A postcard dated 15th January 1936 and depicting the Railway Hotel in Hua Hin has recently come to light in the records of Centara Hotels & Resorts, who today own and operate the hotel as Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin. The hotel is about to celebrate its 90th birthday, having opened in October 1922 and had its grand opening on 1st January 1923.
Regarded as one of the classic hotels of the East, and earlier this year enlisted as a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the property dates back to the time when Hua Hin itself was evolving into Thailand's first beach resort.
"The railway era brought great changes to Siam, as Thailand was then known," says Thirayuth Chirathivat, chief executive officer of Centara Hotels & Resorts. "There were very few roads into the provincial areas, and places such as Hua Hin were known only to the local population. When the railway was built from Bangkok down to Malaysia, it suddenly became possible for the aristocracy of the day to travel to Hua Hin, and to enjoy the beach and the ocean."
The beauty of Hua Hin was realised by the engineers surveying the southern railway route in 1909. Land was set aside for a station, and when the first section of the line opened in 1911 Hua Hin became a destination where wealthy Bangkok residents built their holiday homes. The southern line to Malaysia was completed in 1921, making it possible to travel between Bangkok, Malaysia and Singapore by train.
Royal Siamese Railways (RSR) directed Italian architect A Rigazzi to build a hotel, and at the same time commissioned a Scottish engineer named AO Robins to lay out a golf course. The Railway Hotel initially had only 14 guestrooms, but it was very well appointed and furnished and had an excellent standard of service to cater for its wealthy Thai and foreign guests.
By 1928 the hotel's reputation was international and, in order to accommodate the growing number of visitors to Hua Hin, RSR added a new wing of 13 rooms, which were built to the exact same design as the already existing building.
After World War Two more guestrooms were added, along with three restaurants, a downstairs bar, and a lobby with a panoramic view of Hua Hin's glorious bay.
The value of the Railway Hotel as a building of architectural and historic interest was fully acknowledged by the Thai Government when in 1986 Central Group, the parent company of Centara Hotels & Resorts, acquired the property, the preservation of the old buildings and the extensive gardens being an important condition of the contract. The much-loved historical building has been meticulously preserved, with all the subsequent additions being designed to blend perfectly with the existing structure and to maintain the air of elegance and leisure into which the hotel was born.
Hua Hin meanwhile has developed into a royal town, a resort known worldwide for its quiet charm, the old golf course now known as Royal Hua Hin Golf Course, the Hua Hin Railway Station regarded as an architectural design marvel, and Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin renowned as the centre of the town's social life, as it was in the 1920s, and all the way through the subsequent decades.
"We regard ourselves as the custodians of this important part of Thailand's history, and consider it our privilege to be able to present the best of Thai service tradition to the world," says Mr Thirayuth. "Having this lovely old hotel included as one of the Leading Hotels of the World is a great delight and honour for us, and our promise is that this heritage property will be maintained for the generations to come."
Mr Thirayuth says that postcards featuring the hotel were very popular, and that the 1936 card was found amongst a collection of memorabilia, some of which can now be seen in The Museum Coffee & Tea Corner, which is set in the original hotel lobby. "The guest was clearly loving his travel experience, and our mission today is to provide a hospitality experience that exceeds expectations," he says.