Hua Hin – Thailand’s original beach-resort town – fortunately gets one thinking beyond the cliche of just a long classic unwind by the ocean. No doubt, endless meals of fresh-seafood and a spot of kite-surfing will prevail, but there’s much else for those keen to return from the journey, not just relaxed but also enriched. Once you’ve paid homage to the usual traveller hotspots like the Mrigadayavan Summer Palace, for instance, with its connected teak buildings that were built during the reign of Rama VI in 1924, it’s worth setting aside a substantial amount of time for the following experiences.
Hua Hin, like elsewhere in Thailand, is no stranger to the culture of the larger-than-life shopping mall, which never lives too far away from the quirky night market. The Cicada Weekend Market however, deserves special mention amid the night-market pantheon. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. The stalls display a distinct emphasis on the small-scale and the home-grown. Here – a glass-blower creating figurines of birds.
There an entrepreneur selling every permutation of I-phone case. If you’re game for some local interaction, there’s plenty with which to be engaged. Have a local artist create a caricature of you. Chat with a fellow traveller over a plate of delightfully fresh seafood, or some delicious homemade cake – all in celebration of the niche and the handmade.
Even if you’ve only been to Chiva Som by armchair, you’ll know it as the five-star international health resort that attracts the most exclusive of clientele. Distinguished by its focus on holistic-vitality, every program you enroll for in here – is dedicated to achieving balance in mind, spirit and body. Rather than create a binary between East and West, this wellness arena harnesses powerful treatments and techniques from both sets of practice. A personalised consultation with a health-advisor at the start of your journey here, is essential.
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It ensures that you arrive as close to your personal goals as possible, by fine-tuning the choice of what you engage with – from the encyclopedic array of treatments on offer. Think everything – from yoga to aqua aerobics, chi nei tsang (Thailand’s distinctive abdominal massage) to physiotherapy – at the hands of expert practitioners from around the world. For holistic ways to deal with specific health issues, it’s worth also exploring the range of rejuvenation retreats on offer. Think Art of Detox or Cranial Relief – for people who suffer from headaches, for instance.
This natural mangrove forest makes it worthwhile driving the 20-kms from Hua Hin to get to. Even if forests are not your main interest, the 1-km long boardwalks into this natural set, with their interpretative panels that help contextualise your experience, will put you in an appropriate mood.
Some of the new friends that you’re likely to encounter as you go along – are ancient lizards, colourful crabs, birds of every hue, and scampering lobsters. Climb up one of the observation towers to take in the surrounding hills, or clamber into a boat with a fisherman. There’s a feast to be enjoyed – for the waters are a hot spot of bio-diversity. Crabs, birds, mudskippers and water monitors – all flourish.
In a part of the world comparatively less known for its wines, what could be the reason to undertake the 35km drive from Hua Hin to the Monsoon Valley Vineyard? Well, besides the obvious cliche that taking the tour here is a good way to learn more about wine – growing in tropical conditions, the vineyards themselves are as expansive as they are inviting. The Sala – the flagship restaurant attached to the vineyards – with its giant picture windows, gives you a panoramic view that goes well with the accompanying food and wine.
Also worth looking into is the array of activities offered at Monsoon Valley. You can take a mountain bike and head off on an exploratory vineyard trail; attend a workshop and create your own wine label; or sign up for a full-day wine safari. This would imply at the outset a detailed walkthrough of the nuts-and-bolts of winemaking in the Monsoon Valley Vineyards – followed by a journey into Kuiburi National Park – known for its herds of elephants and gaur. A reasonable way, one assumes, to break up all that nose-to-tail wining and dining.
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