When Thais want to escape Bangkok for the day or for a weekend, they flock to Hua Hin en masse. But those in the know head just a little further down the road, still within sight of the condo skyscrapers of the royal resort 12km away and yet a world away – at Suan Soan Pradipat beach.
Set within a military complex, the wonderfully clean and untouched beach shares much in common with Ao Manao, in the Wing 53 air force base an hour or so south in the town of Prachuap Kiri Khan. In fact, in many ways Suan Soan has an even more natural feel, thanks to the notable absence of the restaurant-owned tables and chairs that line the sand at Ao Manao and other beaches across Thailand. Here, unless you hire them yourself – they’re a steal at 20 baht for low tables and deckchairs and 10 baht for bamboo mats, for all-day hire – the only things you’ll find on the ground are the needles of the suan soan pine trees that the beach borrows its name from (and which, surprise, are also prominent at Ao Manao).
The beach has a distinctly local vibe, with large family groups heading down for a day’s relaxing in the coastal breeze. The proximity to central Hua Hin means the place is not entirely free of foreign tourists but, like Ao Manao – where there are even fewer – they are definitely outnumbered by Thais here.
Yet while Ao Manao is a sheltered bay with calm waters, Suan Soan experiences some impressive waves, especially in the late afternoon, and some strong currents – so while you’ll want to take care, the swimming is good nonetheless and an invigorating dip in the water makes for a welcome break from the pounding sun.
Suan Soan is easily reached as a day trip or longer from either Hua Hin or the capital – if staying overnight, there is accommodation available close to the beach. If you can time it right (and if you’re not already staying in Hua Hin then it means leaving Bangkok pretty early), you can take a morning train from Bangkok to Hua Hin and connect to another local train for the 11-minute ride from Hua Hin down the tracks to Suan Soan – the beauty is that the train stops right alongside the beach. But services are limited and you may find it easier to take a public minivan.
Minivans stop at the roadside entrance to the military base, about a five-minute walk from the beach (just walk in and head straight towards the sea); there’s no charge to enter the site and no need to sign in or leave your passport or ID card. A couple of food stalls congregate on the petrol station forecourt at the entrance, while there are a few more choices inside, though nothing right on the beach itself. Modestly priced toilets and showers (of equally modest quality) are also available just a short walk from the sand.
From Bangkok’s Hualumphong station, the 08.05 air-conditioned Special Express train (a pricey 411 baht for a second-class seat) will get you to Hua Hin by 11.26, allowing you to connect with the 11.47 service from Hua Hin that arrives at Suan Soan Pradipat at 11.58, at a cost of 2 baht (free for Thai citizens). Another service from Hua Hin leaves at 17.50 if you’re planning on staying the night. The return leg is less convenient, leaving once daily at 06.08 and returning at 06.16.
A cheaper and more convenient alternative is to take a public minivan from Bangkok’s Victory Monument to Hua Hin – it will set you back just 180 baht, and for the same price the driver should drop you off at the roadside entrance to Suan Soan. Songthaews and minivans also ply the route from Hua Hin, but wherever you’re going, it’s worth getting the phone number of your outward driver as it can be more difficult to find a direct ride on the return leg (though there are usually one or two tuk-tuks in the beach car park, at least at weekends, that will take you to Hua Hin where options are more plentiful).