If you can handle the traffic, it’s best to get out of Bangkok on a three-day weekend. Which we have a lot of in Thailand (though contrary to the belief held by expats in Thailand, Cambodia, at 28, has the most public holidays — Thailand apparently has only 16).
So this past weekend, we got out of Bangkok. We made the mistake of going to Cha-am instead of Hua Hin, though I should have known better. I’ve been to Cha-am twice, including a solo trip my first Christmas in Thailand. I blame nostalgia.
Only 29 kilometers separate the beaches of Cha-am and Hua Hin, both Gulf of Thailand beach towns. Hua Hin is more well-known to tourists than Cha-am, as Hua Hin is significantly larger, has a better beach, has many more hotels (especially high-end hotels) and has a few more things to do. Cha-am seems to be more popular with middle-class Thai families (we saw very few foreigners this past weekend) where Hua Hin caters to more upper-class Thais.
Cha-am is significantly more developed than when I first went in 2011, though it’s still full of soi (street) dogs. Trees line the beach, as do tables, chairs and umbrellas where you can have a seafood lunch or dinner (seafood is the biggest option here). You can ride a horse on the beach or take a ride on a banana boat. The beach here becomes rather narrow when the tide comes in, so much so that there’s almost no room to walk. When it’s not packed, Cha-am is a sleepy beach town.
If you choose to go to Cha-am, don’t go over a three-day weekend — we found it absolutely packed. Go during the week and stay at one of the following hotels, all of which are across the street from the beach: Cha Inn@Cha-am (where I stayed during my maybe too fondly remembered first trip; opened in 2008, no pool, cheapest option); Banlansuan Resort (renovated in 2014, no pool); Bannpantai Resort (renovated in 2011, pool); or Mimi and Jim Co-Living Space (opened in 2018, no pool).
After having a terrible hotel experience in Cha-am this past weekend (we weren’t staying at any of the hotels I recommended above), we decided to check out and spend our last night in Hua Hin. We took a van from the bus stop closest to Cha-am’s main intersection at Phetkasem Road and Narathip Road for 40 baht each. We waited only 10 minutes for the van and 20 minutes later, the van dropped us off in front of our hostel, which we booked approximately 30 minutes earlier.
We were in Hua Hin right after Christmas last year, so we already knew where we would eat lunch. The beach is at the end of Hua Hin 61 and we ate at the last outdoor “restaurant” on the right before the beach. This is the place to get grilled chicken, sticky rice and somtam, spicy papaya salad.
Can we move on to the beach now? Hua Hin Beach’s distinctive feature is its rocks, which is where the name Hua (head) Hin (rock) comes from. There aren’t many shady spots at this beach, as the shade is provided only by mostly individual palm trees or the same tables, chairs and umbrellas that line Cha-am Beach. You’ll find the foreigners under the palm trees and the Thais at the tables. Even at high tide, Hua Hin Beach is pretty wide. You can ride horses here (according to the sign, it’s 300 baht for 20 minutes), take a banana boat ride or even kite surf. The beach was pretty busy when we went last December, but this time it was really quiet.
Last time we were in Hua Hin, we wanted to go to Khao Hin Lek Fai, but we didn’t make it, so this time it was a priority. Khao Hin Lek Fai is a hill whose viewpoints afford wide views of the city. We took a Grab from the clock tower for 110 baht and spent a little more than an hour at viewpoints 4-6. We got there a little after 5 PM, which was a little bit later than we preferred.
The large platform at viewpoint 4 provides a wide view of the city, though it might be time to trim the trees that block the view.
There’s no platform at viewpoint 5, only a trail to large rocks where you can sit and probably take an amazing selfie — I was too scared to get anywhere close so you’ll have to try it yourself.
Viewpoint 6 is, thankfully, a platform, though it’s much smaller than viewpoint 4’s platform. The view is still pretty good though.
We had dinner at Khaw Hom 57, a Thai restaurant on Hua Hin 57 we went to (several times) in December. The menu is limited to pad krapao (meat fried with basil and chili), fried rice, meat fried with garlic and pepper, and tom yum (a sour, spicy soup). You can choose your meat and the meals (all come with chicken soup) start at 50 baht. The portions are large and the service is quick. I also love the polished concrete walls and the simple wood and metal tables and stools.
You can’t go to Hua Hin without going to the night market, though as far as night markets go in Thailand, it’s nothing special. Next time we go to Hua Hin, we’ll check out Cicada Market.
We have stayed only at The Moon Hostel Hua Hin (opened 2017, no pool), which is right next to the clock tower and across the street from the night market. It’s also on the main road, which wasn’t a problem when we stayed there in December, but made for a terrible night’s sleep this past weekend. I would still recommend it, though, as long as you can get a room that’s not right on the road. The staff are friendly and speak English and the kitchen area is large with plenty of seating. The hostel even has a washer and dryer. Wherever you stay in Hua Hin, I’d recommend you stay somewhere within walking distance of the beach and the night market as in any tourist town in Thailand, you’ll pay a lot to get around.
How to get there: I recommend Sombat Tour, which is 263 baht from Bangkok to Hua Hin, but you’ll need help booking it as the booking form is only in Thai. Sombat has its own bus station on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road and drops you off at the Hua Hin bus station. The Sombat Tour bus was already booked when we went this past weekend, so we took the Airport Hua Hin bus which is 294 baht from the Suvarnabhumi Airport (which is conveniently reached by the airport link) to Cha-am’s main intersection, or, if you’re going to Hua Hin, to their own bus station, which is right next to Hua Hin Airport (we got a tuktuk from the clock tower in Hua Hin to this bus station for 200 baht). The Airport Hua Hin bus is easy to book online. A 50-baht booking fee will be charged for each passenger each way.
Buses from Bangkok to Hua Hin generally take about 4 hours, but if it’s a three-day weekend, they can take longer. We were on the bus for 5 hours from the airport to Cha-am this past weekend.
We’ll probably never go back to Cha-am, though it’s possible we’ll stay at a hotel in between Cha-am and Hua Hin sometime in the future (we’ll definitely rent a motorbike). Let us know in the comments which you prefer or if you have any tips for visiting Cha-am or Hua Hin.