Sand seeking purists will often tell you that on Thailand's more developed islands such as Phuket and Koh Samui, it's no longer possible to experience idyllic, deserted beaches. I beg to differ. Despite their popularity, it is still relatively easy in either destination to find yourself alone on a spectacular stretch of golden Thai sand.
Even though I have travelled to many of the world's most celebrated beach destinations: Turkey, Greece, Mexico, Cost Rica, Ecuador (yes, including the Galapagos), Vietnam, Bali and Australia, to name but a few — I have remained a staunch admirer of Thailand's beaches.
Of course, all the above countries also boast their own spectacular stretches of sand — many of them breathtakingly wild and all but untouched — but when Mother Nature was handing out protected coves and hidden bays, Thailand was definitely right there or close to the front of the queue.
Sadly (for me at least), I am far from the only person to have noticed the unique coastal splendour on the Thai islands. As a result, even I have to admit that there are a few Thai beaches that have been spoilt by over use and excessive development.
Fortunately however, Thailand as a whole, and even its most visited islands, are large and diverse enough to cope with all the fame and favour bestowed on them by visitors from just about every country in the world. What's more, the tendency for "birds of a feather to flock together" means that even when the option for oceanside peace and solitude presents itself; most people seem to prefer hanging out in the same sandy surrounds as their sun loving cousins.
It is for this reason that I am not at all worried when recommending my favourite untroubled beachside hotspots on Phuket and Koh Samui to one and all. I am confident, you see, that it will be the occasional "one", rather than the "all" that actually breaks away from the crowd to enjoy these alabaster beauties.
Peace on Phuket
When considered from afar, Phuket may seem like one of those overcrowded beach destinations that's best avoided. After all, the island's airport saw 9.5 million inbound and outbound passengers last year, which is almost the total population of Thailand's sprawling metropolitan capital, Bangkok.
It should not be forgotten, however, that Phuket is actually its own province, and covers an impressive 540 square kilometres, with around 30 offshore islets also counted in its area. This means it's not difficult to escape the tourist hoards on Phuket, especially when most of them either like to lie side-by-side on beaches such as Patong, or never even reach the beach at all, preferring to avail themselves of the island's multifarious inland attractions, such as its glitzy shopping malls and buzzing nightlife.
Away from the tourist noise, Phuket's northwest coast remains a serene beachside escape that's hard to match even in much less visited parts of Thailand. Beaches like Layan, which is part National Park and therefore without any major development, Naithon and nearby Banana Beach, home to more than a few exclusive, hidden cliffside residences and Mai Khao, itself fast becoming an upscale but understated resort area, boast long, wide swathes of soft sand framed by the aquamarine magnificence of the Andaman Sea.
Then, of course, there's magnificent Natai Beach; but a short drive over the Sarisin Bridge to the Thai mainland, and awarded 5 stars for its cleanliness and water quality. This wild, romantic beach is also chosen spot for nesting turtles — creatures well known for their love of privacy.
Seclusion on Samui
Although a lot smaller than Phuket, Koh Samui also welcomes a lot fewer visitors, and just like its Andaman big sister, this inspiring isle in the protected Gulf of Thailand benefits from a cove-clad coastline that has gifted it some of the most breathtaking beaches on the planet (no exaggeration).
As is the case with Patong Beach on Phuket, Koh Samui's Chaweng Beach is the soft sand mecca for the majority of international visitors, with the equally tempting powdery assets of Lamai coming a close second. In high season, both of these bustling bays take on the appearance of a vast, well oiled barbecue grill, the bronzing bodies replacing slabs of beef and sausages. But thanks to their size, there are also times of the year when even these two magnets for sun worship are relatively quiet.
If you're looking for that treasured island escape, however, the trick on Samui is to head west, south, or both. Unspoilt soon becomes a catchphrase in places like the boulder studded beaches of Laem Set and Laem Sor, or along the shallow crystalline shores of Baan Taling Ngam, the latter also affectionately called Samui's "Virgin Coast". While further north, and facing the famed limestone pinnacles of the Angthong Marine Park, beautiful Lipa Noi remains a sandswept landmark that's coincidentally also home to some of the island's most impressive private villas.
The north coast of Samui, though slightly less remote, also boasts more than its fair share of stunning sands. There's massive Mae Nam beach, which is long and wide enough to easily engulf any attempts at human domination, as well as the more modest beaches like Bang Por, a favourite with island residents for its laid back, local feel.
Of course, the seasons bring their own nuances to all of these delicate island havens (expect majestic waves on Phuket's west coast from May to September and diminutive depths on Samui's southern beaches in July and August). But these natural cycles in no way detract from the sheer magic of the beachside surrounds. Nor do they take away the pleasure of staring wistfully out over the either of these islands' celeste seascapes.
It wasn't a smash hit, but the lyrics to a song from 1970s sum up the search for the perfect beach quite nicely :
"It's not the sun you're trying to find, something else is on your mind, you need a little space and time, to break away".
Name that tune… then hum it as you head for a beach in Thailand.
by MAX VEE