Quiet, Secluded Beaches in Thailand?
Not totally extinct just yet!
Finding a nice secluded piece of beach in Thailand can be challenging at times, especially during high season. It has become one of the ‘hottest’ tourist destinations in Asia, if not the world. This is undoubtedly because of it’s beautiful culture, delicious food, cheap prices, and of course, gorgeous beaches. Slowly but surely the coastline is filling with hotels and resorts catering to the high demand of beach-goers, but foreign and local alike. This has made finding a quiet beach a lot more challenging… unless of course you’re connected to Where Sidewalks End I found Bang Saphan Noi essentially by playing a little game of “Spin the globe”, and to my delight it turned out to be incredible!
The sleepy town of Bang Saphan Noi itself is actually quite quaint & simple. It has a very small food market, a beautiful new park in the centre, the compulsory 7-11 to stock up on supplies, a train station, and a bus station that you’d miss if you blinked (literally.. it’s sign is written on a sun-bleached dry erase board)! There’s really only a handful of resorts, hotels and guest houses in the area, and are usually visited primarily by Thai’s on holiday. That’s pretty much it in terms of things in the town itself, really.
The locals are all incredibly friendly, however shy, and everyone smiles at you as you walk around. This is something typical to Thailand, ‘the land of smiles’, though has faded to the point of superficiality and near extinction in the bigger cities and hot tourist destinations. Bang Saphan Noi certainly holds characteristics of Thailand ‘before’ the big tourist explosion.
What’s near Bang Saphan Noi
The town of Bang Saphan Noi itself is slightly inland, though a short drive only a couple of kilometers to the beach. I was shocked to discover, regardless of it’s isolated it is, how many incredible attractions are nearby – both natural and man made.
- The Beach: Most obviously, for a post on a beach town. The beach is pretty impressive. Bang Saphan Noi’s beach itself is one of the longest stretches I’ve seen in Thailand which is (almost) completely absent of tourists! There’s only a handful of very small resorts and bungalows along the stretch, and even during a busy time like New Year’s Eve, it felt almost empty!
- Fishing Villages: Almost everywhere. That’s still the livelihood of many of the inhabitants of this area. The seas are still rich with fish, and so it brings with it the coastal life of the mom and pop fishing industry. It’s very cool and interesting to walk around and see the old boats and harbours!
- Koh Talhu: A beautiful island only 5km from shore. With only one resort on the island, there’s not many people staying there. You can easily visit the island on a half day snorkelling trip (which we did) which includes 2 snorkel sites, lunch and all your gear, and transport from Bang Saphan Noi.
- Fung Daeng Beach: Translated to ”Red Cliffs”, about 9km away from town, this gorgeous natural wonder extends for several kilometers. It appears to be a yellow stone which has been stained by a red powder – my guess would be high iron content which as rusted (FeO2 for you scientifically minded folk), and stained the entire cliff length red. It was gorgeous for a mid-afternoon walk on the beach – your feet WILL get wet, mind you.
- Limestone mountains and cliffs: Southern Thailand is riddled with over 4000 limestone mountains, cliffs and caves to hike along – some of which are very close to Bang Saphan Noi, both along the water, and along the Burmese border a mere 25 kilometers away!
- Khoa Bang Berd: Bat Cave turned into a Buddhist temple! Yup. There’s loads of caves which are used as Buddhist holy grounds, but this one’s got bats in it… and it’s only about 15 kilometers south of Bang Saphan Noi, in the neighbouring bay of Bang Berd.
- Sand Dunes: Approximately 23 kms south, Proclaimed “The Most Distinct Thai Sand Dune in Chumphon” in the village of Ban Nam Phu. This is Thailand’s largest naturally formed sand dune, and although it’s just that… a big pile of sand… it’s still quite impressive
- Tham Thong viewpoint near the Temple of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy in Bang Berd: Sadly we didn’t make it here in time as the sun was setting, but this is supposed to be one of the most scenic photo ops of the whole area! A calm bay with islands close to shore, and the impressive Chinese temple overlooking the sea. It’s about 4km past the sand dunes, following the ocean roads.
As you might have noticed, everything listed above was heading south from Bang Saphan Noi (except for the island of Koh Talhu) and was all experienced on the same day trip on a scooter. Had we started earlier in the day, we probably would have made it to several waterfalls in the area as well, which are found more inland, just off the major highway. Of course.. being several kilometers in any direction, you may want to rent a driver or scooter to do this. It’s an ideal place for people new to scooters as well, since the streets are so empty, and traffic is amongst the lowest you’ll find in Thailand! It was Marianne’s first time riding a scooter here, and she did it like a champ!
Getting to Bang Saphan Noi can prove to be a little tricky. We decided to wing it and catch an overnight bus heading south from Bangkok. There are some which go directly to Bang Saphan Noi from the South bus terminal (which is the most inconvenient bus terminal to get to in all of Bangkok – either an expensive cab ride, or a long local bus, from the centre). We however did not catch a direct bus, as they were sold out by the time we got to the terminal. We ended up jumping on a bus going to a nearby city, and then getting a minivan to drop us at the closest stop along the highway. We then hitchhiked the remaining 7 kms to town.
Leaving was similar, we hitchhiked to the highway, and then within about 10 mins were able to flag down a minivan going all the way back to Bangkok! I imagine the wait time varies and we just got lucky. More ideal ways to get there would be by taking the train (though there are only 4 train times that go there and only one at an ideal time, while all the others arrive late at night, both to Bang Saphan Noi, and to Bangkok in the reverse). There is limited bus services as well, so it’s perhaps best to have that arranged a day or two in advance, to assure seating, and to have a direct ride, unlike our own. If you are driving, it’s only a 5 hour drive from Bangkok, and about the same if heading north from Surat Thani or Phuket.
View Where Sidewalks End in a larger map
I would certainly suggest making a hotel reservation online prior to arriving. Not only are the hotels/resorts of small capacity, they are also often a few kilometers from the town itself, located along the beach. They can often have arrival transfers arranged so you can be picked up when you arrive. I was able to find accommodation online at a quaint bed and breakfast, Sananwan B&B, (read about it here), though saw a couple other decent options both online as well. None are overly busy, or overly full of western tourists. This can cause slight language barriers as english is limited, but with time and effort (and a little bit of charades) you should be just fine!
We ended up with a driver to and from the bungalow, and who also helped us book our snorkelling and picked us up/dropped us off to it, for a nominal fee. His name is Surin and his number is 089 804 0335. His english is quite good, and he’s very friendly and helpful!
The cost of being secluded comes with the cost of being slightly more difficult to get to. This isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s an adventure, and one hell of an experience for those daring enough to try. There was countless places to explore, and in 4 days, I feel we only just skimmed the surface. I’ll certainly be heading back to Bang Saphan Noi in my near future.
Have you ever played ‘spin the globe’ when looking for a place to go? Where did you end up? Was it really remote? How challenging was it to get there?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!