The mainland beaches near Bangkok seem busy when compared to Thailand’s many island choices. During high season when weather is best, weekends can be frenetic in some stretches. But when time is low, the coastal beaches make excellent choices for getting out of the capital city for a few days.
Sure, Bangkok has its charms. It’s where most foreign travelers arrive. The metropolitan madhouse of 14.6 million residents often serves as the first impression of Thailand. But too much time in Thailand’s concrete heart can take it’s toll; pollution and perpetual traffic wear on nerves once the bliss of so many eating and shopping opportunities has faded.
Fortunately, travelers are blessed with a handful of easy escapes from Bangkok. Green scenery and fresher air await. The best options, of course, put weary feet on sand rather than steaming concrete.
What About Pattaya?
Although Pattaya is only around two hours from Bangkok, it would be hard pressed to qualify as “best” at anything aside from nightlife and seedy adult entertainment. By Southeast Asia standards, the beaches aren’t even very nice. But the beach isn’t the main reason Pattaya stays busy.
Recent efforts have been made by the government to turn Pattaya, once known as an epicenter of Thailand’s sex tourism, into a convention destination and perhaps lure in a few more families.
Some visitors manage to turn a blind eye and enjoy the beach anyway, but with so many other great beaches near Bangkok promising less hassle, why bother?
It may not be the most idyllic, but it’s definitely the closest. Bang Saen is a beach town just 1.5 hours outside of Bangkok, depending upon where you depart in the city.
Bang Saen is definitely more popular with locals than international tourists, however, it is a quick fix for swapping capital city pollution for a sea breeze.
The sand is coarse but clean at Bang Saen; thankfully, it’s groomed by the many restaurants along the beach. If you want to get out of the city long enough to enjoy a walk on the beach and eat fresh seafood with a view, Bang Saen is the solution.
To get there, inquire about buses or minibuses at the Ekamai Bus Terminal. You can also take one of the many buses bound for Pattaya and get off early at Nong Mon. A daytime taxi from Suvarnabhumi Airport will cost around US $30 plus tolls.
Koh Laan (also written as Koh Lan and Koh Larn) is one of the small islands seen off the coast from Pattaya Beach.
Coming in at a little under 2.5 miles long, it’s the largest island in the cluster. Although Koh Laan is most famous as a day trip activity to escape Pattaya, there are several accommodation options for spending the night on the island.
Koh Laan has six nice beaches, but they are inundated with day trippers. Jet skis and banana boats are the beach soundtrack. If staying on the island, you’ll enjoy some more tranquility and personal space once people leave for the mainland in late afternoon or early evening.
Ferries depart from Bali Hai Pier near the infamous Pattaya Walking Street. The trip over to Koh Laan only takes about an hour. The last ferry leaves Pattaya at 6:30 p.m.
Hua Hin is best described as a busy resort beach; it's certainly a popular choice for locals and expats. You see more families and golfers than backpackers and budget travelers.
That said, Hua Hin’s easy accessibility from Bangkok makes it a tempting — and less seedy — substitute for Pattaya as a beach close to Bangkok.
Although locals enjoy Hua Hin, particularly on weekends, don’t expect an “exotic” paradise. The busy strip is loaded with familiar signs for American fast food and coffee chains. Spas and Thai eateries squeeze in as well.
The beach at Hua Hin stretches over three miles and is surprisingly clean for such an urban beach. Golf is a serious option in Hua Hin; the courses are world renown. The strip is also home to numerous spas and holistic health centers that are gaining international acclaim.
Getting to Hua Hin from Bangkok takes between 3-4 hours, and as usual, is affected by Bangkok’s dreadful traffic situation. For something different and to give the roads a break, consider taking the train to Hua Hin. Trains take a bit longer (4-5 hours) but the journey is scenic and comfortable.
Cha-am is even a bit closer (around 16 miles) to Bangkok than Hua Hin. Like other spots on the coast, it’s busy and has an urban feel, but there are a handful of natural attractions nearby for getting off the beach.
When you’ve had enough sun worship, head to Khao Nang Phanthurat park for some short hiking trails among interesting rock formations. Wat Cha-am, not far from the main strip, is a cave containing a reclining Buddha statue. As with all temples, don't visit in swimwear. One of King Rama VI’s palaces can be toured in Cha-am.
For something completely different, consider making the short drive to Santorini Park—a little microcosm replica of the Greek island. An art market on weekends and live performances make the tourist-oriented village more interesting. It’s a daytime thing: closing time is at 7 p.m.
Cha-am is around 107 miles from Bangkok; you can get there by bus or hire a private taxi directly from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Tip: If planning to rent jet skis, beware when renting from any of the beaches on this list. Beach rental kiosks have adopted the same scam delivered by motorbike rental shops years ago. When you return the rental, staff point out minor damage that was already existing, then make unreasonable demands for repairs. Carefully document and point out any existing dings or scrapes on the jet ski before renting, no matter how much you get rushed along.
Around 30 minutes south of Hua Hin is Pranburi—a much more relaxed option on the Gulf of Thailand coast.
Although Pranburi isn’t nearly as popular as Hua Hin, that’s a good thing: development feels less out of control. Beaches are in good shape, and the views of nearby islands in the gulf add some exotic flair to the scenery. The sand is more coarse than powdery, but it’s surprisingly clean.
Pranburi is a much more toned-down vacation option in Thailand when compared to Hua Hin. It’s certainly not the right pick if you’re looking for nightlife or even the ability to walk around town. Having your own transportation (car, bicycle, or scooter rental) will come in very handy for getting between the spread-out eating and sleeping options.
Khao San Roi Yot National Park is within easy striking distance of Pranburi. It was the first coastal national park in Thailand and is home to Irrawaddy dolphins and an abundance of birds.
Plan on at least four hours for getting to Pranburi from Bangkok by bus, a little less if traveling by private car or taxi.
The mainland beaches near Bangkok are nice enough, but islands—especially small ones—always win.
At around four hours away, Koh Samet is pretty well the most accessible island from Bangkok. Koh Samet is small, hilly, and part of it is designated as a national park. Although it’s not as charming or charismatic as some of Thailand’s other impressive islands, it is way easier to visit!
Koh Samet attracts a mix of foreign and local visitors. The island gets busier on weekends. Many travelers heading home soon choose to burn their last day or two in Koh Samet’s sand rather than plodding Bangkok concrete before flying out.
Hot sauce lovers take note: you’ll pass through Si Racha along the way to Koh Samet. Si Racha is the birthplace of sriracha-style hot sauce, although it barely receives any due credit or recognition.
Unlike the other options above, Koh Chang requires some additional commitment to reach. With a distance of around five hours from Bangkok, calling it “nearby” is a bit of a stretch, but the big island is just too good to leave off the list.
Despite the bus-and-ferry effort of getting to Koh Chang (there's no airport), the island is big enough to accommodate all types of travelers and budgets. White Sand Beach is one of the nicest in Thailand, and as the name implies, has that baby-power-soft sand you’ll still be finding in luggage for years to come.
Lonely Beach is anything but what the name suggests. The beach is farther south but more budget friendly and very social. If White Sand Beach has a few too many weekenders fighting for space at buffets, Lonely Beach is a laid-back alternative.
Along with being mostly convenient, Koh Chang’s weather differs a bit from other islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Chang is situated closer to Cambodia. When Koh Samui and neighbors are still getting slammed with rain in November, Koh Chang is often pleasantly dry and sunny.
If you want to begin or finish your trip on Koh Chang, you can take a bus directly from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Trat, then catch the ferry over to the island. Consider storing your luggage and purchases at one of the two secure options in the airport, then go enjoy the island for a few days.
Tip: Chang means elephant, and with elephants being so popular in Thailand, the word is used far and wide. Don’t confuse the Koh Chang mentioned here (the second largest island in Thailand) with its much smaller counterparts in other provinces. Yes, Chang is also the favorite beer of budget travelers in Thailand.