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I lived in Hua Hin in Thailand for a while and thought it was time to write a review of my experience of the place. I have included the conversion from English £ to Thai baht to give you a rough idea when I'm mentioning cost further into the review.
1 British pound = 49.9982745 Thai baht
Hua Hin is in the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan with a population of around 60,000 people. The name means 'Head Rock', which comes from the large rock that looks like a head rising from the rocks at Khao Takiab beach.
Hua Hin is a reasonably small town, which is approximately 3 hours South in a taxi from Bangkok (which will cost you about 1500 - 2200 baht) on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand. You can also access the town by train or by small plane as Hua Hin has both a small airport and a railway station. The resort was discovered in the early 1920s by King Rama VII as an ideal getaway from the hectic metropolis of Bangkok, it is Thailand's oldest beach resort as a result of this. King Rama VII built the Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries) Palace, which is still used by the Royal Family today.
I traveled direct from Newcastle to Dubai, and then flew from Dubai to Bangkok. Prices depend on the time of year. I have visited at Christmas where a return flight cost £880, and I've also traveled where a one way flight cost £240. I have only ever flown to and from Thailand with Emirates so can't tell you much about other airlines. It took approximately 7 hours from Newcastle to Dubai and then another 6 and a half hour from Dubai to Bangkok. Bangkok airport is big, and not great with its directions, unless of course you're looking for the smoking rooms. It's hard to work out which arrivals area to go to, as there are two separate parts, all the times I've been, I've tended to follow people I've recognize from my flight - not ideal, but at least I got there.
Outside the airport there will be hundreds of taxi's trying to get the westerners in them, knowing that most won't know anything about costs. My advice is either pre book a taxi in advance to take you from the airport to your destination or make sure you get a taxi with a meter. A lot of taxi drivers will refuse to put the meter on, knowing they can get away with charging whatever they like for a journey. So before you get in ensure, they are willing to put the meter on. If you're going in to Bangkok city it will take you about 35 - 40 minutes providing the traffic isn't too bad, at busy times it can take a lot longer. Every time I've traveled to Thailand, I've stayed in Bangkok for a day or two, before traveling down to Hua Hin, it breaks the journey up a bit, and means more time to explore (another review on Bangkok will follow shortly).
Thailand is a country where you need a visa, the type of visa depends on how long you're intending on staying and your situation. I've listed the type of visa's below, and tried to explain a little bit about each on.
1) Tourist: You should be able to get a visa upon arrival which will last 30 days. You fill in a little sheet when you leave the plane, you will need to queue up at the immigration desks, and you have you photo taken and passport checked and signed.
2) Work: you need both a non-immigrant visa and a work permit, obtained locally from a separate ministry; I think this is in Bangkok. You can go as a tourist and look for a job but then you will have to leave the country and return in order for it to be valid - it's all very complicated.
Retirement: If you are over 50 years of age and have either a lump sum of 800,000 baht then you can get a non-immigrant visa "o-a" or retirement visa. You can get a visa through a Thai spouse but you have to prove that you can support your spouse - without your working in Thailand!
4) Permanent Residence: If you have resided in Thailand for three years on consecutive one year visas with no defaults like overstays, you may apply for permanent residency.
The beach at Hua Hin is 5 kilometers long, and full of white sand and clear water, ideal for swimming. The beaches tend to run along the back of the large hotels ( The Sofitel etc) meaning they get very very busy especially during peak periods. They are covered in sun loungers and sunburnt people! I personally preferred Khao Takiap beach which was located about a ten minute motorbike drive south of Hua Hin. You need to drive though a small village to get to the beach, but it's stunning and much more likely to be quiet. There's a fantastic beach bar called Ton's on the edge of the sand, with the two nicest people you will ever meet (Boon and Ton), and try the yellow curry, Boon's cooking is amazing. The beach often has pony trekking and water sports, last year I spent Christmas day jet skiing - these pursuits are quite over priced if you're living there, but great for a treat now and again. It cost about 1500 baht for a half hour of jet skiing.
Hua Hin has one of the lowest rainfalls in all of Thailand. There are three seasons, the dry season (March-September), the rainy season (October - November) and the warm season (November-February. Even when it's scorching in Hua Hin, there's usually a nice sea breeze. It is quite often far too hot to walk around town, and you should always make sure you drink plenty of water to make sure you're hydrated. Get taxi's to get from one place to another.
Don't sit out in the sun for too long. Yes - it's nice to get a tan, but you don't want sunstroke. Try to avoid the sun at midday, and when you are out in it, try to stay in the shade as much as possible. I did acclimatize quite quickly, but if you're only there for a week or two, that's unlikely to happen. Use plenty of sun cream. I got very burnt the first time I visited Bangkok, I thought because it wasn't actually that sunny (Bangkok has a hanging mist even though it's hot) I wouldn't get burnt - I was wrong and had burned within 20 minutes of being outside. Use a high factor lotion to start with; you can always drop after a while. I always use a high factor on my face wherever I am, or however long I've been there - I don't want more wrinkles than necessary.
Places to stay
Hua Hin, despite being quite small in comparison to a lot of places in Thailand still has a large amount of tourists that visit. There are a lot of large chain hotels, The Hilton, The Sofitel and Hyatt Regency. The hotels range from basic and reasonably cheap to very expensive. If you stay in a Thai hotel you are more likely to get a good deal, rather than staying in the International chain hotels. You will also get a discount in most places if you stay longer than the usual 1 - 2 weeks. There are many websites that cover accommodation in Hua Hin, including www.hotelthailand.com and www.hotelclub.net I would recommend booking a few nights online in advance, you can always look around once you're there for somewhere cheaper, word of mouth is also a very good thing in Hua Hin.
I lived in a place called Amara Inn. Located on Soi 94, literally 4 minutes away from the centre of town. It was a small place with individual apartments. Mine had one bedroom with air conditioning, a small living area with TV and settee, table with two chairs, kitchen area with fridge, bathroom with toilet and shower, and an outside kitchen with hob and sink. It cost 7000 baht per month, though this didn't include electricity or any other bills. It cost roughly 8500 baht per month to live there inclusively. This included a man on security during the night and a swimming pool. There were only about 12 apartments in the block, and it was a lovely little place, friendly people and very comfortable.
You will be able to find places quite a bit cheaper than this, especially if you're happy to live where the majority of people are Thai.
What is there to do during the day?
Hua Hin is quite a relaxed town. Of course there are shops, you have the Market Village which has shops such as Boots, Levi's and Tesco Lotus, which are cheaper than the UK, but expensive by Thai standards. You'll find many little streets with vendors selling alsorts on barrows. You've got your cheap fake bags, clothes and ornaments, but you'll also find food vendors selling frogs, snake and curries.
You can visit the beach ( go jet skiing, horse riding or quad biking, take a trip up into the hills to admire the views, books yourself an excursion ( go and visit the two elephant parks where you can ride them) or treat yourself to spa treatments( and have a traditional Thai massage - not for the faint hearted!)
There are a lot of places of interest, including: -
Khao Takiab which is a mountain that can be seen from most parts of Hua Hin's beaches and is situated on the southern boundary of the town. There is a temple at the top which you can visit (without your shoes) and the walk way to this temple is covered in Monkeys. The mountain is known locally as 'Monkey Mountain'. You can feed them; you can buy a basket of old fruit for 20 baht, but be careful they will pinch anything they can get their hands on. They stole a bottle of suntan lotion out of my bag, and climbed a tree and managed to squirt it all over. Khao Takiab also has a gorgeous beach, which I have already mentioned.
Wat Huay Mongkol is 13km west of Hua Hin There are road signs that will lead you there. It's best to get a taxi or motorbike, we did it on bike, and it was about 30 minutes traveling time. Wat Huay Mongkol is a shrine Luang Phor Tuad, the legendary Southern Thai monk, immensely popular with the Southern Thais and increasingly so elsewhere in the Kingdom for the miracles associated with him. The huge Luang Phor Thuad statue is seated on a pedestal with four other smaller images in niches where the faithful can paste gold-leaf on Luang Phor Thuad, and take stunning photographs. Remember to wear long trousers / long skirt and no strappy tops when visiting palaces and temples. Women need to have their shoulder covered, it's is also likely that you'll have to remove your shoes.
Pala U Waterfall is on the same road as Wat Huay Mongkol and is the region's most scenic waterfall located about 60km inland from the Hua Hin. It is a beautiful place it does take a long time to get there. There are pineapples on the drive to Pala U and a gorgeous café where the owner will show you his stunning wildlife photographs and take you round his garden.
Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park: is a huge national park with stunning scenery, such as high limestone escarpments, coastal marshes and mountains overlooking the many scattered islands just off the coast. It covers 90 square kilometers. It is used as a sanctuary for birds and other animals. Although it is 60km south of Hua Hin and 40km south of Pranburi, it's worth the visit, make a day and night of it, and stay over en route.
An early morning visit to the fishing pier is a must. It's great to watch them come in with their catch, located towards the centre of town. There are some really nice seafood restaurants around that area too.
Ubosot Wat Hua Hin is right in the centre of town it's quite hard to miss it with its typical temple-looking architecture. It's the main temple for this town, the main temple building (ubosot) is where the principle Buddha image is kept.
There are several golf courses in the vicinity of Hua Hin, including The Royal Hua Hin, Thailand's first golf course, there is also the Springfield Royal Country Club, it's now massively cheap to play gold, but it is very popular.
There a lot of places to see and visit, the best thing to do is visit an agent and book some excursions, or, go and see what's available and then look into sorting them out yourself to save some money, you just need a good guide book and the inspiration to go exploring.
What is there to do at night?
Again you can go shopping - two nights a week, there is a market that's held next to San Paulo hospital between about 5.30pm and 11pm. There is also a night market held nightly at the other side of town. These consist of rows and rows of stalls selling just about everything, ranging from pets to false eye lashes! There are all different kinds of stalls selling food and drinks, and the main night market had sit down 'restaurants' along the edge of the street, where you can have fresh lobster, and various other things that are still alive until you choose them. There are also cocktail bars, which are quite deadly - 100 baht for about 6 shots of alcohol.
Thai Boxing - is held twice a week in Hua Hin. Matches are held at the Grand Arena in front of the Grand Hotel on Thursday and Sunday nights and at Mr. Chop Rawee's Thai Boxing Garden near the City Beach Hotel on Tuesday and Friday. I only ever visited the Friday matches, and found them a good change from bar crawling at the weekend. It's a good atmosphere and doesn't cost a lot, and it's a bit hit with a lot of westerners. The matches at both venues begin at 9.00 PM and finish up a little before midnight
Most of the bars are in a small area around soi Bintabaht however a couple of other nightlife areas have recently become popular such as soi Sarawat. There are a lot of the typical Thai girly bars, but Hua Hin has less than most places considering the likes of Pattaya and Bangkok. Girly bars are fine if that's what you're looking for, I'm not going to write much about these, as it may offend, but girly bars give you the opportunity a pay for more than just a drink, but a lot of the girls in the bars will try to tag along for the rest of your stay if you're with them one night. Lolita's is a bar like this. Which is locally known at the blow job bar.
A lot of families and couples visit Hua Hin, and a lot prefer the more easy going bars, a lot which are run by westerners. Some great bars to watch out for are Head Rock, which is opposite the Blue Angel cabaret bar (where you can watch the Katoy / ladyboy shows nightly), Johnnie Walkers and the U - Turn bar. The bars all have free pool and usually hold tournaments, so get your name down, if you can commit yourself to a few hours once a week, for one of the bars. There are also lots of nice restaurants, actually far too many to choose from, these include seafood, Italian, Indian, Macdonald's, Burger King, Subway, Tex Mex and just about anything else you can think of. I would say rather than visiting the restaurant chains, visit the small Thai places, things will be a lot cheaper and there is usually a fab atmosphere. There are also cheap street vendors selling fruit, curries and bugs (!), they're all worth a try. They're very cheap and usually taste amazing. For good English food try The Buffalo Tavern, which serves Sunday Roasts and beer on draught!
Bar opening times vary. Karaoke bars are open until around 4 - 5am and so are bars showing western football. The quieter bars can close anywhere from 12 - 2am. Some days the bars are closed all together, as the Thai people are not allowed to drink, this is voting regulations. Thailand is very strict on political matters.
Ways of getting about:-
Air-Conditioned Buses - There are buses on most of the main roads, they are usually noticeable in silver colour. They tend to stop at regular stops and tend to be used by westerners rather than the Thai's. They are slightly more expensive and usually cost 30 baht upwards for a journey. They will stop for you if you just stick your arm out on the side of the road.
Non-air conditioned buses - These are usually bright orange in colour and are used to remind me of a school bus. They are pretty comfortable unless they are crammed (school and working finishing times). They don't run during the rainy season. A journey costs about 20 baht upwards, and they tend to cost 20 baht upwards for a journey.
Song Thew - These look like pick up trucks and are usually green in colour. The run around the main part of town and will take you from the Soi's around the airport as far as Khao Takiab. This will cost you about 10 baht.
Tuk-Tuk - These are most popular with westerners and are small converted mini vans (think of the Sooty show, and the little van thing they had).They are usually brightly decorated by the driver. They will usually top if they see people walking and ask if you want a lift or you'll see loads parked up, with the driver usually dozing with his feet up waiting for customers. The price for these should be negotiated BEFORE your set off on your journey. It will usually cost you about 100 baht for a shortish journey, but drivers will allow you to use them for a half day etc if you fancy going to explore, and will give you a very reasonable price. They are not the safest form of transport, and it can get quite cold using them, especially at night.
Motorbike taxi - You will see people on motorbikes with hi vis jackets around town, usually waiting within a group, waiting for customers. You climb on the back once you have negotiated a price and they will take you to your destination. They have numbers on their jackets, which enables a customer to complain to the town authorities if the driver drives badly or unsafely. Be careful using these, especially late at night. A lot of the drivers will have spent the day drinking Sangsom if they have has no customers. Just be aware. A journey will cost between 10 - 100 baht for shortish distance.
Hire car / bike - There are numerous companies that will offer to hire a car or bike for the day or a longer period. A car should cost you roughly 800 - 1300 baht per day, if hired on a daily basis, and a bike should cost around 250 baht on a daily basis. Whilst living there I had a motorbike on long term hire, which cost me 2500 baht per month. You can fill your motorbike tank up for 100 baht.
Hospitals / doctors medicines Hua Hin has two main hospitals. The oldest and the best for westerners is the San Paulo it is located in the centre of town, next to the ground where the night market is held. It does have many English speaking doctors but is expensive compared to the other hospital. The other is the Hua Hin Hospital. Whilst over there, my ex and myself had a motorbike accident, where he injured his foot and it became infected. He was initially treated, had his wounds cleaned and then had to visit each day for more treatment for approximately a week, this cost about 4000 baht in total. It is important to have medical insurance by either having travel insurance or insurance through your job out there.
There are loads of chemists in Hua Hin, varying in standard. There is a large Boots in Market Village, but the prices are quite expensive. There are smaller Thai chemists which are ok to use, but be careful, either take someone who can speak / read Thai so you know what products they are suggesting, especially if you have allergies, otherwise you won't know what products they are suggesting or selling you. They do sell a lot of tablets individually, with no instructions or information. With any luck you won't need to visit a hospital or need medication - but it's always good to know. Missing the home comforts?
When you're away from home for a long period of time it's nice to discover the things you miss. The Hua Hin Ham & Bacon Company's shop on Soi 41 is amazing; you can get marmite, Walkers crisps and sausages amongst a variety of other things. The prices are quite high, but it's worth it now and again. There a few deli's where you can get nice bread and cheese around town; they tend to be run by Scandinavian people.
Overall opinion I personally think Hua Hin is a stunning town, which is great to visit or to live in. Personally, it's not quite enough for me, and didn't give me the 'Thai way of life' that I wanted, I didn't want a Tesco around the corner, but I had one. It had great facilities and lovely people, but to discover more about the Thai way of life you need to go to visit a quieter Thai village or town. Hua Hin has great hotels, restaurants and bars and is situated perfectly to visit neighbouring towns and also the islands (reviews to come!).
I will add some photographs from my travels once I get my scanner to work, hope this review helps anyone considering holiday destinations.