Green Hua Hin, An Eco-Friendly Escape in Thailand
From organic farms and restaurants serving farm to table cuisine to nature conservation projects and community beach clean-up days, a handful of sustainable resorts, spas, and a winery in Thailand’s Hua Hin are doing their bit to save the planet.
Most tourists who are in Thailand for a beach break make a beeline for the islands. Thais, Bangkok expats and savvy travellers simply drive a few hours south of the capital to Hua Hin.
For Thais, the resort town’s appeal has long been its reliable sea breezes and its status as a royal retreat. For expats, it’s a mini-Bangkok with waterfront restaurants, wine bars and sandy beaches. For savvy tourists, it’s the opportunity to experience a seaside destination that feels more local than ‘international’.
But for an increasing number of eco-conscious travellers concerned about the size of their ecological footprint and where they spend their travel funds, Hua Hin and neighbouring Pranburi and Cha’am are home to a handful of responsible and sustainable resorts, spas and a winery intent on reducing their environmental impact while contributing to their community.
Hua Hin has been the favoured holiday spot of the Thai King and royals since the 1920s when a handsome red-trimmed train station was built and the railway between Thailand and Malaysia inaugurated.
The stately old Centara Grand Beach Resort was Hua Hin’s first accommodation when it opened as the Railway Hotel in October 1922 after Prince Purachatra declared: “It is time to provide holiday makers with more comfort and convenience than before, since it is very costly and inconvenient for people to have to prepare their own lodgings, facilities and servants.”
The Prince personally oversaw the hotel’s construction in a sprawling colonial style with sweeping staircases and wide verandas, while King Rama VI himself commissioned the first golf course that opened soon after.
With such regal beginnings, Hua Hin rapidly established itself as a getaway for Bangkok elites trading the sticky city heat for consistent sea breezes.
While cool gusts still blow along the hotel’s arcades into the airy open-sided lobby and Museum Café, these days guests retreat to air-conditioned rooms where they’re encouraged to set the temperature to a more eco-friendly 25 degrees Celsius.
Something as simple as setting a dial is one of many energy conservation initiatives that are part of a comprehensive environmental plan aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions that in June 2014 earned the Centara an ASEAN Green Hotel Award.
At 6.30am daily, hotel employees hit the beach with garbage bags collecting the litter that washed in overnight. On the rooftop, 114 solar panels heat the hotel’s water.
A waste management programme ensures garbage is separated and recycled. Cooking oil is donated for bio-fuel production. And all wastewater is treated, with 100% recycled to water the verdant gardens, manicured lawns, hedge maze, and topiaries in the shape of elephants, deer and birds.
“We work hard to educate the community and local businesses,” Centara’s Quality Manager, Duenpen Pengkasem, tells me. “We meet with suppliers to ask them to reduce their packaging and we hold regular beach clean up days with barbecues to reward people for their work.”
School and community outreach, including supporting the Preserve Hua Hin group, forms part of a similarly broad programme initiated by Krip Rojanastien, CEO of Chiva-Som, an internationally renowned spa and health resort where guests from around the globe come for wellness programmes.
“Our guests are perhaps the least ‘green’ around,” says Chiva-Som’s Sustainable Development Manager, Brian Anderson.
“They are on holidays. They want their French sparkling water and imported lamb from New Zealand,” he admits. “But we’re committed to off-setting those carbon emissions and reducing our footprint.”
Winners of a slew of environmental awards, Chiva-Som is Green Globe certified, a member of the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative, and is currently preparing for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification.
With two initiatives alone – replacing 2,300 50-watt light globes with 8-watt LED light bulbs and installing a more energy efficient, water-cooling air-conditioning system – Anderson says the property lowered its carbon footprint by 20%.
A ten-minute drive away, Chiva-Som’s flourishing organic garden yields around 20-30% of the fresh produce used in their spa cuisine. The remainder is locally sourced, with some luxury items imported for guests.
Chiva-Som’s vegetables and herbs thrive thanks to its sand-clay-loam soil that is nutrient rich due to a cocktail of composts created from the spa’s organic kitchen waste, manure, and African Night Crawler worm farms, a home-grown organic bio-pesticide, and an organic fertilizer made from fermented fruit and vegetable juice. Hua Hin’s reliable breezes help keep the bugs at bay.
Anderson has also been leading a long-term project to restore Hua Hin’s last remaining mangrove forest, where Chiva-Som is building a state-of-the-art museum, education centre and boardwalk through the groves, due to open in early 2015.
Read part two here.
SLOW AND SUSTAINABLE HUA HIN
King Rama VII called his Hua Hin palace Klai Kang Won or ‘far from worries’ – apt for a seaside escape in a blissfully laidback town.
Experience ‘slow’ Hua Hin sipping fair trade coffee at beachside cafés, tasting local wines at alfresco wine bars, and sampling local produce at beachside lounge bars and restaurants.
Browse art, sip coffee, sample street food, and buy eco-friendly products, from handmade bags to handcrafted shoes at this eco-friendly market.
The Living Room Bistro and Wine Bar
Oceanside Beach Club and Restaurant
Sip cocktails made with local herbs and fruit and graze on Thai-inspired tapas on lounge beds at Hua Hin’s best beachside spot for sundowners.
Sink into vintage sofas and choose from 100 different beers, many from boutique breweries, at this beer bar decorated with recycled materials and retro finds. Hua Hin Khao Takiab Road.
Centara Grand Beach Resort
1 Damnernkasem Road, Hua Hin
Chiva Som Health Resort & Spa
73/4 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin