“Hello there. You met my mother on an aeroplane. She tells me you live in central Thailand somewhere. Mind if I invite myself to come and stay with you for a couple of days?”
“Of course. That would be great.”
So, off I went by train from Bangkok to Hua Hin, a little coastal town in central Thailand, to visit a complete stranger. Fortunately, my mom is an excellent judge of character so I knew I’d be in safe hands. I had a few days to spare before meeting up with my travelling buddies in Laos. I had never heard of this Thai town before but I have since found out that it is a hugely popular holiday destination for foreigners and Thai people alike. It is also the royal home of the much-loved and revered King of Thailand which gives this resort town a special character of its own.
While the beaches of Phuket and Samui have only ‘recently’ been discovered and rapidly developed (for better or worse), this tranquil fishing port come royal resort has been a favourite Thai destination for more than seventy years. The town’s tourism website, hua-hin.com, says that “today’s visitor to Hua Hin will still sense this special atmosphere and old world charm”. And it would be hard to disagree. It is a wonderful little place well-known for tailor-made clothing and very fresh seafood, where you can relax poolside or ride a horse on the beach. The beaches are as good as, if not more beautiful than any I saw on the islands of Koh Tao, Ko Phangnan or the islands off the coast of Krabi.
And, of course, the stranger became a fast friend. We hopped on the back of her scooter, along with her dog, and headed for a breakfast of champions on the beach front. We played a rather heated game of beach tennis with friends while the sun set. We explored the markets, ate the best pad thai noodles in town and claimed front row seats for a Muay Thai fight. We visited the magnificent Wat Khao Lad temple on Monkey Mountain and enjoyed the wonderful views before being chased by a few of the macaque monkeys. If I was a golfer, I would have surely frequented one of the many world class golf courses. It is a little-known secret that Hua Hin boasts some of the lowest green fees around.
Thailand is one of the cheaper places you can visit from South Africa, hence why so many people visit over the festive period. Flights are relatively affordable and living costs while you are there are minimal, depending how you choose to spend your rand. Thailand is also a country which welcomes South Africans for thirty days without a visa, which always makes a trip easier. People are incredibly diverse and extremely friendly.
I recommend you go to the tourist attractions; they wouldn’t be popular if they weren’t amazing. Do the Full Moon parties and stay at the family resorts. They are amazing in their own right. But also look at walking a different, less-trodden path. Go to a part of the country you haven’t read about on every blog or tourism site. You never know what amazing things you’ll find or what inspiring people you’ll meet. I started to truly love Thailand after visiting Hua Hin because I had seen a different side to the country, the culture and more importantly, a different side to the Thai people.