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Eastern Thailand

Beach resorts, national parks and tropical islands


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Thailand's eastern coastal strip runs from just east of Bangkok all the way down to the Cambodian frontier at Hat Lek. The area encompasses the coastal provinces of Chonburi, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat, and the further you go from Bangkok the better the beaches get.

The vast majority of budget travellers find themselves in this part of Thailand for one of three reasons -- the island of Ko Samet, the Ko Chang archipelago off the coast of Trat, or they're headed for the international border crossing with Cambodia at Hat Lek/Ko Kong. All three of these are fine reasons to be in the area, but as is often the case, there's more to see and do than just that.

The beautiful beaches and islands have unfortunately attracted more than their fare share of short-sighted development projects. With virtually all this region within a four to five hour drive of Bangkok, eastern Thailand has borne the brunt of some of the biggest and most ill-conceived of Thailand's tourist-related development.

Pattaya, the once sleepy fishing village was transformed into a heaving sun, sea and sex destination courtesy of it being used as an R&R destination during the Vietnam war. Development ran at a totally unsustainable rate, eventually only slowing down when Pattaya's beaches became so polluted they verged on being unsafe to swim in. More recently the area has tried to clean up its act and re-package itself as a family destination -- while environmental improvements have certainly been made, many believe it has failed miserably on the other front and remains to this day one of the sleaziest centres in the entire country.

The next casualty was Ko Samet -- ostensibly a National Marine Park -- but you wouldn't know that upon setting foot on it (though you will be asked to pay the 200B entry fee). While the development has not had nearly the impact that Pattaya's did (Ko Samet got its first ATM just a year or two ago), there is nevertheless the typical blights that you can see anywhere in the world where a fast-buck takes precedence over a sustainable one. The island remains a good place to visit -- soft white sand beaches are but a bus and boat ride from Bangkok, making it a weekender's favourite -- just don't expect an unspoilt paradise.


Not far from Ko Samet, there's the very little-known Ko Mun Nork. Home to a single resort, if you're looking for no crowds and empty beaches, you could do a lot worse than here. Go on a weekday and you'll probably have the island to yourself.

You'd think that after Pattaya and Ko Samet, the developers may have learnt from their mistakes, but it seems they skipped the class and Ko Chang, in Trat province is the next one being worked over. Thailand's second largest island (after Phuket) caught Thai ex-PM Taksin Shinawatra's eye, and huge development projects have poured in ever since -- despite its National Park status. At least with its larger size it can absorb a degree of development better than some of the smaller islands, but for only so long. A good site for more information on the development of Ko Chang is iamkohchang.com.

The Ko Chang Archipelago is comprised of almost 50 islands -- a handful of which have accommodation on them. Don't make the mistake of just staying on Ko Chang -- there's a lot more around. Other favourites include the tiny Ko Kham, the slightly larger Ko Wai and Ko Maak and -- perhaps one of Thailand's last island frontiers, Ko Kut.

After all those beaches, don't forget Chanthaburi -- the long overlooked fourth province in this region. A quaint provincial capital with some pleasant waterfalls and national parks -- and next to no tourists -- quite a refreshing feel after the well touristed islands.

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Eastern Thailand

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