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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 690B 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.

Don't miss the town's Night Market (on Decha Nuchit Rd., on the northern end at town center), which is busy from dusk to late with small food stalls and vendors. There are also lots of shops in and around the central beachfront, and Hua Hin -- not unlike most resort areas in Thailand -- is a good place to get that suit made or buy a Buddha ornament.

The Maruekatayawan Palace, or the Teakwood Mansion (no phone; daily 8am-4pm; 90B), 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.

Spas

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.

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.