Once a seaside resort village enjoyed by the Thai royal family in the 1920’s, Hua Hin has become a holiday destination for wealthy expats and middle-to-upper class Thai families looking for refuge from the heat and bustle of Bangkok. But fear not – Hua Hin’s roots in Thai royalty have prevented the town from losing its traditional vibe. Delicious and affordable seafood synonymous with any Thai seaside town, top-quality beaches and markets (and the inexpensive “songthaew” pick up trucks that double as buses which will take you between them!), and the town’s proximity to Bangkok make Hua Hin a fun, easy and affordable stop on any backpacker’s trail.
Hua Hin’s laid-back ambience and way of attracting the somewhat more sophisticated traveller makes for a relaxing coastal holiday, without the pumping nightclubs and bucket drinks. However, if you’re looking for somewhere to cut your teeth on your way down south to Koh Samui or Phuket, the maze of narrow streets near Dechanuchit Road and Soi Bintabaht overflow with cheap drinks, massage parlors and live music.
Whilst Hua Hin is perfect as a stop on the way down south to the islands or heading up north towards Bangkok, it is just as much a destination in its own right. The town’s thriving expat culture has helped it to emerge as one of Thailand’s most successful hubs for spa and massage centers. Similarly, Hua Hin is home to Thailand’s International Kite Festival, which takes place in March every year at the nearby Cha-am Beach. Hua Hin’s foodie focus also draws the crowds, with options suitable for every budget, ranging from the hyper-touristy beachfront restaurants offering seafood and steaks, to the fresh-out-of-the-ocean offerings found en masse in the famous Hua Hin Night Market.
Places to Stay in Hua Hin
As Hua Hin’s town center is relatively small, the best areas for backpackers to stay are found right in the center of the beach strip as resort chains dominate the north and south beach. Not to worry – central Hua Hin is where the action is!
- M&A Guesthouse: Located a two-minute walk away from Hua Hin’s nightlife hotspots and the beach, M&A provides safe and secure private rooms with for the most affordable prices in town. Budget rooms are the most reasonable option, and their bathroom facilities are located one floor down. Ensuite rooms are also available for those with a greater spending capacity. Free Wi-Fi is located throughout the building – including a free streaming media library of films and TV shows!
- Tid Tarad Hostel Hua Hin: Literally translated as ‘near the market’, Tid Tarad is in a central location for accessing the markets, bars and restaurants of Hua Hin, and is only a ten-minute walk from the beach. Tid Tarad offers dorms and privates, both of which are very reasonable. The hostel owner is more than happy to offer advice on daily itineraries, and the hostel is located right next to the green songthaew pick-up stop.
- Thipurai City Hotel: Once again located right in the heart of Hua Hin, about a 300m walk to the beach, Thipurai is an inexpensive yet deluxe option for backpackers who want to enjoy a couple of days with an ensuite. Breakfast is included in the room rate, and the friendly reception staff are more than willing to assist you with recommending and helping you book a guided tour of Hua Hin’s best sites.
Things to do in Hua Hin
The Beach: Hua Hin’s main beach, aptly named Hua Hin Beach, runs along the length of the town for four kilometers, and is famous for its spectacular sunrises. Whilst the sand isn’t as white as its southern relatives, Hua Hin Beach is a place for people-watching, water-sports, horse riding, and for perusing the beachside market stalls that pop up from time to time.
The Markets: Hua Hin’s market culture is an absolute must for tourists looking to buy some souvenirs, or to grab a paper plate of local cuisine. The crab curry and the fried prawns are a favourite amongst market-goers. Whilst the most popular night market, the Hua Hin Night Market, is located in the center of town and is a little more expensive than its counterpart, the Grand Market (located next to the Grand Hotel) is the local preference, and boasts cheaper food and goods. In terms of day markets, the Chat Chai Market, located right next to the Hua Hin Night Market is where tourists can catch a glimpse of locals snagging a deal on fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables.
Kiteboarding: Kiteboarding is insanely popular in Hua Hin, and a number of schools have opened up near the beachfront offering lessons to novices and reasonably priced equipment for hire. Kiteboarding Asia is the pick of the lot – suggesting three-day introductory courses that aim to give beginners understanding of the physics behind the sport as well as getting them up and going in the ocean! Conditions are best for kiteboarding in Hua Hin from January to April.
Huay Mongkol Temple: Located about 10km south of Hua Hin, Huay Mongkol is home to the largest statue in the world of the Malaysian monk Luang Pu Thuat who is famous for his ability to perform miracles. The beautiful statue makes for a wonderful photo opportunity, as does the lush parkland that surrounds the monastery that the statue resides beside. Huay Mongkol is easily reached by white songthaews, which depart regularly from the Hua Hin railway station.
Phra Ratchaniwet Mrigadayavan Palace: The reason that Hua Hin has remained the traditional seaside town that it is, the former royal retreat is essential for any visit to Hua Hin. Located about twelve kilometers north of the town, the palace can be found in the grounds of the Camp Rama VI military base, which may require some parties to show ID. Highlights include the elegant teak houses that constitute the palace, and its beautiful surrounding grounds with spectacular ocean views. Catching a bus from Hua Hin to Cha-am and then taking a motorcycle taxi to the palace is the easiest way for tourists without private transport to reach the palace.
Hua Hin Railway Station: Located in the center of Hua Hin, locals claim the station to be the most beautiful in Thailand. With intricately detailed architecture, the station was the former port of arrival for King Rama VI when he arrived in Hua Hin for a weekend at his summer palace. The Royal Waiting Room is what really draws the crowds to the station (besides the trains!), and is famous for its traditional Thai-style architecture, and for the fact that the entire room was relocated from Sanamchan Palace, almost 200km away. Stop in and visit the railway before jumping on a bus, songthaew or train – or before an evening of perusing the nearby night markets.
The Hua Hin Jazz Festival: A popular event taking place every year over one full weekend in June / July, drawing visitors from all across Thailand. Live concerts are held in the tropical open-air with many artists performing right on the beach. And what's the best thing about the festival? It's free! And everyone knows that all backpackers love a good freebie! So don your smartest fisherman pants and get your jazz hands at the ready!
- By Air: Hua Hin has its very own international airport, but beware, it is serviced by extremely limited flights. Travelers can arrive from or fly to Subang in Malaysia, Bangkok or Chiang Mai - and that’s about it.
- By Bus: Whilst it is possible to fly from Bangkok to Hua Hin, buses to and from Bangkok are visitors’ preference. Pran Tour operates buses that leave from Bangkok approximately every half hour and cost around 200 baht. The trip takes around three and a half hours, but it’s always wise to add on a little extra time to allow for traffic.
- By Train: Hua Hin is located on the main north-south train line, which means that it’s really easy to get there from anywhere either north or south of the town! There are three classes of carriage, but the picturesque view along the track is the same from all of them. From Bangkok, it’s around a four-hour journey, and about six hours from Surat Thani. An added bonus is rolling in right next to the stunning Hua Hin Railway Station. Trains leave for Hua Hin around ten times a day, and prices vary with the ticket class.
Where to go next?
Hua Hin’s central location means that your next destination really depends on where you’re coming from!
- Heading South: Trains from Hua Hin run as far south as Su-ngai Kolok, right next to Malaysia, but if Bangkok was your stop before Hua Hin, then why not jump off the train at Surat Thani and quickly hop onto a ferry that will take you to Koh Samui? Or get off even earlier at Chumphon Province for that taste of white sand and palm trees at Koh Tao.
- Heading North: If you’re coming from down south, head on up to Bangkok - either by train to explore Thailand’s fast-paced, exhilarating city life in greater detail, or take a bus from Hua Hin straight to Bangkok airport to jump on board a plane and head off to your next South-East Asian destination.
Written by: Amelia Long.