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Ao Thong Sala to Baan Kai

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The first beach to the east of the main port town of Thong Sala, this beach is largely overlooked and underrated and is often considered part of Ao Ban Tai to the east. The sand on this long stretch of beach is soft and white, and shade is plentiful along most of its length. The island's main road is situated not far off the beach, so this is an easily accessed area and visitors can get to Thong Sala and Haad Rin with little difficulty.

The swimming is good, though the water is extremely shallow up to the reef approximately 250m offshore through most of the day in the lower tidal season (May to July). The central stretch of the beach is a bit rocky, and the far western end near the pier has poorer water quality as well as a good deal of ferry and longtail boat traffic.

In spite of its proximity to the major town centre, Ao Thong Sala is a relatively quiet area. The resorts and bungalow setups are mostly family-run and very laid-back and hospitable. There are a variety of good places to stay all along the length of the beach. Naturally, the closer to the pier you stay, the more noise and nastier water you'll have to deal with, but even here the options are comfortable.

There is not much in the way of partying, just a handful of tiny beach bars set along the sand. However, this whole stretch of beach can fill around Full Moon Party time, particularly in the peak season, so it's wise to call ahead. Outside of the Full Moon party and through the off season, it can feel like having the whole place to yourself.

At its centre, Baan Tai is a sleepy fishing village, and the area between Dew Shore and Hansa Resorts sees a lot of longtail and larger fishing boat traffic. To the east, the beach is very narrow and the sand is like gravel in spots. The water is very shallow in the lower tidal season from May to July, but retaining walls are built along the edge of the beach to deal with the higher waters at other times of the year. The beach is much better to the west where the sand is softer and wider than in the east. This makes for a more attractive beach and better conditions for sunbathing and relaxing in the tropical surrounds.

Bungalows range from simple little wooden shacks to fancy thatch chalets with air-con and all of the comforts of home. It's a quiet and relaxed area with not much partying and noise, so it is a good choice for families. The water is shallow, but swimming is good in higher tidal seasons. When the tide is out, the bay is mostly sand and shallow puddles up to the reef drop off 200m offshore.

This isolation is broken here when Mac Bay Resort hosts the monthly Black Moon Party, but Ban Tai mostly maintains a very peaceful atmosphere with many laid-back places to stay. It is located between Thong Sala and Haad Rin along the main road, so it is very easy to hit up the main town centres if you get bored or want more diverse dining and shopping options.

Loosely translated, Ban Kai means "camping village", named for the days when gold miners used to spend their nights here. While you won't find any gold these days, the area still maintains a quiet and rustic camping feel. A creek breaks the beach and sets the border between Ban Kai and Ban Tai. While there can be a fair amount of rubbish and debris around the creek, most of the beach is very clean and quite lovely. The sand is a bit rough and the beach narrow in some spots, especially to the far east where it peters out at the small rocky headland at Gold Beach Resort. The sea here descends slowly and the seafloor is smooth, so the swimming is decent but shallow.

Long stretches of palm grove and open space lie between many setups, so it feels much more isolated than it really is being so close to Haad Rin. The options are mostly very basic, popular among mellower backpackers, although nights can get a bit rowdier than the other beaches along here due to the predominantly younger crowd. There are a lot of very friendly and chilled spots to stay along Ban Kai, so it's a good choice if you want tranquillity by day and a little more action at night without leaving the vicinity of the major centres of the island.

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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.

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