua Hin is Kaeng Krachan National Park, one of Thailand's largest protected areas and home to many endangered species.
South of Hua Hin is the spectacular Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park. The name translates to "300 Peaks Mountain" and aptly describes the park's most obvious feature, a craggy limestone mountain that rises up to 650 meters above the ocean. The peak is surrounded by marshes and mud flats that attract a wide variety of water fowl as well as other wildlife. There are also many caves, including one called Phraya Nakhon which has a partially collapsed roof. On a slight mound near one of the openings is a small delicate royal pavilion built for a visit by King Rama V in 1896.
About an hour north of Hua Hin, in the provincial capital of Petchburi, is Phra Nakhon Khiri National Park. Just east of Petchburi's city center, a small hill rises sharply out of the plain. On top of the hill, King Rama IV had a summer palace built in the 1850s. The palace is now a museum and national park.
The resort of Cha Am bills itself as a more relaxed alternative to its neighbor Hua Hin, which lies 25 kilometers further south along the coast. There is very little to do in Cha Am, aside from the beach related activities that are the primary draw.
Hotels in the center of Cha Am are a bit basic. The four and five star accommodations are located south of town on the road to Hua Hin. The list above will also include properties in Cha Am, since the two are so close.