Thailand’s original beach resort is no palm-fringed castaway island and arguably is the better for it. Instead, it is a delightful mix of city and sea with a cosmopolitan ambiance, lively markets, tasty street eats, long beaches and a fully functional infrastructure.
Hua Hin traces its aristocratic roots to the 1920s when Rama VI (King Vajiravudh) and Rama VII (King Prajadhipok) built summer residences here to escape Bangkok’s stifling climate. The most famous of the two is Phra Ratchawang Klai Kangwon (Far from Worries Palace), 3km north of town and still a royal residence today; it’s so poetically named that Thais often invoke it as a city slogan. Rama VII’s endorsement of Hua Hin and the construction of the southern railway made the town the place to be for Thai nobility who built their own summer residences beside the sea.
In the 1980s, luxury hotels started moving in and foreign tourists began arriving in numbers. Today, all the international hotel chains have properties in Hua Hin, and a growing number of wealthy expats retire to the condominiums that dot the town. Middle-class and high-society Thais from Bangkok swoop in on weekends, making parts of the city look a lot like upper Sukhumvit.
There’s a lot of money swirling around but because this is a bustling Thai town, seafood is plentiful and affordable, there’s cheap public transport for beach-hopping and it takes a lot less effort (and money) to get here from Bangkok than to the southern islands.