Today was/is Hua Hin Day. After all the planning, the research, the other options, the anxiety, the fear, I finally made it to my new home today. It had promised to be a long day, and it was, but it was also educational. And, first glimpse of Hua Hin – this ain’t some quaint Thai village. Except for the language difference, I could still be in Batam, although this seems quite a bit busier on the streets in front of my hotel.
The day began about 4 am, when I woke up and couldn’t slow my mind down enough to go back to sleep. So up at 5:30 and my ride not showing until 1 pm. First task was to contact the taxi agency to see if they could move my pickup to 11, which they did.
The night before, we had walked to a Japanese restaurant that turned out to be serving just one dish – steamboat. There were a variety of meats to choose from and different vegetable selections but basically it was an at-your-table boil-a-thon. I was in charge of turning the heat up or down. Very simple, very good. But it didn’t last until I woke at 4, and by 7 I was in need of nourishment.
The day before I had noticed a street food cart in front of the hotel, selling what looked like some kind of fried breads. Of course he wasn’t there this morning but further down another cart was selling deep-fried, seasoned chicken wings and gizzards. I ordered three of the former and one of the latter, to go with some coffee and Diet Pepsi. Breakfast of champions.
By the time my ride arrived 15 minutes early, and I said goodbye to my friend, I was hungry again.
Now, about that ride. I pulled Thai Happy Taxi off an Internet search when I was trying to figure out how to get from Bangkok to Hua Hin. There are no flights. The service isn’t cheap – 2,500 baht or about $80. For that amount, you get pickup at your location, a bottle of water for the 3-hour ride, and the creature comfort of a new Nissan luxury coup. I chose to ride shotgun.
OTHER OPTIONS: I chose the private taxi because of all the luggage I was hauling around, but there are cheaper, if not as special, ways to get to Hua Hin. You can take the train but expect a very long ride, as it makes frequent stops. There is also A/C bus service and the pictures of the buses look pretty good. Both of those options are very cheap.
Also cheap are the minibuses, which cost 180 baht one way ($5.50). This is probably the option I will use when I return to Bangkok for visa work, when I will only be carrying one bag. The minibuses are a shared ride and luggage space may be limited.
Back to my ride, I had to make sure the driver spoke some English, which he did, but he was somewhat reticent for awhile. But eventually my charm just got to him. Hmmmm.
Sutat is married, with three kids, two from a previous marriage. He’s 35 and lives in Hua Hin. He took a call from his wife in Hua Hin who wanted to make sure he was not with a Bangkok woman. Apparently, that’s an ongoing concern of hers, since her husband drives the Hua Hin-Bangkok roundtrip every day. He used to have his own car but business got bad, so he hired on with Thai Happy company. He is paid 600 baht per trip/day or about $20, which is not bad here. Tips help.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I got on the road to Hua Hin. I did envision vast areas of farming, rural scenes, gentle countryside, probably a two-lane road for at least some of the trip.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!
First, the road is a 6-lane, divided highway stretching all the way from Bangkok to Hua Hin, and beyond. Traffic was heavy the whole ride.
Second, the roadside is barriered with shops, residences, warehouses, corporate offices, you name it. I didn’t see any farm animals in the fields, no rice paddy farmers barefoot in the muck, even the ragged mountains to the west were mostly obscured by human creations.
Third, Chan Am, a supposedly “small” town 25 kilometers north of Hua Hin, looks like anything but a sleepy little coastal town, which I thought it was. Once we started passing through town, the one element that changed was the density of the buildings on either side of the highway. The place is bustling, as evidenced by the super-tall hotels along the beach and the 8,000-unit housing complex being built. They must be expecting a party.
We found the Blue Moon hotel in Hua Hin easily, although Sutat did find them on the Web and made a call. Otherwise, the hotel is very hidden. In fact, it’s owners run the business from their ground floor cosmetics store. No entrance foyer. No chandeliers. Darn. But, you know, for $13 a night you can’t complain too much.
The woman I talked to does not speak English, but Sutat provided an introduction and answered her questions.
I was led to the second floor, with a boy maybe 50 pounds bringing up one of my heavy bags, his eyes wide at the fascination of a new farang in the house. When my host realized I was looking for a long-stay apartment, she tried to rent me the unit I am staying in. That’s not gonna happen! There’s a clean bed, a refrigerator and a bathroom. A/C and hot water for shower. And outside the balcony is way too loud. But it’s not suitable for long-term regardless.
That’s when my host brought her sister into the act (ta-da!). Fern came over because she speaks some English and because she had an apartment I might be interested in. The rent is near my max but… When she arrived she showed me some pictures on her phone and the place looks really nice. However, it’s at least a kilometer from the center of town and would require my riding buses or taxis just to go to the market. I may check it out but she is coming back in the morning with more ideas.
This town is spread out a little more than I was expecting, so I’m putting a premium on being able to walk to the fresh market, the mall and the beach.
Tomorrow should be fun.
I wasted little time once I settled into my room to venture out to explore the neighborhood. My main goal was to reach the ocean and perform the usual ritual of getting my feet wet and sandy. Mission accomplished. But I also was hungry. I decided to see what was available on the beach.
Along the way, I came across two shops selling fishing tackle. Got that base covered.
I did find a huge seafood restaurant at the end of the street, and right on the beach, but the prices were too high. That’s when it struck me why. Tourist zone.
So I sought out my next goal, but only after walking out on the fishing pier (which will need further exploring) and testing the warm sea. I needed to exchange all the American money I’m carrying into baht. I’m carrying a lot because I will need 3 months rent to secure a one-year deal, and by getting the cash at my bank in the U.S I save a lot in ATM fees. So now I need to turn it into funny money. Funny thing, though, that unlike Batam, where there was a currency exchange on every block, there are few of them here. I couldn’t find one near my hotel in Bangkok and didn’t readily see any when arriving in Hua Hin. The hotel owner pointed me in the right direction and finally, after giving up on her directions, I found one on my own, after stopping in a tour agency and talking with the Danish owner.
When I finally found an exchange next to the Hilton, I realized the hotel still had my passport. You can’t exchange money without your passport.
So, long-winded and all, now we get to the third and final street food experience of the day.
I was determined not to eat Western food or to pay tourist prices, but the heat had made me thirsty, meaning a beer, and I couldn’t find a local eatery that also sold beer. Finally, I decided to buy the beer, and some other treats, in a store and find some street food. Unfortunately, I left the beer on the store counter (but I do still have the treats!).
But I didn’t know that until I made it back to my room. I was salivating over those two Chang beers that were going to go with the Thai street food I had yet to find. But I did find it, a stand with about 12 different dishes staring at me. I looked at the girl behind the cart, shrugged my shoulders, smiled, and she smiled. Turned out she knew some English and we navigated me through buying two fried chicken patties and some pork sausage and vegetables. Both were very good, the latter being both sweet and spicy.
So it was street food all day, except for the Baby Ruth I had midway on the drive down here. At this rate, it won’t take me long to lose that 6 pounds I put on in Asheville.