A day at the beach, just out of Bangkok
- Published on Wednesday, 05 August 2015 03:38
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There’s not too many visitors to the Thai capital who realize there’s a beach just under an hour from the busy metropolis of Bangkok. This one’s a secret the locals like to keep under wraps. Head towards Pattaya, a destination well known for its beachfront hedonism, and follow the signs in to Bang Saen.
What I like most about this beach is that it’s almost completely off the tourist-track for non-Thai’s, so every visitor here can get a much more authentic experience of what the real Thailand is like. Plus, the markets that open each weekend are fantastic, and are packed full of local seafood delicacies. If you need to escape the chaos of the metropolis that is Bangkok, you won’t find a more wonderful spot than this quaint little town. Of course, it has to be mentioned that the actual beach at Bang Saen isn’t the most picturesque, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’re going to get the white sands and clear blue seas you find in Southern Thailand, but hey, you’re only an hour from the biggest city in the country. What you need to come here to experience is the local charm.
Along the beachfront the tables and deckchairs are grouped together under a sea of tarpaulin covers, keeping both the sun and rain off the Thai families who visit. In addition to the modesty of Thai culture, many of the locals cover up to protect themselves from the sun, so don’t be alarmed if you see them swimming in a full set of clothes. In a similar note, sunbathing or swimming in a bikini is going to be looked at as “strange’ behavior, so don’t be surprised if you get a few odd looks, and some awkward smiles as the Thai’s don’t know what to make of you!
Just behind the sandy beach there’s a walkway that has been designed for pedestrians, and a number of bicycles, both tandem and for groups of four that can be rented for you to explore the local area. A wonderful assortment of street vendors selling everything from grilled prawns, BBQ squid, fresh crabs and Thai spicy salad’s line the walkway, there’s even hot-off-the-grill chicken for those who aren’t big seafood fans. But that’s not even the best part. Because Bang Saen caters mostly to Thai tourists, the vendors here are all reasonably priced, the food has come straight off the boat, and they’ll even deliver many dishes to you at your deckchair, so all you have to do is sit back and relax.
For a little fun in the water you can jump on a banana boat, or rent an inflated tube to float around the bay. The shoreline is patrolled by an almost constant stream of sellers offering everything from hard-boiled quail eggs and vinegar, fresh fruits, local souvenirs, and of course a wide assortment of seafood. You can hire a local masseur to give you a foot massage in your chair, or splurge a little and opt for a full-body massage on a mat laid out by the water’s edge. Plus, the lack of foreigners means these vendors are a little bit more chilled out than in other locations in the country, so no one is ever bugging you for the hard sell, which just adds to the chilled out vibe you get at Bangkok’s closest beach.
If you’re looking to spend the night, the cheapest places to stay line the beach near the night market. For a hotel that’s a little more up market be sure to check out Tides, they’ve got plenty of green grounds as well as a swimming pool to cool down at the end of the day. Following the road along the beachfront you’ll find a handful of restaurants with live music, and there’s even a couple of clubs and bars to enjoy the evening, but be warned. Bang Saen is predominantly a university town, and if you’re under 25 you may feel a tad out of place as you’re surrounded by the local students. It brings a nice energy to the area, but nightlife definitely isn’t the main attraction of this beachside town.
Down at the other end of the beach, right by the ocean, you’ll find a night market to explore which is the perfect end to a day at the seaside. It’s not the typical tourist market, which means you can find some truly great souvenirs. The entire walking street has an artsy feel to it, but of course, you can still find the tourist staples if you need a cheap pair of sunglasses or a new pair of thongs. The best part of the walking street is the open area stage at one end, with bands cranking out classic Thai-pop tunes, and plenty of seating to grab a drink and enjoy the local festivities.
What makes Bang Saen a truly hidden gem is that it’s not the classical “Thai beach” you see on every postcard from the country. Because of this, it doesn’t pander to international tourists, and every visitor can experience the authentic, relaxing and unique characteristics of a quaint beachside town that is totally Thai.