Friday, 16 January 2015
Asia Summer Series: Hua Hin, Thailand (Part 2)
The railway station is one of the most attractive I’ve ever seen.
Having been built in an age before air-conditioning, it was constructed as an open-air pavilion in a traditional Thai architectural style, with timber beams supporting a gabled tiled roof.
The whole thing is painted red and cream, with red tiles further increasing its brightness. A neat line of parked motorcycles in front of the structure underlines its sense of neat order.
It’s a pleasant building both to look at and walk through, but the real gem here is the second structure along the low platform. In an even more elaborate style, its roof features multiple peaks and small patterned windows punctuating its walls.
Though now unused, for many years this was the Royal Waiting Room, where members of the royal family would wait to board a train (perhaps reluctantly) back to Bangkok.
In a continuation of the regal theme, across the rails from the station is the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course, laid out in the 1920s by a Scottish railway engineer. The course is open to the public and has some memorable features, including ocean and temple views from its links.
An unusual hazard, though, is the colony of resident monkeys which have occasionally been reported to make off with balls.
Heading back to the coast, I reach a small cove dotted with fishing boats, and several restaurants with timber decks jutting out over the water on wooden piles. It’d be an atmospheric place to have dinner, seated on the open-air deck and looking out at the sea.
The region around Hua Hin has its own royal-themed attractions, so one day I travel north to the nearby city of Phetchaburi to see the palace at Phra Nakhon Khiri.
This set of hills on the edge of town is famous for its beautiful gardens and the 19th centre palace at their centre. It was constructed by King Mongkut, the ruler immortalised by the musical The King and I.
Approached by a funicular railway which hauls visitors up the hill, the palace is a fascinating fusion of styles, with a large dose of European influence.
As I approach its entrance via a terrace lined by large white flowerpots, I feel it could be a villa in Spain or Italy (if the tropical plants were ignored).
From its windows there are fine views of nearby temples and greenery, and it’s interesting to tour the interior and imagine its original occupants’ life in this intersection of Thai culture and the Western world.
Another royalty-tinged attraction within day trip distance from Hua Hin is Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, to the south.
Among its highlights are three caves, the most popular of which can be reached by boat. Within it is a pavilion built for the 19th century King Chulalongkorn, who visited it en route from Bangkok.
Back at my hotel, I ask one of its managers, Jutamas Boonrat, what she thinks is most distinctive about Hua Hin, considering that Thailand has so many beach resorts.
"The best thing is the powdery sand," she replies. "The beach is about five kilometres long from beginning to end, so people can enjoy walking or riding horses. You won’t see motorcycles or four wheel drives along the beach. It’s private and nice and quiet.
"I think the expression ‘less is more’ is perfect for Hua Hin."
Disclosure time: On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.