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A Weekend in Pranburi and Hua Hin


The beach towns of Hua Hin and Pranburi are within easy striking distance of Bangkok, writes DUNCAN FORGAN, and these days offer a fresh take on weekend getaways. Photographed by PORNSAK NA NAKORN.

Published on Jan 25, 2017


COULD IT BE THAT THE ROAD TO GOOD
INTENTIONS IS OFTEN PAVED WITH HELL?

That's how it feels as I ascend a jungle-clad knoll at the southern end of Pak Nam Pran Beach, Pranburi, at a pace that probably would make a narcoleptic snail blush. Step after faltering step, I heave myself up the rocky path towards the coveted view until, finally—as my glasses threaten to slide off my glistening face for the umpteenth time—I reach the summit. After reflecting on my aching calves and rocketing temperature for a self-pitying second, I take the time to look around. To the south and west, the limestone peaks of Khao Sam Roi Yot and Kui Buri national parks trail off into the distance before giving way to even wilder territory at the Burmese border. Meanwhile, pristine sand stretches for kilometers to the north, the lapping waters of the Gulf of Thailand filled with kitesurfers, who look like oversized multihued tropical butterflies to me.

Kitesurfing
Kitesurfing on Hua Hin beach.

I'm only 220 kilometers from Bangkok, but it might as well be a thousand. The high-octane Thai capital is close at hand, but at this instant it couldn't feel further away. This coastal stretch, which extends south for around 100 kilometers, starts in the town of Cha-am and runs through the royal resort of Hua Hin before meandering to a paradisiacal climax in Pranburi at the boundary of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Over the years, I've stunk up local golf courses, gorged on crab in yellow curry at night markets and watched pachyderms battle it out at Hua Hin's famous King's Cup elephant polo tournament. In short, I feel like I know the place reasonably well. However, with a clutch of hip properties and new openings, it seems like a good time to once more make the short hop south.

"I suppose you could say that the strip is to Bangkok what Long Island is to New York," laughs James Noble, the resident manager and culinary creative force at Aleenta Hua Hin, the boutique property in Pranburi where I started my climb.

James Noble
James Noble, the Aleenta resident manager, with his vintage Vespa.

It is an easily navigated and compact area—the drive from Cha-am to Pranburi takes under an hour unless you are extremely unlucky with traffic—but it certainly packs in a lot. In Cha-am and Hua Hin, luxurious branded properties sit cheek by jowl with rickety seafood restaurants and laid-back beach bars, while championship golf courses and state-of-the-art water parks provide diversions away from the shore.

Pranburi is less developed and more laidback. Small-scale boutiques such as Aleenta have a more intimate feel than bigger-hitters further north. As such, it makes the perfect place to unwind with a significant other.

"Pranburi is like the Hamptons," continues Noble, running with the Long Island comparison. "Hua Hin and Cha-am are more family friendly or orientated to groups of friends who want to get out of Bangkok for the weekend. There's plenty to do and more options for dining and drinking. There's not as much happening down here, but it feels classier and more relaxing."

Aleenta Hua Hin
Bedding down at Aleenta.

I'm happy to let myself be persuaded of my host's opinion at his beautiful property. Following my arduous but rewarding recce of the area, I replenish in my beachfront villa, dividing time equally between beach, private plunge pool and king-sized bed while mellowing out to soothing melodies on the stereo. After, a signature oil massage at the resort's bijou spa is the perfect salve to balance earlier exertions—the sound of the ocean pulsing through the windows lulling me into a highly-pleasurable state of semi-slumber.

If Pranburi is the Hamptons of the Hua Hin strip then Cha-am—or specifically the So Sofitel, the next stop on my itinerary—is its figurative Fire Island. The resort, formerly the Hotel De La Paix, has preserved the design flair that characterized its previous guise while adding other flamboyant touches that enhance the property's strong air of fabulousness, a trait underscored by regular DJ parties on the beach.

So Sofitel Hua Hin
Part of the geometric maze of the So Sofitel Hua Hin.

Overseeing the new-look was French interior designer Donatien Carratier. Painting on a canvas started by award-winning Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag, who was responsible for the original bold structure, notable for its interwoven maze of open courtyards and pathways and use of geometric lines and solid shapes, Carratier has applied plenty of whimsical touches. A giant clockwielding white rabbit greets guests, coppercolored wild animals laze in the resort's centerpiece reflecting pond, while other rabbit sculptures are scattered around the resort. With leading Thai fashion designer Polpat Asavaprapha, the founder and creative director of Asava, collaborating on the resort artwork and also staff uniforms, there's no mistaking the uptown appeal of the resort. "We wanted it to be even more playful than before," explains David Daguise, the resort's general manager. "Relaxation is the priority, of course, but I think guests appreciate these little surprises around the resort."

The bold statements may not be attuned to more conservative tastes, but I dig the Lewis Carroll–meets–Sex in the City vibe. The showpiece spa, hidden away beneath the reflective pool, provides cool refuge from the sweltering April heat. Bespoke cocktails such as the chili-infused Some Like It Hot and a selection of fusion offerings at Beach Society restaurant such as smoked fish tartines and pan-fried grouper, meanwhile, seem judiciously tailored for the superlative setting.

Beach Society
Beach Society bar at So Sofitel.

While Cha-am and Pranburi are ideal spots for a beach getaway there's little or no incentive to leave such high-caliber resorts. For those who prefer to change things up a little during a short or an extended stay, Hua Hin itself remains the daddy of the strip.

The town offers a beguiling blend of city and sea and its popularity with visitors extends back to the 1920s when Thailand's kings built summer residences here to escape Bangkok's stifling climate. One of these, Phra Ratchawang Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries Palace), is still a royal residence and local Thais often invoke its name as a city slogan.

While even ardent fans wouldn't argue that it possesses the pizzazz and picture-perfect appeal of other Thai beach resorts, Hua Hin is clothing itself in some fetching new threads to appeal to a Bangkok audience. Seenspace, a popular community mall that is a fixture in the capital's trendy Thong Lor enclave, is now established in the town and the Blúport mall is set to further enhance its credentials as a shopping destination.

Sophisticated café culture too has made the short hop south, with new venues serving cold-brewed coffee and macchiato appearing with the regularity of a ticking metronome and keeping urbanite weekenders trolling their Instagram accounts.

Hua Hin night market
Fresh catch at Hua Hin night market.

Also illustrative of the venerable old resort's subtly shifting DNA is the Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa. Although much cherished, the town's old Marriott was showing its age before new owners took over in 2012. A lengthy renovation process saw the property being largely demolished and rebuilt. The fruit of all this labor is a plush new resort, opened in 2016, that successfully bridges the often-problematic divide between family friendly and luxurious getaway.

A massive lobby area that doubles as a café and communal space makes a striking first impression. Guest rooms, meanwhile, are as opulent as one might expect from a Marriott, with many offering direct access to a pool that looks around the verdant tropical ground and joins with the bigger, lagoon-style, family pool.

Dining options are equally generous. On my first night I enjoy a seafood platter groaning with giant prawns, juicy scallops and lobster claws packed with tender, succulent meat at Big Fish, the resort's casual beachfront grill. The following night I capitalize on the hotel's central location, savoring sunset at Hua Hin Hilton's White Lotus Sky Bar before going Gallic with a Chateaubriand and a Bordeaux at cute beachfront bistro, Brasserie de Paris.

Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa
Dinner on ice at Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa.

The next day I once again pit my "skills" unsuccessfully against the layout at Black Mountain Golf Club, a foe I know only too well from a previous encounter. I'm aware that the déjà vu is already in the post, even as I sup a postprandial Cognac and watch the surf pound softly on the sand. For the moment though I'm happy to continue viewing the Hua Hin strip from an entirely fresh perspective.

 

 

   THE DETAILS

 

 

HOTELS
Aleenta Hua Hin +66 2 514 8112; villa for two with breakfast from Bt9,504.
Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa +66 32 538 999; doubles from Bt4,100.
Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa +66 32 904 666; marriott.com; doubles from Bt4,299.
InterContinental Hua Hin The BluPort Wing has 40 rooms and suites. +66 32 616 999; doubles from Bt6,900.
Loligo Resort Hua Hin With a marina motif throughout, the well-designed guest rooms are tech savvy despite the beach location. +66 32 536 777; doubles from Bt2,250.
Radisson Blu Resort Hua Hin Rooms are designed with views of the pools or the ocean at this Cha-am resort. +66 32 421 777; doubles from Bt4,800.
So Sofitel Hua Hin +66 32 709 555; doubles from Bt3,800.

 

 

See All Articles...

Hua Hin night market.
  • So Sofitel's Some Like It Hot cocktail.
  • Chef Mario Hoffmann precision plating at Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa.
  • Chef Angela Brown of So Sofitel.
  • Aleenta Hua Hin.
  • Exploring Pala-U Waterfall.
  • Vana Nava water park.
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