I am a big fan of destination weddings in India. For the host, this is a clever way of weeding out all the hangers-on who you don’t want at your event, because only those who really care will shell out the airfare to attend an out-of- town shindig. And for the guests, for the price of the airfare, you get to go somewhere exotic and celebrate with your close family members and friends. So when my old college friend Rakesh Seth invited my wife, Saroj, and me to Hua Hin to attend his son Prashant’s wedding in November, we didn’t hesitate.
A destination often overlooked by those headed for the rambunctious nightlife of Bangkok and Phuket, or the pristine beaches of Krabi and Koh Samet, Hua Hin is surprisingly easy to get to, being an easy three-hour drive from Bangkok down Thailand’s east coast. It was originally designed as a summer palace getaway for Thai royalty, and we were welcomed in a suitably grand style by the staff at the Hua Hin Marriott Resort and Spa where Rakesh was putting us up. After checking into the spacious hotel room, with its comfortable double bed and partial sea view, we wasted no time in joining the sundowner party which was already under way on the beach.
The next 48 hours were a whirlwind of lavish wedding events, from the sangeet to the baraat and pheras, and finally the reception in the Paksa Sawan ballroom. The Seths and the Singhs had spared no expense in making this a memorable occasion for Prashant and his lovely bride, Sana, and for their large entourage of relatives and friends. The Marriott is obviously well used to the dhoom-dhaam of a big fat Indian wedding and the staff didn’t bat an eyelid even if their other European guests did, stopping by to gawk and capture the fascinating and extravagant celebrations on their mobiles and cameras. I managed to carve out some downtime and went for a long swim in the calm flat ocean. Watching the brilliantly coloured kites pulling surfers in their wake and seeing them dip down to kiss the surface of the sea before soaring up to the heavens, I reflected on the spectacle as a metaphor for marriage and silently wished the young couple more wind in their sails.
The number one priority for me on any beach holiday is proximity to the shore as I love swimming in the sea. So having decided to stay on in Hua Hin for a few days, Saroj and I moved to somewhat less luxurious digs at Anantasila Villa-by- the-Sea, just south of town, and tucked in below the rocky promontory of Khao Takiab. It turned out to match our expectations perfectly, with a great ambience, solicitous service, and an international clientele, surprisingly almost entirely Caucasian. It is also the location of the ferry to Pattaya, and a new jetty had created a backwater and flattened out the sea. It was like swimming in a giant open-air swimming pool, smooth as glass, with no hint of any waves. We struck up a friendship with an attractive Norwegian woman, Kristin (and her little boy Leon) who said she worked for SAS. Although I consider myself a feminist I automatically assumed that she was a flight attendant before she informed us that she actually flew the aircraft. This just goes to show how ingrained one’s prejudices can be, and I apologized. Kristin charmingly laughed off my mistake and said that even when she is wearing her full captain’s uniform, the male passengers often ask her to fetch them drinks!
Post-Wedding Rest and Relaxation at Anantasila
My close encounters of the Scandinavian kind continued over the next two days on the golf course. Hua Hin is one of the most popular golfing destinations in Thailand, with ten varied courses to choose from, its main advantages being that it is less crowded than Bangkok and cheaper than Phuket. David Pettigrew, who runs www.golfsavers.com, was very helpful in guiding a hacker like me to play at Palm Hills and Springfield, which are two of the easier courses. Another advantage is that a lone player like me can get to play by being matched up with others – so you can have some interesting people experiences!
Close Encounters of the Scandinavian Kind
So at Palm Hills I got thrown in with a whole squadron of Flying Finns. The leaders of the four-ball in front were two young maestros with single handicaps, but fortunately the remaining player was an older guy like me called Bekka, more in line with my own level of fitness, ability, and, most importantly, humour! Golf is a game that leaves everyone naked in the first hole, just like a Finnish sauna, and while the two younger Finn sharks parred it, I ended up with the inevitable triple bogey. The pecking order firmly established, we carried on our way, and I wasn’t even given the honour on the one hole that I actually birdied. I decided not to mention it and instead silently savoured my victory with my new pal Bekka. We bonded and laughed together at the very practical Thai way of naming their holes as Rough Avoiding, Bunker Aiming, and Coconut Tree Overshooting, with absolutely no sense of irony. I was even more tickled to note that Holes 9 and 18 were named Happy Returning and Blissful Finishing, carefully avoiding the word Ending, this being Thailand after all !!
The Ironies of Playing Golf in Thailand
My last game was at the Springfield Royal Country Club, which coincidentally is also the fictional home of the Simpsons, though I doubt that Homer and Thai royalty have ever crossed paths. This mature course, designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, is one of the oldest in Hua Hin, and I found it very pleasurable, with its thickly wooded layout and some great views. Here I was paired up with a wiry Great Dane called Karsten who was staying at the resort with his family. Karsten is a lawyer who makes this golf pilgrimage from Copenhagen every year, staying at the same place for two weeks at a time and refusing to play at another course. One would have thought that to make him a genius at playing Springfield, but again one of the ironies of golf is that a home-course advantage doesn’t count for much in the books of the average hacker. Karsten was a convivial golfing partner, generous with his insights, which helped me take a few holes off him. Afterwards, in the gathering dusk, we shared a welcome glass of Carlsberg at the clubhouse with Michael van Amelsvoort, the young Director of Golf at Springfield.