Day Tripping in Amazing Hua Hin
In last year's Bangkok Post was a daily feature where a celebrity was asked about their favorite vacation destination; more frequently than not, the celebrity chose a beach destination and usually they chose Hua Hin.
Hua Hin is a small beach town in Pratchuap Khirikhan, perhaps the nation's pineapple capital. The Dole Company has a huge pineapple processing facility just West of Hua Hin which also houses hundreds of Dole workers. However, the main commodity of Hua Hin is tourism. On weekends, especially long weekends, the town's population grows immensely and tourists flock to the markets and beaches in droves.
Besides the warm, tropical beaches, most tour guides list the train station as the main attraction. Once you spend 10 minutes to see the train station there's not much left in the tourist guides. There is, however, much more than that to Hua Hin.
If you head inland on Chompsin Road, and stay to the left when most of the traffics takes a right, you will climb a steep hill on Khao Hin Lek Fai Road that will eventually take you to one of the nicest parks in Hua Hin and perhaps all of Thailand. The Khao Hin Lek Fai park has 7 trails each leading to a rock ledge lookout with a magnificent of view of Hua Hin. This park is a must for photographers. Besides the great views, peacocks roam the park and offer photographers opportunities for great wildlife pictures. There is a huge aviary that is unfortunately in despair and no longer has its original net roof. A troop of monkeys also live in the area and can be seen at the lookouts or the restaurant. The hiking trails are short and it's possible to hike all the trails in an afternoon. I know from experience that the trails are not compatible for strollers if you have an infant or toddler. My favorite trail is behind the restaurant and concession stand which takes you to a huge, smooth granite head with views to the east and north. It is from this vantage point which I've most frequently seen the monkeys.
Another spot to see monkeys, and a spot that is frequently mentioned in travel brochures, is Khao Taikieb, also known as Monkey Mountain. Monkey Mountain is a mountain that juts out into the Gulf of Siam and houses a couple Buddhist temples. A sect of female monks sell fruit and peanuts to feed the monkeys to help raise money for their temple. A word of caution, these monkeys are not shy and will jump into an open car or the basket of a motorbike to look for treasures. The monkeys have been known to grab cameras or anything left unattended and head into the forest never to be seen again.
On your way to the top of the mountain you pass through two small villages, the second village which is at the foot of the mountain is a fishing village chock full of fantastic seafood restaurants. Many of the restaurants sell raw or cooked seafood packaged to go, or will seat you at a table and serve you a seafood feast or your choice. Most of these establishments deal in shell fish, but some have fresh fish as well. It's more expensive than eating at a traditional Thai restaurant, but still less than going to McDonalds or other fast food places. Last time I went with a friend we sat for about an hour and a half gorging ourselves on crab, huge shrimp, char broiled scallops, mussels, mud clams, squid and some seafood fried rice and the total bill was 555 baht (which was good luck because it translates to ha ha ha, and it was new year's day).
There are many other great seafood restaurants scattered about the city, and the night market has several all in walking distance from the downtown area. While the fishing village offers seafood day and night, the night market, well, only serves at night. The great part about the night market restaurants is that most of them set out vast carts of ice then pile in fresh fish, shellfish, squid, and all the trappings of Thailand. You can pick out the fish you want and the restaurant will prepare it however you'd like. This is an advantage for those with only a smattering of Thai language skills, because your fingers can do the talking. A feast as I described earlier will cost substantially more, but you will have the opportunity to do some fabulous people watching, and shopping as well. It's always fun to listen to a group wander by and try to figure out where they are from then stroll amongst the dozens of stalls along the street.
As for the shopping, the night markets are a great place to go. There are many night markets in Hua Hin, the most famous being downtown, but there is one in front of the Grand Hotel called the Grand Market, another is hidden along the canal on Kong Klong (Canal Road) near the Pai Mai Driving Range which usually only operates on Tuesday nights, but has recently been opening on Friday's also. The Tuesday market is so huge and packed with people that I usually stay away from it. I think I'm the only one, however, because the place is always bustling with throngs of people.
The more you explore the area, the more markets you will discover. I can't list them all here, because I don't know them all, but I know of at least a dozen and maybe two if I rack my brain.