Bangkok, Thailand, July 28, 2020-Thailand’s south is world-famous for picture-perfect beaches and stunning dive sites. But while Phuket, Phi-Phi Island and Koh Samui may look paradisiacal on your Instagram feed, you might find the overcrowded and overpriced reality a let-down.
So it may come as a surprise that you can avoid tourist crowds and enjoy a coastal day trip or weekend right near Bangkok. Let’s take a look at some great underrated spots on Thailand’s eastern seaboard that I’ve visited, where you can relax on quiet beaches, taste fresh seafood and enjoy watersports, diving, golf and motoring adventures with the locals, expats or the odd adventurous traveler.
We first go 200 km (three hours by car) from Bangkok or Delta Thailand’s headquarters to Ko Samet Island in Rayong. Before heading back to Bangkok stopping at the beaches and islands at Sattahip and Jomtien and finally stopping at the charming little island of Ko Sichang in Sri Racha.
Ko Samet: great choices and valueKoh Samet is a small island with the Khao Laem Ya–Mu Ko Samet National Park. It’s run by the National Parks Division of the Thai government so always carry your passport and passes for inspection. Driving from Bangkok, I parked opposite the Ban Phe Pier and took the 45-minute ferry to the island. If you’re staying at a secluded resort you can get a private speedboat to drop you off at your hotel’s private beach like a James Bond character;)
At the pier, you can rent a motorbike to get around as there aren’t any taxis or buses in the island. The Honda MSX (Grom) is a fun ride, but for two persons and luggage a scooter like the Honda Zoomer or Click is fine. Hotels range from bungalows in the wild to exclusive luxury resorts and we chose a mid-range hotel with large rooms, pools and bar for only 1,000 Baht.
Exploring the island on a motorbike is fun as you can zip up and down the hilly jungle roads from one amazing lookout point to the next.
As the sun sets, you can head down to the main beach to enjoy a swim, stroll and have a seafood dinner or drinks at a beachside café.
Diving beginners, families or couples can also join a full-day island-hopping boat trip that includes lunch and snorkeling equipment for great value.
Our day trip group included a mix of Thais, Indians and Europeans of all ages and we visited five small islands for plenty of snorkeling, sunbathing and hiking.
Sattahip and Jomtien coast: for scuba and water sports adventure
Thailand is a top global destination for scuba diving with inexpensive training for all levels, beautiful aquatic life and extremely warm weather and water. The naval base zone of Sattahip restricts the number of visitors and doesn’t allow overnight stays on the islands, making it a perfect scuba spot. In Ko Samet, total beginners can join scuba dive experiences, but Sattahip is for licensed scuba divers and trainees.
For my PADI open water certification, I went to Bang Sare Pier and hopped aboard an old fishing boat, that was converted as a day boat, with 35 divers, instructors and crew for four 45-60 minute dives over two days (air tanks, food and drink included).
Each dive spot took about an hour to reach and after arriving we kitted up and launched off the stern dive platform. Because live coral stocks are depleted, the marine life is not as brilliant as in the south, but you can still find a good variety of wildlife in the rocks and the water stays at 28 degrees Celsius from the surface down to 20 meters!
Sattahip is a local dive spot that few foreigners know. Some dive companies don’t give dive computers or compasses to each team member so always stay close to your dive buddy and remember to keep track of your nitrogen levels if you’re doing multiple dives. If you do get lost you can easily be found in this high boat traffic area.
The motels for divers Bang Sare are pretty basic, but the fresh grilled seafood is excellent. If you want a good value sea-view hotel with a private beach, you can go to the Sattahip or Jomtien beaches. And if you are an experienced kite sailor or windsurfer you can rent equipment at the sailing club at a quiet beach in Jomtien. While both places are within sight of the luring lights of Pattaya, the world infamous sin city, they’re still far enough to stay at without raising any eyebrows back at the office ;) Ko Sichang: Thailand’s royal vacation island
The tiny island of Ko Sichang is within view from the coastal town of Sri Racha, where the world-famous Siracha sauce gets its name. As the home base for thousands of Japanese expats working in the eastern seaboard industrial zones, the tiny town of Sri Racha offers excellent golf courses and authentic Japanese dining options with sashimi fish flown in from Japan.
It took about 40 minutes for the ferry to reach Ko Sichang from the pier in Sri Racha. At the pier, you can rent a motorcycle to explore the whole island in one day. And what truly Thai attraction would be complete without parks, museums and shrines to pay homage to the monarchy?
There are also some peaceful hiking trails in the hills and jungle. The island’s beach is not impressive but you can stay at local guesthouses and enjoy stunning views of emerald waves dashing the rocky shores from your verandah deck chair. And the fresh crab and shrimp dishes at local grills are not disappointing at all.
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