By Catherine Vanesse
As the oldest spa resort in the kingdom and a favorite destination of the royal family, Hua Hin offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere at less than 200 kilometers from the capital. The town is constantly changing and its charm for artists, tourists and locals alike is growing ever stronger.
FROM BEING A SMALL FISHING VILLAGE, over the course of a century, Hua Hin has metamorphosed into a highly frequented spa resort that particularly draws visitors during vacations and weekends, ever since the royal family made it their summer residence and the railway line from Bangkok to Malaysia was built in 1920. With parallel seaside and urban feel, Hua Hin has a cosmopolitan air and continues to attract Thai nationals from Bangkok, because of its close proximity to the capital, as well as families generally, by whom the nightlife of Pattaya, Phuket, and Samui is seen as unsuitable for the education of young children.
You’ll see the most tourists near the train station – one of the most beautiful in Thailand – and visiting the “must-see” sights such as the night market, the floating markets, and the Mongkuol temple, or else enjoying a round of golf. But this town of 90,000 inhabitants has plenty more besides to others and is becoming increasingly arty and trendy.
As a first waypoint where you can get a 360-degree view of the citadel, head for
the lookout point at Hin Lek Fai (which can be translated as “Fire watchpoint”). Three kilometers to the west of the town, on the road leading to the Pala U waterfalls, you’ll admire the contrasting landscape of small houses and of condominiums and luxury hotels extending from Cha’am to Khao Tao. A short distance from Hin Lek Fai, the route takes you through the artist village, Baan Sillapin (บ้านศิลปิน).
Hua Hin–City of Art
Created in 1998, Baan Sillapin is home to a community of some twenty artists. When browsing from one gallery or workshop to another, you’ll see paintings, sculptures in bronze or wood, apparel, and photography, and will be able to talk to the artists while viewing work they’ve already finished or are busy on at that moment. The environment is meant to be open and a place where you can attend talks, and where children and adults alike can try
out their own artistic talents for themselves, using provided equipment and materials, or at organized collective workshops.
“Hua Hin is the best town in Thailand for art,” is the first thing that Tawee Kasangam says, who is a painter and one of the founders of the village. “The town has the advantage of being near to Bangkok, and of attracting a cosmopolitan public that is interested in art and that has a certain purchasing power.” Originally from Udon Thani, Tawee started the project with his family. “It is the first artist’s village in Thailand. Bringing together a community such as this seems an incredible achievement even today,’ he continues. The community members know each other well because they live work and share their passion for art together at Hua Hin. “Not all artists manage to adapt to this kind of community life, especially since the workshops are open: you have to accept talking to visitors and showing them your work in progress. One of the place’s primary features is to represent a platform for interaction.”
In the town center, several walls have been decorated with graffiti, mainly done by artist Thaweesak “Lolay” Srithongdee. Lolay and his wife Nadda “Prae” Srithongdee have just opened the Virus Space and Cafe in the heart of Seenspace. Seenspace is an oceanside shopping mall opened in 2016, and the complex was designed by architect Akaradej Pantisoontorn. His characteristic style of clean lines can be seen in various forms in the stores and restaurants, as well as in an exclusive six-room hotel project by architect Duangrit Bunnag that is due to open in the near future.
“With Virus Space and Cafe, we want to attract other people than art lovers–people who just drop in for a coffee with friends, but who can also enjoy work by artists that we exhibit. That takes the pressure out of having to sell works. I want this place to stay something primarily driven by passion,” explains Prae. Just opposite the café- gallery, facing the sea, is the impressive ‘Dollar 009’, one of Lolay’s best-known sculptures–a six-meter-high tribute by the artist to his hometown.
From Merchants to Temple
If you’re up for shopping, you’ll especially want to go to the Cicada Market, a showcase for clothes, souvenirs and decorative objects made by local artists. The market especially has to
be seen at weekends. Inaugurated in 2011, the Cicada Market is divided into four areas: Art A La Mode, Cicada Art Factory, Amphitheater and Cicada Cuisine. Its aim is to give local artists and creative people a venue for promoting their products and works, and for earning a little money. In addition to the ever-present food stands, there is also a totally open gallery area, a theater for dancers and other performing artists, together with a market offering work by Thai designers and creators. The atmosphere is light-hearted and festive.
Plearnwan market is a little more vintage in style and plunges the visitor into the atmosphere of Thailand in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. From the small shops to the food stands and the miniature ‘traveling fair’, it feels more like a larger-than-life museum.
The market is a recent attraction built to feed the contemporary taste for retro, and it’s not lacking in charm. To really taste the ‘good old days’ (the translation of ‘Plearnwan’), don’t deprive yourself of a few days’ stays at the Piman Hotel.
In the category of more conventional arty attractions, shortly before you arrive at the beaches of Cha’am, there is the Mrigadayavan Rama VI Palace, which was designed by the Italian architect Ercole Manfredi in 1923. The palace is situated in the heart of a superb park of mangroves, and its magnificent teak houses are interlinked by a network of walkways on piles leading to a special entrance to the beach.
If you’ve been in Thailand a while, most temples will probably have ceased to astound you so much, but the Wat Khao Tao to the south of Hua Hin really has lots to amaze you.
It was dedicated to a disparate pantheon of divinities–Buddha, Vishnu, Khun Yin and His Majesty the King–and exhibits a blend of Chinese, Thai and Indian influences. The temple has somewhat the air of an attraction park, and will certainly hold you spellbound during your visit…
USEFUL TRIP TIP A ferry line connecting Pattaya to Hua Hin opened in early 2017. The connection between the two cities takes two hours and costs 1250 baht one way.