Aug 27, 2021
MY ENTHUSIASTIC WELCOME PARTY WHEN I checked in at InterContinental Hua Hin Resort included the general manager, Dylan Counsel, and several of his senior staff. In my line of work, this isn’t too surprising (though it was a notably large welcome party). What was surprising was what Counsel told me later as we strolled the beachfront five-star together. Upon taking responsibility for the resort, smack in the middle of kitesurfing-capital Hua Hin’s main strip, he’d said he wanted to personally greet all the VIP guests, a group that includes repeat stays, on arrival. But the staff wasn’t exactly sure how to process this request. Did their boss mean people who had stayed 10 times, 20 times or 50 times? Regardless, there were a lot of them.
This naive new guy had been thinking along the lines of five-time visitors and up – who, of course, have demonstrated loyalty. But what he was faced with was next-level, especially for a non-business hotel. “I realized that if I were to greet every repeat guest on arrival, I’d spend entire days in reception!” Counsel laughed.
All you hotel brats out there know there’s no higher praise you can give a property than your business again and again, and after spending a long, spa-soaked weekend at InterContinental Hua Hin, I was ready to join the 50-visit club. Before I arrived, a friend kept referring to the resort as the Hamptons in Thailand. That’s certainly true of Hua Hin overall, in that it’s a laidback beachtown a 2½-hour drive from Bangkok that sprang up around the royal summer palace and therefore has been a retreat for the country’s uppercrust for generations.
But the InterContinental itself, with its pretty louvre window blinds and cascading grande dame feel, transports me to the other side of America, to the iconic Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. The gently curved main building wraps you in a soft embrace, with two wings, whose ground-floor suites open up onto private-access lazy rivers, running down either side of the property. In the center is a lawn worthy of croquet and Bellinis, and a procession of pools with smartly arrayed in- and out-of-water seating to provide all the sun or shade you might desire. We spent most middays tanning in a curtained cabana perched over the pool, angled towards the beach, the delightful French-stripe-shirted staff a quick glance away.
Also up front is Azure Restaurant, where the gazebo-roof shadows and medley of blue pillow patterns cast a beach house-chic aura over your Italian-inflected, seafood-sinful meal in which chef Andre Buser pulls out all the stops. Across the way is Jaras, the now second restaurant named for the pioneering matriarch of the family that owns this InterContinental and the one in Phuket. It’s contemporary Thai fine-dining, small plates with bold, recognizable flavors, with a heavy focus on hyper-local ingredients.
When I sat down with Tan Suwat Liptapanlop, a former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, among a long list of high government titles he’s held, he spoke of his and his family’s belief that Hua Hin deserves a spot on the global map. It’s not just for the future they’re helping to mold – the Liptapanlops also own and operate several other big properties in town including the new BluPort Mall across the street from the main hotel and next to its new pet-friendly guest wing, and Vana Nava water park, and are building the InterContinental Residences Hua Hin – but also for the natural bounty unique to the region. A bounty that Jaras celebrates to divine effect.
Fruits, vegetables and herbs come from Royal Project farms, an enduring anti-poverty and pro-environment legacy of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and from Palisa Farm, owned by Palisa Anderson, a Thai restaurateur who runs another certified organic farm in Australia. Poultry is sourced from free-range, antibiotics- and hormone-free Klong Phai Farm, slightly farther afield in Khao Yai. The wine pairing with vintages from Monsoon Valley, whose lovely vineyard is a 35-minute drive from InterContinental Hua Hin and features an idyllic deck for lunch and a pair of rescue elephants off in their own patch of woodland, surprises and more than satisfies.
But the biggest surprise here is the starring ingredient on the menu: briny, decadent black caviar from the nearby Thai Sturgeon Farm. InterContinental arranged an exclusive tour of the place for us and my possibly favorite butler of all time, Amy, where we saw their closed recirculation aquaculture system, noted that up-close sturgeon weirdly resemble puppies, and learned how they milk the females in simulated Russian-winter conditions. (And you thought fish breeding wasn’t sexy.) Not only does the resulting made-in-Thailand caviar go superbly on Jaras’s seared scallops and sous vide sturgeon meat with tamarind glaze and coconut milk, but also flying nearly solo with herbed butter on flaky house-baked crusts.
This one-two punch of hyper local and the height of luxury is what gives InterContinental Hua Hin its winning personality. That and the actual winning personalities of all its people. The aforementioned Amy added me on WhatsApp during check-in and within 24 hours knew what I wanted before I knew I wanted it at any time of day, whether it was noodle soup and waffles for breakfast on my sprawling balcony overlooking the whole hotel, or bloody Marys poolside as the sun hit its peak… or custom-monogrammed hers and his bathrobes waiting in our suite one evening in time for a bubble bath (indoor tub or outdoor whirlpool? Sophie’s Choice, really).
High praise also to waiter extraordinaire Khem, whose brilliant smile made every meal taste better. Case in point: When you’re on a public beach drinking aperitifs on a couch in the center of a giant heart made out fairy lights strewn in the sand, and eating a degustation dinner in a gauzy pavilion hand-erected just for you that day, all while watching a private three-man fireshow and getting serenaded by your own personal saxophonist – well, it takes the deftest of hands and most amiable nonchalance on the part of your waiter to make the whole scene seem totally natural even as random passersby stroll past.
See, Hua Hin is very much a living town, a proper community into which Covid paradoxically helped breathe new life from April 2020, and that the construction of a new elevated expressway from Bangkok will make the easiest of escapes for visitors. And the InterContinental sits in the center of it, both geographically and culturally.
Adjacent to the main property is La Residence Hua Hin, a two-story Thai-Victorian mansion that you’d easily mistake for a private home like any of the stately others that have lined this seashore for more than 100 years, but is a part of the hotel often booked for small weddings. On the opposite side of its beachfront spread, InterContinental is about to open the new, au courant, public-facing CoCo Bar. Vintage and next-gen — complementing polarities are emblematic of the essence of this hotel. In the same way the vibe comfortably scuttles you from playing in the dirt on a farm to a sinking into a 24K Golden Facial. Khun Amy, is my suite available next week?
huahin.intercontinental.com; doubles from Bt5,500; Jaras set menus from 1,388 for five-courses.
A dog-friendly stay in the new InterContinental Bluport Wing. Access to a dedicated dining venue for you to enjoy breakfast (which comes complimentary for two persons) and meals together with your dog, a beautifully landscaped garden featuring outdoor cabanas located under twin 120-year-old tamarind trees for pups to play safely, and the beach with transport. Special complimentary amenities include a dog welcome hamper, dog beds, pet bowls, drinking water and dog ice cream. Plus, join the ‘weekend dog club,’ with games, professional trainers and IG photoshoots. Package is available Friday to Sunday and can accommodate up to 3 small dogs (less than 10kg) per room or one larger dog (10kg and up) per room. InterContinental Bluport Wing rooms from Bt4,100. For reservations, contact 66-3/261-6999, email@example.com or Line ID @interconhuahin.
All photos courtesy of InterContinental Hua Hin