Those flocking to Thailand for the beaches often overlook the mainland, unless they’re headed to Krabi. But I recently discovered one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in this fair country.
Chao Lao beach, around four hour’s drive from Bangkok and close to Chantaburi, is not an idyllic deserted island paradise. It’s popular with Thais and there’s a fair amount of development. But it’s a seriously fine stretch of sandy beach, with calm waters, good restaurants and affordable resorts.
What we did
Walked and walked
We rolled up there on a Friday night and took ourselves straight to the beach for a night walk. The beach is a good few kilometres long and it’s sandy but flat, lit by various beachside bars and restaurants, and great for walking. The sigh of a calm sea stroking the shore greeted our ears. The lack of light pollution makes for clear skies so we strolled and stargazed until our eyes were aching – we even saw a meteor streak down, an incandescent blaze of silver so dramatic I experienced a brief burst of fear. I’d never seen anything like it.
We walked it by day and it was delightful enjoying the expansive views: sand fringed with palm trees and stoppered with hilly headlands. There’s a reasonable amount of plastic stretched along the treeline, perhaps swept in from the relative metropolis of Pattaya not far around the coast. It always saddens me to see this. But whilst it mars the beauty of the beach, it does not obliterate it altogether. Unfortunately we didn’t think through the lack of shade and we all returned to the hotel sunburned. Matt caught it the worst. I’m pretty sure if he’d gone back in the ocean at that point he would have been subjected to the advances of a confused lobster.
There’s a serious amount of crabs on Chao Lao beach. And I watched them with the fervour of a soap opera addict. They scuttle along sideways all shifty with their ridiculous stalky eyes and make little balls out of the sand. One guy, let’s call him Conan, I watched for ages. Most of the crabs were just hanging out next to their holes, or wandering about a bit. Conan was not. He was hiding in his hole and then every so often I’d see his eyes pop up furtively. He’d stay there for a bit, checking the lie of the land. Then he’d suddenly dart from the hole – no further than six inches from it mind – lob a massive ball of sand he had gripped in his claw, and dart back down again. I would love to know what that was all about.
Swam of course
Not much more to say on that front.
Visited the aquarium and the mangroves
At the northern end of the beach is the Kung Kraben aquarium. It’s free to get in and it’s worth a look. There were moments we felt bad for some of the fish that look like they’ve outgrown their tanks. But this was the exception rather than the rule, and it looks like they’re making efforts to build new, larger tanks. I gave a donation in the hopes it will help with this mission. They do have an impressive collection of marine life.
A few hundred metres away are the mangrove boardwalks. You can tread the boards in the shade of the mangrove trees with their gangly, twining roots, and spot iridescent crabs in the mud. There’s a lot of birdlife around too apparently, although they were being coy during our visit.
We walked up to the aquarium and mangroves from our resort but it was quite a long way from where we were (just over two miles, a 45 min walk). There’s a pavement, or you can walk along the beach, but in the heat of the day it’s not for everyone. There’s no taxis, tuk tuks or songthaews going in either direction. If you don’t have your own car I’d suggest organising a driver through your hotel, or plan for a longish walk and take water etc.
The aquarium opens at 8.30am and shuts at 4.30pm.
We were pretty much the only westerners on the beach, so people noticed us. We got stopped by a middle aged Thai lady splashing in the shallows for a series of selfies and a couple of other folk who wanted shots.
The most extreme was a Thai man who approached us to say hello as we were sunbathing. He told us he was a photographer and he’d been taking photos of crabs and flowers (alarm bells should have rung at this point). He was very friendly and when we mentioned we liked coconuts he gestured to the café beside us and invited us to enjoy one from the tree in the garden – turned out this resort belonged to his brother.
Being British, we were simultaneously horrified by the social awkwardness we may have to encounter if we accepted, but also too polite to refuse. So we had a coconut, and mighty delicious it was too. As we sipped, the photographer showed us a frieze of images he’d made to advertise the resort which had just opened.
We made to leave, and our photographer friend asked for a picture of us for the resort’s website. Miss Naïve (me) and her friend Miss Naïve (Chloe) stood in front of the palm trees and smiled. Of course this was not what he had in mind. We ended up in the pool in a bikini photoshoot, with a vaguely confused waiter splashing us for the sake of a shot, because we were too polite to say no. It was not how we had expected the morning to go, let’s say.
Stuff we didn’t do
If you were so inclined, there are opportunities to kayak around the mangrove forests at the north end of the beach. Or you could board a banana boat. We saw many a gleeful boat driver happily flinging his cargo of squealing lifejacketed humans into the water.
Where we ate
This beach front place became a favourite spot. There was a waitress who understood what we meant when we said we were vegetarian and bought us green curry and penang curry laden with vegetables. They were super spicy but delicious. Portions are massive. They come in two sizes – bowl or hotpot. Don’t go for a hotpot like we did thinking it would serve two and there was enough for about seven. A bowl will suffice!
Right at the southern end of the beach, this restaurant is part of a resort that has a high end feel to it. Again, the portions are gigantic, with seafood a speciality. We had stir fried mushrooms which was a mixture of different types fried with spring onion and chilli. We had a tom yum, stir fried asparagus with prawns and som tam. The asparagus dish was a highlight but it was all excellent. And there was black forest gateau for dessert. Nothing more to ask of a dinner than that.
Where we stayed
Our resort was called Villa Blanca. It’s a modern place with a lovely pool and clean, light rooms for around 1,800 baht per night. There were also villas for rent with their own miniature pools and their own roof terraces which looked very nice. There’s a path leading straight down to the beach. If you’re a meat eater breakfast is a doozy. On busy days they open a buffet and there’s Asian dishes or bacon and sausages and toast. They were a bit more confused by vegetarianism, but every morning would bring us freshly made concoctions of varying edibility. The veggie fried rice and wilted greens were lovely. But then they tried to kill us on the final day with chili fried rice so hot I think it could make an excellent covert weapon in modern warfare.