DOES HUA HIN WANT TO BECOME ‘THE HAMPTONS’ OF THAILAND?

Though just 90 minutes from New York City, the Hamptons feels like a world apart. A string of towns on Long Island, the Hamptons were formerly a group of farming villages that today offer an upscale escape for elite vacationers. World-class restaurants, elegant martini lounges, and a stretch of choice beaches attract discerning visitors from around the globe.

DOES HUA HIN WANT TO BECOME 'THE HAMPTONS' OF THAILAND?

That description of The Hampton’s appeal to New Yorkers and international travellers to the USA, is being now being compared with Hua Hin’s appeal to Bangkokians and international travellers to Thailand. 

However longtime Hamptonites have been complaining about prices at the vacation hotspot and blame a new crowd of wealthy individuals for the rising costs.  

Along with publications such as the South China Morning Post, The Robb Report, an America luxury lifestyle magazine has been making some comparisons in a recent article.

FROM THE ROBB REPORT (abridged)

With buzzy resorts and an idyllic seaside vibe, there are uncanny resemblances to the development of Hua Hin with the famed Hamptons. Two getaways a world apart share surprisingly similar histories, according to the legacy and latest buzz in Hua Hin, Thailand’s first beach resort.

After the king built a seaside palace that turned this fishing village into a royal retreat a century ago, a railway was built 200 kilometers to Bangkok, and Hua Hin took off.

Much the same happened in New York, in the late 1800s, when tracks stretched down from Long Island to the Hamptons, also about three hours away from the big city. Families flocked to charming seaside villages, and a crush of celebrities and lavish parties elevated the Hamptons to one of the world’s acclaimed destinations. “It’s really amazing how much they are alike,” said Tjeert Kwant, Group CEO of Banyan Thailand, a development of luxury villas, golf course and wellness complex catering to locals and a noticeable upswing in Bangkok transplants.

DOES HUA HIN WANT TO BECOME 'THE HAMPTONS' OF THAILAND?

“The attractions are similar to the Hamptons,” he said, detailing the growth of art galleries, new restaurants and nearby nature areas. “People want to get away from the city, from the pollution, the fast pace, the stress.”

Businesses in Hua Hin are targeting renewed interest from Bangkok. With borders largely closed to international tourists, Banyan pivoted to long-stay Bangkok visitors, many working from home during the pandemic.

“Thailand is one of the world’s leading markets for medical tourism, and Hua Hin offers an appealing alternative for rehab. Why stay in Bangkok, when you can recover in a relaxing environment by the beach,” added Kwant. Visitors already find a fine selection of golf courses. There are nine courses of 18 holes within 45 minutes of Hua Hin including the Banyan Golf Club and Black Mountain. These stand shoulder to-shoulder with top-ranked courses Shinnecock and Friar’s Head in the Hamptons.

(Editor’s note: Black Mountain and some other regional golf courses have 27 holes.)

DOES HUA HIN WANT TO BECOME 'THE HAMPTONS' OF THAILAND?

The Hamptons has several wineries. Hua Hin has one, but Monsoon Vineyards offers a standout restaurant under the direction of Guido Campigotto, it offers vineyard tours and something the Hamptons cannot: an elephant sanctuary popular with families.

Hua Hin is also becoming hipper with an infusion of Bangkok talent. Jutamas Theantae, better known as Chef Som, recently opened Som’s Table in a charming old house on Khao Tao Beach. The celebrated chef from Bangkok’s Karmakamet Conveyance, happily chose this seaside location, which was packed with foodies within weeks of her November opening.

More excitement followed in December with the opening of The Standard, Hua Hin. This boutique brand famed for fun, unconventional properties in New York and Los Angeles, brings a buoyant Miami vibe to Hua Hin Beach.

“Thais know Hua Hin from the past, but it’s a cool place to rediscover,” said Amar Lalvani, Standard’s longtime CEO and now Group Executive Director of the fast-expanding hospitality company.

This zippy modern lodge contrasts with McFarland House, the classical two-storey Thai seaside pavilion and eatery at Hyatt Regency Hua Hin which was built in the 19th Century, as well as with Laksasubha Hua Hin, a charming collection of cottages in a tree-lined property next door.

(Editor’s Note:  The Hyatt Regency Hua Hin is several kilometres away from the Laksasubha Hua Hin Resort, not ‘next door’.  Perhaps the Robb Report author was confused about locations, as The Standard really is a next door neighbour.)

DOES HUA HIN WANT TO BECOME 'THE HAMPTONS' OF THAILAND?

It’s a perfect postcard from the past, for good reason: this was the estate of HRH Prince Krisda Bhiniharn Krom Phra Naresra Varariddhi, son of King Monghut (Rama IV). He can also be considered the founder of Hua Hin, dispatched in the late 1800s to find the perfect beach resort for the King’s seaside palace.

The property has been turned into an idyllic retreat by his great-granddaughter M.L. Laksasubha Kridakon. She opted for a colonial-era throwback with big wooden dormers and spacious seaside balconies.

A lot of new places are opening in Hua Hin. That’s great, but I worry about the growth,” she said. For over a century, Hua Hin’s appeal has mirrored that in New York, where people escape the city for the seaside. “This has always been a peaceful place,” she added. “We just have to keep the right balance.”

GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT

To temper an enthusiasm for the ‘Hamptons model’, it may be noted that some Hamptons’ residents claim that the recent wave of rich residents is ‘ruining’ the Hamptons, citing an increase in the cost of housing, dining and transportation. 

DOES HUA HIN WANT TO BECOME 'THE HAMPTONS' OF THAILAND?

‘There’s so much money now it’s nauseating.  I bear no resemblance to these people,’ one woman, who bought her home in 1991, told Vanity Fair.  “Everyone with money is here. If I weren’t here already, I wouldn’t come now. The conspicuous consumption is just gross.” 

Getting the balance wrong was the subject of a September edition of The Tattler, describing The Hamptons as a victim of its own success.

“The overcrowding is real,” Hamptons-regular Daisy Prince explains. With no chance of a dinner reservation or a spot on the beach, can the once perennially chic destination be losing its allure?

For the last 40 years, the Hamptons has been synonymous with excess. But 2021 topped it all; the combination of vast amounts of wealth and permanent migration of many since the pandemic, the Hamptons seems to be bursting at the seams.  That’s certainly not a scenario that Hua Hin would be eager to follow.

Coincidentally, the recent emergence of the ‘I Love Hua Hin’ byline follows the longstanding slogan of ‘I Love New York’, in another parallel with tourism USA-style.