The stunning Khmer-style temples of Phetchaburi are the most significant cultural sites near Hua Hin and Cha-Am, but really what attracts so many to this area is what first attracted the Thai royal family: proximity to the capital; sandy beaches; watersports; and activities such as golf, scuba, and horseback riding. Hua Hin also supports fine resorts such as the Hilton, Hua Hin, which come with great facilities, extensive dining, and top-notch spas.
One of the oldest resorts here is the Sofitel Centara Grand Resort and Villas, originally built for Thai royalty and their guests in the 1920s. Visitors are welcome to wander around its pretty colonial buildings and gardens (don't miss the giant topiary elephant). High Tea at the Sofitel costs 450B per person; it not only offers a chance to sip tea and nibble scones in a lovely original wing of the hotel, but transports guests back in time to the era when Hua Hin was a getaway purely for the Thai upper crust.
If you’re in town over the weekend, don’t miss the Cicada Market (www.cicadamarket.com; Soi Hua Thanon 23) which runs from 4-11pm Friday and Saturday and 4-10pm on Sunday. The market showcases the best of the region: local snacks, artists selling handmade clothing, jewelry, décor, art, and buskers and performers taking over the central stage around 8:30pm. The market has four zones (Art of Eating for food; Art of Act for entertainment, Art a la Mode for clothing, and Art Indoors for déor) and is easily manageable and pleasant.
The Night Market (on Decha Nuchit Rd., at the northern end of the town center) is much more touristy than the Cicada Market. The market covers a two-block radius and it’s busy from dusk to late with small food stalls and vendors hawking knockoff Nikes, selfie sticks, and cheap souveniers. Directly southeast of the market are a few shops that sell artwork produced by talented locals.
Bridging the gap between the touristy Night Market and the weekend’s only Cicada Market is Baan Silapin, which is often called the Hua Hin Artist’s Village (4km west of town on Moo 14; tel. 087047-7125; open 10am-5pm Tues-Sun). A local painter established this artist collective, and today it exhibits the works of 15 local artists in a gallery-style setting. There are classes in painting and sculpture (great for kids!) and the collective promotes the small but passionate group of creatives that call Hua Hin home. The Plearnwan Vintage Village ( Phetkasem Road between Soi 38 and Soi 40; www.plearnwan.com; tel. 03252-0311) is a grouping of period-style Chinese-Thai shophouses that harken back to the 1950s. Shops are so-so, but vendors hawk Thai dishes (there’s an emphasis on long-forgotten recipes) and traditional teas. The real boon to visitors is the screenings of classic movies at the open-air cinema on the weekend evenings; call for schedule and exact times (info not on website).
The Maruekatayawan Palace, or the Teakwood Mansion (no phone; daily 8:30am-5pm; 30B), located on the coast halfway between Hua Hin and Cha-Am, is one of the country's most attractive colonial buildings and a must-see for anyone interested in architecture. Built and designed in 1924 by King Rama VI, it served for many years as the royal summer residence and is now open to the public. A stroll through the beautifully preserved rooms with their polished teak floors, period furnishings, and shuttered windows is enough to be transported back to another era. Wander along the raised, covered walkway to the pavilions over the beach (formerly the royal changing rooms) and feel the fresh sea breeze on your face.
The big standing Buddha and viewpoint from spiky Khao Takiap (Chopstick Hill) -- a small cape 7km (4 1/3 miles) south of Hua Hin (hop on a green songtaew for 10B) -- is a pretty area worth a visit; if you climb the hill (272m/892 ft.) to enjoy the panoramic view, hang on to your bags and camera, as the local macaques will snatch anything unattended.
Pony riding is popular along the busy beaches at Hua Hin and Cha-Am. Frisky young fillies can be rented by the hour from 600B, but you'll need to bargain hard. At 100B for 10-minute kids' rides, you can ride with a Thai escort leading the pony (which is the safest way), or on your own if you're confident. If you're interested, take a walk down to the beach, and you'll be besieged by young men eager to rent out their ponies.
Hua Hin is famous for its fine spas, and each of the top resorts features excellent services. There are lots of small massage storefronts in Hua Hin, but this is a great place to go upscale and get the royal treatment. The best choice for a day of pampering is at Chiva-Som (73/4 Petchkasem Rd., Hua Hin; 5-min. drive south of town; tel. 03253-6536), where you pay a lot and get a lot. There's nothing like it. Far south of town, luxurious Evason Resort and Spa (9 Paknampran Beach, Pranburi 77220; 30km/19 miles south of Hua Hin; tel. 03263-2111), in and of itself, is a destination spa worth visiting, but also a fine stop for high-end day treatments. It's comparable in quality with Chiva-Som.
For those looking for a less pricey experience, there is the Thai Massage by the Blind (Petchkasem Soi 37; tel. 081944-2174). For more than two decades it has been offering employment to Hua Hin’s visually impaired. Traditional Thai body massages average 200B, the service is highly skilled, and the settings surprisingly nice.
Foodie Tours and Classes
While hotels around town offer cooking classes, a more authentic experience is available at Thai Cooking Course Hua Hin (http://thai-cookingcourse.com; tel. 081572-3805). Hands-on lessons start with a morning market visit to select produce and other ingredients needed to create the day’s menu. This is followed by an in-kitchen session with guests learning to make five Thai dishes. Hotel transfers and a recipe book are included in the 1,500B per person fee.
If you'd prefer to nosh without doing the work, contact the pros at Feast Thailand (www.feastthailand.com; tel. 03251-0207); they offer five very different tours each week. On the Foodies' Food Tour for example, participants sample a whopping 20 snacks from street stands around town, while the "Jing Jing" tour focuses on introducing travelers to Thai specialties they likely haven’t tried yet. They even offer a family-friendly tour with adjusted spice levels for little ones. Tours average 1,500B per person (900B for kids 12 and younger) and take between 2.5 and 3.5 hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.