The former fishing village is set to see more buzz in the coming months as the urban to rural migration intensifies during the pandemic.
Long regarded as a weekend destination for Bangkok’s well-heeled, Hua Hin is seeing a resurgence in interest thanks to the pandemic. But this time, the crowd is more diverse – mostly younger ftais who are staying beyond the weekend, sometimes for months after having made the seaside town a base for their work from home (WFH) new lifestyle.
Coupled with better transportation access and new international schools, plus a sizeable number of new condominiums in the pipeline, the former fishing village is set to see more buzz in the coming months. “Hua Hin may even evolve into a more affordable Phuket or Bali,” predicts Bill Barnett, Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks.
The town already has all the infrastructure in place, asserts Proudputh Liptapanlop, Executive Director of Proud Group which owns the InterContinental/Holiday Inn/Vana Nava Hua Hin group of accommodations. ftere are wellness and healthcare facilities, sports facilities, retail malls and a thriving food and beverage scene. fte F & B scene is improving tremendously due to the strong demand from Bangkokians with their sophisticated palette. “We are only short of a Michelin guide for restaurants in Hua Hin,” quips Proudputh.
With a history as a summer residence for Thai royalty and a balmy year-round weather, as well as a diverse landscape comprising beaches, hills and jungles, Hua Hin’s appeal will continue to endure and even surpass that of its more popular Thai rivals. Hence, its dramatic makeover into a lifestyle-centric urbanised destination does not come as a big surprise. It only takes a pandemic for some globetrotting Thais to appreciate this underrated gem at their doorstep.
The pandemic has no doubt accelerated this trend. Previously the number one weekend destination for Bangkokians, Hua Hin is starting to see a more long- term community settling down like in Phuket.
“We definitely are seeing more take-ups for second homes in Hua Hin especially for luxury condos on beaches. ftese buyers are taking up residence instead of just weekend stays. So, it’s no longer just a retirement or weekend destination but a community place,” Proudputh observes.
To adapt to the changing trends, developers and hoteliers like Proudputh have to adjust their products, for example offering more wellness facilities, and making their accommodations more family-friendly and pet friendly as well as raising the bar on their in-house restaurants’ offerings. “People need variety when they are under lockdown, so we have to cater for all that including longer stays.”
Long term stays is a natural progression for Hua Hin. Apart from a thriving dining scene, there are malls, sports and recreational facilities, a national park, medical centres, hospitals and good transportation links such as an expanded airport and upcoming high speed rail, as well as major improvements of the motorway. Soon, it would take only an hour’s drive from Bangkok instead of the current two hours.
Hua Hin also has a unique culture and a slower pace of life that appeal to stressed out Bangkokians. Thus, although it’s urbanising at a fast pace, the seaside resort town still retains its inherent charms.
Furthermore, notes Proudputh, due to the restriction on building height, the only way to expand is to move outwards, mainly southward to Plemburi, and even further south.
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As a result, the urbanisation of Hua Hin will always be constrained and the supply of new properties will be limited in prime areas. “Investors can be assured that the value of their property will not depreciate thanks to the limited supply.” Bohemian Plemburi
Anchalika Kijkanakorn, Founder & Managing Director of AKARYN Hotel Group agrees. She adds that since the pandemic started, discerning buyers have been looking for boutique luxury properties in Hua Hin and by extension, Pranburi, the more laidback cousin of Hua Hin.
Just 30 minutes’ drive south of Hua Hin, Pranburi appeals to the younger affluent crowd from Bangkok, western expatriates and backpackers with its hip and Bohemian vibe, long beachfront promenade and outdoor sports especially kite surfing.
As a result, the urbanisation of Hua Hin will always be constrained and the supply of new properties will be limited in prime areas. “Investors can be assured that the value of their property will not depreciate thanks to the limited supply.”
Anchalika believes that the pandemic has made people look for more variety within the confines of the country. “Many domestic travellers are seeking off the beaten path locations and going back to natural settings and natural food. Our resort’s restaurants are thus offering vegan and gluten-free options while our wellness facilities are being reinforced.”
The seasoned traveller affirms that many expatriates have moved from Bangkok to Hua Hin/Pranburi for staycations and workcations, typically staying between 10-20 days or more.
Centara Hotels & Resorts’s Vice President (Brand, Marketing & Digital) Tom Thrussell, adds that working from hotel is also becoming a trend among its regular guests comprising many senior expatriates, retirees and well heeled guests. “They like the hotel due to its safe, spacious and private environment as well as being family oriented and pet friendly. Some guests even stay for a few months.” He notes that Hua Hin managed to hold its own despite the lockdown and is in fact thriving.
Villas sought after
Tjeert Kwant, CEO of Banyan Residences, observes that since last year, their customised villas for sale have become more popular due to the pandemic. “We have had a lot of enquiries and have seen sales of our residential component increase since the last 6 -12 months. ftere has been a significant rise in buyers looking to escape the city and enjoy a healthier and more active lifestyle. ftis for us has been the key driver with families and couples looking for spacious second homes outside of Bangkok.”
With the focus more on family and health and wellness, this translates into a shift to detached villas where they take up residence. Previously, condos were more popular and were mainly used as weekend residences.
As of August 2021, Tjeert says they have had Baht 130 mil sales of both customised and ready-to-move- in villas. Clearly, the long stay component has seen considerable uptick in interest. As a result, Banyan has opened a new medical centre which is expanding rapidly due to its popularity.
“Hua Hin certainly has all the qualities to be a leading destination for health and wellness, not just for the short term but long term for both domestic and international travellers.”
Supply & demand up
Brennan Campbell, Co-founder and CEO of Faz Waz Insights, a Thai property portal, couldn’t agree more. Its data supports a 5% growth with the domestic market driving the growth mostly for holiday homes. “By tracking the data from Q2 2020 to mid-2021 on buying motivation for either a holiday home or for investment purpose, we can see a change in behaviour towards lifestyle purchases in Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya, with the sharpest uptick being Hua Hin.”
At the same time, there’s been a huge inventory added to the Hua Hin market in 2021 year-to-date with 90% of supply comprising one and two-bedroom condos. Supply decreases at about Baht 12 mil for luxurious condos. In the mass market segment, condos in the price range of Baht 3-5 mil attract the most interest.
Adds Campbell of FazWaz: “Our data for Hua Hin shows 64% of transactions are now from the domestic market. fte impact of the pandemic is going to have a lasting impact on what drives ftais to purchase property. One thing is for certain, times are changing fast, and there’s a trend of moving out of the city at a pace we have not seen before.”
A question often asked is whether buying interest will shift once the international market returns. ftis may take some time and will mostly depend on the reopening of international borders and to what extent the ftai government facilitates foreign investment in property.