The year was 2018. I just graduated from law school after grueling five years of burning the candle stick nearly on a daily basis. In a month, I was about to start my review for the highly competitive Bar Examinations that would take place in November later that year.
Out of nowhere, my partner and I decided to fly to Thailand before starting my review classes in Ateneo de Manila. So I got excited. Not only can I get a short respite from my never-ending readings of cases and statutes, I can finally fly out of the country for the first time.
I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. Both parents are public school teachers, and traveling is at the bottom of our priority list. In fact, we didn’t travel at all.
I remember spending my school holidays at home, playing with my neighborhood kids, until the school reopens. The closest thing we can say that we’ve traveled as a family is on our twice-a-year visit to Davao City to buy stuff we can’t get in the province.
You can also read my story here.
So flying to Thailand was a massive leap for the 29-year-old Shelu, a fresh law graduate about to take the most challenging exam of his life. I was anxious about how to pass through immigration control and what to do at the airport. Fortunately, my partner was there to explain things as he is a seasoned traveler himself.
In 2018, there were no viral horror stories about Philippine immigration. So I had yet to learn about the possibility of getting offloaded from your flight even before you depart from Manila. I was asked questions about my intent to visit, and I answered them honestly. The procedure went smoothly, and I found myself finally waiting at the boarding gate to leave the Philippines for the first time.
So may you ask why did you travel to Hua Hin? Why not Bangkok? Why not Pattaya?
To answer that, we will return to when we still lived in Northpoint in Davao City. The condo complex was home to many expats who chose to build a life in Davao City or where their wives or partners were from.
My partner befriended a Swedish guy who was dating a Filipina. They would often meet in the pool area of the condo complex, where they would share stories and just talk and find companionship in a foreign country. The Swedish guy told my partner that he frequents this small seaside community south of Bangkok called Hua Hin. And he was gushing about the place.
Upon hearing this, I Googled Hua Hin and searched about the place. We loved what we found, and when we decided to fly to Thailand, we naturally picked Hua Hin as our ultimate destination. And so we booked our flights and accommodations and decided to stay in Hua Hin for about 30 days.
About Hua Hin
The beach resort town of Hua Hin is the seat of the district bearing the same name. The district is the center of what was dubbed the “Thai Riviera,” a term I’d assume is a reference to the Riviera coastline in the Mediterranean.
About 3 hours via car from Bangkok, Hua Hin is a beach getaway with white sandy beaches, mountains, temples, lively night markets, and exciting inland and water activities.
The beauty of Hua Hin did not escape even with royalties. The Thai King Rama VI built a summer seaside palace near Hua Hin called Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, often called “the palace of love and hope.”
As members of the Royal Family started spending summers in Hua Hin, other well-to-do people followed through. Soon, Hua Hin gained a reputation as a romantic and elegant holiday destination among the Thai people.
The town has retained its charming old vibe and elegant promenades. The night markets are lively and chic, while the abundance of food selection overwhelmed my 29-year-old self, who had just his first overseas trip ever.
Hua Hin is also home to the Hua Hin Railway Station. It is considered the most beautiful station in Thailand and has become a landmark for tourists and visitors. It was built in 1910 and was rebuilt in 1926 to its present Victorian-style building.
How to get to Hua Hin
We flew from Manila to Bangkok via AirAsia. We took an evening flight and reached Don Mueang International Airport around 10 PM. Knowing we would arrive late in the evening, we booked an overnight stay in a nearby hotel in Don Mueang District.
My first taste of authentic Thai food is on a side street food stall a few blocks from our hotel. The hotel restaurant was already closed when we arrived, so the staff was kind enough to provide us with the hotel van and brought us to the night food stall popular among locals.
The first spoonful sip of the Thai Green Curry with a bit of fluffy white rice was magical. I instantly fell in love with Thai food. A love affair that I would bring with me years after.
After a hearty breakfast the morning after, our rented van came, which brought us to Hua Hin for a 3-hour drive. It’s a long drive, but I overlooked the time since it was my first time in a foreign country. I just took everything from Bangkok’s urban jungle and scenic skyscrapers to the highways crossing rural Thailand.
Thailand’s highways are impressive. It was a comfortable trip, and we had several stopovers along the way, where I bought some Thai delicacies to try.
During this trip, I hypothesized that the comfort and convenience tourists get is what sets Thailand apart from my home country, the Philippines, in terms of its tourism. While the Philippines boasts extraordinary beach destinations, it can hardly compete with the convenience I have experienced upon arrival at the airport and up to the land travel to reach my ultimate destination in Thailand.
Where did we stay
Since we were staying in Hua Hin for 27 days, we booked an Airbnb instead of a hotel room as we planned to cook our meals. But to our disappointment, our booking did not have any cooking area despite being advertised to have one.
But the studio unit was massive. Its balcony faces the west and has a fantastic view of the mountains surrounding Hua Hin. The beds were very comfortable, and its location was in the heart of the town. So we made our peace with the cooking plans, and instead of sulking, we decided to make the best out of our booking.
And it turned out our location was god sent.
A small eatery with excellent but affordable food is just outside the condo gate. The famous Hua Hin night market was about two blocks away. And a cheap self-operated laundry is along the corner.
And the beach is just a 15-minute walk.
Tidarat, the owner, was also very friendly and accommodating to our requests. Overall, our booking turns out excellent after the initial disappointment.
Personal itinerary in Hua Hin
Here are some of the attractions and activities I have tried during our stay in Hua Hin:
1. Hua Hin Beach
The 8-kilometer stretch of white sand beach is the main attraction of Hua Hin. It’s great for a quick swim in the early morning and equally fantastic to watch the sun sets. The beachside has soft sand, but the beach itself is a bit stony, and several jellyfish appear during low tides.
Access to the beach can be a little tricky, though. The beachfront properties are all dotted with villas and five-star hotels. So it pays off to find the public alleyways that give access to the beach via Google Maps.
2. Hua Hin Night Market
I love going here—something about night markets in Thailand that can instantly make me feel alive. There is a wide variety of stuff that you can buy from here, ranging from crafty items to delicious Thai street food. There is also a superb selection of restaurants along the streets that host the night market.
3. Khao Takiap
Khao Takiap, also known as “Chopstick Mountain,” is one of the biggest attractions in Hua Hin. It is also called “Monkey Mountain” due to the little monkeys that live there. There is also a temple on the top of the mountain where you can get sensational views of the Hua Hin skyline and the Hua Hin beach.
4. Hutsadin Elephant Foundation
It was my first ever elephant experience, and my partner booked one where he ensured we would go to an ethical one. He booked with Hutsadin Elephant Foundation, a sanctuary that rescues abused elephants and houses them with provision for food and care.
During our tour with Hutsadin Elephant Foundation, we learned about the sad plights of elephants in Thailand trained for entertainment. Hutsadin volunteers get to take good care of the elephants and can also adopt them to make sure that they get the proper care they deserve. The tour package also comes with a free T-shirt that you can wear to prove you’ve volunteered in the elephant shelter.
My partner was, and is up to this day, a comfortable traveler. He’ll pay the right price for a relaxing trip and accommodation. On the other hand, I am more of a flexible traveler as I am generally not fussy about things like a place to stay or having a hot shower. And since this was my first overseas trip, I knew no better. I should have prepared, like getting a local sim, so we relied on our condo wifi or the nearby cafes.
We could’ve been out and about if we had our local sim. We can quickly go to places and check restaurants on Google Maps. There are many things that I could have done better now that I can say that I am now a seasoned traveler.
But overall, Hua Hin was an excellent destination for my first-ever travel abroad. I am glad we flew to this relaxing beachside town south of Bangkok instead of the usual destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong.
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