Hua Hin – what’s that? Sounds like a Thai insult right? On the contrary, Hua Hin is a stunning seaside resort on the Gulf of Thailand, a three-hour drive or short flight from Bangkok. Originally a quiet fishing village, it transformed into a chic retreat for Bangkok residents following the 1920s, thanks to the construction of summer palaces by the Thai royal family in this locale.
Hua Hin Beach has the most perfect white sand with high-end hotels, seafood shacks and a few makeshift bars. What’s more enchanting is that it is never crowded and the sea is always warm and calm; so perfect for swimming. It is Thailand’s original beach getaway with no palm-fringed castaway island. Instead, Hua Hin is a refreshing mix of city and sea with lively markets, good golf courses, excellent accommodation and a cosmopolitan crowd. What particularly stands out is the quiet and cosy ambience that differentiates it from most of Thailand’s resorts, which are generally loud and flashy.
While Hua Hin has quietly grown in popularity over the years, attracting hordes of expats, Thai nationals and tourists, it has retained some of its early characteristics. Still a famous fishing village and an active port for fish trade, Hua Hin manages to flaunt the old-world charm, along with offering all the modern amenities of a tourist hotspot. I loved the downtown night market with its stalls and bars and gentle frenzy.
During the day, the local Chatchai Market is abuzz with fresh seafood, neatly-packed dry prawns, fresh fruit and vegetables and food stalls with fantastic breakfast offerings. The Isaan pickled fried fish was particularly delicious with its strong punchy, northeast Thai flavours and the grilled chicken — mouth-watering! The town centre still retains many old cafes serving milky sweet tea, kanom krok (like fried coconut paniyarams) and even chicken rice and noodles… for breakfast! All the food places are open very early in the morning all the way through to evening. During the weekend, there’s a Cicada night market — quite a posh affair with some smashing stalls selling tasteful souvenirs, designer clothes, homeware and yes, more food… and live music. Next door is a more crowded market with yes, you guessed it, more food stalls. The markets are heaving with people so depending on the vibe you are looking for, pick your timing. If you do need a suitcase or a chemist, Hua Hin has two perfectly good malls — Bluport and Market Village.
Now to the destination in Hua Hin which had been on my bucket list for many years. Chiva-Som is like a Thai oasis spread over nearly seven acres and started in 1995 by a gentleman obsessed with wellness. The rooms are comfortable and the whole resort took advantage of the lockdown to entirely renovate the luxury resort with a four-year, £20million refurbishment budget under the late acclaimed American architect Ed Tuttle. Tuttle has brought a fresh perspective to the age-old vernacular style. In the 54 bedrooms, you’ll find exquisite burnished-gold ceiling accents, a transformation of their silk furnishings into vibrant shades of teal and sun-bleached blue, while the wood elements throughout now exude a gentle pale hue.
The new interiors feel current and luxurious but still unmistakably Thai. The renovation boasts fewer but larger rooms, of which their 17 Thai pavilions have the most-lush bathing spaces, ceiling to floor windows as well and plenty of space.
Chiva-Som has spent the better part of its 28-year existence sweeping up awards, still leads in the wellness space internationally and has gained a cult following along the way. Similar to renowned hotels around the globe, Chiva-Som never originally aimed to accommodate paying visitors. Its creator, the late Boonchu Rojanastien, a banker and former Thai deputy prime minister, initially conceived his coastal abode in Hua Hin as a weekend haven for close associates and loved ones — a complete sanctuary from the chaos of bustling Bangkok.
Chiva-Som’s spa menu is overwhelming in its scope. While one might anticipate a few mediocre offerings among the 200-plus treatments available, every experience I indulged in, from acupuncture with a gentle electrical current to the soothing massages, was delivered with an impeccable six-star level of expertise and a comforting smile. Interestingly, I discovered that the abdominal massage is in such high demand that regular patrons book it here months in advance, I hear. And here that means the likes of Serena Williams, Madonna and Kate Moss.
You have a consultation with a wellness expert and doctor on arrival who direct you towards the most appropriate therapies and classes. Their advice seamlessly fuses the latest Western scientific research with the ancient practices of Chinese medicines. There’s no pushing. You choose to do as many therapies and fitness classes as you can possibly fit in your day.
The cherry on the cake for me was the outstanding food at Chiva-Som. Executive Chef Sinchai designs gourmet dishes with an unbelievably low amount of calories for those who want to lose weight — all gorgeously plated and served either in the elegant Emerald Room or their seaside restaurant Taste of Siam. Much is achieved by portion control but most of it is years of experience, judgement and careful calculation. They have their own organic garden and farm on a hill outside the town which also helps everything taste so good. I must say that every dish I had at Chiva-Som was delicious and flavourful. I never felt I was on diet or restricted in any way.
There’s a choice of Thai and European on the a la carte menu and on the lavish buffets. Everything is well labelled so you know exactly what you’re eating. Poultry and seafood is served and wine is permitted in the evening. Very civilised. Of course, all diets and allergies are taken care of — vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free and so on.
Chiva-Som is one of the few destination spas that seems to deliver — food, fitness and therapies. And when you consider there is an 85-strong army of doctors, beauticians and body specialists to tend to 100 guests, you understand why they charge what they do.
Source: MY KOLKATA