The Australian – SO Sofitel Hua Hin Thailand
SO Sofitel Hua Hin: hop to it at a hip Thai resort
Love is in the air at Thailand’s SO Sofitel Hua Hin. Not the swoony we’re-on-honeymoon kind of love, but the nerve-jangling, about-to-seal-the-deal kind that precedes a big, fat wedding.
I’m here for a three-day celebration that’s taken over the entire 78-room beachfront resort. Guests have lobbed from across the world, arriving in a convoy of minibuses from Bangkok. We tumble out on to the lawn to be greeted by the sight of a giant rabbit (the bride loves bunnies, which is part of the reason she picked this resort).
Recovering from this surprise, we pivot to find a dramatic marble staircase sweeping upwards to an open-air foyer crowned with a gargantuan timber roof. At the top is another surprise: an elevated reflection pool houses statues of wallowing beasts ranging from elephants to hippos and crocodiles.
The striking bones of this Hua Hin resort, including a long and towering stone wall cocooning a restaurant, pool and spa, have come from Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag. His unconventional aesthetic can also be seen at Bangkok’s The Jam Factory, where he has transformed a series of old factories into a hip mixed-use precinct.
The estate, which fronts the Gulf of Thailand, was known by several different names (including Hotel de la Paix) before its 2016 transformation into a Sofitel SO, Thailand’s second of the brand; the Bangkok version features one of the city’s best infinity pools. This revamp has given the guestrooms, previously decked out in run-of-the-mill muted tones, a massive injection of personality. The chambers are now themed as SO Nature (with wild four-poster beds that could have come straight from a fairy-tale) or SO Arty (with bold photos on the walls).
Families can point themselves towards one of the SO Family rooms, with tasteful bunk beds tucked into a nook, or a SO Family Kids House room featuring an attached pod (which appears all very sci-fi from the exterior) decked out with bunk beds, toys, DVDs and Nintendo Wii. Those who really want to escape can book one of six villas (one or two bedrooms) featuring a private pool. Our bride and groom occupy separate villas, where they each host pre-ceremony events.
But even a regular guestroom here is blissful. Spotting “Khun Katrina” chalked onto my door (along with stylised flowers) makes me smile. If you’re travelling in a group, this touch makes it even easier to track each other down and is handy if you suddenly decide to round up numbers for an excursion.
The area is a kitesurfing mecca, and the resort runs a regular shuttle to Hua Hin, home to two royal summer palaces, but there’s also a stunning nearby cave, Khao Luang, that Thai kings have visited over the centuries.
It’s easy to see why they’ve been drawn to this underground chamber, where shafts of sunlight gild the cavern and its Buddha statues, large and small. After passing the local wildlife (monkeys make a nice change from the rabbits), we descend into this magical underworld to enjoy a little serenity before groups arrive en masse.
Then it’s back to the epic wedding, a whirlwind of six events with six changes of attire.
In between the primping and prayers, the dining and dancing, the swimming and swanning, I retreat to my room’s spacious bathroom. There’s a tub (overlooked by a rabbit, of course) but, unusually, the shower is more of an attraction. With the twist of a handle, water seems to stream from the heavens, another playful touch that this grown-up enjoyed oh so very much.