Chanthaburi province’s gulf coast in eastern Thailand lacks the fine white sands and cerulean blue waters of nearby Ko Samet and the Ko Chang archipelago. Yet its empty beaches stretching into the horizon, hidden inlets and peninsulas, charming fishing villages and handful of attractions all make a trip along the Chanthaburi coastline a worthy adventure for those seeking to sidestep Thailand’s more touristy beaches.
On a recent visit, we headed south from Chanthaburi town to the vast Laem Sing beach, initially expecting little more than a quick breath of ocean air. Although the day was overcast (as is often the case in Chanthaburi) and the seas rough and murky, the lack of any other people save a local mother and her giggling toddler made for a refreshing hour of sand, sea and solitude.
Naturally wanting to stick close to the sea, we then drove east towards tiny Laem Sing town before being treated to expansive views of fishing vessels heading out to sea from a bridge spanning a picturesque inlet.
On the other side of the bridge, we found ourselves on what are labelled by Google Maps as “Rural Roads CB 6001?. It sounded like a good place to be, and we were soon winding up and down cliffside roads over the crashing sea below as modest homes of fisher-families slid by in the late afternoon light.
After soaking up the scenery for several kilometres, we hung a left towards a small peninsula, where we stumbled upon tiny Ao Yang bay. The bay’s small, secluded beach has a forgotten feel — which was exactly what we were after — and we seized the moment by taking a swim as a handful of beach dogs looked on.
A short ways further up the road, we discovered Ao Yang’s only pinch of civilization in the form of a shack selling som tam and grilled chicken and a quaint seaside hotel nestled near a rocky beach. Seeing as there was nowhere else to go, we shacked up here for the night, awaking the following morning to find Ao Yang’s beach draped in clear blue skies.
Knowing that we eventually needed to return to Bangkok — but willing to procrastinate by the sea for as long as possible — we backtracked to Laem Sing then continued west, stopping at the considerably more developed Chao Lao beach for a snack of tender grilled squid with Thai chilli-lime seafood sauce. It was just one of several outstanding seafood experiences we had in the area.
With its numerous and reasonably priced oceanside resorts and restaurants, Chao Lao offers a quiet alternative to Thailand’s crowded party beach towns like Pattaya and Hua Hin. Despite its small town feel and laid back vibe, however, Chao Lao offers more than just a long beach and plenty of seafood. Across another high bridge connecting another inlet, we stopped at the nearby Kung Krabaen Bay nature trail to traverse wooden walkways raised over some of the area’s expansive inland mangroves.
A short walk away from the nature trail, we took a gander at Kung Krabaen Aquarium’s impressive collection of tropical fish. Although admission is offered on an optional donation basis, the aquarium surprisingly rivals Bangkok’s grossly overpriced Siam Ocean World in quality and scope. While slightly smaller and lacking the gift shops, movie theatre and endless tacky extras of Siam Ocean World, Kung Krabaen Aquarium offers a relaxing atmosphere and an entrancing mix of sea life. The glass tunnel where sharks, eels and other archaic looking monsters swim over your head is a dramatic touch.
At this point, we were enjoying the Chanthaburi coast so much that we decided to linger to the sound of crashing waves for one more night. The next morning, we continued west through Kung Wiman beach and up to a Buddha image overlooking the sea from Phra Yuan lookout.
Eventually, we did make it back to Bangkok, but not before stopping to snap some shots of the relaxed lifestyle that pervades Chanthaburi’s coast.
Although we did our exploring by car, you could rent a motorbike in the Chao Lao beach area or Chanthaburi town, or arrange for a songthaew (pick-up truck taxi) or motorbike taxi in Chanthaburi town to show you around for the day. It’s about 15 kilometres from Chanthaburi to Laem Sing, and another 20 from Laem Sing to Chao Lao, from where Rayong province’s Ban Phe and the pier to Ko Samet is 50 kilometres to the west.
*Photo credit for the seventh and ninth photos down: Chinnapatt Chongtong.
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