Let me tell you all a little secret.
You can go to Phuket, Samui, Phangan, or Phi Phi islands and drop a fair chunk of change for some beach time…or you can seek out less populated spits of land for wayyyy cheaper. It all depends on what you are after, and if you are after the party scene then skip this little gem in the Gulf of Thailand I’m about to tell you about and head for Full Moon on Koh Phangan (I’m not ripping on it, that is seriously one hell of a party and I freaking love that too). If you want an extended island chill out I would recommend Koh Jum (a real hidden gem). However, if you are in the south of Thailand, short on time, and needing a break from everything….go to Pattaya.
You might now be thinking …what? This chick doesn’t know what she’s on about Pattaya is anything but chilled out. You are absolutely correct. Pattaya never sleeps and is has a reputation for being the devil’s playground, but there is more to it behind the neon signs of Walking Street. While scantily clad girls might not be your cup of tea, there are plenty of other attractions to lure and keep you there. I am a prime victim of Pattaya. I meant to go there for a day or two and stayed for a week! Apart from the slightly nicer and definitely quieter Jomtien Beach you can visit temples, gardens, see a show, be amazed by Ripley’s collection of absurdities, etc etc. Visit this link if you want to know more, I will somewhat guiltily confess I did not go to these and instead spent my time stuffing my face with the abundance of street stall goodies and shopping my little heart out. And yes, visiting a go go bar or two with some friends because they were keen and I kinda just figured when in Pattaya…
Besides we had to go in for the free motorbike parking. 😛
ANYWAY….now that I have successfully veered completely off topic…
If you are sick of the crowds and sick of the parties and sick of the noise, the traffic, the never-ending heat…there’s an island called Koh Larn just off the coast of Pattaya. It is a popular spot for the locals and Chinese tourists apparently, and it is a delightful little island. I have come to really appreciate the small town/small island feel of places; its truly something special. I went for only a day trip, my two friends went for one night and loved it so much they stayed for two.
General breakdown of a day trip cost:
>ferry ticket (roundtrip) 60 baht. 30 each way
>songthaew to most beaches- 20-50 baht one way
*Please note we traveled in July. I don’t think this is high season and the amount of people may vary.
* food is admittedly a little more expensive but show me an island where it isn’t. It’s still reasonably priced.
*I can’t comment on accommodation because I didn’t stay but my friends stayed overnight and said it was decently priced. I’m sure some quick research online will yield a few options.
A day trip to this island is easy, doable, and 100% worth it. It’s a cheap option and if you are staying in Pattaya you can leave your bags “at home” and escape for the day baggage free! You are going to want to make your way to the Bali Hai Pier; it’s just at the other end of Walking Street and while it’s closed off at night it is wide open during the day so you shouldn’t have a problem. Once you get to the pier there are various transportation options available. The cheapest is the ferry, which is what I have price quoted above. You can also take a quicker, more expensive speed boat. This website is perfect to check out as it has all the details for getting there and back and it has loads of information! It’s pretty comprehensive and it is available in many languages so give it a look if you want to know ferry times, speed boat times, prices, etc.
The ferry takes a couple of hours but it is a decent enough trip. True to Thai style they WILL try to fit as many people as possible before taking off, so fair warning you will get rather close to your neighbor! We were late but lucky enough to squeeze onto a side bench so we had a nice view of the sea with the added comfort of a cool breeze. I would recommend maybe getting there a little bit early if you want to secure a seat of your choosing, there is an upstairs deck and shaded downstairs as well. We traveled to Tawaen Beach Pier where we got dropped off. At first glance you will most likely be disappointed and call me a filthy liar because this beach is littered with stalls, vendors, and people. So many people. The beach looks a bit dirty, the water a muddled blueish brown with motorboats aplenty, and you will be altogether largely disappointed. Don’t despair! I thought the same way.
Once you get off the ferry walk along the boardwalk maybe 500 or 600 meters. You will come across a break in the stalls and see songthaews waiting to take you to your destination of choice. Since the girls I was with were staying at Lareena Resort near the Na Ban Pier we made our way in that direction by hopping on a songthaew for I think 20 baht. You may have to wait a bit for it to fill up so, per usual in Thailand, be patient. If you feel as lost on where to go as we were, just start walking and you will find a songthaew station with a map of the beaches and how much they cost. We took a blind stab in the dark and opted for Nual Beach at 30baht a person. We were the only ones going which was promising as we wanted something quiet.
Nual Beach is everything I wanted. It’s quiet, it’s empty, it’s large, it’s so delightfully beachy with all it’s smooth, pale sand, it’s water so blue and calm. And it only took 100-120 baht from my pocket! That’s about $3 USD. How great is that?
As it was low season the restaurant was closed and there was no food available. There is a stall that sells pricey drinks, but I would instead recommend packing lunch and stocking up on water before you go. The upside of low season was the emptiness; there was only a handful of other people there. Such a different feel from Tawaen Beach and not that much farther away. I have read on multiple sites that even during peak season Nual Beach is on of the quieter beaches on the island, so really no matter when you go it should be ok. We got back in time for me to take the ferry back to bustling Pattaya that evening, slightly sunburned but relaxed, emotionally invigorated, and satisfied with the day. A bonus: you don’t pay for a round trip ticket at the ferry counter. Instead you pay on the boat, so I arrived at Tawaen Pier and left from Na Ban Pier. The time spend en route is about the same and you end up back at Bali Hai Pier.
Honestly, there are plenty of serene islands in Thailand but this has been one of the most easily accessible ones for me so far. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s perfect for a day trip or an extended stay. I would 100% recommend Nual Beach on Koh Larn, a mini paradise concealed amidst the flash and glamour of Pattaya.