Kitesurfing has added texture to this beach town’s picture-perfect horizon
Travel – Riding High in Hua Hin (3) The rewards of travelling to Hua Hin are like those you might get from walking around your neighbourhood on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There are the familiar sights on the surface, all of which tend to stir up some pangs of nostalgia: military ships and fishing boats anchored at sea, couples walking along a bright white beach, and miles and miles of brilliant open space punctuated by hotels and hills. But upon closer inspection, the kind afforded by a slow and aimless stroll, the destination reveals another “sportier” side, one you may never have noticed.
In the afternoon, as the sun starts its slow descent behind Hua Hin’s green wall of rolling hills, the wind picks up speed, producing small whitecaps on the wide, blue sea. At this time of day, brightly coloured kites fill the sky like seagulls circling the water. The strings of the kites lead down to the athletes clad in Lycra swimwear and safety vests. Controlling what look a lot like snowboards, they scuttle along the surface of the sea. Nowadays, there are seemingly hundreds of kitesurfers patrolling the waters each day, calling for attention from the beach’s endless parade of passersby.
Over the past fifteen years, kitesurfing (or kiteboarding, as it is sometimes called) has soared in popularity in Hua Hin—the sight of it now as iconic as the ponies on the beach or the seafood and sizzling woks at the night market. From February to May, when the warm wind blows in from the south and the beach is wide and water shallow, Hua Hin is an ideal place to try the sport, says Jerry Han of Huahinkitesurfing—a branch of kiteboardingasia (KBA), Thailand’s first kitesurfing school established in 2001. But the conditions are favourable for catching some air as early as November since, throughout the dry season, the wind averages between 15 and 20 knots. Away from the pier, the water is free of rocks and, of course, sharks. Even the jellyfish, which frequently wash up on shore and linger in the shallows, can’t sting through Lycra.
“Anyone can learn [kitesurfing]. It’s a great full-body exercise, too,” says Han, who adds that it takes beginners between three and five lessons, each two-and-a-half hours long, to be able to ride independently and confidently. Han also advises those who want to try the sport to start with one lesson, in which they will learn about safety, equipment, and basic kite control. Those who want to go in-depth, even so far as learning to become instructors, he says, can enrol in one of the advanced programmes.
Beyond beginner and advanced lessons, the company also offers packages for travellers on holiday, including airport pick-up and accommodation, as well as fitness classes on stand-up paddleboards, a water sport that’s rapidly rising in popularity in Thailand.
Travel – Riding High in Hua Hin (1)Yet for those who prefer to soak up the scenery, there’s joy in simply watching the kites (and athletes) fly. In lieu of a fiery setting sun, which instead gently fades over shoulders on Hua Hin’s east-facing beaches, kitesurfing provides fluid and often exciting scenery to drink in over a sundowner. For as perfect a perch as any in Hua Hin, head to Let’s Sea. This timeless restaurant doubles as a late afternoon destination for high tea. Those so inclined can order wine from a list that includes dozens of foreign labels, as well as house pours from Hua Hin Hills, a leading local vineyard. With the action off in the foreground, a pianist provides musical juxtaposition every afternoon, playing renditions of pop and classical songs.
Better still, book a room at Let’s Sea. This boutique accommodation property enjoys isolation from central Hua Hin’s confining alleys and ceaseless din. All 40 rooms include access to an infinity pool that divides the property. It’s definitely one of the resort town’s more rewarding stays, refreshingly committed to incorporating nature’s bounty into its design elements.
Next door, the Amari Hua Hin’s renovated Shoreline Beach Club offers an upscale venue at which to enjoy food and drinks while meditating over the action at sea. Shoreline is more of an open-air affair than its neighbour, with a pool and deck set up against the shore so that, whether the tide is high or low, the sea always seems close enough to touch. In the evening, plunk down by the pool, order a cocktail or some of the restaurant’s small Thai dishes, and take in the serenade of Thai musicians strumming guitars against the lapping waves.
When the day’s action is over, head out of the beach club and back up the road to the quaint Cicada Market (open Fri-Sun from 4pm-10pm). This market is distinguished from the other, busier night market in the centre of town thanks to its abundance of local art, live concerts and theatre performances, and room to roam. It’s a better option for those easily irritated by close quarters or chaotic spaces, and perfect for travellers who want to shop for a unique handmade souvenir, or just browse the usual trinkets, tapestries, paintings, and ceramics on display.
While the Khao Takiab community offers a slice of solace, one of the better spots to take in kitesurfing is found on a central section of beach off Soi 71, the small square-shaped soi with an abundance of budget hotels. The beach here has managed to retain an air of privacy despite the unending growth of the city around it, thanks in part to its proximity to villas owned by Thai élite. This part of the beach is also near the epicentre of kitesurfing in the region, including the home base of Huahinkitesurfing, which is found on Soi 83. During low tide, the sand extends hundreds of metres toward the shallow silvery sea, and, just off to the south, athletes dance across the waves with their boards as their kites swoop and dive.
Travel – Riding High in Hua Hin (4)In 2010 and 2011, when the city of Hua Hin played host to the international kitesurfing World Cup, this was prime real estate. Although the World Cup hasn’t returned since then, there are plenty of local competitions throughout the high season. And even without competitions, the action never settles. A good chunk of the kitesurfing community is made up of young local athletes, according to Han, and they flock to the water whenever the sun is shining. So grab a drink and some snacks from the nearest mini-mart and mark your territory on the sand. This is what makes a trip to Hua Hin special—its lively side remains neatly wrapped within an undeniably tranquil setting, where discoveries are often straightforward yet no less enriching.
Getting in on the action
Prices at Huahinkitesurfing start at B4,000 for a day-long introductory lesson with one of the school’s instructors, and go as high as B43,000 for a 14-night holiday package, including nine days of kitesurfing lessons.