Touring Thailand, a place fitting for a king

Updated: 2012-06-22 08:32

By Wang Kaihao (China Daily)

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Hua Hin is Thailand's oldest beach resort and was first popularized by the Thai royal family. Wang Kaihao reports.

Touring Thailand, a place fitting for a king

Khao Wang near Hua Hin is where the story from the Hollywood production Anna and the King takes place. Photos Provided to China Daily

It's my first trip to Thailand and the weather is a scorching 40 C on landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok at noon. The temperature thankfully dips after a three-hour ride south to Hua Hin, a relaxing seaside town. The town has about 50,000 residents and since June is not the peak season because of the rainy season there aren't hordes of tourists. Many of the downtown buildings look fairly old and a Chinese temple paying tribute to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (or Guanyin, in Chinese) is located by the port.

The fishermen, many originally from China, pray at the temple before setting sail every day.

There are plenty of alleys along the seashore, clustered with seafood restaurants, while many of the stores fly the national flags of Scandinavian countries, where most of the overseas visitors come from.

"If you want to get far away from urban life, you come here," says our local guide, Chai. In his mid-30s, he always wears a smile and his English is good.

The beaches are generally not very long, but the sands are as soft as snow. White temples on the hills around the town glitter in the sunshine as tourists head for the beach and an old man offers his horse for riding.

Hua Hin is the country's oldest beach resort town and was developed in the early 20th century, when the Thai royal family first favored it. The monarch of Thailand still spends some time here every year and it has become a hub for palaces.

A 30-minute car ride from downtown leads me to Mrigadayavan Palace, which was built in 1923, during the reign of King Rama VI. Its name means "love and hope" and the king built the palace as part of his wish for a son - though his dream did not come true and he passed away after visiting just twice.

The palace does not have a fancy facade, but its architecture combines tropical flavors and European styles, with bright colors and large lawns. Without any buzzing crowds, I could not help but meditate on history when wandering along its corridors.

Khao Wang, which means "hill with palace", built by King Rama IV, is not far from downtown and is where the story from the 1999 film Anna and the King takes place.

The town's railway station built in 1921, connected to Malaysia, is often called "the most beautiful railway station in Thailand", due to its elaborate decor.

Hua Hin is where many families spend their holidays and perhaps as a result there are not so many clubs and bars, as in other Thai tourist areas.

I arrive at Anantara, a Thai village-style resort, where a chef is preparing some snacks on the lawn, such as fresh shrimps. There is a lotus-covered lagoon by my room's window and the air is suffused by the aroma of yellow ylang-ylang flowers. The flower is the key ingredient of essential oils for aromatherapy.

Shortly after unpacking my luggage I have the opportunity to experience the joys of aromatherapy myself. The spa room is in a garden and the music is mysterious but soothing, which makes me sleepy. The medium strength Thai-style massage, however, dispels all the weariness of my long journey.

Locals say Hua Hin is the spa capital of Thailand. The Barai, south of downtown, is among the most celebrated spas. "Barai" means "man-made reservoir" in the ancient Khmer language. The building itself is an attraction, mixing architectural styles from around the world.

My first impression was of it being an ancient Roman pool surrounded by Angkor Wat-style temples, painted in the color of the Forbidden City.

An open-air bath is followed by a 90-minute herbal compress massage. I take a lesson on herbs beforehand. Due to my clumsy skills, it takes me a long time to pack a compress, which contains more than 10 kinds of medical herbs.

Hua Hin is also a paradise for golf. The first golf course in Thailand was built here in 1924 and courses have mushroomed since then, hosting many world-class championships. It takes less than half an hour from The Barai to Banyan Golf Club, which has a vista of the Thailand-Myanmar border and provides an idyllic scene.

Up the mountain is Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, among the biggest in Thailand. Loamy land and constant Mediterranean-like breezes create a great environment for wine production. A number of grape varietals are grown here, including Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Shiraz and Sangiovese. I must admit to feeling a bit tipsy before the gourmet lunch.

Later, I have my first elephant ride. I feel a bit nervous at the beginning, but the 45-year-old female elephant, Honey, is docile and I start to enjoy the ride. I offer her some pineapples afterward, which she eats very quickly. She takes a shower after each ride.

At night, an ideal way of passing time is to have a barbecue on the beach, after the fishing boats have returned with their catch.

Locals fly sky lanterns to make wishes and music is everywhere. Then, someone tells me there is a big night market in the neighborhood where I can have more seafood and ice cream - if only I wasn't so full.

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