HUA HIN, Thailand (eTN) – If Pattaya has not always had a very good image for travelers or even Thai locals, Hua Hin has, by contrast, always been considered as Thailand’s chic resort station near Bangkok. The fact that the city has long been a favorite for Thailand kings, from Rama V to the current Rama IX, certainly helped to protect the seaside destination’s image. The city is indeed Thailand’s oldest resort as it started to attract its first vacationers in the 1920s, helped by the opening of one of the country’s oldest rail links.
Today, it is still worth taking a train to Hua Hin just for the pleasure of arriving in an old wooden rail building. Even if this is not an original – it used to be a royal pavilion in Sanamchan Palace in Nakhon Pathom province and was rebuilt in Hua Hin only in 1968 – it exults a nostalgic atmosphere.
Hua Hin beachs are clean, the small town has a high density of chic and trendy shops, while boutique hotels are now spreading in any corner of the city. In the nineties, Chiva-Som spa and resort gave a new fame to the city as a spa destination.
But in contrary to Koh Samui, Phuket, or Pattaya, close to 70 percent of the tourists in Hua Hin are locals, or 714,000 over a total of 1.04 million guest arrivals in hotels in 2010. “And among foreign travelers coming to the resort, at least 20 percent of them are expatriates,” indicated Mrs. Pinnat Charoenphol, Director of TAT for Hua Hin and the province of Prachuat Kiri Khan. Finland, Norway, and Sweden are the largest foreign markets, all three representing between 38,000 and 45,000 arrivals per year.
According to Mrs. Charoenphol, the main reason for the small number of foreign visitors is the relative long time it takes to arrive to the resort. “Most of the foreign tourists arriving in Krabi, Phuket, and Samui come by air directly in connection with an intercontinental flight landing in Bangkok, and since the opening of the international airport in Suvarnabhumi, while Pattaya is by car less than an hour away,” added the TAT local director.
Recent flooding, however, is likely to increase the awareness of travelers for Hua Hin. With some parts of Bangkok being under water, local Thais and foreigners fled in the direction of the south. While Pattaya became rapidly saturated, many finally chose to go to Cha-Am and Hua Hin. Suddenly, Thai hi-so and wanna-be had to share their best-kept secret with hordes of foreigners. Between mid-October and the end of November, Hua Hin reached record levels with many hotels being fully booked or reaching occupancy rates of 80 to 90 percent.
Is Hua Hin’s recent success only exceptional or did flooding forever turn the destiny of the small resort station? So far, TAT’s promotion for Hua Hin targeted roughly two markets: family and sport amateurs. “Hua Hin with its unspoilt beaches and its resort hotels along the coast, is ideal for families. As it is also a very safe place with none of the sometimes ‘seedy’ attractions of Pattaya, we look at Hua Hin as a perfect family-oriented destination for long-stay tourists,” explained Pinnat Charoenphol. The city already made its name by having some of the best golf courses in Thailand. There are 8 courses within a 30-minute drive from town with 2or 3 more courses less than an hour away by car.
Hua Hin is also turning into a famed venue in Thailand for large events. The annual Jazz Festival is now a well-established annual event, attracting jazz musicians from all across the world. Sports events are also turning increasingly popular. Thailand’s International Kite Festival generally takes place during March to May, depending on the year. In August, Hua Hin hosted its third International Triathlon consisting of a 40-km cycle race, a 10-km run, and a 1.5-km swim. From a sleepy charming town, Hua Hin is now looking at competing with Thailand’s most famous seaside destinations.