Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Hua Hin -- Palaces, Pool Villas and, um, Mango Sticky Rice

I just ducked down to Hua Hin for the weekend ... couldn't pass up on the opportunity to watch 'Venut William' (who looked remarkably like Venus Williams) play an exhibition match against 'Miss Shala Powa' (who, again, bore a striking resemblance to Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova).

They played in blazing sunshine at the Centennial Centre, a seaside facility built to commemorate Hua Hin's 100th anniversary in 2009. In the process, I picked up a tan almost as good as Venus's.

Hua Hin is a burgeoning little place about three hours south of Bangkok (by car, train, or bus), which has transformed from its origins as a sleepy little fishing village on the Gulf of Thailand. The Royal Family keep a palace here (hence the amazing waiting room at the railway station, see photo) built in 1923 which is a tourist draw in itself. Maruekatayawan Palace claims to be the longest golden teak palace in the world. Hard to dispute -- it's possibly the only one!

For those not blessed with royal connections, the (pool) bar has been raised with Anantara, Hyatt, Hilton, and the just-got-the-wrapping-paper-off new InterContinental resort. Want somewhere cheaper? There's plenty, but try the Hua Hin Grand Plaza for around 2000 baht a night (about the cost of a burger at the Intercon!).

My favourite hotel in Hua Hin, though, remains the charming Sofitel (known for centuries as the Railway Hotel). I'll do a separate blog on that one, so check back for that.

While I was excited to be at the beach in Hua Hin, breathing fresh salty air into my mountain-man lungs,  soaking in the history of the place, and relishing the seafood feasts (fresh chilli prawns, steamed fish, garlic squid, oysters, you name it, just 1000 baht for both of us), my Thai companion was most excited about ... mango sticky rice. Couldn't wait to get stuck into it. Although it's a northern Thai delicacy, there's a little place here which is world famous in Thailand (!) for it.

Yeah, yeah, whatever, I thought. But, having queued up with local tuk tuk drivers, motorcycle taxi riders, we finally got to the front of the queue, watching them deftly slice and dice mangoes and expecting fingers to be excised in the process. A bed of sweet sticky rice is laid down, then the sliced mangoes, with a sachet of condensed milk and some yellow crunchy nutty things, all in a limited edition polystyrene presentation pack. The verdict? Orgasmic!!! (Ok, I faked it a little bit.)

We got lucky: those in the queue behind us missed out, because the operators decided the remaining mangoes weren't up to their standard to so shut up shop for the day. That's how you built a reputation for quality.

To find this place, stand with your back to the front entrance of the Hilton, walk about 30 metres to your right. Over the road you'll see a little stall with purple umbrellas on the corner of Selakan Road. Oh, with a queue of salivating Thais and the odd farang travel writer in front of it. But get there early -- they sell out before noon everyday.

Question: how far are you prepared to travel for the ultimate mango sticky rice?

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