Thailand’s oldest beach resort, HUA HIN used to be little more than an overgrown fishing village with one exceptionally grand hotel, but the arrival of mass tourism, high-rise hotels and farang-managed hostess bars has made a serious dent in its once idiosyncratic charm. With the far superior beaches of Ko Samui, Krabi and Ko Samet so close at hand, there’s little to draw the dedicated sunseeker here. The town’s most distinctive attractions are its squid-pier restaurants and guesthouses on Thanon Naretdamri, characterful spots to stay or enjoy fine seafood, while at the other end of the scale the former Railway Hotel (now the Centara Grand) provides all the atmosphere you can afford. In addition, the town makes a convenient base for day-trips to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park to the south and Pala-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park to the west. If none of that appeals, you might consider stopping by for Hua Hin’s well-respected jazz festival in August or for the rather more unusual elephant polo tournament, held every September.
The royal family were Hua Hin’s main visitors at the start of the twentieth century, but the place became more widely popular in the 1920s, when the opening of the Bangkok–Malaysia rail line made short excursions to the beach much more viable. The Victorian-style Railway Hotel was opened in 1922, originally as a necessary overnight stop on the three-day journey to Malaysia. At the same time Rama VI commissioned the nine-hole Royal Hua Hin Golf Course (now 18 holes) to the west of the station, and in 1926 Rama VII had his own summer palace, Klai Klangwon (“Far from Worries”), erected at the northern end of the beach. It was here, ironically, that Rama VII was staying in 1932 when the coup was launched in Bangkok against the system of absolute monarchy. The current king has made many visits here too, which means that the navy is on constant guard duty in the resort and the police are also on their best behaviour; consequently both Thais and expats consider Hua Hin an especially safe place to live and do business – hence the number of farang-oriented real-estate agencies in the area.