With little in the way of experiential travel to be had during the pandemic, prominent media have made appetite-whetting an art.
One of the latest of these speculative wish lists, this time by Bloomberg, offered a curated roster of destinations to capture the imagination of travellers who have largely been locked down in their home countries for the last two years.
Some of its selections in its “Where to Go 2022” line-up certainly carry about them a heady dash of the exotic.
Notable picks included Uruguayan fishing village Jose Ignacio, which is known for its booming gastronomic scene, glamping in Argentinean Patagonia, and surfing in a 3-million gallon wave pool in the soon-to-open Palm Springs Surf Club in California’s Coachella Valley.
So far, so thrilling. But some choices were—at first glance anyway—less obviously pulse-quickening.
To those familiar with Thailand, Hua Hin’s reputation as a stolid yet relatively unexciting beach destination popular with foreign retirees and weekenders from Bangkok precedes it.
Yet its inclusion in Bloomberg’s list of the globe’s hottest travel spots is indicative of a change in emphasis that has gathered pace under cover of the global health crisis.
With young Bangkokians snapping up luxury property and trendy hotel brands like The Standard debuting, Hua Hin is experiencing a radical image makeover.
“We are enchanted by Hua Hin’s history and the sense of subtle Thai elegance noticeable throughout the town,” says Amar Lalvani, executive chairman of Standard International. “We are excited to introduce the Standard’s unique vibrancy and sensibility to Hua Hin while introducing Hua Hin to our clientele who I believe will fall for its charms as well.”
Famed for its long sandy beach, Hua Hin has been a retreat for Thailand’s royal family since the early 20th century. Just a three hours’ drive from Bangkok, the resort town has retained its popularity over the years: a convenient location, a decent selection of hotels, championship golf courses, and a relatively sedate atmosphere compensating for the rather murky ocean water and a slightly geriatric feel.
But things have accelerated fast in Hua Hin’s favour during the pandemic. With periodical lockdowns sucking the life out of the big city, nature-starved Bangkokians have been snapping up luxury condominiums and beach villas en masse, noticeably lowering the area’s median age and increasing its cachet.
With young Bangkokians snapping up luxury property and trendy hotel brands like The Standard debuting, Hua Hin is experiencing a radical image makeover
Thai real estate insiders have noted this uptick in interest from wealthy Thai buyers and expats living in Bangkok. They attribute the shift to the pandemic, saying that investors are increasingly cognisant of the benefits of personal space and a healthy lifestyle—key selling points for luxury property in Thailand’s idyllic beach destinations.
“We are about to start a new cycle,” says Bill Barnett, founder and managing director of C9 Hotelworks and chairperson of the PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards (Greater Niseko) judging panel. “The pandemic has brought about a dynamic shift in a holiday home or second home properties. Call it urban angst but lifestyle property for Thais has become hot again. We have seen a big rise in domestic transactions in Hua Hin.
“These are likely to benefit resort-style residences. Also vital is the enduring appeal of Thailand, which offers a great lifestyle, access to international schools, top-class medical facilities and fantastic links within the region.”
The trend for buyers seeking a lifestyle reset is clear in Hua Hin where property developer Tjeer Kwant, chief executive of Banyan Residences, a luxury villa development just outside the town, says there has been a significant rise in buyers looking to escape the city and enjoy a healthier, active lifestyle.
“This for us has been the key driver with families and couples looking for spacious second homes outside Bangkok,” he says.
Kwant said that transaction values at Banyan Hua Hin had—as of September 2021—surpassed THB125 million.
It’s not just Thai and western expat buyers who are likely to fuel future interest in Hua Hin and other beach destinations in Thailand. Chinese visitors are likely to be conspicuous by their absence this year as authorities in Beijing continue to pursue a “zero-Covid” strategy. But restrictions on travel won’t prevent covetous buyers from casting their net towards Thailand.
With the pandemic still stubbornly hanging on in Thailand, Hua Hin is not yet overflowing with energy. Nevertheless, the seductive rhythms emanating from the DJ booth at The Standard’s chic beach bar prove that the destination is dancing to a subtly different beat from before.
To the south of the town, on the beach of Khao Tao, acclaimed chef Jutamas “Som” Theantae—formerly of Karmakamet Conveyance in Bangkok—is working culinary magic at Som’s Table, her new beachside venture. Soon Teens of Thailand, one of Bangkok’s best cocktail bars, will open an offshoot in Hua Hin.
While the pandemic has been poison for many of Thailand’s beach destinations, Hua Hin appears to have found the antidote by positing itself as “Bangkok-on-Sea”.
The original version of this article appeared in Issue No. 170 of PropertyGuru Property Report Magazine. Write to our editors at email@example.com.