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I recently spent some time exploring the beaches along the coastline of Rayong. This area is only two-three hours from Bangkok and counts as some of the most beautiful and exotic locations in Thailand. I spent the first two days on the mainland and you will find that the beautiful beaches there are often deserted during the week. However, if you want the white sand and crystal clear water then you need to take a boat to nearby Koh Samet. The island is only 40 minutes away and is a popular tourist destination for both Thais and foreigners. The island becomes so busy that during high season and long weekends it might be difficult to find a room for the night. However, as it is a national park you can camp there in your tent for free!
We caught a ferry from Ban Phe on the mainland to the main pier on the island at Na Darn Pier. The island is shaped like a t-bone as you can see in the picture above. The pier is at the top of the northeast corner. Most of the beaches are then situated down the east coast. Our boat arrived at about 9.45 a.m. We weren’t alone as other boats had just arrived and others were not far behind. From the pier you can either catch a songtaew for about 10 baht to the nearest beach or walk. The walking option will take you only 10 minutes and is worth it to stretch your legs and to see what some of the facilities are on offer. People say that if you have a 7–Eleven in your village then that means civilization has arrived. Well, they have one here plus a few other convenience stores. Bad in some ways to see this on an island, but good also that you can buy water and other supplies at reasonable prices. Bottled water was about 10 baht.
Sun-worshipers on the beach
The first beach we reached was Hat Sai Kaew. It is about 800 metres long and is the most popular. The top of the beach has white powdery sand that was so bright that you had to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. It was already hot by the time we arrived so that the only people in the water were foreigners and other sunbathers. This was in stark contrast to the mainland where most of the tourists on the beaches were fully-clothed Thais. You would never see the above scene on a beach dominated by Thai tourists. And you would never see top-less women like we saw a few times on quieter beaches on Koh Samet.
Our first task was to find a place to stay for the night. We didn’t really want to waste time looking for a good beach or even a good bungalow on the beach. As we had come to research the beaches on the island we knew we wouldn’t spend long in one place. The first hotel we found was already full despite the early hour. The next one told us that they had two rooms with people checking out at noon. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the rooms first nor did we have a choice about the type of room. We ended up with one fan room for 700 baht and one air-con room for 1,200 baht! If you read my previous blog about the hotel we stayed in on the beach on the mainland then you would know this was now double the price for a room half the size. But then, this is an island. We paid for the first night and then left our bags with the receptionist so that we could go off exploring.
Beach at Ao Phai looking back to Hat Sai Kaew
I think the biggest complaint about our beach is that there are so many boats and jet skis in the water. Most of them moored but there were some jet skis going up and down which is, of course, potentially dangerous. Hat Sai Kaew has the advantage of everything you would need and better prices for food and water. However, it suffers from over-population. Not only from the people sleeping there but also the hundreds of day-trippers who come to gawk at the half naked Westerners. To get some more peace and quiet you only have to walk 10 minutes or so to neighbouring beaches such as Ao Hin Kok and Ao Phai. The border between these beaches is an outcrop of rocks. We clambered over the first group of rocks and that was when we spotted a group of topless ladies walking up the beach after a swim in the sea. There are a few bungalows here which are closer to the beach. On our beach, the hotel rooms are behind the restaurants.
A short walk up this beach and we soon found ourselves at Ao Phai. This is as good as Hat Sai Kaew but doesn’t have so many people. Only a couple of boats in the water too. The bungalows looked much nicer here though the prices would reflect that. If you don’t want to use jet skis and don’t need a wide choice of restaurants then I would suggest that you should choose one of these quiter beaches. If not here, then a bit further on at Ao Phutsa/Ao Thapthim. To get here you can do like us and walk along the beach or take a songtaew from the pier. Walking along the beach has the advantage that you can look at all the bungalows as you go. Going by songtaew you need to decide which beach you want straight away. To get back on another songtaew will cost you as much as 300 baht to go to another beach as you would have to charter it. It took us about 45 minutes to walk slowly from Hat Sai Kaew Beach to Ao Thap Thim.
By the time we had walked back, it was noon and our rooms were ready. I wasn’t impressed with the air-con room. It smelled damp and it was small. The fan room was bigger and looked nicer. It didn’t really matter too much as we wouldn’t spend that much time in the rooms. We had a quick lunch and then planned what we would do for the next two days. Our options included boat rides, trips into the interior and of course swimming. I will tell you about activities you can do on the island in the final part of this series.
The archives for this exploration of the Beaches in Rayong can be found at www.thaitravelblogs.com. Just click on the link for Rayong province. On that website you will find many useful blogs to help you plan your holiday.