It has been 80 years since the British pushed a track through the Gulf of Thailand, linking Kuala Lumpur with Bangkok by train. Opening up the coastline, the languid sea-side village of Hua Hin became the Kingdom’s first resort town. The King still lives here- his palace, Klai Kangwon, means “far from worry”. A string of chic new resorts are now reinventing Hua Hin for the jet-set crowd. Here are five on offer:
The Look: A resort within a resort – tucked into the side of the Hyatt Regency, the two hectare Barai is a maze of ochre and plum passages leading to an 18 room spa, 8 guest suites and a Japanese-style garden and pool shaded by towering tamarind trees. Designed by Thai architect Mathar ‘Lek’ Bunnag, the Barai mimics the architectural styles of the ancient Khmers, whose Cambodian based empire stretched as far as Hua Hin. It’s the town’s most exclusive address.
The scene: A magnate for dignitaries and couples relishing in its privacy and knock-out service. The butlers are extraordinary, and can be called on for anything- from fetching train tickets and unpacking your bags to wake up calls with freshly squeezed orange juice.
The Amenities: Here, it’s all about the spa- exotic treatments like a sweet basil and lime herbal compress or caviar facial are even more glamorous in the Barai’s temple like surrounds. Work up an appetite with the excellent, twice daily, yoga and tai-chi classes (although be warned that they will ask you sign a waiver) and then spend it at McFarlane House, a 19th century house with Asian style tapas on the beach.
The Rooms: The lavish suites have been custom-fitted with four meter beds, steam rooms, tubs built for two and both Thai and Swedish massage beds. There are also Lavazza espresso machines, yoga mats, board games, Kirstin Florain toiletries and (slightly exposed) private plunge pools on the ground floor; book a terrace suite and save your pennies for the spa instead.
Nice surprise: The extensive list of goodies included in your room: a 60-minute massage, evening cocktails and canapés, a mini bar stocked with juices and home-made snacks (chocolate, dried mango and spicy cashews), organic breakfasts (poached eggs and wilted spinach and pine nuts), and, albeit temperamental, internet.
Dirty Secret: Take a deep breath before stepping onto the beach, where there’s a good chance you’ll be accosted by Hua Hin’s social nuisance: cowboys who gallop their nags up and down the beach, kicking sand in beach goers’ faces. If you do want to ride, bargain hard.
Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, Khao Takiap Road; +66 3 2521234; www.huahin.regency.hyatt.com; Double rooms from $600.
X2 Kui Buri
The Look: Pronounced “Cross-two Koo-ee Bur-ee”, this boxy stone and wood resort is the second for Sydney-born Anthony McDonald (his first was on Koh Kood- and has since opened X2 Koh Samui). An hour’s drive south of Hua Hin, the resort gives the best of both worlds- local architect Duangrit Bunnag’s angular, high-tech designs on a remote coastline dotted with traditional fishing villages.
The scene: Groups of Thais and Europeans loving the design, or after easy access to the nearby Kui Buri and Sam Roy Rod National Parks, which are alive with elephants, gibbons, Malya tapirs and migratory birds.
The Amenities: A beautiful big pool and small spa are shaded by an ancient tamarind tree. There is one restaurant, but it offers are limited to sandwiches or curry for lunch and grilled chicken or steak for dinner; maybe difficult to digest if you’re here for more than a couple of days.
The Rooms: The twenty-three villas have dramatic stone walls, concrete floors and wood trimmings with wall to ceiling glass doors leading to outdoor patios and plunge pools (book Villa 3 or 4 for sweeping ocean views with a sea breeze). Cool details include a fold down wooden desk, cute tree trunk stool, outdoor shower and stack of Wallpaper* magazines (although it’s a pity they are all in Thai). The cotton bedding is deliciously soft and toiletries have been tailor made from local herbs: lemongrass, Indian cedar, and geranium.
Nice surprise: On first impressions the liberal use of concrete and stone fashioned in a block-like grid looks cold and uninviting, too much hip and not enough homely. But after an hour or two the property warms into an earthy Zen feel.
Dirty Secret: Less than a handful of the resort’s 50 on-site staff speak any sort of English- and even then it’s limited to a few words, making communications difficult; the beach at is not suitable for swimming.
52 Moo 13, Ao Noi sub-district; Muang District; +66 032601412; www.x2resorts.com; Double rooms from $165, including breakfast.
Frangipani Wing- Aleenta Pranburi
The Look: Blink and you may just miss it. This extension of the Aleenta Pranburi, 500 meters down the road, has five rooms and a family villa tucked around an inviting infinity pool. French doors, fake rammed-earth walls in terracotta-salmon and sweeping views of the beach gives it an earthy, Mediterranean feel.
The scene: Couples snuggling on their decks, mums and daughters, best friends- this is the place to come and reconnect- chill by the pool, stroll on the beach, or just do nothing at all. There are no loud parties, no TV and no crowds.
The Amenities: There is a small seaside cafe and access to the facilities at the main Aleenta resort- including a restaurant with small indoor/ outdoor spa and complimentary ten minute massage for each guest. It’s quite a hike between the two properties in the mid day heat; take the beach, which is by far the biggest attraction here. But inquire about jellyfish before venturing into the water as they can be ferocious at certain times of the year.
The Rooms: Aleenta call all the rooms in their Frangipani Wing suites, which theoretically they are not (only the two Frangivaree rooms are suites, with separate living and sleeping areas). Tiny, but super cozy, rooms have outdoor bathrooms, clay floors and glass doors which open onto a your own wooden deck and lounge chairs, access to the pool and some with hammocks (request staff to put down the mosquito net and open the doors so you can sleep with the ocean breezes).
Nice surprise: Being left a hand written note with the next day’s forecast and scheduled excursions. Personalized service at the Frangipani wing is big- staff will happily prepare special treats, like a picnic breakfast on your deck.
Dirty Secret: Food at the Aleenta used to be worth the trip to Pranburi for alone. Things have since slid drastically; my spicy vermicelli and seafood salad was four times more expensive, a third of the size and a fraction as good as the same dish served at the local restaurant next door.
Haad Naresuan Beach, Khao Hua Kalok, Pranburi; +66 25148112; www.aleenta.com; Double rooms from $240, including breakfast.
AKA Resort Guti
The Look: Situated in the hills behind Hua Hin- a ten minute drive from the beach- the AKA Guti calls itself “a monastery styled retreat” influenced by the Aka people of northern Thailand. Quiet it is; the up-market alternatively to nearby AKA Resort, 19 all-pool-villas looks over a rolling, misty countryside and soon to be lake.
The scene: Small groups and families taking advantage of the two-bed room connecting villas which staff set up for deck parties- bringing in a barbeque and chef to cook up freshly caught seafood.
The Amenities: An enormous 45 meter swimming pool takes central stage, although there are few places to escape the mid day sun. Cozy up in the open air lounge with its low hung fans and dark wood trimmings instead. The one restaurant serves great Thai food- guests looking for something more, as well as a spa and gym, can shuttle over to AKA Resort, a couple of kilometers away.
The Rooms: Spacious -the smallest stretches over 190 sq meters- with great outdoor areas that includes a sala, dining table and pool. Inside is distinctly Asian, with triangle bolsters for lounging, Chinese furniture and a wooden bath tub. Don’t miss the shower fashioned out of an old wooden pot. Perhaps still teething eight months after opening, my room was badly prepared, with no pen, paper, mini bar menu (or many items on it), drinking water or towels for the pool.
Nice surprise: The food- especially local specialties like Chantaburee Tom Yam and crab with peppercorns. Splash out at Coustiero, a French Creole restaurant headed by Mauritian chef Jacob Didier who serves delicacies like forest rabbit braised in red wine and free-range chicken with lemongrass infused sticky rice. Just make sure Didier is working that night; when I dined there, staff failed to tell me this, claiming they had none of the Cousteiro’s game-heavy meats and served up very average Pacific Rim dishes instead.
Dirty Secret: The AKA Guti rack rates are an extortionate- and very ambitious given the level of service (I spent 16 minutes trying to order room service before walking to the restaurant instead)- $720 a night. Fortunately, internet booking agents offer the same rooms for a fraction of this.
Baan Nhong Hiang, Hin Lek Fai; +66 32618900; www.akaresorts.com; villas from $235, double occupancy, including breakfast.
The Look: On first impressions: Industrial, this Dungrit Bunnag designed hotel is so concrete heavy it almost feels like a government institution. Don’t let this put you off; Singapore-based Alila raised Hua Hin’s style status by several notches when they opened in early 2008. Fun, smart, with great service and a beautiful beach- this is one Hua Hin’s nicest places to stay.
The scene: Thai movie stars and Bangkok’s fashionista crowd flock to the Alila’s sleek bars and restaurants; Europeans, Singaporeans and a sprinkle of Australians to the sea side salas and swath of golden sand.
The Amenities: There are two pools- the adults only lined with brilliant blue tiles- a shimmery bar, fine dining Mediterranean restaurant (where my food turned up cold), and better, all day diner. Don’t miss the spa, which uses local ingredients in their whimsically named treatments (like the skinny moccocino coffee scrub) and affordable, take home products- Andaman sea bath salts, lemongrass insect repellant.
The Rooms: Seventy-nine rooms have shag-pile carpets offsetting raw concrete walls and fabulous rain showers that drop three meters from the ceiling. The well stocked mini bar has full bottles of Laurent Pierre champagne and South Gin (a real bargain at $30 a bottle).
Nice surprise: The extensive library of music available on the nifty Apple TV’s. There are hundreds of albums to choose from, from Duran Duran and Edith Piaf to Cat Stevens and Fat Boy Slim. It’s a pity Alila haven’t fully utilized this sexy gadget, which also allows for podcasts, movies and YouTube.
Dirty Secret: There’s no doubt that the industrial design is overdone- but impractically on the black door handles and railings, which soak up Thailand’s mid day and become hot to touch; it took the best part of a week to lock down a room booking as staff failed to answer the phone or correctly decipher emails.
115 Moo 7, Tambol Bangkao, Cha-Am; +66 32709555; www.alilahotels.com; double rooms from $240, including breakfast.