Apr 5, 2022
A CENTURY AGO, it was Hua Hin that became Thailand’s very first go-to beach resort, connected to Bangkok by what was then a spiffy modern locomotive. Chic hotels popped up to accommodate the fashionable crowds and even the royal family picked Hua Hin to build their summer palaces to escape the heat of the city.
Hua Hin remains one of the most popular weekend escapes from Bangkok, so popular in fact that the Friday night traffic jams out of the capital are part of the weekend routine for many.
The first time I saw Hua Hin, I was a bewildered and grumpy 10-year-old discovering an alien world on his first trip to Thailand. But once we arrived at the beach, the temperamental kid immediately succumbed to the charm of the towering palm trees and the vast expanses of pristine sands, much to the relief of my well-meaning relatives who were doing their best to entertain me.
Many years later, Hua Hin hasn’t lost its charm. I ended up moving to Thailand as an adult, and though I’m still impatient with long car rides, I know to hold my tongue so that my car-mates who might be less indulgent than my uncle and aunt aren’t tempted to leave me by the side of the road.
A few decades hence, when we set off for Dusit Thani Hua Hin on a recent Friday morning, there wasn’t even a whisper of petulance or complaint on my lips. Fortunately this wasn’t my first stay at the classic hotel, so I already had some idea of the treat that awaited me at the end of the drive. But I’d heard that they’d made some improvements to the classic hotel since my last stay so I was anxious to see what was new, too.
When you walk into the hotel, what you see first is what hasn’t changed. The chandelier-ed lobby exudes an elegance that weirdly isn’t out of place in a beach resort. It’s opulent yet cozy, timeless and inviting, flooded by sunlight by day, and atmospherically lit at night. You also catch a glimpse of the sea view that is going to be yours during your stay. For me, it felt good to be back.
The other thing that hasn’t changed is the gracious Thai hospitality that is the trademark of Dusit Thani hotels. Wherever they are in the hotel, guests are made to feel welcome: greeted, escorted and attended to with a natural grace that is neither obsequious nor robotic, a personification of the Land of Smiles.
The rooms, almost all of which face the central swimming pool that sits in the middle of the hotel, have been substantially brightened up, with whites and sky blues and beach house-y accents. Pro tip No. 1: a Dusit Club room gets you a host of perks and privileges including access to the Dusit Club Lounge. Beyond the quiet breakfasts, snacks and happy hours you’d expect, you will enjoy the hotel building’s very best unobstructed views of the beach and the sea.
The most obvious renovation that hotel regulars will notice is the giant swimming pool. The area around the pool has been landscaped and a little foot bridge over the pool has been added that now leads to an intimate sitting area surrounded by water, and a perfect slot for a DJ. At night the pool becomes the bejeweled centerpiece to the hotel grounds, with fairy lights cascading from the trees. In fact all the landscaping, which was one of Bill Bensley’s first Thailand projects back in the day, has been updated, giving the area surrounding the pool a sleek glow.
Speaking of pools, here is pro tip No. 2: if you want a pool experience that isn’t smack dab in the middle of the property, look for the Garden Pool tucked away on the side of the hotel. Though the big pool never felt crowded to me even though it is on the way to the restaurants and the beach, because of its secluded location, the Garden Pool doesn’t get any foot traffic at all.
The most popular addition to the hotel is Nomada, the new restaurant headed by chef Andre Josef Nweh Severino who brings his South American sensibility and reinvents it with Thai ingredients. Since his arrival just three months ago, the Peruvian-Argentinian chef has thrown himself into sourcing local seafood and testing recipes. In his spare time, he’s been learning about local flavors, eating as much Thai food as he can to learn about the sweetness and spiciness that Thais crave.
One of his first projects was to have a parrilla built right on the edge of the hotel’s lagoon (a calm spot to paddleboard, by the way). The grill that is made of special refractory bricks produced in Thailand was specially constructed to chef Andre’s specifications. On one side, a low round pit has spits and stakes for long, slow roasting. Large pieces like whole lamb or suckling pig can be cooked to succulent perfection. It is attached to a rectangular pit with racks on pulleys that can be raised and lowered to give the cook total control over flame grilling and searing. “You play with the fire,” enthusiastically says the chef, who honed his skills at his own Nomada restaurants that he opened in South America before he moved to Thailand.
Located right at the edge of the long pristine beach, the high-ceilinged open-air restaurant catches the refreshing sea breeze that is such a contrast from the stifling heat of Bangkok that seems to have come early this year.
Pro tip No. 3: ease completely into relaxation mode at the Nomada lounge right next to the restaurant, with a spicy signature cocktail. The Cha Cha Cha, a margarita made with pimento infused tequila, will definitely put some rhythm in your step. Crab croquetas and scallops on the half shell are among the tasty bites you might want to start with. Tiradito is made from the freshest fish of the day, raw unseasoned slivers that — unlike ceviche which is briefly cured — before being served on a tangy sauce. Beautifully tender picanha (beef sirloin cap) is so good it needs no adornment but comes with four different spicy condiments including a very Thai nam jim jaew and some lip-puckering home-pickled peppers. The perfect steak is exactly why you want a grill master like chef Andre running the parrilla.
Food and drink at Nomada restaurant (3)
Following the indulgences of dinner, you may feel the need to visit the hotel’s brand new fitness center. But if you’re anything like me, you may be distracted by an even more spectacular renovation: the resort’s totally revamped signature Devarana Wellness spa. Instead of turning left to the gym, I turned right to the spa and never looked back. One last pro tip that will impress the staff: when you ask for the spa, say “tay-wa-ran” with your best Thai accent (the final A is silent).
The new spa focuses on mental and physical wellness and offers a dizzying array of options depending on your needs. Personally I like the workout-without-the-workout that a Thai massage offers. A signature Tad Si-The package combines a Thai massage with warming compresses filled with herbs that are suited to your body’s needs. The spa area is comfy enough to curl up for the afternoon but I loved ending my treatment with the steam, sauna and jacuzzi. Did you say ‘relaxed’?
The Dusit Thani Hua Hin property is huge. They make the most of their green spaces, raising chickens (ask if you want to pick your own eggs for breakfast) and vegetables. Kids can learn a little bit about farming. There are even rice paddies that provide some of the hotel’s rice in season. There is enough room for their own rescued buffalos. And coming soon, the newly refitted stables will soon see the return of horses to the property that used to host polo matches.
My trip sailed by too quickly. I was so busy relaxing that I didn’t even get near the wind surfing or other beach activities. As we drove back to Bangkok at the end of our trip, there was some grumbling from the back seat. Maybe it was the prospect of the three-hour drive back to Bangkok, but mostly it was me wondering out loud why I didn’t just stay longer.
How to get to Hua Hin
It should be a three-hour drive from Bangkok. If you’re leaving on a Friday, try to hit the road before noon to avoid frustration – at least until the under-construction elevated expressway is completed. Also the new though irregularly scheduled train service from Bangkok should be getting new tracks this year that will reduce travel time to well under three hours to Hua Hin and 2½ to Cha Am; and maybe one day soon you may even be able to hail your own flying taxi to get to the beach. There’s also a private airport.
The Dusit Thani Hua Hin is located in Cha Am, just north of Hua Hin proper. A Club Ocean King Suite starts at Bt6,095 per night, including breakfast.
All photos courtesy of Dusit Thani Hua Hin.