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The southern Thai town of Hua Hin is often compared to Chiang Mai but with the added bonus of boasting many nearby beaches. We took a four-day trip to recon the area and ended up getting a really great first impression. Here are our thoughts on Hua Hin as a potential second home that we may end up choosing to settle down in during Chiang Mai’s hot and smokey season.
Hua Hin has a big town feel with its many multi-story buildings, major indoor shopping areas, outdoor night bazaars, hotels, and restaurants along about 10 km of coastline. There are a number of areas with new construction and modern looking buildings, and even the more established shops, restaurants, and bars a few turns off the main drag were visually well cared for. Businesses seemed to be doing well, and it felt like a clean, progressive, and successful beach town. Being that Hua Hin is often home to Thai Royalty all but guarantees its prosperity and tidiness.
Hua Hin does not emit the worn, grungy feeling commonly associated with touristy beach towns and it wasn’t plagued with tired looking souvenir shops and old hotels sporting cliché seashell decor. Rarely were there hawkers selling handmade crafts, tailors looming on their doorsteps, or the beckoning calls of “Tuk-tuk! Tuk-tuk” block after city block. The farang we saw were mostly retired European couples or young European families, and we saw fewer single men looking to have a good time or transient backpackers quickly passing through.
The beach at Hua Hin is pretty expansive but the coastline isn’t overtaken by towering hotels and resorts fighting for prime real estate. In fact, two times we stumbled onto the beach when our small soi abruptly ended and the sand began in between some small, seaside restaurants. We found this refreshing being that the beaches where we come from are hard to reach because of overcrowded and poorly designed small parking areas.
The sand is mix of light tan and grey, and the waters are a darker grey blue, which are unlike the white sands and crystalline waters of the beaches of the furthest southern areas of Thailand. The coastline is overall very pretty and ends at a mountainside Buddhist temple. The beach slopes so gradually into the Bay of Thailand that you can walk out very far and only find yourself waist-deep in water. Other areas of Hua Hin’s coast are somewhat hidden, and on some evenings the only people occupying these small beaches are a handful of beach goers, Thai teenagers playing sports, and men offering half hour-long horse rides down the quiet shores.
Ah, the seafood! Seafood is abundant in Hua Hin and there are plenty of waterfront restaurants at which to dine. Shrimp, crabs, squid, fresh whole fish, steamed mussels and clams were on most menus. This was sorely missed seeing as Chiang Mai is land locked and we only occasionally eat seafood.
There are an impressive number of formal dining restaurants and a good choice of restaurants serving international cuisine, including Irish pubs, Russian, Chinese, and Italian restaurants.
As for the local food, we drove down streets where there are many affordable permanent food stalls and street stalls selling the Thai classics as well as an array of freshly caught seafood. There are also many mobile food vendors to be found in the night bazaar areas just across the main drag. Additionally, there were plenty of coffee shops which is very typical of Thailand.
Thankfully we found that the food in Hua Hin wasn’t much more expensive than the food in Chiang Mai (10 to 20 baht more for most plates), especially when we ventured off the normal tourist path in search for places favored heavily by the locals.
The Night Life
You don’t have to look far to find a good night life in Hua Hin. We were lucky enough to be there on a weekend and ventured down a series of waterfront streets that had the music bumping and club lighting. Drinks are reasonably priced (same as Chiang Mai) and there are plenty of places to play pool and to meet pretty ladies, if that’s your thing.
Hua Hin has a major four lane highway running north and south along the coastline. There are a number of stop lights, both on the main drag and on major side streets that made it a bit traffic prone. Cars seemed to be the preferred mode of transportation which added to the congestion. We did visit during a holiday weekend, so the vacationers probably added to the normal traffic levels. Even so, it wasn’t bad because we zipped through most of the traffic on our rented motorbike, which also allowed us to ride down those narrow sois in the downtown area which can be merely the width of a car!
As for public transportation, there are plenty of tuk-tuks, taxis and even motorbike taxis (recommended if you are traveling solo). We didn’t see many conventional songtaews, but we did see these cool looking mini semi truck/tuk-tuk crossbreeds, as well as familiar looking tuk-tuks. We had Motorbike rental shops are few and far between, but there is no shortage of ways to get around. For longer distance ground transportation, there is a bus station and a train station, both which we utilized arriving and departing Hua Hin, respectfully.
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The Cost and the Verdict on Hua Hin
After confirming that this beach town was as clean, free of a major tourist footprint, and the cost of living is about the same as in Chiang Mai, we can say that it is a strong contender for a second home during the hot and smokey season that bears down on you in Chiang Mai three months out of the year. We talked to many expats that told us they lived in large houses, or amenity rich condos for less than 8,000 baht per month (less than $300 USD!), so our $1,200 a month budget should go very far in this part of Thailand. We took note of plenty of new construction and countless waterfront condos and resort neighborhoods that were priced at around 2.5 million baht (around $80,000 USD). We have a few more locations to check out, but Hua Hin definitely seems impossible to beat at this point!