So finally Mark I would like to get a bit of an inside view to Hua Hin and check out what is on offer to visitors and to those who wish to make Hua Hin their home.
Trevor: In general terms is the cost of living relatively good in Hua Hin?
Mark: Yes. Most things are good value here – you can still get a 2 or 3 bedroom house 5 minutes from town for about 250-300 GB Pounds a month. If you eat Thai food, then you can have a great seafood meal with a few beers for 5 or 6 people and it will cost you around 25 GB Pounds. So based upon the two major expenses in the west – accommodation and food – the cost of living here is great. My lunch I buy from a local foodstall and it usually costs me about one pound, with a drink. The cost of living has increased in the past few years…. and the exchange rates haven’t been favourable, especially for the pound. But I think most people will agree that they can live comfortably over here on very little compared to back home in the UK.
Town life in Hua Hin
Trevor: Have you noticed many changes in Hua Hin during your 7 year stay and would you say they were for the better?
Mark: There have been a lot of changes in the past 7 years. On the property development side the town has expanded in all directions, mainly due to foreigners buying property, Thais from Bangkok purchasing condos, more hotels going up and a huge Tesco Lotus Shopping Center springing up to the south of town. It has always been a popular destination for Northern Europeans, but especially since the tsunami in December 04, when many people re-routed to the perceived safety of Hua Hin for their holiday. I have noticed a wider array of nationalities arriving. Since the worldwide economic downturn in 2008 I have noticed the ”high season” in Hua Hin (November to April) getting a little shorter and the ” low season” getting a little longer, but visitor numbers this year haven’t been too bad I understand. It’s futile to say whether any of this is for the better. It just is. If it gets to a stage when I stop enjoying the leisurely ambience of Hua Hin I would consider moving rather than sitting around moaning about it, but I don’t see that happening for a long time.
Market village/Tesco Lotus Center Hua Hin
Trevor: In your opinion would you say Hua Hin is a safe place to live?
Mark: Yes. It’s much safer than your average western town or city for a start. The worst that it usually gets is petty theft. There was a spate of muggings of foreign bar owners a couple of years back, but no-one was seriously injured and they caught the culprits, who were a gang from out-of-town. All I can say is that if you are looking for trouble then you can generally find it here, but Hua Hin people are generally fun-loving and peaceful, and I feel perfectly safe walking anywhere around town anytime of night or day.
Trevor: So you don’t have a yob culture like there is in the UK or western world in general?
Mark: Occasionally you run into a group of teenagers hanging around on a street corner but they are not aggressive like a teenage ”yob” in the UK can be. Although there has been some erosion of traditional Thai values with the march of ”westernisation” the average Thai adolescent is still respectful of elders and is not likely to be a threat of any kind to foreigners. He is more likely to want to exchange a few words with you and show his friends he can talk a bit of English than create problems. The few ugly incidents I have witnessed have been between feuding Thais, or the rare ones involving Thais and foreigners have been due to a lack of respect or understanding of Thais on the foreigner’s part.
Trevor: Do you think Hua Hin is a good place to raise a family?
Mark: Not tried it myself, but yes! It’s much safer than your average western town or city for a start. Schools seem to be improving here with English being taken more seriously. There’s always plenty for children to do, with the beach nearby and Thai children are very inventive with the games they make up and don’t need the latest toys to have fun. Compared to many of the unsavoury social pressures that children in inner cities in the west face, Hua Hin is a much healthier place to bring up a family.
Trevor: Where are your favourite eating places in Hua Hin that gives both quality and value?
My favourite place to eat is Kwang’s kitchen! Anything she cooks is invariably more to my taste than what’s served in the restaurants, especially her northern style curries! However, this is Thailand and people eat out regularly and enjoyably. There is a vast array of places to choose from. Many people like Hua Hin night market where there is a clutch of reasonably priced seafood restaurants as well as the usual food stands selling all manner of Thai dishes. I have a taste for Isaan (North – Eastern) food also, so I like the restaurant about 50 metres south of Hua Hin market village where they make excellent ”Gai Yaang” (barbecued chicken), ”som tam” (a spicy papaya salad) and ”larb ” (a spicy minced pork salad)
Trevor: Can you stop now please you are making me hungry!
Mark: We like Baan Itsara, which is a more ”up-market” Thai restaurant set in a beautiful old Thai house by the sea in the north of the town. We usually take visitors to Hua Hin to this place, to impress them! It’s a great setting and serves some of the best food in Hua Hin. Their speciality dish is Mussels served in Thai Pesto, which is not to be missed…..and it’s still the only place in Thailand where I’ve come across that dish. The bet foreign-food restaurants to my mind are ” All seasons” in the centre of town, which has excellent steaks and friendly staff, and ”cool Relax” which is on the other side of the main road in a quieter street. Here they specialise in great all day breakfasts, pasta dishes and salads…but they also serve good Thai food. Nice cold beer too!
Cool Relax for good food Thai and Western
Trevor: When you have time to relax where are a couple of your favourite night-time venues that you, your wife (Khun Kwang) and friends might visit?
I try to keep away from the Hilton Brewhouse these days, but do put in the odd appearance if I fancy overpriced drinks, repetitive music and no room to move. We spend the occasional evening at Ra-Run which is near to the Intercontinental Hotel or Hi-4 if we’re feeling more adventurous. Most of the places we go are late-night Thai places as my wife normally doesn’t finish work until around midnight. We tend to change our favourite places to go to fairly frequently ….usually based upon the service which fluctuates. Billy’s Bar and Bernie’s Bar are my favourite foreign bars to watch football in without being molested.
Trevor: Where are your places to visit around Hua Hin if going out for a day with your wife?
Kao Takiab is the small mountain at the southern end of the beach, which is a great 90 minute walk. We don’t actually get a lot of time to visit places around Hua Hin though. We’re either working, making a trip to Bangkok, or if we have a break then we head further to the south to the Nakhon Sri Tammarat area or to the Krabi area-both are about 8 hours drive away.
Trevor. Is there a specific Bank that you would recommend. One that is helpful in assisting foreigners and seems to stand out above the rest.
Mark: I avoid the Bangkok Bank in Hua Hin at all costs, Ayudhaya Bank (the yellow one) or Siam Commercial Bank (the purple one!) are my favourites. Kasikorn Bank (the Green and White one!) is getting a growing reputation for customer service too.
Trevor: For new arrivals to Hua Hin are there much in the way of English-speaking schools.
My ex-boss was the principal of Som Tawin International School where all lessons are taught in English. That’s the only school in Hua Hin where this is the case. For higher education students there’s Webter or Schiller Stamford universities based in Hua Hin.
Hua Hin Thailand
Trevor: On matters concerning Health are there much in the way of hospitals in Hua Hin?
Mark: For anything serious then there is the world-renowned Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. This is a top-notch hospital that attracts many international patients from all round the globe because it offers a great service at a fraction of the price you pay in the west. Hua Hin has 2 main hospitals, the most famous of which is San Paolo. I would recommend steering clear of this at all times, unless it’s for a Doctor’s certificate. The other one is Hua Hin Hospital which has recently been revamped and, by all accounts, has improved greatly since 5 years ago. For anything beyond a minor ailment, I would recommend Petcharat Hospital – a large well-equipped and good value hospital 60Km north, in Petchaburi. Or for specialist care I would recommend taking the trip to Bumrungrad or BNH Hospital in Bangkok.
Trevor: Well Mark, I thank you very much for this kind insight into life in Hua Hin and I look forward to warming up the vocal chords for a spot of karaoke with you and a cold beer next time I am passing through Hua Hin. Thanks Mark.
End of Interview: Mark Stephens has left the building.