Beautiful but busy
Published: 25th September, 2016
Haad Chaweng boasts marvellous powder-white sand accompanied by a tacky scene in the heavily developed tourist town that backs the beach. Covering a long stretch of the east coast, the area hosts seething nightlife along with stacks of restaurants and accommodation, including some of Samui’s largest resorts. Love it or hate it, Chaweng is the centre of the action.
Much of the north to central stretch of this roughly six-kilometre-long beach is buttressed by a reef and stays shallow for some distance off shore. It gets better around the centre of the beach and remains excellent to the south, where it’s easy to see why Chaweng became so popular in the first place. Wide patches of soft sand strike a brilliant shade of white.
While there’s enough space to ensure that you won’t have to battle for a sunbathing spot, Chaweng has its share of jetskis and speedboats rumbling off shore. North Chaweng is directly under the flight path of noisy airliners as well. You’ll encounter quite a few beach vendors who trudge around trying to sell rafts, sarongs, trinkets and tasty snacks. They tend to not be too pushy, and a friendly "No thanks!" should suffice for them to leave you alone – just bear in mind that you may need to let every one of them know that!
Chaweng Beach transforms after dark, as sun loungers are pushed aside to make way for candlelit tables, fresh seafood is displayed and fairy lights and lanterns set the stage for an enjoyable evening. The upscale resorts create romantic ambiances, while the beach in front of Ark Bar’s swimming pool morphs into a dance floor.
The beginning of Chaweng Beach goes largely unnoticed at a quiet stretch of sand backed by private villas built over a steep hill to the north, just south of Choeng Mon. From here the beach swings east to a sandy point, before cutting back southwest to a narrow stretch where the sand disappears at high tide. This relatively quiet area is where the Chaweng Beach Road begins.
Especially around the centre of Chaweng, the beach road is jam-packed with restaurants, fast-food joints, spas, souvenir stands, bars, tailors, and the rest, all promoted by touts who compete to peel those 100-baht notes out of your wallet – they do get annoying after a while. The beach road floods after even moderate rainstorms, when the stench of overused drains can be overpowering.
Mass tourism on this large a scale exists in only a few other places in Thailand, such as parts of Phuket and Pattaya, and it’s not our idea of paradise. Even so, we’ll put up with it for some time on the gorgeous Chaweng Beach.
Chaweng is a fun place to people watch, with large numbers of Russian, Chinese and European tourists joining many migrant workers and entrepreneurs from Burma, India and Nepal, among others. Sleazy “hostess bars” and questionable massage parlours are common, but for the most part they’re contained by side roads and can be avoided by sticking to the beach road itself.
The name “beach road” is a bit misleading, as there are very few places where the road can actually be seen from the beach thanks to a buffer of resorts and other buildings. It’s a narrow one-way street, only allowing southbound traffic before widening slightly for two-way traffic at a central junction with Chaweng Soi 3, which cuts inland to a bunch of seedy bars and the well-known Reggae Pub, on Soi Reggae, before keeping west to the ring road. Traffic jams are common in late afternoon, often caused by poorly parked taxis and pick-up trucks blaring announcements for muay Thai events at Chaweng’s two stadiums.
Inland side roads can cruise you north to avoid the one-way strip. One of the most widely used passes the east bank of Chaweng Lake, punctuated by a hilltop chedi along with activities like go-karts and indoor “skydiving” at Easy Kart. Across from the lake stretches the car park for Central Festival, a large shopping centre that also has an entrance off the beach road.
Soi Green Mango branches inland at the heart of Chaweng and contains some of Samui’s largest nightclubs – don’t stay around here unless drunken howls and screaming techno is your idea of a lullaby. Things mellow further south, with some gorgeous upscale resorts like Poppies offering a serene mood. But Chaweng’s beach road never completely loses its brashness and doesn’t come close, at any point, to the tranquility of Mae Nam, for example.
The beach road cuts inland at Chaweng’s south end and meets the ring road, where a left (south) takes you to Chaweng Noi, or Little Chaweng. With more shade and fewer vendors, this easily overlooked beach is narrower than the best stretches of Chaweng Beach but equally beautiful. Large-scale resorts occupy nearly all of the beachfront, each with security guards ready to shoo away any non-guests looking for beach access.
Avoid this hassle by heading to the south end of the road that runs behind Chaweng Noi Beach and taking a sandy path next to The Beach Club, where a smaller beach bar and restaurant, Sunshine, lets people walk through to the sand. Sit down at a thatch-roofed table for a fruit shake, cocktail or pad Thai if you feel like thanking the owners for their lack of greed.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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