Despite our travel agent recommending the Chiva-som Hotel, we were adamant with our choice of the Grand Centara. However, on the two-hour drive from Bangkok to Hua Hin, we were both slightly apprehensive. Was it a mistake to return for the third time to somewhere we thought was the best hotel we’d ever stayed at, or were our glasses rose tinted?
I e-mailed the hotel beforehand to say we didn’t want a ground floor room and reminded them that we were looking forward to our third visit (subtle hint – ideal clients to upgrade). Things didn’t bode well when, on arriving at the check-in time of 2pm, we were told our room wasn’t ready with the manager explaining the hotel had been full the previous night for the Thai New Year and many had left that morning. She suggested a drink and snack in the Elephant Bar where we were asked ‘tea or coffee’? Neither: the sun was definitely over the yard arm, we were hot and sticky and slightly irritated. A couple of cold beers were produced along with peanuts. Were these regarded as snacks? We asked for the menu and chose Vietnamese pork and prawn spring rolls which were absolutely delicious and refreshing.
Our room was soon ready and although we’d not been given an upgrade, our room was just as we’d remembered: polished, old fashioned, dark wood furniture but with new fashioned amenities. Our sea-view balcony was one of the largest and completely private and ideal for duty free sundowners.
Hua Hin is a favourite destination of the King and Queen of Thailand and our hotel, originally Hua Hin’s railway station, was used as the Hotel Phnom Pen in the film, The Killing Fields.
It is an extensive low rise building with four different wings, three swimming pools and grounds full of beautiful plants, large topiary elephants and other animals and trees which provide natural shade. It’s right on the beach and whilst it’s not private, it has white sand and the warmest, cleanest water I’ve ever been in. There’s a number of rocks in front of the hotel and Thai families spend hours searching for crabs and other urchins. Instead of donkeys, horse rides are available and there’s a plethora of laid-back hawkers selling ice-cream, sunglasses, wraps, clothes and fruit.
The place exudes colonial charm and elegance. Breakfast offers both indoor and outdoor seating and an array of options: Japanese soups and sushi, a full English fry up, cold meats, fish, cheeses, fruits and yoghurts and the egg chef was always on hand. There was certainly plenty of choice for our 14 night stay. Our room fruit was refreshed daily, along with a couple of tiny cakes, and there was an explanatory leaflet to introduce us to some of the more unusual native fruits.
The Elephant Bar, as well as calming irritated guests too early for check-in, is the perfect place for a pre or post dinner drink. Our two dry martinis were served by a young Thai girl in elegant evening gown and came accompanied by equally elegant canapes.
Despite the restaurant having a various food options, we preferred dinner at one of the numerous outlets in the town with Thai, Mexican, Italian and Indian. They vary in price and but a reasonable main course cost no more than Baht 300 to 500. Wine was slightly more expensive at Baht 1000. We were both able to return to restaurants we’d previously visited, and also try newly opened places. We also enjoyed a delicious array of freshly caught fish on what are known as the squid piers, long wooden structures jutting out into the sea.
For lunch, we visited what we called the noodle ladies. A stretch of beach completely full of overlapping umbrellas, traditional deck chairs and low tables all crammed in. There are actually around 20 outlets all run by fairly fierce ladies who can knock up fish with noodles or rice in no time. The low deck chairs take a bit of getting in and out of, but as I discovered, are very comfortable for a post-lunch snooze. They are generally full of large Thai families and groups who sit there for hours on end.
At the hotel spa, I had a relaxing 90 minute aromatherapy massage followed by a 30 minute Indian head massage for Baht 2500 plus tax. From arrival in the spa and being given the ubiquitous cold flannel and chilled butterfly flower tea, through to showers and steam room before and ginger tea with crystallized pineapple chunks, the whole event was perfect.
So at the end of our stay, what did we think? We both decided that this was definitely the best hotel and location we’ve ever been in. We will return.