As much as we love the Thai capital, the time comes when even the most die-hard Bangkokian craves a break from the big-city frenzy. What better way to escape the downtown traffic than with a break to the beach, where you can get that unmistakable feeling of sand between your toes and gentle waves lapping at the shore? There’s no need to take a flight to the south, either – take a look at our pick of the best beaches within easy reach of Bangkok, perfect for a weekend (or better still a long one) and just about doable even as a dawn-to-dusk day trip.
Perhaps the favourite haunt of Bangkokians seeking some fun in the sun, Koh Samet island in eastern Thailand’s Rayong province is just over three hours from the capital. A bus from Ekkamai station or a minivan from Victory Monument will whisk you to the pier at Ban Phe, from where it’s a short trip to the island on either an old fishing boat or a more modern speed boat. Before you know it, you’ll be plonked on an axe cushion at low table right on the beach, tucking into fresh seafood and sipping on a cold beer. Koh Samet gets particularly busy of a weekend, when accommodation options quickly fill up and prices can easily double – but come in the week and you’ll have some beaches almost to yourself. Either way, there’s white sand and clear blue water to be enjoyed on this small-ish island – Saikaew beach is by far the most popular and therefore busiest, with plenty of restaurants and bars right on the sand, plus nightly fire-dancing shows; for peace and quiet, opt for more remote bays like Ao Tubtim, Ao Nuan and Ao Wai. Since Koh Samet forms part of a national park, there’s a 200-baht admission fee (40 baht for Thai nationals and residents) payable when you arrive on the island.
One of the easiest islands to reach from the capital, Koh Si Chang is located in Chonburi province and just 12km off the coast of Sriracha (the place famous for that chilli sauce you’ve heard of). Grabbing either a bus from Ekkamai station or a minivan from Victory Monument, it’s possible to be on Koh Si Chang in a little over two hours, including the short transfer by boat from Koh Loy pier. As a result, this is one beach destination that can be done as a day trip if you head out early enough and are prepared to get back home pretty late – but for a more relaxed pace, it’s worth stopping overnight at one of the many inexpensive guest houses dotted around. There’s just the one swimmable beach, Haad Tampang, and while it’s far from perfect – Koh Si Chang is on the shipping route to Bangkok, and is framed by ugly barges, meaning there’s also some rubbish on the beach at high tide – it’s a pretty decent spot to kick back and enjoy some fresh Thai seafood dishes on the sand while indulging in a cheap foot massage. What makes Koh Si Chang special is that, at least outside the beach area, it retains the feel of a small Thai town; that also means you should expect things to close up pretty early of an evening – nightlife central this is not. Other attractions worth hunting out are an elevated Chinese temple offering attractive views, King Chulalongkorn’s former summer palace, and a number of waterfalls; both motorbike taxis and relatively pricey tuk-tuks provide transport from the pier and around the island.
No list of beaches close to Bangkok would be complete without a nod to Hua Hin, the royal seaside resort that is often the first thought of Thais looking for some respite from the capital. Easily reached by bus or minivan from Bangkok’s southern bus terminal, by minivan from Victory Monument, or more slowly and romantically by train (the atmospheric, colonial-style train station is an attraction in itself), Hua Hin boasts a mix of attractions – glorious white sand beaches, impressive views from the top of Khao Takiab mountain, fresh and inexpensive seafood meals from the restaurants set over the town’s squid piers, and a number of popular markets, including the famous night market and the retro-themed Plearn Wan open-air mall with vintage goods. There are also a growing number of design-led cafés and coffee shops, with an increasing focus on decent coffee, that make for pleasant spaces in which to while away a few relaxed hours. Cha Am beach, slightly closer to Bangkok than Hua Hin but often lumped into the same category, is more popular with Thais than foreign tourists and arguably less attractive, but it still manages to get very busy of a weekend and as is a good spot to pull up a deckchair on the sand and chow down on locally caught seafood. Like Hua Hin, it’s easily reached by bus or minivan from Bangkok; while the train does run here, connections are far less frequent than those to Hua Hin.
Full of Thais of a weekend – being less than an hour and a half by bus from Bangkok’s Ekkamai station makes this an easy getaway, whether overnight or just for the day – Bang Saen is nonetheless a quiet oasis in the week, and perfect for a little seaside downtime. The sea here is a long way from the crystal clear waters you can expect at other, more pristine Thai beaches; in fact it’s more likely to be an unattractive grey colour, owing to both local pollution and sea currents that bring in murkier water from deeper out in the ocean. But at least the sand is generally white (though itself dirty in places, too), and the seafood is fresh and cheap – right along the beach you’ll find restaurants serving up the local catch, and you could do far worse than to pull up a seat and tuck right in. What’s more, given Bang Saen is famous first and foremost as a student town – the Burapha university campus forms one of the town’s two centres – the cost of living here is pleasantly low, meaning your baht will get you by for longer. It’s all the more reason to make the quick jump down the motorway for a little respite.
Which beaches do you like to escape to from Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by smalljude; Chris Wotton; Prince Roy; Twentyfour Students.