Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Hua Hin -- Sofitel Central Hua Hin

I couldn't figure it out ... hundreds of yellow-towelled deck chairs around the Sofitel's pool had magazines or books on them, yet there were so few people actually lounging on the chairs or swimming. Then I heard the accents of a group of bronzed bodies approaching. Is it? Could it be??? Yes, distinctly German. It all made sense now -- it's the old Teutonic 'set your alarm early, get up and book the best seats around the pool, then go off and have breakfast or go sightseeing' routine.

Anyway, we managed to find a couple of spare deck chairs -- actually there was a whole other pool we didn't see till later -- and immediately one of the pool boys raced across to adjust the canvas umbrellas between us so it was just-so and the shade covered us at the optimal angle. Then I noticed something I'd not seen before (no, not a 125 kg German industrialist in Speedo swimming trunks two sizes two small: they're everywhere!): clipped to the umbrella stand was a yellow plastic buzzer -- Ring for Service.

How lazy and spoiled have we become that we can't even be bothered to raise a hand anymore to call a waiter over. And how impatient that we can't wait for him to do his next round to get our drink or food order in. I vant to relax, and I vant to relax NOW!!!

The Sofitel Central Hua Hin has a long and proud history of pampering, dating back to its origins as the Railway Hotel in 1923. Its colonial-era architecture -- despite a thoroughly modern overhaul -- reeks of history and stories, in the same way the Oriental in Bangkok, Raffles in Singapore, or the E&O in Penang do. There's something about the airiness of the lobbies, the tinkling of the piano as you arrive, the spacious lawns manicured as closely as the best golf courses, and the oh-so-elegant blue and cream silk outfits of the dainty front-office staff flashing dazzling smiles ... but I digress.

Brigitte Opfer (yes, it's a German surname) lived in Thailand from 1948 to 1958 and recalls the Railway Hotel: 'It was lovely; you could sit underneath and look out at the topiary garden and play Solo all day long.' The topiary still stands -- a surrealistic selection of elephants, birds, deer and Who The Hell Knows What That Is? 'But you could only go to the beach before nine in the morning, and then again in the evening,' she tells me, 'because the sandflies would come and eat you alive.' Thankfully, there is no sign of sandflies these days.

Then there were the oysters. 'We had to order 100 because it wouldn't be decent to ask for less because they were so cheap,' she recalls. 'About 10p for 100 oysters. We all ate as much as we could and the rest had to go in the bin because you couldn't keep them.'

Seafood is still a huge drawcard in Hua Hin, with any number of restaurants perched on wharves over the water along Naresdamri Road. I don't know about 10p for 100, but oysters remain very cheap: huge and succulent and buttery, served with chilli and lime and toasted garlic. Sensational!

With all those oysters on offer, I just hope the bedsprings in the Sofitel can handle the workload …

Its 207 rooms are well up for it. Done out with lots of dark teakwood, Thai silks and even hand-woven cottons, the rooms have a clean modern tropical design feel to them. (Whirring ceiling fans are de rigeur even though they have air-conditioning.) Not overly large mind you with most space given over to the king sized bed. But that’s a compromise, given that I can open double doors onto a verandah, and overlook the gardens and pool from the seats. (Or, work a bit harder, get a pay rise, and stay in one of their 42 pool villas next time.) Suffice to say the king-sized bed passed the ‘oyster test’ admirably.

Mind you, it's such a romantic hotel you hardly need them ...

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