The Chao Phraya River flows through Bangkok into the Gulf of Thailand which begins just 30km south of the Thai capital. Heading along the coast to the east leads to the world-famous holiday resort of Pattaya which is notorious for its nightlife. Continuing south-east leads to the popular island getaway of Ko Samet and further still to the Mu Ko Chang National Park which is an archipelago of more than 50 islands off the coast of Trat near the Cambodian border.
Heading along the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand leads to another stretch of holiday destinations beginning with the relaxed resort of Cha-Am and leading to Hua Hin which began as a favourite summer retreat of the Thai Royal family in the 1920s. The more laid-back resort of Khao Takiab is the next stop along the coast followed by Pranburi which which has some of the country’s best mainland beaches.
Further south this coastline passes through the Province of Surat Thani (gateway to the beautiful islands of Koh Samui and Ko Tao) before reaching the Malaysian border some 1200km from Bangkok. This article will focus on the Gulf of Thailand resorts closer to the capital which are accessible by road rather than these more distant islands which are best reached by means of domestic flights or overnight trains.
South of Bangkok Towards Malaysia
Cha-Am: Lying 175km from Bangkok this is the closest of the western Gulf resorts to Bangkok. It is home to a long, sandy beach, a good range of accommodation and quiet nightlife. The town rarely becomes crowded and is a good choice for families and couples looking for a relaxing escape.
Hua Hin: Just 25km further south is Thailand’s original beach resort which became famous in the 1920s when the Thai Royal Family made it their summer getaway destination. Still home to some royal residences, it is now this northern coastline’s best known destination which attracts a wide range of Thai and foreign tourists. It offers a choice of 5-star resort hotels as well as budget options for the backpacking community. The town is very busy at weekends when many visitors arrive from Bangkok. It is known for its excellent seafood which can be enjoyed at the popular night market.
Khao Takiab: For better beaches it’s worth travelling a further 8km beyond Hua Hin to this smaller resort which is famous as the home of ‘Chopstick Mountain’. This large rock overlooking the beach is inhabited by monkeys and has a Buddhist temple at its peak. Khao Takiab offers upmarket resort accommodation together with some mid-range family options but little in the way of budget places to stay. With little in the way of nightlife it’s a good choice for couples and families who can enjoy their days on the local beaches then dine on superb seafood overlooking the sea in the evening.
Pranburi: A further 20km south leads visitors to this lovely area which is blessed with some of the region’s finest beaches. A number of luxury resort complexes overlooking the sea cater for relatively well-off guests looking to escape from it all. Budget options remain in short supply and the town can prove tricky to get to. There are some recommended excursions to natural attractions, most notably to the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park a little further south. With little in the way of local restaurants or nightlife Pranburi is ideal for couples who are happy to rely on the facilities of their hotel in the evening.
There are first-class buses, minibuses and private car transfers to Hua Hin from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Private transfers can also be booked to all these other resorts along this coastline. From downtown Bangkok travellers can take a train to Hua Hin from Hua Lamphong Station with some services stopping in Cha-Am en route. From Hua Hin taxis and local transport can be used to get to Khao Takiab and Pranburi. Frequent bus services also travel to Hua Hin from the Southern Bus Terminal in the city. Private transfers can also be arranged from Don Mueang Airport to Hua Hin. This older airport mainly caters for domestic and regional airline traffic rather than long-haul services.
South-East of Bangkok Towards Cambodia
Pattaya: Standing on the Gulf of Thailand some 150km south of Bangkok, this resort is world-famous for its nightlife which consists largely of countless bars and nightclubs staffed by scantily-dressed Thai girls. Centred on the infamous Walking Street it has a long-held reputation as a top venue for sex tourism which has traditionally ruled it out as a family-friendly holiday destination. Tourism authorities have worked hard in recent times to transform this seedy image of their city and attract a different profile of visitor. Their attempts include the promotion of beautiful beaches, excellent accommodation, family-friendly theme parks, world-class shopping and top-notch restaurants together with the opportunity to visit numerous cultural attractions in the region. As a short-break destination from Bangkok it has plenty to offer to all types of tourists.
Ko Samet: This island is located off the coast of Rayong Province some 80km south-east of Pattaya. It is a popular weekend destination for visitors from Bangkok and is reached by means of frequent ferry boats from the Ban Phe and Nuan Thip Piers in Rayong City. Ferries arrive at the north of the island from where there’s a single road running to the south which passes through numerous small resorts each with their own beach. The livelier resorts include Hat Sai Kaew and Ao Phai which are popular with both Thais, Chinese tour groups and foreign backpackers. There’s an entrance fee for all visitors to the island as it’s part of the Khao Laem Ya–Mu Ko Samet National Park.
Ko Chang: The Mu Ko Chang National Park is made up of 52 islands of which Ko Chang is the largest. Located close to the border with Cambodia the island is reached from two piers close to the town of Laem Ngop which is 330km south-east of the Thai capital. Ferries arrive at Ao Sapporot or Dan Kao on the north-east coast of Ko Chang from where bus and taxi services are available to the different resorts around the island. The most popular resorts such as White Sand Beach, Klong Prao Beach and Lonely Beach lie on the west coast of the island. They have beautiful beaches, a fine selection of accommodation and enough bars and restaurants to attract a wide range of Thai and international tourists. Its infrastructure cannot support mass tourism so there is a trend towards upmarket developments rather than the backpacker accommodation on which the tourism boom was founded. Other smaller islands which can be reached from Ko Chang include Koh Mak, Koh Kood and Koh Laoya.
There are direct airport buses from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport to Pattaya as well as numerous companies offering minibus and taxi transport. For peace of mind it’s a good idea to pre-book a private transfer from Bangkok Airport and have a professional driver with an air-conditioned vehicle awaiting your arrival. From the city centre there are frequent bus services from the Eastern Bus Terminal as well as from other city terminals. For transport to Rayong (for Ko Samet) and Trat (for Koh Chang) there are also bus services from Suvarnabhumi Airport and the Eastern Bus Terminal. Private transfers to Rayong or Trat can also be arranged from Bangkok Airport. Some travellers may prefer to take a domestic flight from Suvarnabhumi to Trat with Bangkok Airways. The flight takes just one hour rather than the 4-5 hours it takes by road.
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