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Thailand 2017 | CULTURE & TOURISM | PHOTO ESSAY: HUA HIN

Long popular with Thai royalty, this well-known domestic destination is set to host an increasing number of foreign guests, too.

As Thailand prepares to welcome a record number of tourists in 2016—over 32 million by some estimates—both the government and the private sector are actively exploring fresh travel hotspots, and one of the regions that is fast-emerging to become a key tourist hub for the future is the Gulf of Thailand seaside resort of Hua Hin.

Located 200km south of Bangkok, Hua Hin represents one of the eight districts of Prachuap Khiri Khan Province in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. Historically a small coastal village inhabited by a handful of fishermen, in 1921 it was stumbled upon by Prince Krom Phra Naresworarit, who first envisaged a lasting connection between Hua Hin and the Royal Family. Over the coming decades, the resort would evolve to become the main getaway for the country's elite as palaces began to fill the vast sandy coastline. So much so that King Prajadhipok—or Rama VII—built a summer home called Klai Kang Won (“far from worries"), which would also become the full-time residence of the Thailand's ruling monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, between 2004 and 2006. And while Hua Hin has since evolved into an emerging tourist hotspot welcoming well over a million visitors annually, the town's Royal legacy and link to Thai culture remains its signature feature.

For instance, a major tourist attraction is the historically themed Rajabhakti Park, which includes seven larger-than-life statues of prominent Thai kings. What's more, Hua Hin differs from typical tourist destinations in Thailand, which grew alongside the industry's boom in the 1990s, as even today it is heavily dependent on domestic demand; in 2015, 72% of travelers who stayed at Hua Hin's hotels were Thais.

However, the tide seems to be changing and both the government and the private sector are looking ahead to a future Hua Hin, the tourism mix of which is set to be more broad based. The Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA), which has already helped develop six provinces across Thailand into community-based tourism spots, has turned its attention to Hua Hin in its new development cycle.

Likewise, key players in the real estate market are embracing this shift, which is best seen through the countless hotels and modern-day entertainment facilities that are springing up. Above all, Proud Real Estate, the local portfolio of which includes the InterContinental Hua Hin Resort, the Vana Nava Hua Hin Water Park, and the True Arena Hua Hin sports park, is adding a new hotel and a new shopping centre, BluPort, to its offering in order to offer visitors a more well-round hospitality offering.