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THAILAND: HUA HIN
The Best Things to Do in Hua Hin

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Hua Hin 

Hua Hin might not be as well known as Phuket or Koh Samui, but this wonderful city which sits opposite Pattaya on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand has become very popular with travelers who don’t want the over-development characteristic of Phuket, or the gaudy, in your face nightlife of Pattaya. It is notably more sedate, being popular with Thai holidaymakers and even the Thai royal family who maintained a residence in the city and is a great value destination with a fantastic, 4km long beach.

The city offers a more authentic Thai experience than some of Thailand’s other, more touristy destinations and as such is a bit more laid back, but there’s still enough to see and do to keep you busy during a two-week vacation. Also, it’s less than three hours drive from the capital so has become a popular weekend getaway for locals and expats alike. With a wealth of shopping and dining options, bars and nightclubs, markets, and attractions, you will be unlikely to find yourself bored in Hua Hin.

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Hua Hin Beach

Undeniably the greatest attraction for most visitors to Hua Hin, this beautiful, 4km long white sand beach with clean and clear water is ideal for swimming or just relaxing and topping up your tan. Unlike some of the other, more popular beaches in Thailand, this one doesn’t get as busy or as noisy and most visitors will find it very pleasant.

Activities on offer include horse riding, jet-skiing, waterskiing, canoeing and parasailing, and when you’ve had enough there are plenty of restaurants and bars with tables and chairs on the beach serving super-fresh seafood. There are notably fewer touts and vendors on Hua Hin beach than, say, Chaweng or Patong making for an altogether more relaxing experience, plus because Hua Hin is relatively compact, you may well be able to stroll to the beach from your hotel. Don’t miss it.

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Mareukathaiyawan Palace

This palace, built by King Rama VI in 1923, is located around halfway between Hua Hin and Cha-Am and is constructed from locally-sourced Thai teak. It was a seaside retreat for the then king, who suffered from arthritis as at the time it was believed that the sea air was beneficial and would help with his condition. Unfortunately, the sea air did not help him and he sadly died 2 years later.

There are three groups of buildings in the complex, connected with covered wooden walkways, all built out of hardwood in a colonial-style (the designer was an Italian). Set in delightfully manicured gardens, the buildings are no longer used as a royal residence, but have been converted into a museum housing many royal artifacts, old photographs, and paintings.

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Sam Pan Nam Floating Market

Hua Hin actually has two floating markets. The Hua Hin Floating Market, older and smaller, offers plenty of shopping opportunities, both as you travel around the market in a traditional boat or walk on the long wooden boardwalks that connect the shops. The newer Sam Pan Nam Floating Market offers plenty of shopping, too, with an impressive 200 shops, as well as plenty of boat vendors traveling the man-made lake and canals to offer their fare.

But Sam Pan Nam is also an entertainment venue. There's a miniature train, daily music and cultural shows, and plenty of "Instagram corners" – moored traditional fishing boats you can jump on for a picture, colorful benches, themed restaurants, and more.

If you've been to Plearn Wan, you'll find a similarity in the design: early 20th century-style buildings with traditional shophouses reminiscent of the King Rama VI period. While you can easily come here just for the fun merchandise and photo opportunities, the market also offers boat tours, mouthwatering treats, and a great way to discover what the old Hua Hin would have been like.

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Khao Takiab 

Khao Takiab, also known as “Chopsticks Hill” is a hill at the northern end of the beach. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb the steps to the temple at the top of the hill, and get the best view of Hua Hin and the surrounding area. In addition to the temple, there is a small lake with several restaurants serving very good quality seafood and several other restaurants dotted around the hill, with most serving up Thai food and a few offering western staples such as pizzas, pasta, and hamburgers.

The hill and surrounding area are home to hundreds of mischievous monkeys, if you’re traveling with children they’ll love getting the chance to feed them, just take care of your belongings as they can and will try to grab anything. Once you’ve visited the temple, had lunch, and fed the monkeys, then the Cicada Market is only a couple of kilometers north, or Khao Takiab beach is a few minutes walk south.

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Plearn Wan

A popular place to visit in Hua Hin that doubles as a unique shopping stop, Plearn Wan is a massive space designed to look like the Thai-Chinese shophouses that populated Bangkok over half a century ago.

A cute retro market that's all about photo opportunities, Plearn Wan feels a little like a living museum-complete with a Ferris wheel, an outdoor cinema, and a boutique guesthouse where all the rooms are decorated with period furniture pieces.

Shopping and food are at the center stage of a visit here, with traditional mango sticky rice, shaved ice with grass jelly, and "tong muan sod" (a type of sweet pancake) available from retro carts lining up the two-story courtyard. A must-not-miss stop is the old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, complete with checkered floor and thicker-than-life milkshakes.

For those in the shopping mood, Plearn Wan offers anything from tin toys to fashion souvenirs to old-fashioned candy. In the end, however, it's the little things you'll discover around unexpected corners-such as antique cars and old pinballs machines-that make Plearn Wan feel a little bit like a movie set where you are the star.

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Phraya Nakhon Caves

This cave complex is arguably the most stunning in Thailand and offers incredible photo opportunities that will wow your friends. It’s located around 60km south of the city, a taxi can get you there in about 45 minutes but don’t let that put you off, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get a chance to see anything like this again.

After a fairly steep climb, you will descend into the first of two caves before crossing a stone bridge into the second cave, where you will be greeted with a spectacular and mystical sight. The roof of the cave has an opening and during the daytime, shafts of sunlight come down and illuminate a stunning gold and green Thai pavilion building at the bottom of the cave. It’s an amazing sight, and after all that exertion, there are a couple of restaurants nearby where you can grab a meal and a drink. For the best photo opportunities, arrive in the morning.

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The Venezia Hua Hin

A vast shopping and dining complex designed to look like Venice, complete with an artificial canal and gondola rides; The Venezia is not exactly what you’d expect to find in Hua Hin. With hundreds of shops and restaurants and numerous activities for children to enjoy, you could easily spend half a day or even more here.

There are dozens of interesting statues, artworks, and a 3D gallery along with the usual fairground rides, a mini train to ride, and lots of great photo opportunities as well as some fantastic restaurants, but expect prices to be a little inflated due to the location.

Part theme park and part open-air shopping mall, it’s certainly an interesting experience and well worth going if you are traveling with children. Note that there is a (very low) entrance fee and that you will need to pay for any of the rides/attractions on top, and be warned; it gets very hot during the daytime so it’s best to try and arrive late afternoon (The Venezia is open from 10 am until 7 pm daily).

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Hua Hin Night Market

No matter how much upscale shopping you do in Thailand, nothing beats the authentic feel of a local night market-a chance to soak up the atmosphere and experience real Thai market culture. Night markets often have no rhyme or reason in Thailand-and Hua Hin's night market is no exception. Here, you'll find arts and crafts next to cheap snacks (don't be too shocked at the deep-fried insect snacks for sale) and stalls offering apparel.

Because Hua Hin's night market also attracts tourists, you'll find your share of stalls selling cheap souvenirs and beachwear, but also lots of street vendors selling authentic ware and fare for everyday life, Buddhist tokens, and traditional Thai crafts.

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Pala-U Waterfall

The largest national park in Thailand simply can't be explored in one day-so if that's all you have, you might want to start at Pala-U waterfall. Located near the border with Burma and about 1.5 hours from Hua Hin, the waterfall consists of 16 levels and is one of the highest in Thailand. Don't expect to climb it to the top, though – anything beyond the third level requires an arduous trek meant only for expert hikers and climbers.

Still, you don't need to go beyond the third level to enjoy the magic here. Cool water, deep pools surrounded by a 1,000-year-old forest, and thousands of butterflies are just a little glimpse of what you'll find when you get to the falls. Keep your eyes open for lots of wildlife as well, including gibbons and rare birds.

There are no accommodations available inside the park itself aside from two very rustic campgrounds, but you can overnight at Kaeng Krachan Town, just minutes away. Come back the next day for bird-watching and cave exploring – or hire a park ranger to take you deeper into the rainforest, where trails are trickier to find but wildlife is richer, and you might catch a glimpse of wild elephants, boars, and even leopards.

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Pranburi Mangrove Forest

Twenty kilometers from Hua Hin and reachable by car or song-taew (an open, multi-passenger truck taxi), Pranburi Forest Park is home to the largest mangrove forest in Thailand. The highlight here is the two raised wooden boardwalks that twist and turn through thick mangrove growths, over the Pranburi River and all the way to the ocean-all along the way offering peeks of wildlife and even a small fishing village.

Once you're done walking the wooden trails, head to the park's pine-lined beach, just steps away. Because few tourists know about the park, chances are you'll have the beach all to yourself. This is a perfect day trip if you want to see some awe-inspiring scenery and escape the heat of town.

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Santorini Park

Just 15 minutes away in the neighboring town of Cha Am is Santorini Park, a themed shopping and attraction village that looks exactly like the name suggests. You might not get the sweeping views here of the ocean that you would at the real Santorini, but otherwise, Santorini Park does a very good job of bringing a picture-perfect Greek island to Hua Hin.

Rows of whitewashed buildings line up the stone-paved streets, winding around cafes, shops, and souvenir stores. There's even an outdoor performance space and a small amusement park here, complete with a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and a number of climbing and adrenaline rides for both kids and adults.

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Sam Roi Yot Marsh

Thailand's largest freshwater marsh is located within Sam Roi National Park-a massive marine national park worth a visit on its own if you have the time to spare. The park is about 60 kilometers from Hua Hin and is home to massive caves, limestone islands, and over 300 different species of migratory birds.

If you can only visit one section of the park, however, the marsh-which is surrounded by limestone peaks and covered in lotuses-should be it. A wooden boardwalk extends across the marsh and leads to seven roofed pavilions that offer breaks from the heat and a chance to appreciate the mirror-like views in the distance. There's a great observation tower for bird-watchers at the entrance of the park, but you'll have a much better chance to see rare birds, such as purple swamphen and spoon-billed sandpipers, up close when walking through the marsh.

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