Visitors arriving in Hua Hin by train disembark on a picturesque platform that is home to the iconic royal waiting room, which was moved from Sanam Chan Palace in Nakhon Pathom to its current resting place. In many ways, arriving by train provides the ideal introduction to historic Hua Hin, as this retro railway station recalls the days when the biggest traffic jams in village known as Samor Rieng, or “anchor row,” were caused by the fleet of fishermen’s boats in the harbour.
In 1911, while the southern train line to Malaysia was still being built, the railway station opened in the freshly renamed city of Hua Hin (translation: “stone head”). The Royal Siamese Railways (RSR) saw potential for development—what with the area’s soft white sands and gently rolling hills—and in the 1920s the RSR directed an Italian architect named A. Rigazzi to build the Railway Hotel. It consisted of two stories of brick and wood, with a mere 14 rooms, a lounge, a bar, a billiards room, and a restaurant. Decades later, the property was featured in the 1975 film The Killing Fields (doubling for a colonial building in Phnom Penh). Later, in 1986, the State Railway of Thailand granted the Central Group of Hotels and Accor the rights to the property, beginning a period of careful restoration that would reshape and update the resort. Nowadays it operates as the exquisite Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin.
Another link to the past can be found in the two royal residences on the outskirts of town. Completed in 1933, Klai Kangwon Royal Palace—HM the King’s summer residence— shows clear European influence, as do most Thai palaces of that era. The main residence, called Phra Tamnak Piem Suk, would not be out of place on the Mediterranean coast, with its Roman colonnade, flat-tiled Spanish roof, and elegant gardens. By contrast Mrigadayavan Palace, in neighbouring Cha-Am, was designed primarily by King Rama VI, who used golden teakwood from his Chao Samran Palace to finish the project. Completed in 1923, it features a long covered walkway extending to the sea, and breezy living and drawing rooms. Unlike Klai Kangwon visitors can stroll through the grounds of this colourful, well-manicured seaside estate—adult admission is B30—and visit the museum rooms on the upper floor of the interconnected pavilions. Open every day, except Wednesdays, from 8am to 4pm (5pm on weekends).
Plearnwan: The term plearnwan translates to “enjoy yesteryear”, and this 3-level enclave of replica wooden village shops and buildings—built in 2009 and dubbed Thailand’s first ‘Eco Vintage Market’—is certainly easy to “enjoy”. It’s a fantastic place to do a bit of one-of-a-kind clothing and souvenir shopping, but there’s also weekend classic film screenings, retro carnival games, and a Ferris wheel for the kids. For diners there’s lots on offer, ranging from noodle soup and other Thai classics, to designer ice cream and gelato. There’s even a 60s inspired lounge dedicated to Thai whiskey, and small boutique hotel rooms on the upperdeck of the second zone should you want to extend your stay (www.pimanplearnwan.com).
Plearnwan: Phetkasem Rd, between Soi 38 & 40
Open daily: Fri-Sat, 9am-10pm, Sun-Thu, 9am-9pm