Till I actually reached Hua Hin, I couldn’t really believe that there is a quiet resort town so close to the noise and clutter of Bangkok. Just about 200 kilometres from the capital, Hua Hin is where people go to play golf at one of its many championship courses, sip fine wine, luxuriate at sprawling hotels and private beaches, and generally enjoy the finer things in life. It’s a wonder not too many people outside Thailand (and golfers) know about it — yet.
Hua Hin’s glamour
With so many beautiful island destinations in Thailand, over the years Hua Hin was somewhat left out from the tourist scene, which, today has become its biggest advantage. It may not have the charms or sweeping vistas of an island but, for people trying to escape the crowds, its seaside location and laid-back pace of life are enough. Overshadowed by big city Bangkok so far, Hua Hin has now become a convenient escape for those who are short on time and want to add a quick break to a work visit (or just relax after a hectic Bangkok trip).
For those in the know, however, Hua Hin has always been a destination for the leisure traveller. With over 10 reputed golf courses, all part of championship circuits, the Black Mountain Golf Club here is regularly voted as the top golf course in Thailand. The day I visited, the LPGA tour was on and there was a genteel buzz around town with a few hoardings announcing the prestigious tour.
Avani at Hua Hin
The more I travel the more convinced I am that the ultimate luxury at a hotel is not the toiletries or the linen — it is space. A large bathroom, open areas, outdoor seating options, a giant bed to sink into and loads of space to move around … that to me is real luxury. At Avani Hua Hin Resort and Villas, among the newest hotels in town, the bar is set higher than ever.
My Pool Villa was a dreamy spacious room that came with a large bedroom, an equally large bathroom with separate dry and wet areas, plus an open-air shower area, a lower level with wide sofas for the television, a dining corner with a table for four, and a private pool area large enough to hold a party of 10-12 people. With no walls between the bedroom and living area, and glass walls separating the pool deck, there was acres of space all around — light filtered in all day, and from the bed I could see the sky. Instead of the usual cookies and chips, the attentive staff would deliver freshly baked lemon tarts and vegetable crisps every evening. I truly never wanted to leave.
Hua Hin vineyards
When I did leave the next day, I discovered something one doesn’t usually associate with Thailand: Wine. The Monsoon Valley Vineyard is located in the Hua Hin Hills vineyard area, a lush tropical paradise with impossibly beautiful panoramas. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery all through the one-hour drive from the hotel to The Sala, the restaurant at the vineyard, where you can indulge in wine tasting, and the pastoral beauty of rural Thailand. The Hua Hin Hills form the backdrop for the more than 250 acres of vineyard lands, endlessly green till the eyes can see.
Among the many varieties of wine that the estate makes, I loved the Colombard, a crisp and fruity white, and ordered a glass to go with my seafood linguine. The food at Monsoon Valley’s restaurant is outstanding. Do not leave without trying their version of the famous Thai dessert, sweet sticky rice and mango.
The Sala looks out at the vineyard, which you can explore on bikes (or on elephant back!) after or before your wine tasting session. There’s a pretty store at the venue to buy wine, gourmet ingredients, and cute elephant-themed merchandise.
Back at the hotel, I was just in time to catch the most glorious pink and orange sunset over the hotel’s Beach Garden, an open seaside courtyard with the Italian restaurant, Brezza, and the island bar. A few steps down from this space led to the hotel’s private beach where waves from the Gulf of Thailand made music all day and night.
I decided to add a touch of royalty to my trip (when in Thailand, do as the Thai do) and visit the Mrigadayavan Palace, the summer palace that Thai king Rama VI built for himself in 1923. A glorious white building next to the sea, the palace’s architecture is a departure from typical Thai style and is more European with many corridors and garden pavilions. On one such pavilion you can have afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches, pastries, and a choice of exquisite French teas from Mariage Frères. I chose the Rouge Bourbon tea, a table under a tree and watched the silent sea sparkle under a brilliant blue sky.
On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the town’s most famous historical landmark. Built entirely in wood, the Hua Hin Railway Station first opened in 1911, during the reign of King Rama VI, and was later renovated in 1926, and has been operational to date. The red-and-white painted building harks back to a time that saw decadent wooden architecture come up all over the country and remains one of the most beautiful railway stations, and buildings, in the world.
For the final day I decided to enjoy the luxuries of my hotel. Built more like a village than a hotel, the sprawling resort has many green open spaces and several different public areas to unwind with a book or a drink. The spa offers all the usual therapies; the all-day dining has a great choice of local cuisine; the sea is two minutes from the rooms … but in the end I just decided to stay in, order room service and enjoy the luxury of space.