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The Thai seaside Thai town, which came to life in the 1920s after King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok built their summer palaces in the erstwhile fishing hamlet, still reigns over the weekend social calendars of Bangkok's upper-crust.
Affluent international buyers continue to sift the city's growing stock of condominiums, many of which are skewed toward the prime segment as the limited land supply sends beachfront plot prices to THB70 million per rai (USD2.06 million for every 1,600 square metres), according to CBRE Thailand. The property sector will enjoy even more expansion as the government forges ahead with a high-speed railway linking Hua Hin to Bangkok in the next four years.
Winner of several gongs at the 11th Thailand Property Awards, including Best Villa Development and Best Residential Architectural Design, MahaSamutr is a master class in beachside decadence. The flagship resort project by PACE Development Corp, whose latest phase is due for completion this year, features Asia’s largest controlled clear-water lake — part of the Crystal Lagoons series — in a 209,000-sqm prime beachfront location. Eighty villas, with sizes ranging from 550 sqm to 600 sqm and fetching an average price of THB54 million, will surround this crystalline body of water.
2. La Bua Vista
This development is a collection of luxury villas and penthouse apartments situated amid the lush pineapple fields in the picturesque, hilly village of Khao Khuang. Investors will have plenty to reap from a unit in this project, adjudged Hua Hin’s Best Residential Development at last year’s Thailand Property Awards. Among other redeeming features, the property earned critical praise for its value-for-money condominiums and innovative rental purchase options. Ninety-five units are on offer, with an average size of 265 sqm and price of THB8.5 million. The two laguna pools in the property have a combined length of more than 220 metres.
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3. Ananda Hua Hin Resort & Spa
Launched in May, Ananda Hua Hin Resort & Spa is the newest addition to the crop of luxury hotels in town. Managed by Compass Hospitality, the resort prides itself in a roster of personalised services, purveying everything from classic car rentals to spa treatments. "We want to surprise and delight and give a fully individual service," said Nigel Tovey, general manager of Ananda Hua Hin Resort & Spa.
Around 162 rooms, 11 suites and 23 villas populate the property, located over two acres of a more unspoiled stretch of coast along the Gulf of Thailand. The villas are particularly spacious, with sizes ranging from 188 sqm to 268 sqm and offering direct access to gardens and private pools. Ananda Hua Hin Resort & Spa also comes with four F&B outlets as well as a sophisticated spa manned by expert therapists who use a collection of natural products. Its trump cards over the competition include a 900-sqm ballroom, Hua Hin’s largest.
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4. Monsoon Valley Vineyard
The hills of Hua Hin are just as alive as the beaches, with prolific vineyards carpeting their fertile slopes of loamy sand. One of the most well-known is the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, now renamed Monsoon Valley Vineyard after the eponymous award-winning Thai wine label. The vineyard supplies to Siam Winery, established by the son of Chaleow Yoovidhya, co-founder of Red Bull. While the winery itself is located remotely in Samut Sakhon, the vineyard is home to a restaurant, The Sala Wine Bar and Bistro, which hosts a live band on weekends. In addition to the daily tours, look forward to an annual harvest festival, which lets visitors pick grapes and stomp on them. The vineyard conducts winetasting at a minimum price of THB550 per person.
5. Seenspace Hua Hin
Seenspace Hua Hin is billed the country’s first beachfront shopping mall. Opened in December, this artsy retail option is the natural successor to the original Seenspace lifestyle mall in Bangkok’s Thonglor district. The architect behind that project, Akaradej Pantisoontorn, returned for designing duties, envisaging Seenspace Hua Hin as an open-air retail concept set in a neo-Brutalist building over 7,200 sqm of prime beachside land.
Shoppers perambulate through grass walkways to such appetising F&B options as Seek Appetite, which offers local kapi who, and Icy Mania, serving ice cream by Baan Tua Yen. Yuccie homeware shops and discount outlets abound, including Seek35 and Seek Happening, which carry marked-down items from Marc by Marc Jacobs and DKNY, among others.
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6. Royal Hua Hin Golf Course
Opened in 1924 along with the Railway Hotel, Royal Hua Hin Golf Course is literally the playground of the rich and famous. Legend has it that King Prajadhipok paved the path for the country’s transition from absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy while he was golfing here.
This 18-hole par-72 championship course boasts a length of 6,678 yards and features a design by Scottish railway engineer O.A. Robins, with tree-lined fairways, shaded lies, and resplendent views of the Gulf of Thailand. Hua Hin has since become synonymous with golf, earning the moniker “Golf Coast” and frequently hosting prestigious tournaments, including the Centara World Masters Golf Championship.
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The broad, impressive staircase is Burmese teak, but the solid ceramic bathroom sink was made in Scotland. Both date back to the early 20th century and are exactly the kind of enduring craftsmanship that drew Erwin Sikma to his latest passion: renovating classic buildings to service Yangon’s thriving residential sector.
Downtown Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is full of such colonial-era gems. But as Myanmar opens up after decades of isolation from the outside world, many historic buildings have been sacrificed to make way for modernised replacements.
Most of these are either so ‘high-end’ they are unaffordable to most, or so badly constructed and lacking in modern amenities that many people used to living in more developed countries find their idiosyncrasies challenging.
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It was just such a dilemma that prompted the Dutch businessman to take on the daunting, yet ultimately rewarding, task of upgrading the colonial apartment he now calls home.
In doing so, he joined a small but growing group of foreigners in Myanmar’s biggest hub who are keen to revive the city’s historic buildings and create homes to be proud of from neglected and run-down properties.
Having worked wonders on his own place Sikma is now helping others do the same.
Exposed brickwork gives a modern feel to heritage property
“One day I hope part of downtown Yangon will be named a world heritage site,” he says as he reclines on the balcony of the three-storey building he is currently converting in the city centre.
To the south you can see the silver glimmer of the Yangon River, to the north the golden shimmer of one of the city’s multitude of pagodas is clearly visible.
As declared in the masonry at the top of the house, the building dates back to 1927. It has been in the same family ever since it was built.
“It was their family home and they didn’t want to sell it and see it demolished and replaced with something new,” explains Sikma.
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Instead the owners asked him to help convert it into a rental property that could be enjoyed by someone who appreciated built heritage, allowing them to help conserve their historic home and still gain a regular income.
Even though the development is far from finished, the sweeping rooms with teak floorboards and tall, arched windows still resonate colonial splendour amid the dust and construction work.
Original ceiling fans rotate leisurely overhead as large mirrors with ornate teak frames hide useful cupboard space behind them just as they did almost 90 years ago. The glass captures the reflections of workmen as they maneuver their way past art-deco cabinets bathing them in the early morning light that so often fails to find its way into properties in Yangon.
Sikma sourced many of the fixtures and fittings from other properties in Yangon
Sikma says he is waiting until he has found a tenant before finalising exactly how the finished layout will look, but with the original furnishings still in storage and his own knowledge of where to find quality fixtures and fittings in Yangon, he is determined the property will regain its former glory.
He remains reticent about the rental price. It is such an unusual development that it is genuinely hard to estimate how much someone will be willing to pay to live there. But in rapidly developing Myanmar there are plenty of people willing to pay top dollar for the right property. For example, other single-storey high-end renovated properties in prime downtown locations have fetched as much as USD8,000 to USD10,000 a month.
“It’s a very niche product and a very unique building,” he says. It is a property for someone who is “passionate” about historic buildings, Sikma suggests.
His own passion as he describes his own experience in restoring his colonial residence is infectious.
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He was househunting and looking at yet another drab apartment when inspiration struck. “It was really dark,” he recalls, “with an oppressively low ceiling installed to create an additional floor at the expense of head room and there was no hot water and suddenly I thought, why not just re-do the whole thing?”
It was not quite as simple as that, though. Existing laws against foreign property ownership in Myanmar mean those who want to invest in a major upgrade have to either persuade a trusted local to buy in their name or agree to an informal long-term lease.
Both carried a risk, but Sikma believed the owners of the apartment he had his eye on, and also the district administrator, were sympathetic to his cause. He arranged a long-term lease and got to work.
“I removed everything, and expended some blood sweat and tears,” he laughs.
Myanmar is famous for hardwood and timber flooring, and Erwin was able to reuse teak floorboards from properties being demolished around Yangon
But he also had some luck.
“There was a building at the end of the street being demolished and they’d taken out all the teak floorboards, so I was able to negotiate a good price and use them here.”
Myanmar of course is famous for its hardwood and the rich, earthy hues of timber flooring. This is echoed in the ceilings and furnishings of the renovated apartment, while cool walls and exposed brickwork, give a modern edge to the traditional ambiance.
For Sikma it was a labour of love, and one well worth it. He hopes more historic buildings in the city will be treated with similar care.
“A lot of people who have been to my apartment have been very impressed. They’ve said to me ‘if you find another one, let me know!’”
Downtown Yangon is full of colonial-era properties that have been demolished to make way for modernised replacements
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