On the spur of the moment, I decided to drive down to Bangsaen Beach this morning. I had been thinking about going there for a while ever since a friend of mine said he had enjoyed a couple of visits there recently. I kept putting it off, but then I noticed in the Bangkok Post on Friday that there was going to be a seafood festival at the weekend. Seemed like a good excuse to go. It didn’t really matter I don’t like seafood that much. Any good excuse for a road trip.
I had been to Bangsaen once before but that was really a long time ago. I think shortly after I first came to Thailand. I went with some friends. This time I drove down there alone by car. I wanted the freedom to be able to explore the area. I did contemplate taking my map book of Thailand, but the distance between Paknam and Chonburi was only a few inches on the page! Probably wouldn’t have been much help. That is a problem with driving in Thailand, no really good map books. Certainly none that have all of the roads.
Other than maps, driving in Thailand isn’t really much of a problem. We drive on the left here, the same as my home country England. Petrol stations are a lot easier. I don’t think I have ever seen a self-service station here. As you drive into the petrol station, a guy quickly stands up and waves you enthusiastically towards his pump. There are two types of petrol that cars use. “91” and “95”. I use the latter so I just say “gao haa, dtem dtank”. Which means “95” and “fill the tank”.
While one guy is doing that, another comes along and asks if I have any rubbish and then proceeds to clean the windshield. He even checks my tyres. Compared to England, petrol prices in Thailand are really cheap. But, the prices have been going up so much recently that it has caught everyone’s attention. To be honest, I never really paid much attention to the price of petrol before. A friend came over from America last week and he asked me how much was petrol. I had no idea. I just ask them to fill the tank and then I give them a thousand baht note. However, today a thousand baht note wasn’t quite enough. He wanted a 1040 baht! OK, now I am noticing the price. It is 21 baht a litre. Expensive.
Bangsaen is in Chon Buri Province which isn’t really that far from Paknam. I went there last year with Gor to watch the Buffalo Racing. Driving there was quite easy. I took Sukhumwit Road halfway into Bangkok. It was slow driving through the traffic at Samrong but then picked up after I turned right at the Bang Na-Trad intersection. This first part of the journey took about half an hour to cover 8 k.m. Not too bad for a Sunday morning. During rush hour it would take a lot longer. Maybe even an hour!
At Central City Bang Na, I went up onto the tollway above the main road. Thai people call this the “longest bridge in the world”. I am not sure whether I would call it a bridge but it is certainly long. This tollway goes all the way from Bang Na to Chonburi for a total of 50 kilometres. Compared to the road below there were hardly any cars so I could keep a constant 130 km/h all the way. About 20 minutes later I was in Chonburi! The price of using that road was 55 baht.
When driving in Thailand it is relatively easy to use the road signs. The pictorial warning signs are much the same as other countries. The direction signs are nearly always in Thai and Roman script. Certainly on the main highways anyway. When I see bilingual signs like these my eye automatically goes to the English version. However, it does help sometimes being able to read Thai because the English is sometimes a lot smaller! After driving through Chon Buri for a few minutes, I spotted a sign written only in Thai for Tambon Bangsaen. Not exactly what I was looking for but I wanted to explore the area. Tambon means district.
I drove down a narrow road for a while basically following my nose and a tour bus in front. When I first hit the sea I was a little disappointed. There was only mudflats like we have back in Samut Prakan. I knew people said the beaches at Bangsaen were dirty but I didn’t think they would be this bad. I kept on driving until I reached Laem Taen. This time there were more cars so I got out to take a look.
The air here was really good compared to the industrial city of Paknam. I wouldn’t call it fresh, but the wind was certainly cooler than what we usually have. The tide was in but I could see that this wasn’t a swimming beach. There were a lot of big rocks as well as mud. However, I could see patches of clean sand here and there! I was getting warmer! I kept on walking and then around the corner I could clearly see what must be Bangsaen Beach in the distance. Compared to where I was now, there were hundreds of people on the beach and in the water. I decided to head back to the car and drive down to Bangsaen Beach.
The first sign that I was nearly there were all of the cars parked along the road. These weren’t only double parked but triple parked in places! I had to drive several kilometres before I finally found somewhere to park. I do remember coming here before but I didn’t recognize anything. Everything has changed so much. Also, it is so different to other beach resorts like Pattaya and Cha-am. Along the beach road at these resorts are a lot of shops, restaurants and night clubs. Here in Bangsaen I couldn’t see any sign of beer bars or night-time entertainment.
At Bangsaen they had done a lot of landscaping. Between the main road and the beach is a wide granite walkway. On either side people were selling food like som tam (papaya salad), fried chicken and seafood. There were some souvenir stores as well as bicycle hire shops. There were quite a few children cycling up and down the granite walkway. I would say this was a really safe and family orientated beach resort.
At the top of the beach there are hundreds of palm trees, which give plenty of shelter from the sun. Then there is the forest of deck chairs and beach umbrellas, all huddled close to each other to block out any sunlight. It was an amazing 15 deckchairs deep. They say that Thai people don’t come to the beach for a swim. They come here to eat and chat with their friends under the beach umbrellas. Each group of deckchairs has a central table. When you sit down, someone will come up with a menu. You can order any food you like and they will bring it straight to you on the beach!
I walked through the beach umbrellas and out onto the beach proper. The sand at the top looked quite clean and dry. But further down towards the sea it looked wet and muddy-like. However, this didn’t seem to deter the Thai people from playing in the sand and jumping up and down in the sea. I say Thai people because I didn’t see any other foreigners for the whole time I was there. In fact, I think foreigners are a rarity as a couple of times little children pointed to me and shouted to their mothers “mae mae, farang”. Which basically translates as “Mother, mother, look at that white faced devil!” Well, sort of.
I also knew for certain that there were no Westerners in the sea because just about everyone was swimming with all their clothes on! This is Thai style. It doesn’t mean they cannot afford a swimming suit. Nor does it mean they are worried about skin cancer. (I was probably the only one wearing sun cream and a baseball hat.) The Thai people have a much higher level of decency compared to many Westerners. That is why so many Thai people are shocked when they see Westerners in their skimpy bathing suits or going topless.
Apart from eating, the other main activity on the beach is playing on banana boats. These are long blow-up plastic boats (in the shape of hot dogs) which are pulled along by jet skis. They are everywhere in Thailand and Bangsaen was no exception. There were also kids flying kites and playing in the sea on inner tubes.
After walking along the beach for about an hour I decided to head back to the car. I was getting hungry. Along the way, I came across the information centre and picked up a brochure for the area. Inside was a map. I could see that if I had kept on driving along Sukhumwit Road I would have come across a major road that goes straight to the beach. Probably well sign-posted too. Never mind, it was best going the back roads.
I decided not to eat at Bangsaen Beach. Way too many people. Instead, I drove back to Laem Taen. Here the deckchairs were only four deep and I could get some better service. Just about every food stall seemed to be selling som tam. As it is my favourite I decided to order this spicy salad together with some grilled chicken. After my meal, I laid back in my deckchair and soon started to dose off. There was a lovely breeze and I felt very comfortable.
I wouldn’t say Bangsaen Beach is a perfect beach resort. But, it is certainly a lot closer to Bangkok than Pattaya. It is also more family friendly which is important for people who don’t like the sleaziness of Pattaya. However, for better beaches, you have to head further south down the eastern seaboard. First to Sriricha and then Pattaya. Much further down is Rayong and the islands of Koh Samet and Koh Chang. These have beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Unfortunately, you cannot really do any of those as a day trip. Bangsaen is so close to Paknam, that you could almost just come down here for lunch! I will certainly come here again, though next time I will probably come with some friends.