48 HOURS

Look­ing for an easy sea­side es­cape from Bangkok? Do like the lo­cals and strike out for this low-key re­sort town on the Gulf of Thai­land.

DestinAsian - - DEPARTMENTS - BY JAMES LOUIE

A two-day itin­er­ary for Hua Hin.

DAY ONE

Morn­ing: Once a tran­quil fish­ing vil­lage, Hua Hin shot to fame as Thai­land’s orig­i­nal beach des­ti­na­tion nearly a cen­tury ago thanks to the ar­rival of the rail­road and the va­ca­tion­ing royal fam­ily from Bangkok, a three-hour train ride away. The town re­mains a choice week­end refuge for denizens of the Thai cap­i­tal, and its laid-back charm draws hol­i­day­mak­ers from as far afield as Europe. That char­ac­ter is all the more ap­par­ent if you’ve checked in to Let’s Sea Hua Hin Al Fresco

Re­sort ( 66-32/536-888; le­tussea.com; dou­bles from

US$180), a re­cently ren­o­vated eco-chic prop­erty of just 40 suites flank­ing a 120-me­ter pool on the south­ern third of Hua Hin Beach.

Be­gin your ex­plo­rations at the breezy, beach­side Mri­ga­daya­van Palace, built in 1923 as the sum­mer res­i­dence of King Rama VI about 12 kilo­me­ters north of town. Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Er­cole Man­fredi based the de­sign on the king’s own sketches, cre­at­ing 16 in­ter­con­nected teak build­ings raised on pil­lars, adorned with shut­tered win­dows and in­tri­cate fret­work. On­go­ing ren­o­va­tions have closed off much of the in­te­rior, although the grounds alone are well worth a visit.

Af­ter­noon: Back in town, bru­tal­ist beach­front mall Seenspace ( seenspace.com) is the brain­child of pre­em­i­nent Thai ar­chi­tect Duangrit Bun­nag. Pop into Der, which dishes up spe­cial­ties from the north­east­ern Isan re­gion amid a stark, min­i­mal­is­tic set­ting. A must-try is pa­paya salad with grilled prawn and pork-stuffed squid, best en­joyed with blue sticky rice wrapped in ba­nana leaf. Af­ter lunch, walk over to Seek 35, whose three themed out­lets spot­light lo­cal cre­ations: think Hua Hin–in­spired per­fume from Re­un­rom and hand­made pas­tel-hued back­packs by Some­thing Sim­ple. Thai de­sign­ers are also cham­pi­oned at Tost & Found, which beck­ons with a cu­rated se­lec­tion of ap­parel and home­wares.

Don’t miss the show­room of Khoma­pastr ( 66-32/511-250) on Petchkasem Road, a 15-minute drive to the south, for its beau­ti­ful hand­printed cot­ton prod­ucts. The high-end brand was founded in Hua Hin by Thai roy­alty back in 1948; it stocks re­sort-chic wear­ables and col­or­ful gift items rang­ing from tri­an­gu­lar Thai pil­lows to purses, tote bags, and tis­sue box cov­ers. Di­rectly op­po­site, the lo­cal branch of Khao Yai din­ing fa­vorite The Choco­late Fac­tory ( 66/92-467-8884;

choco­late­fac­tory.co.th) oc­cu­pies an airy, invit­ing space bathed in nat­u­ral light. Browse the edi­ble sou­venirs at the ar­ti­sanal choco­late shop, and if you’re feel­ing peck­ish, linger over desserts like the dark choco­late dome. Evening: At sun­set, take in the view from the glass-floored ob­ser­va­tion deck at Vana Nava Sky

( 66-32/809-999; vananavasky.com), the rooftop bar and restau­rant crown­ing the 27-story Hol­i­day Inn. Ac­claimed Bangkok-based de­signer Ash­ley Sut­ton gave the venue its splashy look, while its cock­tails were de­vel­oped by mas­ter mixol­o­gist Joseph Boroski. The stand­out? Thyme is Sum­mer, a re­fresh­ing blend of house-in­fused chrysan­the­mum and saf­fron gin, dou­ble-shaken with fresh lime, egg white, plus home­made holy basil and thyme syrup.

Hop into a taxi and make a bee­line for the art-fo­cused Ci­cada Mar­ket ( ci­cadamar­ket.com; open even­ings on Fri­days to Sundays) to wan­der the hand­i­craft stalls and see ex­hi­bi­tions by lo­cal artists. Din­ner awaits at Tamarind Mar­ket ( open even­ings on Thurs­days to Sundays) across the road; char­coal-grilled pork neck, ocean-fresh jumbo prawns, and tra­di­tional desserts are just a few of its culi­nary of­fer­ings.

DAY TWO

Morn­ing: Af­ter break­fast, em­bark on a half-day guided tour with Wildlife Friends Foun­da­tion ( 66-32/458-135; wfft.org). The NGO’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter hosts more than 600 an­i­mals such as gib­bons, Asi­atic black bears, and ele­phants. You’ll learn about pha­jaan, the process of “break­ing

the spirit” wild pachy­derms must en­dure at a young age to be trained for the tourism in­dus­try, and that ele­phants are not built for car­ry­ing hu­mans on their backs. A buf­fet lunch is in­cluded; ho­tel trans­fers can be tacked on for a fee.

Af­ter­noon: Bliss out at Hy­att Re­gency Hua Hin’s 1.8-hectare spa com­plex, The Barai ( 66-32/511

234; the­barai.com), by Thai de­sign icon Lek Bun­nag. Of the two 90-minute spe­cialty treat­ments, one com­bines Thai and Swedish mas­sage with aro­mather­apy, while the other uses sweet basil and kaf­fir lime herbal com­pres­sions, crys­tals, and hot-oil mas­sage. Make sure to book ahead.

Evening: Tide per­mit­ting, stroll back down the beach to Let’s Sea for sun­down­ers and din­ner. Spread be­tween three open-air pavil­ions, the beach­front bar and restau­rant of­fer cre­ative cock­tails along­side an ar­ray of in­ter­na­tional fla­vors and el­e­vated home-style Thai cook­ing. Lo­cally caught seafood is used to great ef­fect in the in­dul­gent crab and clam chow­der, fried day­dried squid, and blue crab meat in a south­ern Thai–style co­conut curry. Sa­vor the rus­tic-chic sur­rounds and the ocean breeze—it doesn’t get much more Hua Hin than this.

Left: Over­look­ing Hua Hin from an out­door ter­race at Vana Nava Sky, atop the month­sold Hol­i­day Inn.

The re­cep­tion at Let’s Sea Hua Hin Al Fresco Re­sort. Left: Seafood pa­paya salad at Der.

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