The Eastern seaboard with its smorgasbord of sights and activities is an ideal place for tourists who don’t want to make the long trek to the south of Thailand
by Michael Moore
The area along the northern coast of the Gulf of Thailand leading east from Bangkok to Cambodia is often called the Eastern Seaboard. Because of its proximity to Thailand’s major metropolis, it has long been popular with both tourists and Bangkokians in search of a good time and a place to get away from the rigors of life in the big city.
When Thailand first opened up as an international tourist destination, there were no airports in Phuket or Koh Samui so the Eastern Seaboard, and Pattaya in particular, were where tourists went to have some fun and a good time at the beach. The creation of international airports at Phuket, and later Koh Samui and Krabi, changed all of this and tourists soon flocked to the sun, sand, and clear water that are to be found in the south of Thailand.
It’s true, the Eastern Seaboard and Pattaya remained popular, but many people considered the beaches to be inferior to those in the south and Pattaya to be a destination primarily for single males in search of what one might describe as companionship.
But in recent years things have changed. Although Pattaya is still known for its naughty nightlife, the attractions in the region are now far broader than this and most activities are suitable for the entire family. In addition, Trat – the easternmost of the Eastern Seaboard’s provinces – has shown that it has beautiful beaches and isolated hideaways that can rival those that are found in the southern part of the country.
Pattaya and its Surroundings
Greater Pattaya comprises three distinct beach areas: Naklua to the north, Jomtien to the south, with Pattaya Beach, the largest and most popular stretch of sand, sandwiched in between. Generally speaking, Naklua and Jomtien are more family oriented, while Pattaya Beach is where most of the nightlife and bars are found. Many families, however, prefer Pattaya Beach, especially the northern areas, because of the numerous restaurants, plentiful budget accommodation and the array of water-sport activities available.
Most people go to Pattaya by bus. If you are in Bangkok, the Eastern Bus Terminal on Sukhumvit Road at Soi 63 (Soi Ekkamai) has air-conditioned buses leaving every 30 minutes. Buses also leave frequently from Suvarnabhumi International and from the Northern and Southern bus terminals, but much less frequently. Travel agencies around Bangkok, particularly in the Khao San Road area, also offer trips on buses and vans that depart from other locations. Prices vary, but are generally under THB 200 per person. There are Suvarnabhumi limousines, taxis and mini-vans that leave for Pattaya, but these are considerably more expensive than a regular bus. However, if you have a group of people, the per person cost can be quite reasonable.
The most popular activities in Pattaya are connected with the water. For many, this means simply lazing around the pool or on the beach. For the more active, watersports activities include banana boat rides, waterskiing, parasailing, windsurfing, and jet skiing, all at prices that are reasonable by international standards. Snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and especially scuba diving are other popular water-related activities. Pattaya is a great place for novice divers who can dive near wrecks or take scuba lessons in order to receive NAUI or PADI certification.
If you tire of the beach, there are oodles of things to keep you busy. You can leap into space and bounce back again at the bungy jump; if you don’t want to bounce back, you can skydive with a parachute attached to your back. If you or anyone in your family has fantasies of being a Formula One driver, dreams can be put into action at a local go-kart track. Never fired a handgun? You can blast away to your heart’s content at a shooting range or engage in paintball combat with a group of buddies.
Activities especially suited for the entire family include a zip-line tour through the treetops of a rainforest, explore a variety of museums, wander around a massive aquarium and have fun in a water park. For those who like to fish, there is a pond where you and junior can hook up with a gigantic fish, land it, have photographs taken and then throw it back in the water for someone else to catch.
For many, a trip to Pattaya means a golfing holiday. The area has over 20 international standard 18-hole courses within an hour’s drive. Luminaries such as Robert Trent Jones Jr, Pete Dye, and Jack Nicklaus have designed the courses. Green fees, caddy fees and the cost of a golf cart are remarkably low by international standards. For those new to the game, reasonably priced lessons from trained professionals are available. Many hotels offer golfing packages that include green fees and transportation to the golf course. In short, greater Pattaya is one of the best places in the world for golf lovers to spend a holiday.
The cosmopolitan nature of the area’s population makes shopping and dining-out a joy. The selection of goods is enormous and virtually everything is available. The assortment of restaurants is mind-boggling. All of the major hotels have excellent restaurants and smaller, more humble dining spots, can be found by wandering the sois and stopping at places that catch your fancy. In addition to Thai spots and the Italian, French, American, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian food found everywhere, you will stumble upon dining spots serving food from Belgium, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Holland, Sweden, and numerous other interesting places. Dining in Pattaya is always a cosmopolitan treat loaded with excitement and the chance to try something new every night of the week.
When the sun goes down, Pattaya’s numerous and notorious bars come to life. Even if you aren’t participating, walking down the narrow sois and watching the action is highly entertaining. If you do stop in at one of the bars, watch you belongings and be sure to exercise some common sense.
For those who want to get away from it all without traveling all the way to Trat Province, Koh Samet – an island located just 6.5km from the mainland of Rayong Province – provides an appealing getaway. In 1981, most of the island and nine other nearby islands were made into a national park, providing the area with some protection against runaway development. Koh Samet and its beautiful beaches can be reached by ferry or speedboat at Ban Phe in Rayong. Ban Phe itself can be reached by bus from the Ekkamai Eastern bus terminal. There are numerous places to stay on the island and a good collection of rustic restaurants and watering holes. Koh Samet is quite small and much of it can be explored on foot or by songthaew (pick-up truck with benches in the back). Bikes, motorbikes, and ATVs can also be rented.
Pattaya and the area surrounding it have made a resounding comeback and are now one of Thailand’s most vibrant resort areas. Easy to reach and with something to do for everyone, there are activities, accommodations and dining opportunities designed to fit every interest and pocketbook.
Located adjacent to Cambodia and 315km from Bangkok, Trat is Thailand’s eastern-most province. Although there is much to do on the mainland, it is the 52 islands in the province and their tranquil beaches with white sand and beautiful coral reefs that bring most tourists to Trat.
Like Phuket and Koh Samui, Koh Chang, the most popular of Trat’s offshore islands, blossomed as a tourist destination with the creation of an airport. Trat Airport is situated 30km from Trat town and is serviced by three daily flights from Suvarnabhumi International Airport and is operated by Bangkok Airways. Once here, travelers usually take a minivan operated by Bangkok Airways to the car ferry and once on Koh Chang, a minivan to their hotel.
In addition to traveling by air, there are numerous buses and vans running to Trat and Koh Chang. Bangkok’s Ekkamai (Eastern Terminal), for example, has air-conditioned buses leaving for the six-hour trip to Trat town at least once an hour.
There are also buses and minibuses from Suvarnabhumi International Airport that go directly from the ferry terminal to Koh Chang four times every day.
The primary attractions on Koh Chang, Thailand’s third largest island, are its beautiful beaches with crystal clear water and lots of white sand. In addition, because the island is mountainous, there are numerous waterfalls and verdant rainforests. For those who really want to get away from it all, several islands with even more beautiful and isolated beaches can be reached from Koh Chang. The most popular are Koh Wai, Koh Mak, and Koh Kood.
The Eastern Seaboard with its mixture of sights and activities is an ideal place for tourists who don’t want to make the long journey to the south of Thailand. In addition it provides an ideal daytrip or weekend destination for Bangkokians who want to recharge their batteries before returning again to life in the fast lane.