There’s some confusion about Cha-Am as a destination in Thailand. Although the border between the western gulf provinces of Prachuap Khiri Khan (think Hua Hin) and Phetchaburi (think Cha-Am), is within a kilometre of the Hua Hin Airport, it’s very common practice for resorts and other attractions north of that border that are really in Cha-Am, to use the name Hua Hin.
There’s a status issue about that nomenclature although there’s also a marketing advantage as the name Cha-Am remains largely unknown outside Thailand.
Developments between Hua Hin and Cha-Am along the 25 kilometre coastline and highway (Phetchakasim Road), mean that the boundary is becoming even more blurred in recent years.
But the special attributes, centred around the appeal of this smaller coastal town, are a reason for a growing number to establish their home away from home or holiday in Cha-Am.
A Special Royal History
During the Ayutthaya period, King Naresuan the Great (1590 to 1605) used Cha-Am as a resting place before going to war with the Burmese in 1593. The word “Cha-Am” has evolved from the name for a horse saddle as soldiers of Siam would stop in the small fishing village, the modern day Cha-Am, to take a break and to clean their saddles.
Much later the brother of King Rama V, Prince Narathip Prapanpong (1861-1931) is recognised as the founder of the today’s Cha-Am. In 1921 Cha-Am was still a fishing village with sea-front mangroves. Prince Narathip organised the clearing of the mangrove and had a road built from the train station to the beach. The road coming from the train station was later named Narathip Road with his statue at the beach end of the road.
The Royal Mrigadayavan summer palace is about nine kilometres south from Cha-Am, built in 1922 for members of the royal household as a golden teak mansion by King Rama VI.
About 60 kilometres to the north is Phetchaburi City with its own amazing royal history, but that’s another story.
A Special Location
At around 170 kilometres by road south west from Bangkok, this is a straightforward commute of 3-4 hours, either by frequent bus services, taxis or private vehicles with road conditions continuing to improve. A new railway station to complement a dual track line is also nearing completion.
That ready access to Bangkok, including for a day trip, is appealing to Cha-Am residents as well as by visitors from Bangkok for a weekend holiday or longer. There’s also a scenic route following the coastline north past salt fields before joining the main highway.
A Special Lifestyle
The lifestyle of Cha-Am is laid back but far from boring or monotonous. Thee’s always a holiday ambience in the air with that feel going up a notch or two when families from Bangkok appear on weekends.
To be a content ex-pat means being part of a multi-cultural community and being comfortable mixing with Thai people everyday, rather than clinging to a more familiar homeland culture; or social scene; that is likely to mean being isolated from the Cha-Am lifestyle.
That multiculturism allows an enjoyment of cuisine from virtually all parts of the world apart from local Thai food and the freshest produce from local waters. Choices vary from roadside stalls through to top-class restaurants and everything in between. There’s also adequate shopping in town with a newly opened Tesco’s Shopping Centre and Makro Food Centre.
That variety also applies to holiday accommodation, from low cost guest houses through to five star resorts, often within a short stroll of the beach.
A kicking nightlife isn’t the reason most to come to Cha-Am, it’s more about families. But if that’s what you’re looking for you won’t be disappointed. A typical Thailand bar scene is there; just not in your face or too intrusive.
For longer term residents there are choices between living in modern condominiums, multi-level townhouses, detached houses with a garden or a pool villa within a gated community, the options are many. Moving just a few kilometres inland offers the chance to build on a few rai of land with a scenic outlook towards hills or rice fields.
Special Natural Attractions
The beaches of Cha-Am stretch kilometres north and south of a central fishing village, an inlet guarded by a twin squid statue at the end of an entry pier.
Beaches near the town are not guarded by ocean frontage resorts and are open to everyone. Locals and visitors of all nationalities laze on the clean sands under the shade of an umbrella, savour the renowned local seafood or take to the calm waters to swim or to take part in recreational activities.
Inland there is a backdrop of nearby hills and ready access to Kaeng Krachan National Park and the green natural attractions of the hinterland.
The weather in Cha-Am is considered to be the most favourable of any Thailand regions, with few concerns about monsoonal conditions and outdoor activities able to be enjoyed all-year round.
Special Golf Course Access
Within a half hour’s drive of central Cha-Am there three high standard golf courses, but another five courses closer to Hua Hin and easy access to another two courses an hour north of town. Golfing is a frequent pastime for Cha-Am ex-pats as another reason to stay.
Planning for the future of Cha-Am with a vision to develop is not apparent. Traffic management seems adhoc and there are issues with public transport around town, with the absence of songthaew routes or even tuk-tuks.
Only motorbike taxis on the streets is not a family friendly way of getting around. When the main beach road is busy and public walkways inaccessible, what should be a pleasant stroll along the 5 kilometres of beach frontage road is not so easy.
Tourism development seems to lack vision with ample opportunities to offer visitors an even better experience. For example, the fishing port and the landmark squid statues at the end of the pier remain neglected and unmaintained as visitor attractions.
Apart from suffering from an identity crisis, Cha-Am has flaws. But it remains a very special regional destination, whether that’s just for a holiday break or as a long-term home away from home.