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The best things to do in Hua Hin are tailor-made for family fun by the seaside. It is true that most Thais envisage Hua Hin as a romantic and elegant gateway holiday destination, a notion started off about 100 years ago when the Royal Family members and the well-to-do would spend their summers here. As a result, Hua Hin now has countless lovely seaside houses, villas and a few attractive vintage summer palaces. These are all popular Hua Hin attractions, but the newer, purpose-built shopping and sightseeing villages mean there is something for all generations.

Hua Hin is usually full of people taking a break from Bangkok at weekends and as it’s just a short drive away its popularity has remained. Much of Hua Hin’s attraction lies in the town’s charming old-world feel, best illustrated in Hua Hin Railway Station and the Maruekhathaiyawan Palace.

Maruekathaiyawan Palace

Like many buildings in Hua Hin, this Thai-Victorian style summer seaside palace was constructed in the early 1920s during the reign of King Rama VI. It was designed by an Italian architect and built with golden teak from the demolished Hat Chao Samran Palace, with lots of verandas, latticework and high ceilings to keep the structure cool during summer.

The Setting

Set on a vast manicured landscape fronting idyllic Cha Am Beach, the candy-coloured mansion comprises three one-storey pavilions with more than 1,000 pillars supporting them to avoid flood damage. All buildings are connected by covered boardwalks, designed to catch cool breezes from all directions, leading all the way to the beach front.

Period Splendour

When approached from afar, the sight of the palace against the backdrop of white sands and cerulean-blue sea conjures up an image of a place suspended in time. You can almost imagine court servants scurrying down the corridors, going about their daily business, while the king and royal consorts take residence in the royal chambers.

Back in those days, each of the three buildings had clearly defined functions. A series of halls located in the south wing served as the residence of the king and royal consorts. These consisted of royal sitting and relaxing rooms, the royal chamber of the princess consort and a reading room. The north wing served as accommodation for court servants, and the two-story open pavilion or ‘Samoson Sewakamat Hall’ served as the official venue for royal functions as well as for theatre and entertainment.

A Glimpse of the Past

Today, the royal halls and chambers are set up as a walk-through museum, decorated with royal artifacts and framed vintage photographs. Photography is not permitted in some of the rooms, and be sure to dress politely when you go (no shorts, skirts, tank tops or spaghetti strap tops).

Hua Hin Train Station

Built during the reign of King Rama VI, and only a short distance from the centre of town, Hua Hin’s railway station and adjacent royal waiting room are undeniably attractive. The brightly painted wooden buildings that are Thai in concept and design somehow manage to have a ‘Victorian’ feel to them.

The story about the birth of Hua Hin as a royal seaside getaway town would be incomplete without a mention of this historic railway station. Back in the early days, there was no road access to this idyllic beach town, and train travel was a new and delightful alternative to get from Bangkok to Hua Hin instead of by boat.

A Brief History – The Birth of Hua Hin

With the train station in place and the northern-southern rail line connecting Bangkok and as far south as Singapore in 1921, the town was gradually built around it. European expatriates would travel from Penang and Singapore to enjoy a seaside vacation in Hua Hin. A road was constructed from the train station to the beach where the town’s first luxury hotel – The Hua Hin Hotel Siam – once stood. The hotel, designed by Italian architect A Rigazzi and operated by the Royal Siamese Railway (RSR), has two storeys and boasts elegant colonial-style architecture with verandahs on either side. Today, it has become part of the Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin and Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa. By 1926, Hua Hin was pretty much set to be a popular seaside town, complete with the train station, luxury hotel, two royal palaces (Klai Kang Won and Maruekhathaiyawan) and a nine-hole golf course (laid out in 1921).

Embark on a Historic Journey

Today, the train station has become a popular tourist attraction. Its quaint, East-meets-West architectural style stands in stark contrast to the modern hotel buildings and outdoor malls that have become an integral part of 21st century Hua Hin’s skyline.

Relive the splendour of Hua Hin’s past by combining your visit to the train station with Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, also fashioned in similar style with open verandahs, covered boardwalks and beautiful fretwork details. Better yet, relive the past and take the train from Bangkok to Hua Hin, a journey that takes about four hours compared to 2.5 hours by car.

Cicada Market

Cicada Market is all about art, handmade crafts and good times. With an open-air market concept, it brings together Hua Hin’s artistic talents and those who wear ‘freedom of expression’ on their sleeves. Besides the crafts market, you’ll also find an art gallery, beer garden and live music.

Open only on weekend evenings, the market is usually packed with weekenders from Bangkok. It is located on Phetkasem Road, about halfway between Hua Hin town and Khao Takiab.

Cicada Market – Hua Hin’s Art Market

The market has four sections: Art a la Mode, Art Indoors, Art of Act and Art of Eating. Art a la Mode occupies the majority of the outdoor space and is dedicated to clothes, decorative items, home wear, and handmade accessories. Art Indoors is situated in the art gallery where the bulk of painting, sketches and sculpture are for sale. Housed inside the same building as the art gallery are a handful of shops selling creative knick knacks and souvenirs.

Art of Eating, an open-air food court, enjoys an idyllic garden setting. Find all kinds of savoury snacks, sweets, salads, deep fries, stir fries, all the way to steaks, pastas and seafood barbecues. A separate bar and beer garden offers a good selection of alcoholic drinks.

Live Music and Shows at Cicada Market

Part of Cicada Market’s philosophy to help promote Hua Hin as an art destination, Art of Act provides a platform for local art groups to express their talents and creativity. The market’s open-air amphitheatre has seen performances by Hua Hin’s Sasi Dance Group, B Boy, pantomime, music bands and invited artists from Bangkok, such as Koh Mr. Saxman.

All in all, Cicada Market reflects Hua Hin’s laid-back yet vibrant personality. It’s not just another outdoor night market but a place where you can chill out, appreciate art and join in the fun.

Hua Hin Night Market

Situated in the Hua Hin centre between the Petchkasem Road and the railway line, the market basically encompasses one street that comes to life from 18:30 onwards, when traders line the street with their stalls selling various apparel, crafts, art, CDs, DVDS and cheap, tasty food – generally what you might expect from a Thai market. This is by no means the best place to shop in Thailand; you will finder a bigger variety of goods in Bangkok or say, Chiang Mai. However, Hua Hin does have a superb selection of seafood restaurants that line the road that hosts the Night Market, drawing a lot of attention from visitors eager to feast on the quality dishes on offer.

Entertainment

Like Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, the mere market experience is entertainment in itself. Here is where you can get a real grasp of local culture and opportunity by practicing your Thai during the bartering process. Even if nothing on offer suits your fancy, just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere is a great source of entertainment with the various street vendors and live entertainers around.

Most of the restaurants on the street double as bars where you can enjoy a beer or cocktail while watching the crowds move up the street. At the top end of the street moving away from the sea, you will come to Prapokklao Road, which is lively street consisting of shops, bars and restaurants.

Seafood

The seafood restaurants in this part of town are incredibly popular due to their atmosphere, quality of food and Thai-style low prices. With minimal space between each establishment, you can pretty much expect the same thing from each place and prices that closely compare to their neighbours’. Each restaurant usually has a small vending station outside where food is both prepared and sold on a street food basis. The usual seafood ice trays laden with freshly caught fish, crab and lobsters might help sway your choice – the bigger the better.

From experience we can recommend that Khaimuk, Rod Yai and Ko Seafood are all worthy choices with excellent food coming in wholesome portions for a lot less than you will pay in the west. Other than seafood, steaks and western-style BBQ dishes can be easily found.

What to Buy

Primarily, Hua Hin Night Market is a place to indulge in food and drink but that is not to say that the shopping should go unmissed. As any savvy market-goer will testify, finding the good stuff is more often than not about getting into the thick of it – keep your ears and eyes peeled in other words. The sort of stuff you can expect to see goes along the lines of jewelry, crafts, some Buddhist tokens, beachwear, funky lamps and some counterfeit goods. The counterfeit goods here don’t feature as prominently as say, Bangkok, but you can still get your hands on a good ‘Chanel’ handbag or pair of ‘Adidas’ trainers.

Women’s fashions in the form of dresses, skirts, shirts and tops feature quite prominently as do accessory stands where intricate, hand crafted pieces can be bought. Essentially this is a good area for some pre- or post-dinner shopping, especially if you’re looking to buy souvenirs or traditional Thai crafts.

Plearn Wan Shopping Village

Not just a themed open-air mall, Plearn Wan feels more like a living museum where you can experience a slice of life in 1950s Hua Hin. Plern Wan’s two-storey courtyard-style building, an architectural statement in itself, houses a community of period-style shops selling everything from liquor, inexpensive plastic-and-tin toys, snacks as well as a beauty salon, photo studio, outdoor cinema screen and a 20-room guesthouse or ‘Piman Plern Wan.

From the main street, Plern Wan’s curious looking entrance – a giant structure fashioned from reclaimed wooden planks – is hard to miss. Stepping through the small opening (compared to the wooden structure) is like stepping into a time machine – suddenly, you find yourself surrounded by all things vintage. When it’s crowded, usually at night, the festive atmosphere resembles that of a well-organised temple fair from decades ago.

Food is the main highlight at Plearn Wan. But other than the usual pad thai or grilled meat skewers, you will find a good mix of old and new. Hard-to-find snacks, such as ‘tong muan sod’ (sweetened pancake) and ‘ka lor jee’ (similar to Japanese mochi), are cooked up by order at one of the hawker carts lining the walkway along with typical fare such as noodles and barbecued pork over rice. And if you are a fan of Thai sweets, you will find a myriad of mouthwatering recipes here, from mango sticky rice to grass jelly with shaved ice and preserved fruits in sweetened syrup.

Besides hopping from one food cart to the next, shopping is another favourite pastime for visitors to Plern Wan. The collection of one-off souvenirs, toys, clothing, fashion accessories and even a shop selling various kinds of ‘nam prik’ (chili paste) is quite impressive – even if you don’t buy anything, it makes for quite a pleasurable look around.

Plern Wan Fair Ground and Guesthouse

Living up to its name (Plern Wan means the ‘joy of yesteryear’), Plern Wan has a fairground complete with a Ferris wheel, game booths and an outdoor cinema where screenings take place on weekend evenings.

For those who can’t have enough of Plern Wan in a single day, check in to Piman Plern Wan, the boutique guesthouse located on the second floor. All rooms are individually decked out in a delightful period style, but they are not cheap and can be noisy during peak season (as the shopping and dining zones are right underneath it).

Black Mountain Water Park

Black Mountain Water Park offers a fun-filled day for families and anyone needing a big splash. The park features nine different water slides, a wave pool, lazy river, beach pool, kids’ pool, and more – all set on a vast mountain-hugged landscape fronting a main-made lake just 10km north of Hua Hin.

Owned and managed by the same people behind the Black Mountain Golf Course, the water park is the latest attraction in the group’s portfolio. It’s located opposite the golf course, on a local road that passes through Wat Huay Mongkol and Baan Silapin.

Highlights at Black Mountain Water Park

Most of the park is open spaces, with little pockets of trees and greenery dotting the landscape. The nine water slides are grouped together, so you don’t have to walk very far to try them all. Some are built for speed, with long, narrow tubes that plunge straight down or in successions to the pool below, while others go round in circles before spitting you out in one big splash.

From the water slides, you get to the slide pool and lazy pool. Ride an inner tube, or just float, and simply go with the flow. The swim-up pool bar is ideal for quenching your thirst, while the spa pool and fountain pool offer a little break from all the adrenalin-packed activities. The wave pool sends out huge waves every 20 minutes, and the beach pool is, well, like a natural beachfront.

Tips and Good to Know

Upon entering, you will get a mini waterproof bag and an electro-magnetic bracelet which is your locker key. Other facilities include a restaurant serving Asian and Western fare, a souvenir shop and first aid room.

It’s a good idea to arrive in the morning to avoid the midday sun. Bring a hat and wear sunscreen to protect yourself. Also remember to take a break and drink lots of liquid.

Khao Takiab

One of the biggest attractions in the province, Khao Takiab translates as ‘Chopstick Mountain’ although you may hear it being referred to as Monkey Mountain due to the monkeys that inhabit it. Take note that you should never under any circumstances trust a monkey; they don’t get their reputation for being cheeky from nowhere. Keep bags zipped and under no circumstances give them any food.

With that out the way, the mountain is home to a hilltop temple giving way to a sensational view of Hua Hin. The start of the hike up to the temple is marked by a large bell and a flight of stairs up to the main shrine, a pagoda-like structure.

Once at the top you can hang out with the monkeys, take a few photographs, shop at numerous stalls or admire the Buddhist shrine.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

The magnificent Phraya Nakhon Cave is one of the most mystical and mysterious landmarks of Thailand but only a few travellers get a chance to take a picture of it. The reason is simple: this gold and green pavilion is hidden inside a hard to reach cave and only a handful of dedicated visitors will do the effort to visit it. Those who do are rewarded with a stunning vision that looks like it’s straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Phraya Nakhon Cave is located in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, a 45 minutes drive south of Hua Hin. First step to reach the cave is to drive to the small village of Bang Pu located by the beach, and from there decide if you’d rather rent a boat to take you around the cape to Laem Sala beach, or walk a 30 minutes trek above the hill leading to the same Laem Sala beach. Since the boat ride only costs 150 to 200 baht per person and considering that you still will have to climb 430 m of uneven and steep steps we recommend you save your energy and take this short ride to the cave. You can also combine a boat trip to the cave with Monkey Island, ask at the pier.

Once you’ve reached the beach you’ll notice a large rustic restaurant you’ll be more than happy to use on your way back. You will need to pay a National Park fee of 200 baht and a guide might be assigned to you as apparently you can’t go there without one, and don’t be surprised if your guide is a tiny 9 year old girl. From the bottom of the stairs it’s a serious climb, so unless you are fit and used to stair climbing go slowly and take your time: 430 meters seem to be a piece of cake on flat land but when climbing uneven slippery steps, it proves to be a complete different story.

Close to the top the path progressively eases then starts going down into the first cave. Don’t go imagining a dark scary pit; the sunlight cascades generously from the open ceiling of the first cave. This first cave looks beautiful with a natural stone bridge called ‘hell bridge’, but nothing prepares you to the surreal beauty of the second cave, the one you really came to see.

A short wooden path connects the two caves and finally it is there: since 1890, the Kuha Kharuehat pavilion stands gloriously in a ray of sunlight falling from a circular hole in the cave ceiling. If you are lucky to be the only visitor, the unusual silence adds to the majesty of the site… This pavilion stands on a hill surrounded by trees and vegetation. The pavilion was built at the end of the 19th century for the visit of King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V). Later, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and the present King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) also visited the cave.

Once you have taken enough photos and your legs start to feel less shaky, it is time to go back. Walking down is less tiring in some way but beware of the slippery stones! Stop at the restaurant for some well needed refreshements or food. Note: We saw a very skinny dog in the cave, so if you read this, bring him a little something from your breakfast. We gave some money to the guides so they can buy some fried rice for the poor dog. Note also that the light is at it’s best before 11 am!

Santorini Park Cha-Am

Santorini Park brings a slice of the picture-perfect Greek island to Cha-Am. It’s got all the details right, from classic whitewashed buildings, colourfully painted windows, down to stone-paved paths and domed towers. An impressive lineup of shops, restaurants and an amusement park promise good times for everyone. This photogenic outdoor entertainment outlet occupies an expansive area just before the main highway reaches Cha-Am Beach. It’s quite an unusual sight, given the whitewash theme and architectural style that sets it apart from its surroundings. Cliff-top views of the ocean and a sweeping beachfront are the two missing elements that would otherwise make this place closer to the real thing.

Highlights at Santorini Park

The five zones at Santorini Park provide all-encompassing entertainment. Park Zone is essentially the amusement park part, with rides and games set on vast landscaped grounds. All rides are imported, including the 40-metre-high Ferris wheel, double-decker carousel, G-MAX reverse bungee, G-MAX giant swing, XD Dark Ride 7D interactive game and Asia’s first Wallholla climbing structure.

Village Zone is all about the Greek island’s village architecture and its chilled-out coastal vibe. Wander down the maze of stone-paved lanes lined with two-storey whitewashed buildings and more than 140 shopping boutiques. Rest Area is where you will find a host of fast food outlets, cafés, personal care salons, a petrol station, convenience stores and more souvenir shops.

Santorini Park: Art and Culture

Apart from shopping and entertainment, Santorini Park features an Activities Zone, a 3,000sqm outdoor space for hosting live concerts and performances. The Weekend Art Market features a flea-market style shopping experience. Find a wide selection of creative souvenirs and handicrafts to take home.

The Venezia Hua Hin

The Venezia is the newest theme shopping and attraction village in Hua Hin, following the growing popularity and undeniable success of other similar weekend destinations in Thailand. Palio in Kao Yai was probably one of the triggers for such epidemic frenzy for pretty villages, followed by the beautiful Santorini Park in Hua Hin and the now famous Asiatique in Bangkok.

The concept of a shopping village is simple: instead of building a boring shopping plaza with rows of anonymous shops, pick a photogenic world destination or a fun theme, add plenty of romantic photo opportunities, plus a couple of attractions and entertainment venues, and there you have it: weekenders will flock to your village every weekend to play the romantic photographer and incidentally eat, shop, play and ultimately fulfill the real purpose of such a theme park: spend money.

The theme chosen by The Venezia is obviously Venice and you will not miss the San Marco’s bell tower replica when driving through Cha Am on your way to Hua Hin. With 73,600 sq.m. and 316 shops, the park is immense and even includes a 200 meter ‘Grand Canal’ on which you can actually get a ride on iconic Venetian gondolas. Colorful mediterranean houses, shops and terraces are lined up on each side of the canal which ends in front of an Italian looking garden and two large church-like buildings: one is a Villa-Market (imported products supermarket) an the other a mini zoo. Another half of The Venizia is sheltered under an immense roof, and if you are too lazy to walk around this massive park you can always chose to do your shopping in the most unusual way: in a horse and cart.

The Venezia features quite a few attractions: mini zoo and 3D museums now so popular in Thailand, but all require an extra fee to enjoy, even the small garden which appears to be nothing more than a photo playground. The several attractions available at the Venezia are sold together or separately and tickets are available at the entrance. Prices at the time of our visit were as follows: Gondola ride or horse cart ride 160 baht, mini zoo 50 baht, mini train ride around the village 40 baht, 3D art Gallery 120 Baht, mini carousel 50 baht, ferris wheel 40 baht and the list goes on.

So while the main San Marco plaza area is beautiful with bridges, columns and fountains, the rest of the village looks a bit rushed and executed without the passion found at Santorini or Palio, and with a fee for almost every step you take, the natural fun for youngsters to go around take photos is quickly lacking. In amusement parks a small fee is asked at the entrance, usually 50 baht, and while it appears to be normal in a amusement park it does feel strange to pay an entry fee to go shopping and dining.

Overall The Venezia is still a very impressive place and there is no doubt weekenders will flock there, but compared to other similar venues it lacks of fun. Lifting the 50 baht entrance fee would probably encourage visitors to come back, not so much for the amount which is minimal, but for the strange feeling to pay a fee to go shopping.