The east coast of Thailand offers a variety of experiences for visitors. Relax on the beautiful beaches of the Ko Chang archipelago, soak up the culture in Chanthaburi or sample the vibrant nightlife in Pattaya. With convenient access from Bangkok and a diverse range of destinations to explore, Thailand’s east coast makes for a memorable holiday.
The province of Chonburi is home to a mix of seaside resorts. Pattaya is the biggest and best-known, but is by no means the only option if you are travelling to Chonburi.
A long-standing favourite with Thai visitors, Bang Saen is a contrast to the more famous resort areas of Pattaya and Jomtien further south. Although the beach at Bang Saen isn’t one of Thailand’s best, the proximity to Bangkok and the array of seafood restaurants makes it a popular weekend destination for Thais living or working in the capital. The beach is quiet during the week, but gets a new lease of life when Friday rolls around. And in April it can seem like the whole of Bangkok has descended on Bang Saen for the Wan Lai Festival which sees spectacular sand sculptures on the beach and a party atmosphere in the town.
Ko Si Chang
Ko Si Chang may lack the classic soft sand beaches and picture-postcard views found further along Thailand’s east coast, but that doesn’t mean you should totally ignore this craggy little island. In their haste to reach the better-known locations along Thailand’s east coast, most overseas tourists bypass Ko Si Chang. That’s understandable if you have limited time on your holiday and want to hit the beach as soon as you can. But if you have more time on your hands, a few days relaxing on chilled out Ko Si Chang provides a pleasant contrast to Thailand’s busier islands.
Ko Si Chang was a favourite destination for King Rama V who built a summer palace here in the 1890s. Some of the structures of Phra Chudathut Palace have been renovated, but the main residence was moved to Bangkok in the early 1900s and is now known as the Vimanmek Teakwood Mansion.
Of all the locations on Thailand’s east coast, Pattaya is the most famous. It’s also the one which divides opinion the most. Repeat visitors to Pattaya point to the ease of getting there and the host of things to do. That includes family-friendly waterparks, award-winning tropical gardens, world-class golf courses, shopping malls and an array of restaurants. Pattaya is very much an international resort with English widely spoken and a thriving tourism industry catering to visitors from all over the world.
Pattaya’s beaches aren’t as attractive as locations further east or the islands in the south, but there are some pleasant spots. Jomtien is a long stretch of beach that attracts families and for clearer waters and snorkelling head to nearby Ko Larn or across to Sattahip and the protected island of Ko Samae (not to be confused with Ko Samet).
With a host of things to see and do, Pattaya attracts families from around the world. At the same time, there is also no hiding the fact that there is a prominent entertainment scene here with an abundance of open air beer bars and clubs and it is something to be aware of when you choose your accommodation.
Rayong province is best-known to international tourists as the location for the attractive little island of Ko Samet. It’s certainly an enjoyable destination to visit, but for a more local experience you could also spend some time on the Rayong mainland which is a favoured destination for Thai families.
The pretty island of Ko Samet (also spelt Koh Samed) is popular for good reason and well worth a visit if you are travelling along Thailand’s east coast. With its lovely sandy beaches and proximity to Bangkok, Ko Samet attracts a mix of Thai and overseas visitors. On weekends and public holidays, the island is a popular getaway for people living in Bangkok and it’s advisable to book accommodation in advance. Unlike Ko Chang and the other islands further east, Ko Samet enjoys a more sheltered location and sees significantly less rainfall during the wet season. This makes Ko Samet a good choice if you are looking for an island getaway during the low season months.
Most of Ko Samet’s beaches are located on the east coast of the island with the most popular being the white sand beach of Hat Sai Kaew where you will also find statues of mermaids in tribute to Thailand’s most famous writer, Sunthorn Phu, whose family were from Rayong. The statues are characters from an epic Thai poem from the 1800s called Phra Aphai Mani which featured Ko Samet in the storyline.
If you are seeking a more local beach experience with fewer foreign tourists, consider the Rayong mainland. During the week you’ll find plenty of space on the sand with most tourists eschewing the quiet appeal of Rayong in favour of Pattaya, Ko Samet or Ko Chang. Quiet stretches of beach combined with value-for-money food and accommodation make the Rayong mainland a good choice for anybody looking for a more local alternative compared to the main tourist resorts.
Away from the beach, Rayong authorities are striving to develop eco-tourism. The mangrove reservation area at Tung Prong Thong is worth seeking out with elevated walkways providing a unique way to explore the area. And if you’re staying overnight in Rayong, don’t miss the chance to go on a night-time boat tour in Pak Nam Prasae to see the fireflies. Rayong Aquarium is another local attraction which receives good reviews.
It’s a shame that more foreign tourists don’t visit Chanthaburi with its charming city centre and picturesque locations along the coastline. If you are seeking a beach break with some local flavour, take a look at Chanthaburi. To get the most out of the Chanthaburi coastline you will need your own transport to explore the scenic ‘Nern Nang Phaya‘ coastal route and the secluded stretches of sand. The beaches at Laem Singh and Chao Lao may not be as visually stunning as some other coastal areas of Thailand, but that also means hardly any overseas tourists. This makes it excellent value for money for anybody with an adventurous spirit looking for somewhere off the main tourist trail.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception provides a striking focal point for the centre of Chanthaburi city. Often described as the most beautiful church in Thailand, the twin spires overlook the historic Chanthaboon Waterfront Community which is a lovely area to meander around and enjoy the sights and sounds of local life. And if you enjoy nature, make the trip to the informative Khung Kraben Bay Royal Development Study Centre.
Most visitors heading to Trat province make a beeline for the tropical Thai island of Ko Chang. There are dozens of islands in the Ko Chang archipelago with stunning beaches awaiting you. As tempting as it is to hit the sand as soon as you can, try to spend time in Trat city and pay a visit to the wonderful Ban Nam Chiao Community for a real taste of local life.
The popularity of Ko Chang has soared in recent years and it’s easy to see why. With a tropical island vibe, gorgeous beaches and a rainforest-covered interior, Ko Chang is blessed with natural beauty. There is also plenty to do here including kayaking, jungle hikes, snorkelling and diving. The island is also the ideal base to explore the lesser visited islands that form the Mu Ko Chang National Park.
Hat Sai Khao (White Sand Beach) is the most popular beach on Ko Chang. It’s also the most developed with the biggest choice of hotels, restaurant and bars. Lonely Beach was Ko Chang’s original backpacker beach and although it attracts a more diverse crowd these days, it remains a favourite with budget travellers and those looking to party. Ko Chang sunsets can be spectacular on the west coast beaches and the views from the viewpoint at Kai Bae are worth seeking out at any time of the day.
For an entirely different atmosphere, head over to Ko Chang’s south or east coast where you will find fishing villages, fabulous seafood restaurants and more of a traditional feel away from the throng of tourists. Take a kayak ride through the mangrove forests as part of a community based tourism project at Salak Khok. Sample lunch in a scenic setting at Salek Phet Seafood or eat dinner at the excellent Phu Talay restaurant and enjoy sublime sunset views to accompany your seafood.
Ko Chang archipelago
If you are seeking beaches that are less developed than Ko Chang, head over to the other islands in the Mu Ko Chang National Park. Ko Mak, Ko Kut (also spelt Ko Kood) and Ko Wai all provide gorgeous palm-fringed beaches and a laid-back atmosphere for your holiday.
The best time to visit is between November-April. Ko Chang and the nearby islands see a lot of rain and rough seas in the low season months between May-October with some venues closing completely. For more extensive advice on Ko Chang and the nearby islands, take a look at the helpful I Am Ko Chang website.
From Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport there are direct flights to Trat (flight time 1 hour) with Bangkok Airways with onward connections via van and boat to Ko Chang and the neighbouring islands. The east coast is also served by the airport at U-Tapao with services from Air Asia and Bangkok Airways linking a number of domestic and international destinations including Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Ko Samui, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani.
From Suvarnabhumi there are some bus services that go to Pattaya and Trat. Alternatively, you can take a taxi directly to most locations along the east coast including Si Racha (for the ferry to Ko Si Chang) and Ban Phe (for the ferry to Ko Samet).
Most buses to Thailand’s eastern provinces (including Chanthaburi, Rayong and Trat) depart from Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal at Ekamai. At ticket counters in Ekamai it’s possible to purchase combination bus/ferry tickets to Ko Samet or Ko Chang. There are also some bus services to Pattaya from the Northern Bus Terminal at Mo Chit.
Ferry services from the mainland to the islands on the east coast are frequent, but timings can be variable and delays do sometimes occur, especially in the low season. If you have a flight connection to make from Bangkok, it’s advisable to travel to the mainland the day before.
by Roy Cavanagh www.thaizer.com