Her name was Pong and like every day, just as we were leaving, she shouted after us, in that high pitched sing-song voice, “see you tomorrow!” It had become a routine that we loved. Pong’s little shop was among the popular ones on the beach where we spent lazy hours sunbathing or downing endless cans of Singha beer and eating the delicious seafood with the waves crashing around our feet.
Today we had no reply to her cheerful greeting. It was our last day in the scenic seaside town of Hua Hin, Thailand where we’d come to recharge our batteries for five glorious days. It was time to bid adieu. But given a chance, I wouldn’t have minded staying forever.
A quiet escape
Hua Hin, just two-and-a-half hours from Bangkok, is Mecca for people like me who are tired of juggling the demands of home and work every day and want a quiet, relaxing holiday with – well, absolutely nothing to do. This 70-year old fishing village is Thailand’s oldest, but not too many people know about it. In fact, when I told my travel agent that I wanted to go to Hua Hin, he was flummoxed. I gave up and made my own arrangements and that’s how we came here to have the best time of our lives. This sleepy little town is also home to Chiva Som, the world-famous health spa where both celebs and ordinary people with lots of money, flock to. Even the King of Thailand has his summer resort here.
There’s something about the climate or the nice easy-going life that Hua Hin offers that makes it the perfect place to come here and just relax. If you’re the kinds who like a lot of things to do on a holiday, this clearly isn’t the place for you. Well, we knew what we were letting ourselves in for when we planned to celebrate our first anniversary in Hua Hin and there’s been no regret ever since.
Despite all this, it’s not your average tourist destination, especially not so much for Indians because they usually crowd places like Pattaya, Phuket and Kosamui with a stopover in Bangkok. No crowds here and certainly not very ‘touristy’ types. The people who come here, are well, mostly those who want to take things easy, like us.
Among the western tourists, Hua Hin is very popular with Germans who come with their families or even singles that don’t bother to make too much polite talk and are happy keeping to themselves. You’ll hear them greeting each other at the most with a loud ‘Guten Morgan!’ every morning. Most of the locals understand a smattering of German so even the restaurants have an extra copy of their menus in German!
Off to the country
Once we landed in Bangkok, it didn’t take us too much time to pile on to a cab to Hua Hin. Even though we were groggy eyed from our overnight flight, that didn’t stop us from making several pit-stops on the way to take in the beauty of the Thai countryside, the numerous factory outlets with the trendiest clothes, little straw huts housing Thai arts and crafts and the little roadside kiosks which stocked everything from Thai red and green curries with rice to seafood Cup-O-Noodles.
On way to Hua Hin, we crossed the little town of Cha-Am, an hour away from our destination. It’s a small place where there are world class golf resorts and even a beach, just like in Hua Hin. It’s not uncommon to find locals coming from Bangkok to spend the weekend here.
Casa Del Mare, where we stayed in Hua Hin was a small boutique hotel that subscribed more to ecotel standards than what could be expected of a luxury resort. Built with bamboo and lush green foliage on the walls, it’s the kind of place which reminds you more of a garden than a hotel. The fabrics used in the rooms are all eco-friendly and muted earthy colours that are soothing to the eye. Since it’s a small hotel, there are condominiums that look like little straw huts from the outside. Of course, you’ll find every modern facility inside the room.
The bathroom has a little private garden for natural light to come in and in the mornings it is lit up with the rosy glow of the sun. You won’t find too many curtains here but there’s complete privacy. For once I could imagine living in a tropical paradise instead of the box-like hotels rooms that we’re so used to.
By the beach
After that, even routine didn’t seem so boring. Especially since all it involved was waking up late to a large sumptuous breakfast, a leisurely dip in the pool, located right in front of our room and then walking by the beach in the lovely December sun. On the sides of the beach were huge bungalows, guest-houses and hotels, all geared up to receive visitors. Despite all that talk about season time and off-season time, it’s a rare time that Hua Hin is devoid of tourists. Walking by the beach as the sun shone down on us is perhaps the best thing to do in this little town.
It was hard to believe that back home while everyone was piling on the woollies to keep the biting cold at bay, we were basking in the warm comforting sun. Our biggest worry then was whether to have lunch in town or on the beach and whether cuttlefish or crab was a better idea!
On the beach, there were quite a lot of pretty Thai girls (the men are probably lesser in this industry) willing to give us a massage for as less as 100 baht. Considering that there was a mass of all shapes and sizes sprawled out on the makeshift beds where the massages were being done, it isn’t a sight for sore eyes. The best bet is to go to one of the parlours in town who provide every kind of massage you can think of – foot, hands, head, and neck to the full body massage for about 250 baht. The ones who weren’t lazing around like us were either para-surfing or taking a massage. At that moment, the former seemed more exciting as the choppy waters gave the para-surfers quite a rough time and we had fun just to watch the unruly waves.
When the sun goes down, there’s nothing better than taking a leisurely walk to town (around 3 km from our hotel) or renting a tuk-tuk (Thailand’s version of our autos) to the famous night markets, both located quite close to each other. There’s nothing that you won’t find here, from interesting curios to perfumes, accessories, clothes, paintings, CDs, DVDs and more.
Like all over Thailand, Hua Hin also has fakes of every brand from Louis Vuitton to Gucci and they’re so good that you can’t really tell – all at dirt cheap prices! Since it’s much cheaper than even Bangkok’s famous Mah Boon Krong (MBK) shopping plaza, it makes perfect sense to shop till you drop here.
Something for everybody
Eating out in Hua Hin is an adventure in itself. There’s plenty for everyone to choose from, be it authentic Thai cuisine, Italian, Continental or Indian. Since seafood is so delicious and cheap here, all we did was pig out like there was no tomorrow. Where else would get your pick of crab, lobster, shrimp, squid or prawn for close to 50 baht (around Rs 60)?
The roadside food stalls selling chicken, fish, seafood that are either fried with a sweet chilli sauce or mixed with noodle soup, are more filling and even better – at 20 baht! But a trip through the roadside food stalls is incomplete if you don’t try their noodle soup, which is mixed with meatballs of your choice and a whole lot of fresh green vegetables. It’s the complete healthy meal and so delicious that you can’t get enough of it! We went back every evening for more.
For vegetarians, it may not be such a good deal, as I discovered on a particular day when I could not eat any more of the non-veggie fare so I ordered vegetarian fried rice, which arrived garnished with scrambled eggs and flavoured with fish sauce! But it was delicious, so I’m not complaining.
On the last two days before our trip ended, we would go to dine on the restaurants by the pier. And truly, there’s probably nothing better. With the soft warm breeze caressing your face and wafting notes of music (probably some Thai artist), you feel transported into a magical land where all you can see for miles ahead, on the distant horizon are fully lighted ships making their way home after the work for the day has ended.
It’s a beautiful sight and one that’ll remain etched in my memory forever.