While Hua Hin may not offer as many of the all-night delights of many international resorts, there is plenty to do for those looking for a leisurely holiday.
Ratchaniwet Marukhathaiyawan Palace
This palace, midway between Hua Hin and Cha Am, was built by King Rama VI as a rainy season retreat in 1923. Known as “the palace of love and hope,” the palace has recently been renovated. The elevated teak walkways and airy rooms provide a beautiful view of the beach and Gulf of Thailand. Admission is 30 Baht for the grounds and another 30 Baht to visit the rooms upstairs. Admission is the same for Thais and Farangs. It’s a quiet place to spend a few hours. Occasionally concerts and theatrical events are staged in the Samoson Sewakamat Hall of the palace as was done in June, 1996, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne.
The palace is located within the grounds of a Border Patrol Police camp. Just tell the guard at the gate that you’re going to the palace and you’ll be admitted. Motor transportation is recommended as it’s a few klicks from the main gate on Petchkasem Road back to the beach.
Proper dress is required, meaning no shorts or short skirts and no singlets.
Pa La-u Waterfall
This waterfall is about 60 km west of Hua Hin towards the border with Burma. While the trek to the top of the nine cascades takes a few days in the dry season, one can see the first few levels on a day trip. This area is part of the Kaeng Krachan National Park and arrangements can be made with the park staff for guides and camping equipment. Simple bungalows are also available but arrangements should be made in advance. There are Karen villages in this area that can also be visited. There are three caves about half way between Hua Hin and the waterfall, near the village of Nong Plab but exploring the caves is probably a day trip in itself.
Cha Am is about 25km north of Hua Hin.
Cha Am is well known for its long tree-lined beach but now there’s more to do than just the beach.
The Swiss Sheep Farm opened just a few km north of Cha Am in 2012 and is popular among folks from Bangkok looking for picture taking opportunities. They have a few sheep to feed, pony and pony cart rides and some games. More for young children or young couples.
A couple of km north of The Swiss Sheep Farm is Santorini Park which offers large amusement park rides like a Ferris Wheel, Flying Swing, large slides, reverse bungee, and a playground and ball house for younger children. There are also music shows and many shops selling arts and crafts and more expensive goods. Santorini Park can get very crowded on weekends and on hot days the most popular attractions are their air conditioned toilets.
Santorini Park is most visited as a break in the trip between Bangkok and Hua Hin or back. Perhaps lunch, a little shopping and maybe a few rides for the kids and that’s about it. The water park is now open which might make it more worthwhile to visit from Hua Hin but the water park charges more for Westerners than Thais (or Asians who can read Thai and keep their mouths shut) and that’s probably going to aggravate some potential customers.
A word of caution: In early July, 2013, it appears a bolt on the bracket connecting the cable of the reverse bungee to the chair snapped just as they were raising the seat into the air for the ride. The video taken by a phone shows that no one was injured but local media are asking whether any of the rides at Santorini Park (or any other amusement park) are regulated, licensed, or inspected by any official agency. Don’t let an accident spoil your holiday. To see a clip of the incident and a clip of the normal operation click here.
There are photos of the parks and more of Cha Am here.
Petchburi is about 120 kilometers south of Bangkok (80 kilometers north of Hua Hin) and is best known for King Rama IV’s (King Mongkut) summer palace overlooking the city from atop Khao Wang. Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace, now an historic park, was built in 1860 and is a mixture of Thai, Chinese and European styles.
The views of the surrounding area from the hill are tremendous and the gardens within the park are most pleasant. There are also many temples scattered around the complex built on the three hillsides. Though the hill is only 92 meters high, the walk to the top is not as easy as it looks and there is a tram on the west side, away from the city. The park is open 0830-1630 and the palace/museum 0900-1600.
There is an annual fair at the park which takes place in February or March.
A couple of kilometers from Khao Wang, on the road to Hua Hin are the Khao Bandai It caves. The caves are within a hill upon which is a monastery built several hundred years ago during the Ayutthaya era. There are several caves housing many Buddha images. Take a flashlight.
Petchburi is well known for Kanom Mo Kaeng, a Thai sweet made of crushed steamed mung bean, egg, coconut milk, and sugar and Khao Kriap, a dried pastry made from coconut, sugar and sesame which is grilled over a charcoal fire before serving. These and other local sweets and fruits are available at many shops along Petchkasem Highway.
There are also a few factory outlet stores in the Petchburi area for the shoppers. The largest and newest is Premium Outlet which is actually closer to Cha Am. There are many shops and it has recently expanded. There is also a food court and at least one large restaurant. This is a popular place to stop when traveling from Bangkok to Hua Hin. At one time there were shuttle buses available from Hua Hin to Premium Outlet. The mini-buses were parked at the clock tower on Phetkasem Rd, but I haven’t noticed them in quite some time. Your hotel may have better information than I. For the location of Premium Outlet, click here.
Prachuapkirikhan is about 90 km south of Hua Hin and the provincial town is built around the long, crescent-shaped Prachuap Bay. There are several hotels and bungalows with the Hat Tong Hotel the largest hotel on the bay front near the busy fishing pier. Prachuap is probably what Hua Hin was like a few decades ago, with the town still relying on the sea for income, rather than the tourist trade.
At the north end of town a small hill rises from the coast. This is Khao Chong Krachok (Mirror Mountain) where a natural arch at the top allows you to see through to the sky on the opposite side. There are 395 stone steps to the summit and dozens of monkeys to taunt you while on your way.
You should get an early start on your mountain climb if you want to enjoy the sunrise surrounded by the fragrant frangipani trees in the monastery on the top.
Prachuap is smaller than Hua Hin but the seafood is just as good, and cheaper also. There are many restaurants in town but the best meals are found in the dozens of food stalls that spring up along the quay each night at dusk. Don’t worry about needing to speak Thai, just point at a dish that looks tasty on someone’s table and one just like it will appear at your table in minutes, though these minutes may drag if there’s a crowd as most “kitchens” only have one burner. Photos of Prachuap and places nearby can be found here.
Prachuap Bay is not very clean for swimming but there is a beautiful little bay just south of town called Ao Manao (Lemon Bay) that is long, quiet, and lined with beautiful casaurina trees. There are many food stalls selling snacks and beer. There is a small fee for using the beach chairs and umbrellas. This bay is in a military camp but there is no entrance fee.
The Dan Sing Khon Border Post is about 20km west of Prachuap town. There is a market there that sells orchids and other plants from the forests of Burma and teak furniture. It is fairly quiet on week days but there is a large fresh market on Saturday mornings when many Burmese cross the border to buy and sell and also many Thais from the local area and Bangkok. Many Burmese working in Thailand also visit this market on Saturdays as it is an opportunity to purchase Burmese goods and foods and visit with their country men and women. There might not be a lot that you want to buy to take home to your country but it is an interesting market. Photos of the Dan Sing Khon market can be found here.
There is a border crossing here but non-Thais are not allowed to cross. I’ve visited the market several times but there doesn’t seem to be much on the other side. If you want to visit a Burmese border town, you’re probably better off going to Sangkhlaburi and Three Pagoda Pass in Kanchanaburi, Mae Sot in Tak, or the border towns further north. You can cross the border in Ranong to the south but I’m pretty sure you’re only allowed to visit the casino island at Victoria Point. As of late October, 2013, the border at Dan Sing Khon is still closed to foreigners though this may change in the coming year.
About 100 km north of Hua Hin, Ratchburi is known for its pottery. A famous temple there is Wat Mahatat. The main reason to go however is the evening show at Khao Chongsphran Cave when the thousands of bats fill the sky at sunset.
Ratchburi is also home of the famous floating market at Domnoen Saduak. Farmers congregate early each morning in produce-laden boats to sell fresh vegetables, fruit, spices, poultry and the like. Rides in the long-tailed boats on the local canals can also be booked here. This could be a good stopover on the way from Bangkok to Hua Hin, but only if you leave Bangkok quite early in the morning as the market opens at dawn. If you arrive after 0800 this place is a zoo with more VIP tours buses than boats. You’re better off going to Amphawa in the early afternoon on a Friday or Saturday or one of the man-made floating markets in Hua Hin.
There are now two floating markets in Hua Hin, the Hua Hin Floating Market and the Sam Phan Nam Floating Market. They are very near each other, about 11km southwest of the city center. Photos of the markets may be found here.
Samut Songkhram is located at the mouth of the Mae Klong river to the Gulf of Thailand. It is best known for its salt farms and fruit production. It is the smallest of the Thai provinces. There is a Lychee fair in late March and a Pomelo fair in August.
There are three sights worth seeing in Samut Songkhram See Map, either as a day trip from Hua Hin or as a break while traveling between Bangkok and Hua Hin. These are the Mae Klong Railway Market, the floating market at Amphawa, and the sandbar at the mouth of the Mae Klong River at Don Hoi Lot.
The Mae Klong Railway Market actually has a train running down the middle of the market a few times each day. A nice provincial market worth a stop on the way to Hua Hin or the floating markets. For more about the Mae Klong Market, the blog post is here.
While the floating market at Domnoen Saduak is probably the most well known market in Thailand, especially to tourists, the market at Amphawa is also quite interesting. Held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday late afternoon and evenings, there are very few foreign tourists so not so many of the tacky knick knacks sold at inflated prices as in Domnoen Saduak. This is not to say that Amphawa is a unknown treasure. It is very popular among the Bangkok hordes and can be unbelievably crowded on Saturdays and Sundays, especially during school breaks or long weekends.
The market is located next to the King Rama II Memorial Park so you can park your car there, visit the park, and then wander through the little town of Amphawa and the floating market and sample the snacks and sweet drinks for sale. There are many places to sit along the river Mae Klong, just down the klong from the market where you can watch the boats go by on their way to the Gulf of Thailand.
Sadly, this market has turned into pretty much a zoo as Domnoen Saduak. Parking is limited and afternoon traffic trying to enter Amphawa trails almost all the way back to Samut Songkhram city. The best bet now is staying the night in a guesthouse or hotel on one of the klongs and exploring the market via boat. The number of people walking around the klongs and river are just too great and it’s really not much different than cattle being pushed through a narrow chute. Book a guesthouse just out of town, park the car and use a boat to get around or go up the river a little past Amphawa and check out the smaller but much less crowded Bang Noi floating market (open Saturday and Sunday) which is a day market and much more comfortable to visit.
Just down river from Amphawa, across the highway to Bangkok, is Don Hoi Lot. Don means sandbar in Thai and Hoi Lot is the Thai name for Razor Clam and many are found along the sandbar, as are many others species of clams and mussels.
There are many restaurants situated at the mouth of the river at Don Hoi Lot and there is an abundance of fresh seafood, including the Hoi Lot. This is a very popular place to have lunch if you’re traveling from Bangkok to say, Hua Hin, or further south.
As with Amphawa, Don Hoi Lot, is very popular with the Bangkok folks and can get very crowded on weekends and holidays.
A good way of seeing both Don Hoi Lot and Amphawa is to go on a Friday that is not a holiday. Plan to arrive in Don Hoi Lot for lunch and then drive up to Amphawa or Bang Noi (maybe 30 minutes away) in mid-afternoon when the market is setting up. Stroll along the river and then return through the market before it gets too crowded and then continue on your journey as the mobs arrive.
Only 55 km west of Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom is best known for the Phra Pathom Chedi, the world’s tallest Buddhist monument. Standing over 120 meters high, the chedi was first built over a thousand years ago but destroyed during a Burmese invasion in 1057.
King Mongkut visited the site in the mid-nineteenth century when it was known as the oldest Buddhist monument in Thailand and began reconstruction of the temple over the original chedi a few years later. This attempt later collapsed during a storm and King Chulalongkorn led the construction to its present state.
There is an annual fair at the temple which takes place in late November.
Nakhon Pathom also hosts The Rose Garden, a riverside tropical park-cum-country club. There is an 18-hole championship golf course, excellent accommodation facilities and a Thai Village where a daily afternoon show features traditional activities such as folk dances, a Thai wedding ceremony, an ordination, sword fighting and elephants at work.
Probably best known for the Death Railway Bridge depicted in the movie, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is about 130 km east of Bangkok and about a 3 hours drive from Hua Hin. Though the film was made in Sri Lanka and the actual bridge is made of iron and concrete rather than wood, a visit to the rebuilt and usable bridge, the Japanese War Memorial and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, can certainly give one a feel for the over 100,000 POW lives lost building the bridge and railway to Burma.
There is an annual River Kwai Bridge Week in Kanchanaburi with a light and sound presentation at the bridge, archaeological and historical exhibitions, folk entertainment, cultural shows, and rides on vintage trains.
This festival is in late November or early December.
The rivers Kwai Yai and Kwai Noi are surrounded by lush tropical foliage and there are many resorts and floating lodges and guesthouses for the traveller who would like a break in one of the most beautiful areas of Thailand.
Though Kanchanaburi is much larger than Hua Hin and also has many tourists, it sometimes seems much more laid back than Hua Hin. This is because many of the hotels are resorts and are located outside the city center, taking advantage of the natural surroundings. There are not as many restaurants selling farang food but there are many restaurants along the river offering very tasty Thai food with beautiful views of the river.
There is also a new mini-van service between Kanchanaburi and Hua Hin. There are four trips daily for the 3 hour trip (0900, 1200, 1500 and 1800). The office in Hua Hin is near Hua Hin Tansamai Shop on Petchkasem (Soi 56) and the van stops in Kanchanaburi at MuBan Jong Charoen which (I am told) is near the main train station in Kanchanaburi. The cost is 220 Baht each way.
Kanchanaburi is also the home of several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries with many waterfalls, caves, and varied wildlife.
The Three Pagoda Pass, 241 km from town, marks the border with Burma. There is a small but thriving border market. Sangklaburi is the largest town before the border and offers the largest wooden bridge in Thailand, beautiful temples, Mon markets and many guesthouses built along the large lake there. Well worth a visit if you have time.
There are many new golf courses within a few minutes of the provincial capital.
It should be pointed out however that several of these courses are said to be encroaching on the lands belonging to some of Thailand’s most beautiful and treasured national parks. Any golfer with children and/or gonads will avoid such parasites as there are many courses to choose from with more benign ecological practices.