Similar to both Koh Samet and Pattaya, Hua Hin is another very popular beach destination just a few hours from Bangkok. It used to be the favorite getaway/vacation spot for the King of Thailand, so we figured we couldn’t really pick a better/more appropriate spot to celebrate the King’s Birthday (and of course, another long weekend for us).
There are a few options for getting to Hua Hin from Bangkok, but we opted for the fastest and the cheapest (albeit probably not the safest), a van from Victory Monument. Just taking the boat to the train to the van from our place was a trek in and of itself, but once we arrived at VM, we were very pleased to be loaded and ready to go in a van within just a short 10 minutes…. And, at less than $10 a pop, who can complain! We were the last ones on the van, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the vans don’t leave until they are completely filled up, so as the last ones we didn’t have to wait very long. But, we were also the last ones to choose our seats which meant we would be spending the next 3 hours or so next to a few very large and heavy boxes in the back row of the van with seats that didn’t go back and so little leg room that I could hardly even fit my legs in there. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for someone bigger/with longer legs than me! Sorry Dave 😦
Anyway, we were happy to be on the road and after a pretty smooth yet extremely fast 3 hours (the reason the VM vans are known to be a little dangerous is because they travel at extremely high speeds. Apparently, the vans are part of some sort of Mafia here and will never be pulled over by a police man for speeding), we were nearing Hua Hin. Due to the King’s Birthday festivities though, there was tons of traffic (later on, we actually found out that the reason for all the traffic was because the King himself was in Hua Hin giving a speech – see, we told you it was his favorite place!). After not moving for about 20 minutes, we asked our driver how far we were from the city center. When he told us about 3 km, we figured we’d get there faster just by walking, so we hopped out of the van and headed on our way. About a km later, we asked again and this time were told we were about 6-8 km away. Definitely not as close as we thought, so we found the nearest motor bike and hopped on the back. This was our first ever motor bike ride (well, other than riding on the back of our friend Rob’s motorbike in Siem Reap) because we never knew they would allow both of us on at the same time, but it would be our first of many during our stay in HH.
We were dropped off in the “center of town” and were immediately discouraged when no one recognized the name of the street that our guesthouse was on. We were supposedly staying about a 5 minute walk from the beach and a 10 minute walk from Hua Hin’s famous night market, so considering we were exactly that distance from both places, we figured we had to at least be somewhere in the right vicinity. Still, after 20 minutes we hadn’t found our place and Dave was on the verge of a freak out. Finally, on what we said would be our last attempt to ask for directions (after that we were planning to just find another place and then complain to hostelbooker.com about not being able to stay at our original place because we couldn’t find it), finally someone knew not only the street, but also the guesthouse we were talking about. Phew! We found our spot (it was literally on the main street right on the ocean, I have no idea how no one knew where we were talking about), dropped our bags, and then did as we always do, we set out to explore.
We grabbed a quick lunch and then continued walking down the beach. We were a little disappointed not to find any restaurants directly on the beach, similar to where we had eaten in Koh Samet, but what we did find was almost equally as great and also something we hardly ever see – street after street filled with pretty much every kind of restaurant/cuisine you can imagine. There was everything from American to Swedish to German to Thai to Italian to steakhouses to Irish Pubs to Swiss to Spanish tapas to Middle East, all within a couple of blocks of each other. In Bangkok, there are places that you can throughout the city to get pretty much any type of food you want, but they’re spread out all over the city. There’s no one area where you have a whole melting pot of different types of cuisines all right at your fingertips. Dave said it reminded him of Epcot Center at Disney World. Suffice to say, we were in food heaven. We decided that we would eat seafood at the night market for our first night and then on night number two, check one of the many HH restaurants.
We continued our walk down the beach, stopping along the way for a few beachy cocktails, and by the time we made it to the end (or the Hyatt Regency Hotel), it was starting to get dark. We had planned on going back to our guesthouse to shower and change before going out for the night, but we quickly realized, that in true Stave fashion, this would be another night where we just stayed out and didn’t get home until we were ready to go to sleep. Somehow this happens to us all the time, but, we kinda like it.
We hopped on another motorbike and had him drop us not at the main night market, but at another night market we saw along our way. We took a quick lap, grabbed a snack (fried chicken wings), and then decided to walk the rest of the way to the main night market. On our way, we saw something pretty cool. All along the street, the Thai people were lighting candles in honor of the King. When someone offered us a candle, we decided to join in. It was a very beautiful sight and it felt nice to join in with all of the Thai people to honor their beloved King on his 86th birthday.
We finally made it to the night market and were very impressed with the huge selection of food. Not only were there tons of great street stalls and pop-up bars, there were also some great-looking sit down seafood restaurants. After seeing one in particular that had a great selection all for really cheap, we decided that would be our spot for the night. We had a great dinner, and by the time we were finished, we were exhausted and ready to call it a night.
We were up early the next morning and had planned to check out one of Hua Hin’s famous tourist attractions, either the Pala-U Waterfall, or the Phraya Nakhom Caves. After speaking to a few tuk-tuk drivers, we got the sense that the waterfalls were a little more touristy, and though beautiful, they would be very similar to the waterfalls we had visited a month or so earlier in Luang Prabang, Laos. Though most of the drivers actually recommended the waterfall to us, we decided to go against their recos and with our gut and instead head to the caves. We had read that in order to get to the caves, you had to do a little hiking and then walk through a very secluded beach. That sounded perfect.
Like many other places around SE Asia, to do one of these tourist activities in Hua Hin, you basically need to hire a tuk tuk for the day. They drive you to your destination, wait for you there, and then take you home. For the whole day, the going rate was 1,500 Baht ($50). We got our driver down to 1,000 B ($30). Not a bad deal for a whole day, but considering the fact that 1) it cost less than $10 to get all the way from Bangkok to HH; 2) our guesthouse for the night was less than $30; and 3) the cost of the tuk tuk was the same regardless of whether you had 1 person or 8, it was a little annoying, but we went ahead and hired a driver for the day anyway.
We had read that there was an entrance fee for the caves (about 400 B), but since we were living and working in Thailand, if we brought our work permit and school ID, they should give us the local rate, an astonishing 40 B. So, we brought our documents and when the guards refused to let us through for the local rate, Dave was furious. Yes, he got into an argument with the guards and somehow (I will not go into all the details here), we got our way. 80 B and a few angry guards later, we were ready to hike.
It was a beautiful 30 or 45 minute hike to the caves, all of which overlooked a gorgeous and very secluded beach. The cave itself was pretty cool too (though after our trip to the caves in Belize a couple years ago, no other caves seem to really be any comparison). We spent a couple hours checking out the area, exploring the caves, taking a dip in the ocean, and having a nice lunch. Then finally, we made our way back to find our tuk tuk driver who was taking a little cat nap while he waited for us.
We asked our driver if instead of dropping us off back in the city center, he could instead take us to Chopsticks Hill (Khao Takiab) or what is better known as Monkey Temple (and for good reason!). It’s a large hill at the Southernmost tip of Hua Hin, which you climb, check out the temple built on the top, and get a great view of the entire beach. The climb was nothing strenuous, and the view at the top was definitely worth it. Not only was there a great view of the beach, we also got to see literally hundreds of monkeys running around waiting to be fed. I stood back, but of course, Dave wanted to get a picture and almost got attacked by one of them! Very cool sight but definitely a little scary too.
After our very long and full day, we were ready to eat by the time we got back. This time, we decided to shower and change before heading out for a delicious steak dinner. After a couple apps, a couple sides, and a 500 gram steak, we were stuffed and ready to call it an early night.
Before heading back to Bangkok in the morning, we went for a run and had one last beach-side breakfast to end another great long weekend at the beaches of Thailand. Now, we could really start to get excited for our trip with Linda and Bob to some of the famous Thai beaches, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket.