Boring rocks. In a day and age when all and sundry are trying to get into your headspace with what’s new, what’s trending or where the latest hot travel spots are, there’s nothing better than just shutting out the noise and escaping into the comfort of well, nothing special.
Compared to its more glamorous sunbaked cousins Phuket and Koh Samui, or the unabashedly seedy Pattaya, Hua Hin is the equivalent of the prim and proper relative who may be able to expound on the theory of relativity but would not know his negroni from a cosmopolitan.
Hua Hin has had a royal sheen since the 1920s when King Prajadhipok or Rama VII decided to build his summer palaces in this sleepy fishing village. It subsequently became the royals’ regular holiday destination when they needed to escape the cacophony of Bangkok. Before long the city’s elite followed, along with tourists as hotels and resorts proliferated along Hua Hin’s long stretches of white powdery beaches.
Perhaps it’s because of the royal connection that Hua Hin and neighbouring Cha Am have always had a genteel, calming aura about them. Once you clock the 200km or two-hour-plus drive from Bangkok’s city centre, it feels as if someone has reached out and lowered the volume of a big radio in the sky.
So long as you’re not at the main Hua Hin Beach, you’ll be able to find nice tranquil spots without being bothered by passing vendors hard-selling trinkets or touting sandy body massages. In fact, if you’re not staying in town, it’s possible to escape into your own self-contained bubble in the likes of Avani Hua Hin, one of the newest beach-side resorts that’s a 15-minute drive from town.
Nestled into its own leafy compound, it looks like an upscale residential village with its busy lobby the focal point of activity. It’s big enough that you need a buggy to take you to your contemporary designed pool villa a spacious split-level “intermediate terrace” that has its own garden and compact swimming pool. No one can see you swim, as every conceivable peep hole is covered in dense greenery. You may get a fleeting sight of an intruder, though the tip of a long tail or furry butt of a street dog that seems to magically evaporate from sight. Not to worry; he’s totally discreet and won’t disturb you while you’re soaping yourself in the rainforest-like outdoor shower that’s one of the perks of this villa.
Just outside your villa is the Avani Club, that works like a hotel club lounge with complimentary drinks and happy hour canapés. It’s linked to the Italian restaurant Brezza, which serves decent food and has an alfresco bar with a sprawling space that enjoys a lovely sea-facing view.
A resort shuttle service takes you to town, just where the night market is – a bustling hive of traders hawking everything from knock offs to souvenirs and street food like hot off the pan banana prata drizzled with condensed milk. Massage shops are literally a few feet apart from each other in varying degrees of dodginess, but there are enough decent ones for you to pop in and have your feet or other parts of the body manipulated into submission.
Hua Hin moves at such a leisurely pace that even its attractions are languid and undemanding. At Khao Hin Lek Fai View Point, it’s an easy stroll through pretty landscaped gardens to get to the hilltop where an unfettered view of the city and coastline awaits. Monkeys which have already had enough of the view hang around closer to the entrance to do their version of people-watching. That is, anyone carrying plastic bags or anything in hand are fair game for them, warns our guide, who says they can get pretty aggressive if they notice you carrying snacks that aren’t meant for them.
There are no monkeys at the Hua Hin Railway Station, just a gateway to the past with its iconic, brightly painted wooden buildings that have a theme park feel to it. The very first train to bring people into this resort city – back when there was no road access – also looks regal and well maintained on the other side of the tracks. An ornate sign that says Hua Hin marks your official welcome to the place.
So far so familiar, but one unexpected excursion is to the Monsoon Valley Vineyards in Baan Khork Chang, a picturesque valley 35km from Hua Hin which features a view not unlike the rolling fields of France. Founded by Chalerm Yoovidhya, heir to the Red Bull fortune, it’s an impressively polished set-up with a full-fledged visitors centre, cellar door and restaurant. The wines are highly drinkable and New World-like in flavour and match the eclectic spread ranging from Thai pad thai to grilled baby lamb rack. If you don’t drink, the in-house grape juice or soda is a refreshing cooler.
Yet another languid pastime is afternoon tea, with all its royal references, at the Mrigadayavan Palace’s Tea Room. You need to head out to Cha Am in Petchaburi province, where King Rama VI hired an Italian architect in 1923 to build him an unpretentious seaside residence. If it looks pretty understated, it was meant to be as the king was said to have wanted to spend as little money as possible, and at the same time made the area a wildlife-protected zone.
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The tea room is in a separate building a short walk from the main palace, housed in a sprawling park. You literally walk down a garden path to this multi-coloured, colonial like seaside bungalow that’s held up by Doric columns like a house on sturdy stilts. The columns are tall enough to fit an elegant dining area under the house, where you lounge on wicker chairs looking out into the horizon as gentle waves nudge the pristine beach below. It’s in this setting that you enjoy an afternoon tea of sandwiches, cookies and candied fruit, and your choice of Mariage Freres tea.
For a while, you forget where you are until you head back out, to be faced with the reality of tacky tourist shops just outside the main entrance. But your own little world awaits you back at the Avani Hua Hin, where you retreat for what little precious time you have left to just do, well, nothing much, and savour every moment of it.
The writer was a guest of Avani Hua Hin Resort & Villas. For more details, go to https://www.minorhotels.com/en/avani/hua-hin
This story was originally published in The Business Times.