As frequent visitors to Hua Hin will confirm, there are plenty of good reasons to visit Thailand’s original seaside resort. With proximity to the Thai capital and a host of family-friendly activities to choose from, Hua Hin is an ideal location for a beach holiday that can easily be combined with Bangkok for an exciting twin-centre break. And if you can be tempted away from the beach, you will also find that Hua Hin is the perfect base for a day trip to discover a variety of nearby attractions.
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
The dramatic limestone mountains of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park fringe the coastline and live up to their name which translates as ‘the mountain with three hundred peaks’. Less than an hour’s drive south of Hua Hin, Khao Sam Roi Yot is a haven for wildlife and a delight for bird-watchers. But you don’t have to be an ornithologist to appreciate the natural beauty of the area with long sandy beaches, epic walks and wonderful views to enjoy.
The park is also home to the famous cave, Tham Phraya Nakhon. This is a popular location for Thai tourists who come here to follow in the footsteps of one of Thailand’s most revered monarchs, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who visited the cave in 1890. A pavilion was subsequently constructed to commemorate the royal visit and the wooden sala provides a striking image as sunlight streams down through the sinkholes above. To reach Tham Phraya Nakhon requires walking up and down a lot of steps, so be prepared to get hot and sweaty and be sure to carry plenty of water with you.
Prachuap Khiri Khan
The amiable seaside town of Prachuap Khiri Khan boasts a classic curved bay bookmarked at both ends by hills and mountains. Although the narrow beach in the centre of this quiet provincial capital isn’t really suitable for swimming or sunbathing, it’s a wonderful location for a stroll along the expansive promenade. If you’re up for a challenge, climb the 396 steps that lead up to the shrine and temple at the top of Khao Chong Krachok (Mirror Mountain) for dazzling views of the coastline below. However, this end of town is not the place to visit if you don’t like monkeys. The mountain and surrounding area is home to hundreds of macaques so don’t carry food with you and keep your bag zipped up. If you can’t be doing with all those monkey shenanigans, walk along the pier to watch locals fishing or pull up a chair at one of the restaurants opposite the promenade and simply relax and enjoy the sea air and wonderful food.
If you do want to hit the beach, there are some lovely stretches of sand just to the south of town at Ao Manao. Bring your passport with you if you want to visit because the bay at Ao Manao is part of a military base and you will be asked to sign in before entering. Frequent minivans ply the route between Hua Hin and Prachuap with a journey time of around ninety minutes. Alternatively, you could take the ordinary train from the photogenic Hua Hin train station for the princely sum of 19 baht and return from Prachuap Khiri Khan by minivan.
Palaces of Phetchaburi
The Hua Hin area has traditionally been a favourite destination for Thai royalty. The association dates back to the early 1920s and the construction of the southern railway which linked Bangkok to Hua Hin and the coast. Before the railway made Hua Hin so convenient to reach, it was Phetchaburi to the north that was a favoured holiday destination for Thai royalty. A collection of summer palaces were constructed in Phetchaburi by different Thai kings during the 1850s and early 1900s. These royal residences are open to the public and are all located within an hour’s drive of Hua Hin.
Situated halfway between Cha Am and Hua Hin, the elegant Maruekhathaiyawan Palace was the summer residence of King Rama VI. The beautiful pastel-coloured teakwood buildings are set amidst leafy grounds and provide a pleasant way to while away a morning or afternoon.
Further north in Phetchaburi are two more royal residences of note. King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) passed away before the construction of his palace, Wang Ban Poun, was completed in 1916. Designed by the German architect, Karl Döhring, the classic building is now a museum and is formally known as Phra Ram Ratchaniwet Royal Palace. A short drive away is the royal hilltop complex at Phra Nakhon Khiri. Completed in 1858 at the behest of King Rama IV, the location is referred to informally as Khao Wang (Palace Hill) where a trio of hilltops host an array of buildings with panoramic views over Phetchaburi.
There are dress regulations in place when visiting royal residences in Thailand, so please remember to dress politely and cover knees and shoulders. Look out too for notices to remove shoes and be aware that photography inside some buildings is prohibited.
Vineyards at Monsoon Valley
When you think of Thailand, the chances are you’re not thinking about award-winning wines. But that is precisely what is on offer when you visit the Monsoon Valley Vineyards in Hua Hin. With a pleasantly surprising selection of wines, excellent food and a scenic setting, Monsoon Valley makes for an enjoyable excursion from Hua Hin.
Thailand is one of the countries that produces New Latitude wine and although climatic conditions restrict the variety of grapes that can be grown here, there is still a good selection of grapes that can be produced including Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz. Monsoon Valley have skilfully created wines that complement Thai food and visitors can enjoy a wine tasting session and take a tour of the vineyard. Monsoon Valley wines can also be found at a number of luxury hotels and resorts across Thailand. If you’re in the UK and that next trip to the Land of Smiles can’t come soon enough, the good news is you can get a taste of Thailand from these UK stockists of Monsoon Valley.
Animal lovers can visit the elephant refuge founded by the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). Located a 45 minute drive away from Hua Hin, the refuge employs expert local guides. Visitors can walk with the elephants to the forest before taking them for a cooling dip in the water. In addition to the elephants that are cared for by WFFT, their centre near Hua Hin is also home to a rescue facility that looks after a number of animals including bears, gibbons, macaques and otters. Visitors will also learn more about the issue of animal welfare in South East Asia. Find out more from the WFFT website here.
Approximately 90 minutes south-west of Hua Hin is another chance to encounter elephants. This is Kui Buri National Park and is reputed to be the best location in Thailand to see wild elephants. To minimise the impact on the elephants and other wildlife in the park, there are strict regulations in place for the safari tour.
It takes around three hours by car to travel between Hua Hin and Kanchanaburi so this makes for a long day trip and will require an early start to make the most of the experience. If you visit Kanchanaburi as part of an organised tour, the trip will usually include visits to the Allied War Cemeteries, one of the war museums, the Bridge Over the River Kwai and a train ride on the infamous Death Railway. Some tours will also take in a visit to the Erawan Waterfall. Prices and itineraries can vary and because this isn’t a day trip that is feasible by public transport, it’s worth shopping around at a few different tour offices once you are in Hua Hin or ask at your hotel to see what they can do for you.
Day trips to most of the locations listed in this article can be arranged via any tour office in Hua Hin. With air-conditioned minivans and hotel pick-ups, this is the most comfortable and convenient way to visit. If you enjoy cycling, a number of the places detailed above can also be visited with Hua Hin Bicycle Tours. And if you prefer to travel independently, public minivans and local buses are another option to get you to Prachuap Khiri Khan or Phetchaburi.