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Post 352:Hua Hin, Thailand

Hua Hin was Thailand’s first real ‘Beach Resort’ but with the emergence of Phuket, and the islands of Samui and Chang etc., it seems to have almost dropped from the tourist radar. Nestled on the Gulf of Thailand about 300 km South West of Bangkok, for some reason Hua Hin was a place that I‘d never visited. Maybe being so close to Bangkok I’d always assumed that Hua Hin would be similar to Pattaya, and that’s certainly not a recommendation. Anyway, I figured that as I was so close then it would be rude not to drop in and find out for myself. I’d intended to start my travels in the South of Thailand but with major flooding I didn’t want to become another well meaning tourist getting in the way of the relief efforts. So, looking at my map I decided that Hua Hin would be the most southerly point on this journey and with bike rental in Bangkok being so rare and expensive, I decided to take the train.

It’s a three-hour journey and a 2nd class non-air conditioned ticket will cost you little more than the coins in the bottom of your pocket. It’s a little chaotic but once you understand the system then buying the ticket and boarding the right train is really quite easy. Because this is Thailand, the train journey will probably take an hour longer than the timetable suggested, but by the time that you arrive in Hua Hin you’ll be ready for the holiday. Trains in SE Asia are fun, but relaxing they are not.

Hua Hin railway station is noted for it’s architecture and it really is quite beautiful in a very chocolate-box sort of way. It’s busy but in a very relaxed and laid-back sort of way and a great entry point into the town itself. The first impression is that Hua Hin is about as far removed from the flesh-pot flea-pit of Pattaya as you could possibly imagine and while I’m sure that there is a seedier side to the resort, it is definitely nice and discreet. The town itself is a huge market place that bustles along without the chaos or intimidation of the more tourist orientated towns and that gives it a certain charm and family friendliness that keeps you constantly smiling. It’s not intimidating at all and walking the gentle streets or riding scooters around the area is an absolute breeze. Hotels in the town are plentiful and can accommodate most budgets. In the centre of town I find a small hotel with air-conditioning and a balcony for around 800 Baht, $10 per night. It’s clean, it’s friendly and as with most hotels the restaurant is probably quite abysmal but as this is Thailand you’ll probably be eating out on the streets anyway. The beaches however are perhaps not as free and inviting as those that you’ll find on many of the islands and those that have not already been taken over by the larger Hotels tend to by slightly more ’Industrial’ in nature. Another immediate thing that you’ll notice is a lot of Thai’s enjoying the beach, something that you don’t often find in the higher end tourist areas and for me, I always take that as a good sign.

In and around Hua Hin there isn’t the richness of temples and monasteries that you’ll find in other parts, but there is certainly enough culture and splendour to keep you entertained for a few days when you grow bored with lazing on the beach. The resort itself is spread along the coastline and unless you’re familiar with it, then local transport systems can be a little confusing. On the plus side, renting motorcycles and scooters is easy and a Honda Scoopy will cost around 200 Baht for a day, possibly including insurance but you never can tell, … this is Thailand after all. If you rent from outside of your hotel then you’ll need to leave your passport as security but in Thailand this is the norm and nothing to be too concerned about. If you’re going to be travelling away from Hua Hin on the bike then take photocopies of the passport, photo page and visa page, as these will be required for checking into other hotels during your stay. The people renting the bike to you will be able to provide you with the copies that you need. Although you’ll see many tourists and locals riding without safety helmets, don’t be tempted to do this yourself. The police will stop you and although the fine is quite small, it’s a pain in arse as far as administration is concerned. Anyway, Thai hospitals might be good, but you really don’t need to find that out for yourself.

The night markets in Hua Hin are busy and the food that’s served there is absolutely amazing. There are restaurants that serve ‘Western Menus’, but if you want to eat chips with everything then why the hell did you venture anywhere beyond Belgium? Don’t be afraid to try different local dishes and if you’re worried about the famous heat of Thai cuisine, then just ask the chef or waiter if it’s spicy … “Phet mai?”. The Thai answer will usually be a smiling “nid-noi”, but don’t worry, they want you to come back and eat there again so they wont try to force anything too hot or unidentifiable on you. Just try everything that you can and you might even surprise yourself.

After a short stay in Hua Hin, I decided that I was suitably relaxed and it was time to head back to Bangkok. The train was an option, but you can only have so much fun in one lifetime and I decided to take a seat in a more relaxing Mini-Van. It costs almost $5 for the 3 hour journey, but unlike the train you’re guaranteed a seat. Hundreds of these white Toyota Mini-Vans run daily between Bangkok and the major resorts and you simply buy a ticket and jump on the next available seat. It’s usually an experience but there are some experiences that I never want to repeat.

I’m against the use of child labour, especially when the child in question is driving my bus. He was clearly old enough to be driving but he looked no more than 12 and drove his Toyota accordingly. All twelve passengers sat white knuckled clinging to their seats and gasping at his antics. Weaving, speeding, changing lanes without warning, undertaking and overtaking. I was the only Westerner and the Thai’s are too dammed polite to say anything, so I told him to slow down … and he ignored me.

A screech of brakes and the continuous hoot of a horn from the latest cut-up car in the fast lane behind. A red BMW with an ’M3’ badge for show. The driver wasn’t impressed and forced the Mini-Van across to the hard shoulder where the youthful driver reluctantly stopped. The BMW driver was clearly an unhappy man and removed the Mini-Van driver from his seat through a barely open door. If the BMW driver was going to thump him, then it would be no more than the bus driver deserved, but when he opened his boot and pulled out a handgun …. the situation changed slightly.

The villain had become the underdog and while the Thai’s in the Mini-Van suddenly found things of amazing interest in their magazines, I donned the blue peace-keeping beret and harmony was quickly restored. I’ve no idea if the gun was real or loaded, but I guessed that the BMW driver was very unlikely to shoot me at the edge of a major highway …… I’m British don’t you know .. mai pen rai kap

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