Sep 7, 2017
By Merritt Gurley. Photographed by Thanet Kaewduangdee.
It is time I return to Hua Hin. Bangkok’s worst-kept secret, the weekend retreat has undergone a rebirth of late. This stretch of coast a few hours’ drive from the capital has been the chichi escape of the Thai elite since the 1920s, when the royal family built a summer palace called Klai Kangwon (“far from worries”) on these shores. Today’s Hua Hin, not surprisingly, has better roads, more direct flights and fewer empty beaches. There’s been a 65-percent climb in visitors since 2011 to nearly five million in 2015.
A ferry from Pattaya launched in January, run by royal Passenger liner Co. (royalferrygroup.com; one-way fare Bt1,250), with a journey time of 90 minutes on smooth seas. And a high-speed train is in the works that will reduce the rail time from Bangkok from four hours to one, though it may be a few years before it is completed.
The boom in travelers also means a boom in hotels; new openings and major makeovers ensure that whatever you’re looking for in a vacation, you’ll find it here.
Ananda Hua Hin Resort and Spa
Traveling with two young kids can be a tangle of logistics, and many properties that bill themselves as kid-friendly miss the mark, opting for style over practicality. But this brand-new 196-room tropical retreat by Compass Hospitality ticks both boxes beautifully.
The 268-square-meter two-bedroom lagoon villas have large verandas and individual plunge pools that lead out to a shared lagoon. Adults can lounge on the private deck while the kids play and make friends with the neighbors. My son’s favorite game is swimming to the far end of the 60-by-20-meter lagoon and hiding behind the waterfall wall.
The layout of the villa is logical and simple, a relief for parents wary of sharp edges and visual barriers: one king-sized bedroom for parents and a second bedroom with two twin-sized beds for the tots are fronted by a living room and kitchenette area with sliding glass doors facing the pool.
“We try to surprise and delight,” says general manager Nigel Tovey. “The staff is trying to make things memorable and add little extras. If you have three G&Ts, the fourth one will be on the house.” After a day of being caught in the crossfire of a splash war between a toddler and an infant (I think my six-month-old won, but it was a pyrrhic victory), I avail myself of that fourth G&T, and slip into bed, feeling warm and rosy from more than just the gin. anandahuahin.com; two-bedroom pool lagoon villas Bt22,746.
Veranda Resort and Spa
“Please, more slide?” is my two-year-old’s constant refrain at this newly refurbished beachfront resort. The renovations add gloss to the 118-room estate, and a stylish café (Glass Room Espresso Bar), but, for families, the highlight is the new wing, which includes three child-friendly room types: the Three-Bedroom Pool residence, the Family Jacuzzi suite and Slider Pool suite— named for its own private pool and water slide that will delight kids who can’t bear to pull themselves away from the main pool after it closes.
The new wing is set back from the beach, so I opt for a two-bedroom pool villa closer to the shore. The layout is loft-style with a second bedroom up a flight of stairs, a tricky arrangement with babies, but perfect for a post-toddler family.
My husband and kids are anchored to the pool—it is built around a towering tree that casts an ever-shifting shadow, with a water- curtain, an artificial beach, two water slides, a sand pit and bubble jets—but I’m more taken with the landscape. I climb up to the glass walk bridge above I Sea Restaurant for a panoramic view of the lush two-hectare estate nudged up against the sea.
At low tide I walk along the coast with my son, collecting shells. We dig a hole in the sand that fills with water as waves roll in and he sits in the natural pool, searching for hermit crabs, forgetting about the slide for a few moments. verandaresortandspa.com; two-bedroom villa from Bt16,353.
Let’s Sea Hua Hin Al Fresco Resort
“Start with a glass of champagne to toast the holiday, every day,” the resort’s CEO Srayut Ekahitanonda suggests. I can’t argue with that logic. There’s a decadent and playful spirit to this 40-room boutique, which started as a restaurant 10 years ago and has grown into one of Hua Hin’s most popular destinations for couples. Take the adults-only playground: though there are swings and monkey bars, no kids under 12 are allowed. In fact, the only place children are welcome at Let’s Sea is at the beachfront restaurant. “Peace and romance,” is what Ekahitanonda promises guests.
The staff crosses the property through an underground tunnel so as not to disturb guests. Every room faces the 120-meter-long pool and, in a neat trick of architecture, no two rooms share a wall. Ground-floor rooms have private piers that lead directly to the pool—go ahead and swim to dinner—while the second-floor rooms all have rooftop terraces for sunbathing and moon gazing.
Don’t blush, but much analysis has gone into the tight-springed laZzzzz bed, which was custom-made in partnership with Sealy (you can take one home for Bt34,500), and a litany of other considerations went into the bedding. “Goose-down pillows don’t make sense in a coastal environment because they get stinky if they get wet,” Ekahitanonda says. “We use a special fiber that has the same comfort, but no bad smell.”
It seems like Ekahitanonda has truly thought of everything, so much so that when at dinner they play three of our favorite songs, we’re suspicious. Did they find our wedding video on YouTube?
The meal is also a medley of greatest hits: Thai classics including grilled sirloin with spicy jaew sauce and mango sticky rice. The sun descends as we take our final bites and, as if on cue, horses gallop along the quickly darkening beach. As promised, it defines a peaceful and romantic setting. letussea.com; doubles from Bt11,111.
T+L TIP: If you’d like the experience of Let’s Sea but with the kids in tow, stay at Loligo, their new marina-themed sister property next door. loligoresort.com; mini suite pool or garden balcony from Bt2,888.
The pages of time feel thin indeed at this 67-room retreat, where owner Velvadi Sritrairatana brings generations of aristocracy (her grandmother, Supatra Singholaka, founder of Chao Phraya Express Boats in Bangkok, was raised in the court of His Majesty King Rama VI) to understated Thai design. “We try to be elegant, but approachable,” says general manager Bertrand Margerie. “We don’t have our noses in the air.”
The buffet breakfast at the newly opened Ob-Oon Deli, Boulangerie et Patisserie is the best I’ve had. The glassed-in restaurant, headed by German chef Karsten Seyfert, who worked at Baur au Lac in Zurich and Capri in Bangkok, is almost as bright and airy as the pastries on offer (the chocolate croissants and macarons are triumphs of fluffiness).
For sundowners, their Oceanside Beach Bar is hard to beat. The wooden deck is lined with daybeds facing the ocean, and the cocktails, like the apple martini, are strong but refreshing. The property has two different wings on opposite sides of the road, and three different pools, which means plenty of privacy regardless of the season. “Even if we are fully booked,” Margerie says, “you never feel a crowd.” putahracsa.com; Silksand room from Bt4,933.
FOR SOLO TRAVELERS
It could be the 12-percent beer I’m drinking, but I’m feeling disoriented. I’m at HOBS (House of Beers), one of Bangkok’s original trendy beer cafés, surrounded by a group of 20-something cool kids, so all the evidence says I’m in the capital’s beautiful-people ’hood, Thong Lo. Yet, right in front of me is the ocean. It is confusing.
This is Seenspace Hua Hin, a beachfront mall that is bringing hipster edge to a coastal setting. Yes, there’s an infinity pool spilling against a wave-lapped horizon, but it isn’t the Hua Hin of yesteryear. The mixed-use space opened last December and has the same urban vibe of its sister property, with a collection of bars, shops, restaurants, cafés and, as of April, a luxury boutique hotel: Hotel Bocage.
The new hotel by one of Thailand’s most lauded architects, Duangrit Bunnag, the man behind Naka Phuket and The Jam Factory in Bangkok, represents a shift for the resort town. It’s not even modern tropical, it is just modern. It shows that Hua Hin doesn’t have to be a frangipani-laden celebration of the sea—it can be sleek, severe even. “We are a design hotel like Hua Hin hasn’t had before,” hotel manager Woralak Thaiyamart says.
In contrast to the massive estates I’ve visited, Hotel Bocage has just six suites, ranging in size from 40 to 80 square meters. It is part of the Louis T Collection and a member of Design Hotels, and the thoughtful contemporary touches equal its credentials: my minimalist gray-scale room has a comfortable queen-sized bed by Porro, a glass-walled bathroom with luxury touches like Aesop toiletries, and a Antonio Lupi bathtub that has no faucet but rather fills up from beneath the drain.
A solo traveler looking for a fun, stylish escape from Bangkok will find much to love in this mighty-mouse boutique, and those looking to make new friends will find a receptive crowd at Oasis Bar and Restaurant, where the infinity pool is open to Bocage guests. I’m content to sit alone though, sipping my beer and enjoying the soul-quenching feeling that comes from going somewhere beautiful and simply looking at it. hotelbocage.com; doubles from Bt8,000.
Chiva-Som International Health Resort
“Humans are bio-individual,” chef Paisarn Cheewinsiriwat says as we tour his organic garden. “One answer doesn’t fit a group. You have to listen to your own body.” My body usually tells me to eat burritos and drink beer, but Cheewinsiriwat counters that I’m not listening closely enough. At the sprawling beachfront spa resort where Cheewinsiriwat transforms his vegetables into healthy cuisine, suddenly I’m tuned into softer suggestions that don’t usually make it through the muffle of my routine, messages like “sleep more than five hours a night?” and “maybe you like salad?”
It doesn’t even feel right to call the rainbow of produce plated before me a salad; it is something more grand. I look around to see if the other guests are equally wowed, and am delighted to see that I’m not the only one dining alone. Three other women sit in solitude, gazing out at the ocean. There is a no-electronics policy, and as night falls, I can’t decide which is more beautiful, the sunset—peachy cloud puffs adrift above a sepia sea—or the relief of not having to Instagram it.
After a day of being massaged, steamed and body polished, I’m bones-deep relaxed. The entire stay has been tailored to my needs. Though there are 13 retreats to choose from, including five new packages that launched this year, the health consultant customizes a program just for me.
“It isn’t a boot camp,” Cheewinsiriwat says. “It is more like, ‘come on over to the healthy side.’” That healthy side, according to Brian Anderson, sustainable development manager, extends to the environment: “Wellness isn’t just about people, it is also for the planet.” Anderson and his team have revitalized the Krailart Niwate mangrove ecosystem, adding 3,000 trees and a one-kilometer-long boardwalk that weaves throughout the forest. The first phase will be finished by year end. Since the setting adds to Chiva-Som’s calm, it seems fitting that they reciprocate.
It is dark as I walk back to my room. I’m in the Chiva-Som–issued pajamas that many guests wear around the property between treatments. I am sleepy, carefree and full of excitement about what the next day holds. I feel like a kid again. chivasom.com; off-peak three-night retreats from Bt72,000 per person.