Published on January 5, 2008
Looking for a nice relaxing place to getaway for the weekend? A spot that's not too far from Bangkok, won't cost you the Earth, and is well suited for families and couples?
One option worth serious thought is a classic, slightly aged hotel on the beach at Cha-am, which has just been given a major upgrade.
Holiday Inn, which has seven hotels around the country, recently completed a Bt300-million refurbishment of its Regent Beach Resort.
The 25-year-old hotel has been extensively upgraded, and now boasts a large trendy lobby - designed by local firm P49 in what they call "an elegant retro style" - with a spa on the lower floor, and a fashionable Italian restaurant overlooking the beach.
Formerly run by the Techaphibul family, the hotel is set on a huge block two and half hours south of Bangkok. Many of its more than 500 rooms have been given a modern refit - with new large-screen TVs, beds, lighting, etc.
It has family rooms with special facilities for children - beds in the shape of boats and a purpose built "Kids Club".
General manager Andrew Langston, a Brit with long career in the hotel business, hosted a media tour for the hotel's relaunch in early December, and outlined some of the hotel's improvements.
There are two huge pools with a somewhat ludicrous number of lounge chairs where guests can lie back and forget the world - 450, Langston says, and when you see the size of the pools you realise that's possible.
"Some 230 superior rooms have been renovated, plus landscaping and the pool and garden areas have all been improved. We have 300 rai here - it's one of the largest properties in Thailand."
Given its size, the resort also caters for conferences, weddings and other events.
"We're the largest convention centre south of Bangkok," Langston says. "We can easily cater for up to 1,500 people. We do a lot of weddings from Phetchaburi, and get a lot of overseas conventions - we had a big Tourism Authority of Thailand function recently, and 400 Chinese guests just checked out this morning.
"We have groups coming in from Poland, Russia, France and Germany - so we've got a lot of international business, but Thai conferencing is our core business. For example, PTT had three events here last month for 1,000 or more."
The setting in lush landscaped gardens, with sweeping views of the beach, is peaceful and relaxing.
It's so big, there was little bumping into other guests, just a breezy by-the-beach feel. The area is a good place to read a book, while kids roam around the grounds.
The former beachside eatery has been transformed into a smart Italian restaurant, Terrazzo, which has a traditional wood-fired pizza oven. Guests can enjoy nice meals - minced-lamb pizzas, seafood and pasta - and a few drinks here, while being entertained by a very good Filipino band. At around 9pm, the band moves to a bar below the lobby, with a small dance-floor but it's well sound-proofed and there was little noise outside.
The Regent Beach resort is just 20 minutes from Hua Hin, so guests can get a lift into town to wander through the night market and pick up some souvenirs.
For those who want something more, there are 33 small self-contained villas set among the grounds.
Upstairs in a cabinet near my room, there were old photos that revealed a little of the resort's impressive history - shots of former patriarch Udane Techaphibul dining with royals - Their Majesties the King and Queen and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
And it's probably fitting that a hotel like this ended up with a refined gent in charge. Langston worked for the royal palace in England in his younger days, around the time Prince Andrew was dating Koo Stark and the British press was much absorbed by the young royals' romances and adventures.
Langston has managed hotels in Sydney, Australia's Northern Territory, Papua and New Guinea, Singapore and the Philippines. (He appears to be working his way slowly back towards England).
People who want to stay at the resort can arrange a mini-bus from the Cha-am resort via the Holiday Inns in Bangkok - on Phloenchit Road and Silom Road.
A package deal for a weekend with two or three nights appear to offer the best value.
Holiday Inn Regent Beach Cha-am at a glance
High point: Spacious, lush natural grounds.
Low points: May be too big for some. Can't get there quick enough.
Pay for it: Bt3,250 to Bt4,060 plus tax per night. A two-night package for a deluxe room Bt9,400 includes two breakfasts and a dinner.
Find it: 849/21 Petchkasem Road, Cha-am Beach Phetchaburi
Phone it: (032) 451 240 or (02) 255 2818
Browse it: Chaam.HolidayInn.com
Jim Pollard The Nation