Hua Hin. Hua what? Most people outside of Thailand, or at least people in the US, haven’t really heard of picturesque little Hua Hin. It’s a small beach city about 200 kilometers outside of Bangkok. It’s perfect for a long weekend, i.e. the Queen’s Birthday, when I just made my first visit with other teacha friends. Originally we wanted to visit Ko Samet, but given that Ko Samet requires a ferry ride, it would’ve taken a little longer to get to than Hua Hin, and consequently cut down on our beach time. It was also booked up and very expensive on this particular weekend, as Thai people had time off as well.
Quick culture lesson with Teacha Tina – The Queen’s Birthday is a big deal in Thailand. Thai people love the royal family, and they love to celebrate anything and everything. The Queen’s Day is also Mother’s Day, if that’s any indication to how highly the Thai people value their Queen. Her color is blue, because she was born on a Friday, and leading up to Mother’s Day a lot of the royal family shrines throughout the land were changed to have blue bunting, and feature pictures of the queen. At my school all the teachers had to wear blue for her birthday, while I know teachers at other schools had to wear blue for the entire week. We also had a morning assembly at Banhan3 to honor her.
Hua Hin first became a vacation spot when the royal family would spent their summers there about 100 years ago. I do not believe that they still visit, but due to that prestige, it is a popular vacation spot for both Thai people and some tourists. It’s really just a beach city, a nice quick getaway for the weekend in central Thialand.
Due to the royal family patronizing Hua Hin, it has been built up a little. There is a shopping area made to look like Venice, a hotel made to look like Marrakech, and some other shopping area made to look like Santorini. It is also home to Cicada market, allegedly the best night market in Thailand, which is quite a title to put on your resume.
All of that sounds fine and dandy and wonderful to see, doesn’t it? Well unfortunately the only thing I really saw in Hua Hin was a beach and a winery, because (no exaggeration) less than 2 hours after I arrived in the sleepy little beach city bombs started going off.
Yes, you read that correctly, bombs. I arrived at my hostel a little after midnight, and was very confused when I woke up to a Line groupchat message asking if everyone was okay. About half a mile from our hostel, a bomb had been set off at the night market where my friends had eaten dinner earlier. Some poor food vendor was killed, and somehow we slept through the whole thing. Another bomb had gone off at a resort nearby.
So what does one do in this situation? Some people I was traveling with started freaking out, wanting to immediately hop on the next bus home. Personally, the last place I want to be when bombs are going off is on public transporation, and it had taken me a while to get to Hua Hin, so I had 0 interest in that option. It was difficult to grasp the fact that legitimate bombs had gone off and killed people nearby, so it was kind of hard to have any real emotional reaction. So after waking up at 7AM, a couple friends and I continued on to go hire a van and see Phra Nakon cave an hour north of the city.
Phraya Nakhon Cave
We bargained with the van driver and got a round trip van for 1200 baht, or 300 a person. I love how cheap it is to hire transportation in Thailand. I was particulary excited to go see this cave because recently on the Bachelorette, Jordan and Jojo had visited Hua Hin and gone to that cave on a date. I’m basic, sue me.
When we arrived to the national park(about an hour drive away, we had to pay 200 baht for the national park entry fee. Most national parks accept our Thai work permits and give us the Thai price to get in, but sadly this one did not.
Then came a 2 kilometer hike up to the cave that was a tad rough for our out-of-shape-backpacking selves. It was mostly uphill, and full of a ton of rocks and roots. I was concerned about tripping and smashing my DSLR the whole time. But of course not concerned enough to put it away. You can hire a boat to take you a bit closer to the cave so you only have to hike a little bit(there’s a beach at the national park), but we were too cheap and needed exercise. It was a pretty hike though, so definitely worth it.
Then we arrived at the caves. The caves were absolutely beautiful. I pity the cameraman who had to lug his equipment through 2 kilometers over rocks, roots, and up hills to get there, but it was gorgeous. There was a Buddhist pagoda in the middle of the whole thing that literally glowed with sunlight.
After basking in the beautiful glory of the cave, or in the steps of Jojo and Jordan in my case, we started our hike back. As soon as we exited the cave, we found out that another bomb had gone off in Hua Hin. This time it was at the clock tower where all of us had gotten dropped off at, myself around midnight the night before. This one was about .3 miles from our hostel. That’s not a type-o, I meant .3, not 3. As in less than half a mile. As in an 7-minute walk according to google maps.
You would think that we would start freaking out. Again, we were all fine. The people who had wanted to leave before were dying to dip, but it was recommended to stay indoors and avoid traveling until the situation was over because it was dangerous. So we had our van driver take us straight back to the hostel. The only difference in the city that we noticed on the way were a few soldiers and road blocks. Our driver took us through a back route in Hua Hin to avoid main roads, and we were fine.
We learned on our ride home that bombs are actually somewhat common in the south of Thailand, just usually not as far north as Hua Hin and usually tourists don’t get caught in the crossfire. Earlier in the week during a staff meeting another American teacher had said she was moving south and was met with a chorus of “Bombs!!! Very dangerous outside of cities!!!” so I wasn’t too surprised upon learning this. Thai news doesn’t move as quickly as in the US, so people don’t usually hear about these bombings. Plus with all the coverage going on for the Olympics right now and the election coverage, I’ve heard that even the floodings in New Orleans weren’t deemed worthy by the press.
What was surprising to me was how many US news outlets were getting the story completely wrong. I read online something about IS, and something about targeting tourists, all of which were completely incorrect. The week before a referendum to the constitution had been passed, so the bombings were linked to purely Thai business, and had nothing to do with us tourists. It was just unfortunate that some tourists were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So what does when do when the city they’re staying in is getting blown up? We went to the beach, against the advice of the people running our hostel. Personally, if I’m going to get blown up, I want to be on a beach. Plus it’s safer to be able to run into the water realistically speaking. Also, 11 more undetonated bombs had been found in the city, one in the railway station about half a mile from our hostel, so I didn’t exactly feel safe and sound there anyways.
We went to the beach, and we made it out alive. And we enjoyed ourselves and salvaged what was left of the weekend. Due to the bombings, everything was closed all day on Friday, and it was deemed unsafe to go to bars anyways, so we hung out on the rooftop of the hostel every night. S/o to Chanchala hostel for being so dope.
Some people were really shaken by the bombings. As the booze started flowing, people began making speeches, and toasts, to “getting through such a hard time together” and blah blah blah. I understand some people were scared, but in reality the bombings had nothing to do with us. We still ended up having a fabulous weekend, and no one got blown up.
Wat Khao Takiab
The one attraction that we saw in Hua Hin aside from the cave was Wat Khao Takiab. To be honest it wasn’t an extremely remarkable temple. It was pretty in that it was all white, but I’ve seen so many temples at this point that they are all starting to run together. Although it did offer a nice view of the Hua Hin coastline.
There was also a part of the temple where monkeys ran amok. They were literally everywhere. You could buy food to feed them(of course), but to be honest I would be scared to. We saw one tourist buy food, which we noticed after we saw about a hundred monkeys start scrambling in his direction. It was like something out of a horror movie, the monkeys started hollering and climbing over each other to get to the food, all the while this pot-bellied tourist was smiling for the camera while they climbed all over him, ignoring the civil war he had caused at his very feet. It was kind of scary to watch.
Pic cred for the images above to my pal Julie Von Forrester. Below is my favorite monkey pic, one that I shot. Note the facial expression of the little one on the back of the bigger monkey.
All in all, Hua Hin was still beautiful, and it would be nice to go back on a weekend when all the markets and bars are open. Although to be honest it didn’t really offer much in terms of culture and sight-seeing, it’s just a nice close beach getaway when you live in central Thailand.