Thailand’s seaside resort district of Hua Hin is as popular with Thai royalty as it is with tourists. It boasts dreamy blue seas, soft beaches and enough attractions to rival Bangkok. But if you follow the crowds when staying in Hua Hin you’re missing out on authentic local culture.
From exploring a vintage village to checking out an elephant camp, here are a few destinations popular with Hua Hin locals for good reason.
Plearnwan Vintage Village
Hua Hin has developed into a modern tourist attraction over recent years, with little resemblance to its more humble beginnings. Locals like to visit Plearnwan to reminisce about what this seaside district looked like some 50 years ago.
This vintage shopping area is where locals sell clothes and retro ornaments produced in Southern Thailand. The village is not entirely authentic, as many of the shacks and stalls look a little too new, but locals flock here to buy tasty Thai foods, and during the weekend there is an outdoor cinema showing Thai classics—a great way to mingle with locals.
Muay Thai martial arts has made Thailand famous around the world, and many visitors to the country head to Muay Thai rings to watch locals competing, but there are few places where travellers can train in this ancient sport with some of the best local fighters.
At Camp Palapon, they can. It is possible to spend just a day, or a little longer training at the camp, learning to fight alongside ex-professional and promising young Thais. Many of the best Muay Thai fighters in Thailand originate from Hua Hin, and its surrounding villages, and Camp Palapon is where they train.
Wat Bor Fai Hua Hin Monastery
There are countless Buddhist monasteries in Hua Hin, as in every other Thai town, but these days, most are overrun by tourists. Wat Bor Hin is different. The crowds have yet to discover this sacred monastery, and as a result, it has retained its place as a local religious site.
Monks-in-training can often be seen wandering through the grounds around Wat Bor Fai, and locals can be seen praying with smoke billowing from their incense sticks. The monastery is located at the heart of Hua Hin, offering spectacular views out to sea and over the forests, and for a small fee, visitors can feed huge catfish in the monastery’s pond and explore the place. It is expected that visitors will not disturb monks during prayers, but they are otherwise happy to discuss their religion—often even in English.
Khao Takiab Elephant Camp
Elephants are symbolic to Thailand, and they have worked alongside their owners for centuries, in the logging industry, farming and more recently in tourism. There is a large elephant camp near Pala U in Hua Hin, but it is often full of tourists riding on the backs of elephants, with some of these majestic animals not being treated as well as they should be.
Just outside of Hua Hin town, the Khao Takiab Elephant Camp is a more authentic version of an elephant camp. Locals still house their working elephants here, and they are still semi-wild, not conditioned to perform for tourists. This means that the few tourists who visit Khao Takiab camp can watch elephants tearing leaves from trees, bathing in rivers and ponds, and interacting with each other naturally.
Royal Hua Hin Golf Course
In 1924, the king of Thailand ordered a Scottish engineer named O.A. Robbins to construct a golf course for himself and his family. This quickly became a popular attraction for golfers from around the world and held its fair share of international competitions, but in recent years tourists have largely abandoned this course in favour of those that are connected to hotels and resorts.
Although most tourists no longer play at the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course, locals do because it brings them closer to their beloved royal family. This course is only a few minutes outside of town and is surrounded by natural forests and the coast, so there are many stunning views to be had when teeing off here.
Certainly, many of Hua Hin’s popular tourist attractions are worth a visit, too. But for a well-balanced trip, you won’t want to miss the way locals enjoy this beautiful district. They are, after all, the ones who know it best.