Jan 27 – 28
Unless you’re in to sex tourism or dirty old men, there really isn’t much reason to visit Hua Hin.
Miguel and I ended up in Hua Hin on accident. When we were leaving Pranburi, we wanted to take a train to Trang (a city in south Thailand) and we were told that the train left at 12:00pm. We caught a minivan from the beach to the train station, not knowing that there are two train stations – one for short destinations, another for long distance routes. After a lot of charades playing to communicate with the man at the ticket counter, he informed us that we were at the wrong train station and pointed in the direction of the other one. So we just started walking (not knowing that it was far away).
Most times when we’re not sure what to do next, somone suddendly appears to help us out or point us in the right direction. And this time was no different. As we were walking, a nice man stopped us and asked us where we were trying to go. And although he didn’t speak much English, he tried to help us out as best he could. Then as we were speaking with him, a sweet woman pulled up in her car. She said she teaches at an English school and would be happy to drive us to the train station. When we got there, she took us to the ticket counter to help us buy our tickets….and we found out that the train to Trang didn’t leave until 8pm. It was only about 12pm, so we’d have to wait at the train station for 8 hours and the only thing nearby was an army base and a small snack stand! The woman felt bad for us and I could tell she didn’t want to leave us there for so long, but we assured her that we’d be fine. I gave her my email address (because she said her daught needs somone to practice her English with) and we said goodbye.
Because a lot can change in 8 hours, we decided not to buy our train tickets right away. Instead, we sat on a bench sipping cokes, practicing Thai, and waiting for something interesting to happen. This started to become the theme of our trip: If you’re not sure what to do with yourself, sit and wait 20 minutes. Something cool will usually happen and your plans will change entirely. And of course it did. A Thai guy who spoke good English heard us practicing Thai and he came up to chat with us. He was training in a military base nearby and was taking the train in the direction of Hua Hin. The Hua Hin train station, he said, was actually in the center of town and there would be much more to do there while waiting for our train. We didn’t have to wait long for that train to come buy, so he helped us get cheap tickets and we boarded the train with him. We had to stand in the aisle the whole way while women pushed past us to sell mangoes and incredibly pungent dried squid to all the passengers on the train. But after a short ride, we arrived in Hua Hin.
Hua Hin’s train station is much more exciting than Pranburi’s. There are restaurants and shops all around and the beach is a short walk away. At first glance, Hua Hin seems like a lively place to spend a few days. And we weren’t really in a hurry. So instead of lugging all our stuff around the entire day and hopping on the bus in the evening, we decided to just stay one night and check the place out.
By evening though, we had seen enough and were ready to leave the place. But we had unfortunately checked into a hotel room already and still had many hours to kill before it would be time to board the train the next evening.
Unless you’re into beaches full of jet skis, trash, European sunbathers, people selling horse back rides and cheap souvenirs, seedy bars full of scantily clad Thai girls, creepy old men looking to pay for companionship, and bold teenage boys asking to take photos with foreign girls (even though these girls are sitting with their boyfriends at the time), you should probably give this place a miss. It’s interesting that Hua Hin is also a popular place for older couples looking to retire. With all the blatant sex tourism in your face every day, I would find it hard to be at peace here. For a quiet beach vacation close to Bangkok, it’s best to go to the beaches off Pranburi (just about 30 minutes south of Hua Hin). You’ll have a much better experience.
We passed our time by eating at various International food restaurants. Like an Indian restaurant. And an overpriced Mexican restaurant owned by a New Yorker. It was much more expensive than the Thai places in town, but it had some decent veggie options (like tacos with grilled pumpkin or soy protein). We thought eating Mexican food in Thailand might be kinda funny, so we gave it a try.
And when we were looking for a place to stay, we came across King’s Home, a guest house near the beach owned by a creepy Dutchman. It had free wifi, free breakfast (well eggs and bacon, so it didn’t apply to us), free coffee (instant), free purified water (cold!), a swimming pool (which is really more like a stagnant breeding ground for mosquitoes), free beach mats to borrow, and a bunch of random clutter and furniture everywhere (which we mistook for cozy rather than musty and gross). We decided we’d have a peek at some other places before deciding, but when the owner served us cups of ice cold water and told us we could store our bags with him the following day, we were sold.
Anyway, we stayed in bunk beds, used the wifi to call our mothers, and spent the morning watching cartoons. It made us feel like little kids.
King’s Home really isn’t a bad place for one night, but now that I know what a creep the owner is…I would avoid it just out of principle. For one thing, I’m pretty sure a lot of their clients are sex tourists bringing in Thai women to stay for the night (but that is probably the norm at most of the hotels around town). But the most annoying thing was that he promised us free luggage storage, then took it back once he realized we weren’t planning to book a tour with him. The next morning, he went on and on about how terrible and slow the train is and how we should take a sleeper bus (and of course we could conveniently book the bus through him, as well as a tour of some islands). Once we explained that we would be taking the train anyway and would not be booking any tours with him, he stopped being nice to us. All of a sudden he said he had no room to store our bags for a few hours (even though the day before he promised we could keep them there all day for free – with no mention of having to first book a tour through him) and he seemed to want us to check out as soon as possible. Dumb. I felt bad for being lured in with the cold water and free wifi/luggage storage and supporting a foreign-owned business. It would have been better to support a Thai-owned guest house – even if it didn’t come with all those perks. From then on, we made a point to try to support Thai places whenever possible (In touristic areas unfortunately, sometimes this is really difficult to do).
All in all, this is how Hua Hin made me feel.
This is how it made Miguel feel.
We really didn’t like Hua Hin. But even though you’ll pass through some crappy towns sometimes, you can generally find their charm if you look hard enough. We found Hua Hin’s charm in Mama Oi’s Restaurant. This woman had a small restaurant next to the train station and she cooked us up some wonderful stir fried vegetables and tofu with no fish sauce, but with lots of chili and roasted garlic. And she was really friendly and enthusiastic about her food. Our love for Mama Oi sparked a new game for us – searching for the Mama Oi in every town (criteria: delicious veg food, friendly, passionate about cooking).
Since we were kicked out of King’s Home early, we spent a few hours hanging out at Mama Oi’s place, reading, and drinking beers (so we’d hopefully be able to sleep better on the train).
Our last visit to Mama Oi was sad. And she said “If you don’t come back someday, I cry!”
But after one last hug for Mama Oi, it was finally time for us to go. We were ready to board the train – off to bigger and better things!
- Sex tourism is a major industry in Thailand and it’s not uncommon to see old foreign men hanging out with beautiful young Thai girls.
- Thais have a very interesting system for telling time and it can be quite complicated to get used to (resulting in numerous misunderstandings – hence our arriving at the train station 8 hours early for our train to Trang). Here is a page that explains the confusions around telling time in Thailand.