In the not too distant past, I bought into the idea that Hua Hin was one of Thailand’s few ugly places, even though I’d never actually been there myself. I was only judging from my friends’ lousy pictures and their lack of enthusiasm for Hua Hin.
However, curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see this city for myself and booked a trip from Bangkok to Hua Hin online, which was a breeze and cost me only $9.10. This was the price for a minivan ride – the cheapest option.
I received the booking confirmation a moment later and could barely wait for my jaunt, such was my excitement. Thank God we have a small voice within us. It told me to relax; it was only a few days that I had to wait until I was traveling to Hua Hin after all.
Finding my minibus
It was a sunny Saturday morning when I rode Bangkok’s BTS sky train to Ekkamai, Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal.
I took exit 2 as this is the closest one to the bus station, and looked for counter 5 – the place where I could get the ticket, according to my voucher.
“Pattaya!” said a guy to me after sizing me up, seeing me coming to the bus terminal.
Gosh, do I look like the stereotypical Pattaya visitor? I was wondering, desperate to lose some weight.
Arriving at the bus station at 11:15 am, I got confused and went to the wrong counter 5. This is because there are two halls with a counter 5 each, actually, and the one where you’ll get your ticket if you’re heading for Hua Hin is on the right side and pretty small.
Check-in went smoothly and was completed within less than a minute. Even though I thought I’d come here early – the minivan was scheduled for 12pm – the friendly guy was like, “Number 18, go now!”
While looking for minivan park number 18, I was sure there was still a moment to get some nibbly-dibblies and a bottle of water. I mean, come on, it’s not nearly 12pm, is it?
There were a couple of snack bars and a restroom that I recommend using before you get on the bus; you never know.
It was strangely quiet and there were conspicuously few tourists hanging around the bus terminal. This might’ve been because of the strong baht or the scaremonger virus from Wuhan, heaven knows. Besides, I missed the wonderful scent of durian and other divisive smells.
In other words, traveling didn’t feel like jazzing around in peak season; this February was downright bizarre.
Familiar though were the Thais. As helpful as ever, they pointed at minivan park number 18. I found Nor Neane’s 14-seater quickly and showed the driver my ticket at 11:25 am. He was so kind to allocate a seat to me, right next to a guy spreading his legs ultra wide, even though there were some other seats available that offered plenty of space.
I took it upon myself to change it instantly and said hello to my fellow-travelers, but could scarcely hear a faint mumble in reply. Nobody was speaking; the eight Thai, Chinese and Russian-looking peeps were all busy with their cell phones, including a man and a woman in their 60s.
It continued to be peculiarly quiet while waiting for the driver to turn on the ignition. Even with closed windows, I made out the lightest chatter of other buses that were about to pull out.
Some solo traveler who’d been killing time in the waiting area for a reason that’s beyond me – aren’t ACs more convenient than the stifling heat? – got on the minibus at 11:40 am, and two minutes later the 14-seater was full.
Riding into (personally) uncharted territory in silence
Understandably, there was no point in waiting any longer. But…well, did you know that they leave as soon as there aren’t any seats available? I had no clue they flout the scheduled departure time and was glad I didn’t have to wait for another hour. I mean, this could’ve easily happened had I shown up a little later. I reserved a seat for the 12 pm bus, but apparently, this doesn’t count here.
Bear this in mind when you turn up at Ekkamai’s bus terminal. They do let people book a ticket on the spot, getting on the bus before you, and couldn’t care less about who’s booked the trip first.
We pulled out of Ekkamai at 11:42 pm, and once we had left Bangkok’s traffic chaos behind, I enjoyed the view of golden stupas and white temples, and Chao Phraya River plus Rama IX bridge as well.
As our chauffeur sped up, groove patterns generated that unmistakable “note” similar to rumble strips that are supposed to alert sleepy drivers. But people didn’t hear that “rumble-strip-sound” and the relaxing Thai music not either because they were all sleeping fast.
They missed out on the sight of glittering San Phra Phum (houses for the spirit of the land) that were sold in bulk, and failed to get a glimpse of Thai culture at the markets and temples that we passed.
A while later, I felt hot and sweaty all over. The warm airstream was no good; the AC had clearly conked out.
Then, I spotted Thai people sleeping in the dirt in front of a construction site and forgot about my discomfort.
After some salt springs, the driver pulled over and stopped at a gas station at 1:10 pm for a ten-minute break. That was long enough to grab a bite at the food stalls which sold roasted pork and other meals, and drinks, obviously.
Setting off for the last leg of the 3.5-hour-journey
After the 10-minute-break, the AC showed its gratitude by working marginally better than before.
Twenty minutes later, giant hills appeared on the horizon as we were passing rice fields, banana and coconut tree plantations. Occasionally, skinny grazing buffaloes with babies greeted from barren meadow-land, and a Buddhist deity near Cha-Am looked at me with mesmerizing eyes. As if entranced at the sight, I failed to take a snapshot in time.
I was also too slow to take pictures of topiary elephants made out of bushes with love plus an old plane near the road. That plane must’ve been parked there ages ago and probably serves as some sort of monument now.
After all the local people had gotten off the bus somewhere in Cha-Am, the minivan pulled into Hua Hin’s bus station at 3:10 pm.
I was eager to find out whether my friends had been right or not, and as a beach bum, I made a beeline for Hua Hin’s coastline.
The light-colored sand I encountered there, the salty breeze, the coconut trees leaning towards the sea and especially the endless strip of beach – they all reminded me of Rio.
I concluded that no, Hua Hin is all but ugly, and enjoyed the calm of this peaceful setting.