By Melissa Reichwage
The capital city of Bangkok can be a dirty, dizzying attack on one’s senses. That’s why a trip to one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities is best paired with a visit to one of Thailand’s famous beaches. Most tourists trek far to the south to revel in white sand and turquoise waters, without realizing there are easily accessed, unspoiled beaches within 3 hours of the city. Skip Pattaya, a former fishing village, now overrun by the sex tourism industry, and instead hop on a bus down to beautiful Ko Samet or Cha-am.
Located 200 kilometers from Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand, the T-shaped island of Ko Samet caters to both the low-key family-oriented vacationers as well as the rowdy nightlife crowd. Considering its proximity and popularity with locals and expats alike, Ko Samet is unexpectedly underdeveloped.
Unlike the more popular Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Chang, and Phuket, this scenic island has no traffic, no high-rise buildings, and few paved roads. This is due in part to the fact that most of the island is part of a national park, protecting it from overzealous construction. Still, there are plenty of luxurious resorts and budget guesthouses to rest your head.
There are over ten pristine beaches to choose from on this small island, with the majority on the eastern side. If the pool and beach isn’t enough excitement for you, try scuba diving or rent a motorbike or 4-wheeler for approximately 500-1000 baht/day. The rough, unpaved interior road will lead you through thick jungle to stunning beaches and cliffs.
To get there: Take a mini-van from Victory Monument in Bangkok or a bus from Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) which leave frequently all days of the week, then catch a 30 minute ferry or speedboat from Ban Phe to the island. Alternatively book with an online travel agency such as:http://tucantravel.com/
King Rama VI made a wise choice in 1923 when he had his golden teakwood summer seaside getaway, known as Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, built near Cha-am. The unassuming Cha-am draws travelers in with wide, sandy beaches and clean, calm grey-blue water. Not only is Cha-am quieter and closer to Bangkok than the more popular Hua-Hin, but it’s also more affordable. The prices are some of the most affordable anywhere along the coast.
The backdrop here is completely different than that of Ko Samet, with many soaring buildings dotting the coastline. The main beach town is at the intersection of Naranthip Road with Ruamijt Road, which runs parallel to the beach. Here there are local festivities at the town’s main pier and many excellent seafood restaurants.
There are a number of local and internationally recognized hotels including the Sheraton, the Regent (formerly Holliday Inn Resort Regent Beach), and Novotel. While Cha-am sees far more Thai tourists than foreigners, it is prepared to cater to all. In addition to beach activities such as jet skiing and banana boat riding, there are wildlife parks, temples, and over five excellent golf courses. However, avid scuba divers are likely to be left disappointed by the clarity of the water and the marine life here.
To get there: Trains leave from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok to both Hua Hin and Cha-am several times daily. Mini-vans depart from Bangkok’s Southern Terminal (Sai Tai), Victory Monument, and Mo Chit about every hour for 160 baht or for about 2000 baht you can take a taxi directly to Cha-am.
Melissa Reichwage is currently living in Colombia and has traveled extensively in North and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia. With a Master’s in Public Health, focusing on Global Health and Development, she will continue exploring and learning about solutions available to overcome the pressing issues of our time.