How to Get Around in Hua Hin, Thailand
We stayed for a month in Hua Hin and spent most of our time in the city itself living like locals with just a few days exploring the surrounding area. Here are the various ways got around.
Khao Takieb, where we rented our house, is about 4 to 5 km from Hua Hin's central area. We rarely walked both ways because it was just too hot and exhausting but a one way journey on foot was a good opportunity to get some exercise. The best option, if the tide is out, is to walk along the beach. The sand is quite firm and easy underfoot. You will often have the bonus of a breeze from the water making it cooler than trekking along dusty roads with the "sidewalks" of variable quality. I strongly advise plenty of sunscreen and preferably an umbrella for shade to avoid burning in the sunlight which is very strong most of the year.
These are modified pick up trucks that get there name from the two rows of seats installed in the back. There are three routes in Hua Hin and this blog post gives great details about them. The green route passed right by the end of our Soi (alley) on it's way into central Hua Hin. You simply flag it down and jump on board wherever you happen to see one. They are easy to spot since the trucks are distinctively painted with the color of the route. As it approaches you're destination just ring the bell, jump out the back and pay the driver. For us it was 10 THB each (~ $US 0.30) per journey or 20 THB if you want to go north of the central area. The price jumps to 15THB after 7pm but remember that they only run until 9pm. We used the Songthaew a lot. It was perfect for us and we rarely waited more than 10 or 15 minutes for a ride. These trucks are so simple and economical to use and seem to attract a good mix of both locals and tourists.
Taxis & Tuk-Tuks
We never used these the whole time we were in Hua Hin, because the Songthaew took us almost everywhere we wanted to go. If we found ourselves out after 9pm we worked off our meal by walking home instead. The Tuk-tuks are a good way to get around but more expensive than a Songthaew. As with almost everywhere in Asia negotiate the fare with the driver before you get in since there are no meters. Based on our research you should pay no more than 100 to 200 THB to get anywhere in the area.
Our AirBnB host provided a selection of bikes for guests. Even though it was staggeringly hot, Hua Hin is nice and flat so cycling can be a good way to get around. Because of the heat we didn't stray too far. We pedaled to some of the local beaches, but in cooler temperatures this would be great way to explore further afield. The area near the University of Technology has some recently completed excellent bike paths that they plan to expand even further in the near future.
Hiring a Scooter or Car
Many people hire a scooter, and we seriously considered this too except, when we checked our US license we discovered it didn't include riding a motorbike. This wouldn't have stopped us renting a scooter since the folks offering them don't care if you have a valid license but we knew that our travel insurance would be invalid if we had an accident and that's not a risk we were willing to take. Check the regulations on your documents and make sure your properly covered before you get there. After all, Thailand has one of the highest rankings in the world for road related accidents. We plan on taking our motorcycle test when we get back to the US so we're prepared, and more importantly insured, when the next opportunity comes to rent a scooter.
For the days we wanted to explore further afield we rented a car instead. A big benefit of a car for longer journeys is the air conditioning. The heat has been brutal all the time we have been here in Hua Hin and being in an air conditioned car made for a pleasant couple of days sightseeing. After shopping around a little we rented from Thai Rent-a-Car. We found their online prices are better than you can get in person at the office so we booked ahead. We paid a few extra bucks for Super CDW, again preferring to take the no hassle approach if anything happened. Our daily rate with the insurance was just US$28 and well worth it.
The staff were great and the cars were ideal for our needs. The office is located right outside Villa Market on Phetchakasem Road on the green Songthaew route. We rented from them a couple of times in Hua Hin, and will probably to the same again during our month in Chiang Mai. A quick note on licences again. Although our US Drivers License was fine to rent the car, the staff advised us that if stopped by the Thai Police, they would want to see an International Drivers License. From our research this is not strictly required if your original license is in English. However, if your pulled over it seems that one way or another the cop will find a reason to extract some money from you. Our advice, keep THB500 in cash handy in case the need arises and don't expect a receipt!
Navigating by foot and by car can be tricky in Thailand. We used Google Maps and while it was a huge help, it certainly isn't as reliable as back home. Finding places can be difficult since the locations listed in Google do not always show their names in the roman alphabet and I had no hope of recognizing their Thai names. Even when they are shown in the roman alphabet, the phonetic translation may not be the spelling you expect. Your mileage may vary but we found a combination of conventional paper maps along with our phone's navigation to serve us well.
We also used Google Maps to navigate when we rented our car. Again, easier than a conventional maps alone but also challenging. A few times we were routed through military bases or private residences where we had no hope of entering. Some GPS direction seven advised us to take turns were there was actually not road at all.
Getting lost is all part of the adventure and at no point did we feel like we were in any trouble with the wrong turns we made. I guess being confused is part of normal life when you travel.