Plearn Wan: Going Retro in Hua Hin
Thailand can be a strange place. On the one hand, just about everywhere one looks these days, a new condo or shopping development is going up. Other than parts of Chinatown, all the old shophouses are being torn down, and it won’t be long until there won’t be much left of pre-1980’s or 90’s Bangkok. Yet at the same time, the same young folks who flock to buy these new condos and shop in the new malls also seem to embrace anything retro or vintage. One look at the rabid crowds at the (now not one, but three) Talad Rot Fai retro train markets, or hipsters flocking to the latest retro clothing and fashion shops in Ekkamai show that old most certainly is not completely out. With this in mind, if you’ve got a weekend in Hua Hin planned, follow the crowds into the past at Plearn Wan, the retro shopping village that seeks to remind folks that all is not lost.
Plearn Wan opened several years ago to great fanfare, and while the crowds are nowhere nearly as insane as they once were, the place still packs them in on weekends. Designed to resemble a series of Thai-Chinese shophouses from the 1950’s, the open-air retro shopping village is set on two levels, and is something akin to an American Wild West recreation theme park, albeit a bit tamer.
The entry to Plearn Wan looks a bit like an ark, made out of reclaimed wooden boards, which open up into a rectangular courtyard set over two floors. Vintage automobiles line the street, with a colorful Volkswagen Bus parked not too far from classic Cadillacs. There are plenty of benches to relax on, and bands play live music, or if they aren’t going, the whole shopping complex is filled with tunes of yesterday, classics like Hey Jude filling the air, while lifesize cutouts of the Beatles adorn some of the walls.
Here, one will find old gramophone shops, along with vintage camera stores, some of them faux facades, while others actually stock plenty of the real thing. An apothecary right out of half a century ago sells medicinal powders and potions just like great grandma used to buy, and nearby is a hair salon, complete with large hair dryers that belong to a yesteryear sitcom.
Food is also a prominent feature here, with some cutesy sit down shops as well as plenty of vendors hawking old school or traditional hard to find Thai sweets and snacks, ranging from coconut pancakes to various types of rice cakes. Upstairs are a couple of cool sit down bars that have walls lined with old whiskey bottles and vintage film posters of decades old features on Mao Tse Tung and other historical luminaries.
There is also an entertainment section in the back of the establishment, where there is a game arcade where one can win stuffed dolls for hitting the targets with darts or balls, plus there is an old fashioned ferris wheel to ride on, and there is even a large outdoor cinema set up, undoubtedly showing classics from before most of us were born.
It isn’t surprising that Plearn Wan translates to “the joys of the past (or more precisely, ‘play and learn from yesterday’),” and the place does seek to have that warm wooden look that seems to be missing amidst all of today’s cement and concrete. For those who want to make a full weekend of it, there is even a retro boutique hotel here to call home for the night.
Those who don’t come to shop will still get a kick out of some of the retro items for sale and exhibit, and there really are some nice creative and artistic endeavors, especially upstairs, where there are large murals in some of the restaurant/bars as well as some vintage architecture. This is how Hua Hin and Bangkok actually looked some 30-50 years ago, and there are also plenty of small pieces placed here and there to enhance the old village effect, like old red postboxes along the walking street or colored gumball dispensers and pinball machines set up along the route.
Overall, Plearn Wan is like a cross between a movie set, a traditional Thai temple fair, and yet with enough appeal of modern shopping and conveniences (yes, there is air-con and the live bands do play modern tunes) to satisfy a wide range of ages and tastes. It certainly is a lot more interesting than going into Central Festival.
Phetkasem Road just past Hua Hin Soi 38
Tel. 032 520 311-2