Late March 2014 got very bad in Chiang Mai for smog. The air pollution from smoke one day last week was bad enough to urge us to escape Chiang Mai to the beach. After checking out the options we decided to try Hua Hin. This isn’t as exotic a location as the islands but getting there seemed cheaper. Below are my opinions on getting to and from Hua Hin from Chiang Mai by comparing train travel and bus travel. Also the hotels and restaurants we used.
Update March 2018: new post how to be healthy during the smokey season in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai to Hua Hin by train
Bus travel is not something I am a big fan of so we decided to use the train to get to Hua Hin. We took the overnight train which leaves Chiang Mai in the evening and costs around 800+Baht for a second class sleeper. The train arrives in Bangkok the next morning, approx. 12 hours later. Click here for train times.
We enjoyed this train journey. You get a wide seat, waiter service and then another guy comes round to convert the seats into a bed later, complete with sheets and pillow. The train is rather old and the tracks don’t feel very smooth, but a sleeping pill helped me get a reasonable amount of sleep.
The catch to taking the train is that you need to change in Bangkok. Rather than wait many hours we took the next available train which in hindsight was a mistake. We should have waited longer and opted for a better train. The price was cheap at 44 Baht but the train lacked air conditioning and the seats were hard plastic. It took over 4 hours and was a horrible experience, especially as I was feeling ill.
Going back to Chiang Mai it looks like the train could be timed better by taking the air conditioned service from Hua Hin at around 2pm to Bangkok. Then catching a night train at around 10pm to Chiang Mai. However we decided to give the bus a try…
Hua Hin to Chiang Mai by Bus
The VIP buses operated by Sombat Tours offer a faster way to get between Chiang Mai and Hua Hin. The cost is 851 Baht for the 12.5 hour trip. You can take a morning bus at 8am or an overnight one at 5 or 6 pm.
We choose the 5pm one, which meant we had a few hours to kill, so went to the mall called Market Village. The bus looked pretty old but the seats reclined a lot and had a foot rest. On board we were given snacks, drinks, and at midnight we stopped for a free buffet meal.
The bus wasn’t as smooth as the train but a seeping pill helped me nod off. I use Aterax (Iterax abroad) which is a drowsy anti histamine, which may help prevent travel sickness too. Even though we woke up a lot, we got a decent amount of sleep.
Overall the bus journey was excellent. It was comfortable except for the air conditioning getting a bit too cold for the last few hours. It worked out cheaper than the train and much faster. On the train you are encouraged to buy meals and drinks (not cheap), on the bus everything is included.
What is the best way to get between Chiang Mai and Hua Hin, bus or train?
For me the bus was easily the best choice. I was dreading such a long bus journey but it wasn’t that bad. We just had a few extra hours sleep when we got back (5.30am), then we were ready for the day. We spent an extra 500 Baht on the train journey on food and beer, so the bus was far cheaper as they kept us well fed for free.
Hua Hin Hotels:
Sunshine Hostel, Hua Hin Review
We stayed at Sunshine Hostel in Soi 92 at first. We were attracted to this one due to good reviews online and the cheap nightly rate of 700 Baht. If this is your budget then I doubt you will find a better deal. The cleanliness was perfect; shoes are not even allowed inside the hotel.
The room was spacious and had everything we needed. The hotel looks fairly new. The staff and owner/manager were very friendly. The location is south of the main action by a mile or two, so if you want to be in the thick of it you may feel isolated. There is a mall a few minutes walk away, the beach is also a few minutes walk, plus there are a few restaurants nearby. You can hop on a songtaw to go to the center for just 10 Baht.
Verdict: Excellent budget option 5 stars out of 5.
Smile Hua Hin Resort Review
We moved from Sunshine Hostel because they were booked up and decided on Smile Hua Hin Resort around the corner on Soi 94. This place was over twice the price but well worth it. Smile also gets good reviews online, thanks to nice staff, a pleasant pool and seating areas and good rooms. The rate included a decent buffet breakfast.
We really enjoyed staying at Smile because of the pool and nice sofas on the outdoor terrace area, where complimentary tea and coffee was available all day. I didn’t fancy swimming on the beach in Hua Hin so having a nice pool was great. We did have one or two issues with this place but I would still happily stay there again. Our issues included a smelly fridge, smelly bathroom (urine smell) and a bathroom door with holes in (so we could hear each other in there as if there was no door).
Verdict: Very good low-mid range option 4 stars out of 5.
Soi 94 Restaurants in Hua Hin:
We mainly ate in this area although we also ate at one of the restaurants in the night market (poor) and at one or two other places. We had chicken wings and fries at Beach Cafe Restaurant on the beach (closest beach to Soi 94), which was a good location and the food was OK. As soon as it went dark masses of mosquitoes swarmed us so we made a quick exit. This place has had some awful reviews recently which is why we didn’t risk anything more adventurous.
Pizza 94 is open in the daytime and is close to Smile Hotel so I gave it a try. One word that comes to mind is awful. The pizza base was more like a pastry, the tomato sauce tasted weird, the cheese bland, and to top it off they sprinkled over loads of oregano. Verdict: terrible pizza 1 star out of 5 (one star as the fries were OK).
S & S Indian restaurant on Soi 94 is very popular for good food at reasonable prices. I just tried the chicken madras which was OK. For me it didn’t quite work as it just seemed to have too much going on, including sugar. Verdict: 3 stars out of 5 (would try again).
Japanese food cart in the car park behind the resort mall. Very nice owner and decent Japanese food. Worth trying if you like Japanese. Chef was very skilled with a pepper grinder- flipping it around like a show barman.
We also had breakfast at one of the bread places which was OK, but eggs were too greasy. At the other one I had a good sausage sandwich. On the day we left we had a pizza at the small Italian restaurant in Mrket Village mall, it was pretty good.
So is Hua Hin a good beach destination to escape to when Chiang Mai gets too polluted?
I’d have to say yes it is. The beach is pleasant although I didn’t want to hang out there much. There is of course no sunset on this side of Thailand, which is a major draw for me when visiting a beach. The town itself seemed much quieter than Chiang Mai. There seemed to be a lack of things to do, which was cool with me for a relaxing few days away.
Next time we will venture farther away to Koh Chang or Koh Lanta, where the beaches will be nicer and we are more likely to find accommodation actually on the beach. Hua Hin is popular with retirees, it has a good infrastructure (e.g. 10 Baht songtaws, lots of buses and train station), so if you want a stress free break from it all without the need for a great beach, Hua Hin is a decent choice.