City Life: Sassy society sunspot
A couple of hours south of bustling Bangkok, the laid-back resort town of Hua Hin has been a Thai weekender's favourite ever since the royal family started heading here back in the twenties. Of course, the rest of society followed suit. And they're still coming.
Enchanted by the feather-soft, white-powder beach, the King Rama IV built his summer palace in what was once a small village in the north of Thailand. Since then, the town has grown into a peaceful paradise of seaside chic, with finely manicured golf courses, world-class spas, sleek boutique hotels and a smattering of excellent restaurants. After a couple of days enduring the frenetic urban hum of Bangkok, it's the perfect place to escape to for a few lazy days of beach-based bliss.
Hua Hin Limousine (www.huahin-limousine.com) ferries people to and from Bangkok and can also arrange day trips around the region. Be warned though, at times the traffic between Bangkok and Hua Hin gets thundercloud-thick.
SGA (www.sga.co.th), a small Thai airline, operates three flights daily to and from Bangkok in its tiny 12-seater propeller planes. The 30-minute flight is a spectacular journey along the Gulf Coast and over the centre of Bangkok - certainly worth taking in at least one direction.
Rail travel is one of the easiest - albeit slowest - ways to get to Hua Hin. Trains leave from Bangkok's Hualamphong station several times a day. The express trains can make the journey in three and a quarter hours (www.railway.co.th).
GMT + 7 hours
Since you're lounging where the Thai royals like to relax, why not tuck into a book that features one of them? Pick up a copy of Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. This book became the basis for the very famous The King & I plays and movie. Don't bring it with you though - it's banned in Thailand for being culturally offensive. Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj, one of the country's ex-prime ministers, follows one woman as she witnesses the reigns of four successive monarchs.
Do go / Don't Go
Hua Hin, like Bangkok, gets horribly hot between April and May. But even worse than the heat are the traffic jams on Fridays and Saturdays. Head to Hua Hin on a weekday and you'll have the whole place to yourself.
Like most beach towns in Thailand, Hua Hin boasts tantalisingly tasty seafood, often cooked in simple curries, grilled, or deep-fried and served with sweet-spicy sauces. Head to the Hua Hin Fishing Pier and Khao Takiab Fishing Village for some of the freshest seafood served in town. Hua Hin has several excellent authentic Thai restaurants; Naebkehard Road is home to a few of the best. Several high-quality international restaurants have also opened in the past few years. Fusion cuisine and Italian food are among the holidaying Thais' favoured fare.
There aren't any normal taxi services available in Hua Hin, although, if you have the nerve and/or death-wish, plenty of motorbike taxis rattle around. Unless you want to wander further afield to off-centre restaurants or resorts, you can happily navigate the small town on foot.
Restaurants and bars usually add a 10 per cent service charge, although staff may not see any of this. Tip when service merits it.
Thai baht. £1 is approximately THB65.
Fit in with the local fashionistas: stack up on designer togs and strut the streets.
In 1926, King Rajakhipok (Rama VII) built a summer palace in Hua Hin for his wife, Queen Rambhai Barni. He named it Wang Klai Kangwon, which means, 'far from worries'. The seaside residence was, unusually, designed in a Spanish style by one of the Thai princes, a graduate of France's famed Ecole des Beaux Art. When the royals are away, the palace is open for public view.
No one comes to Hua Hin to shop. In fact, many probably come here to escape the mega-malls that dominate much of Bangkok. Nonetheless, there are several small boutiques spread around town. The Hua Hin Bazaar, about 100 metres west of the beach, is a good place to hunt for local handicrafts. The Night Market is also worth a visit.
Follow Chomsin Road to Khao Hin Lek Fai - otherwise known as Flintstone Hill. This mighty mound offers gorgeous views of Hua Hin, the beach and the nearby mountain range. Most locals like to come here at sunset, when the view is particularly camera-pleasing.
The Sofitel Central Hua Hin Resort (+66 (0) 3251 2021) is Thailand's oldest resort hotel and it's well worth stopping by for an ogle. Built by a Thai prince in 1923, the stunning colonial hotel single-handedly made Hua Hin into the renowned holiday destination and royal retreat it is today.
March Thailand International Kite Festival 13-15 April Songkran, the water-flinging Thai new year celebrations. Mid-May Visaka Bucha Day celebrates the life, enlightenment and death of Buddha and is the holiest day of the year in the Buddhist calendar. June Hua Hin Jazz Festival brings in world-class performers and visitors to the city. August Hua Hin Golf Festival - every day during August, you can play at participating courses for THB800 a round. Around the same time, around 300 yachtsmen compete in the colourful Hua Hin Regatta. December Hua Hin Vintage Car Rally: petrolheads flock to the Sofitel to show off their motors.