Thailand East Coast Beaches (Gulf side)

mermaid statue between Saikaew beach and Ao Phai, ko samet, thailand

A mermaid statue separating Saikaew beach and Ao Phai, Koh Samet, our favourite of all Thailand East Coast beaches.

Why Thailand East Coast Beaches?

Best Weather in the East

The very best time to take a holiday on Thailand East Coast beaches is mid-December to March apart from peak holiday times of Christmas-New Year when the problem is overcrowding and overpricing rather than the weather. High temperatures of around 27C can be expected during December and January rising to 30C in March.

However there is one outstanding exception, the ever-popular Koh Samui which has a micro-climate that differs slightly, but importantly, from the rest of the east Thailand. 

December which is not one of the dry months on Koh Samui  (in fact statistically it’s one of the three wettest months and one of the hottest at 33C), though it comes at the end of the rainy period so by Christmas holidays the rain should be irregular and bearable. The best, dry season for Koh Samui runs from January to April when temperatures average around 30C.

April- July weather should also be fine in the east but it’s starting to get very hot, up to 35C, and there is a possibility of haze from slash/burn farming throughout Asia. Rains may appear in the east in late June and for sure by mid July, along with masses of holidaymakers.

The worst time in the east is generally September, October due to heavy rainfall.

Rainy season benefits

Endless rain on the east side of the peninsula is rare. It’s more about heavy showers and those are sometimes only at night.

This break from constant sunshine may be compensated by the vastly cheaper accommodation, not to mention availability, space on beaches and tranquility all around.

Finally, westerners usually associate rain with cold. This is not the case in Asia; colder than before the rains perhaps but no comparison with bone-chilling European rain!

Rainy season downsides

It could rain all day for two or three days in a row. Or it could be overcast. Wind may kick sand in your face/on your towel/into your camera’s delicate bits. You may get lonely. The mosquitoes (aka 747s in Thailand) may suck you dry. Seas will be rough and water visibility less than clear.

Thailand’s best overall sightseeing, non-beach, time is the cool season, November- February.

Worst is April – September, hot and sticky. March – May is hot but not humid. The rainy season is June – October.

The Curse of the Longtails

The ubiquitous useage of longtail‘ boats now makes many previously desirable beaches a pain in the head. These taxi boats are fitted with unsilenced truck engines, so put 2 or 3 together on water and it sounds like a 747 coming. . . and going. . . . and coming. . . .

Beaches that are only accessible by boat, or used as a longtail terminal have drone and diesel smell problems. Notably noxious are Krabi beaches and the Phi Phi islands.

However! Some islands – such as Koh Samet – have replaced longtails with speedboats that are less noisy but still make a coughing roar when they leave the beach and smell of gasoline.

Best Thailand East Coast beaches

Hat Saikaew (Diamond beach), Ko Samet

Hat Saikaew white sand beach, Ko Samet, Thailand

Sai Kaew beach, Koh Samet, Thailand East Coast beaches.

A 3.5 hour bus ride from Bangkok past infamous Pattaya and 40 minute ferry ride get you to Ko Samet, an island at the top of Thailand’s best beaches charts for years.

However, in spite of its status as a National Park, no airport and virtually no roads developers have finally got their trotters firmly dug into many locations.

Nevertheless, much of Koh Samet is still covered by greenery thanks to its National Park status  and the east coast is blessed with the softest white sand beaches seen anywhere, gently shelving and washed by crystal waters.

One of the best is the widest strand, Hat Saikaew, also known as Hat Sae Kaeo and Haad Sae Kaew and variations thereof. Sai kaew’s north end is now dominated by a couple of substantial hotels that appear to be favoured by massed groups of Chinese visitors that move in packs and tend to take over the environment.

Chaweng beach, Koh Samui

Chaweng beach on Koh Samui, Thailand.

Chaweng beach on Koh Samui. Photo by Jacques Herremans

Koh Samui, Thailand’s third largest island, is no longer a deserted tropical hideaway, but is still one of the world’s most popular resort islands, with soft white sands,  (mostly) clear waters and loads of activities and entertainment, particularly nightlife. With its own international airport herds of sand grazers arrive hourly.

Chaweng Beach, the party zone of the island on the eastern shore, is overdeveloped and commercial, but has a lot of facilities and activities in a beautiful location. Don’t go there if you object to crowds and garbage.

Quieter but no less appealing beaches are Lamai (quite busy) and Maenam (not busy) beaches. Driest months January-April. Book ahead of course. More information.

Had Rin, Ko Phangan

The place for backpackers and party animals in Thailand but specifically during the Full Moon event, otherwise Chaweng beach on nearby Koh Samui is the place to be. Hat Rin is globally known as a prime rave venue, especially at the famous full moon party (the island’s legendary event started in ’89).

The island’s best sand, the glorious Hat Khuat (Bottle Beach), is a sheltered, secluded bay on the north coast, with some resort bungalows. (By boat from Ao Chalok Lam Bay).

Alternatively there’s Ao Thong Nai Paan, two crescent-shaped coves with a laid-back ambience. Best December-March.

If you go for Hat Rin’s full moon party any month, try to get there a few days early to secure accommodation, or take a high speed boat from Bophut pier, Ko Samui on the day. Buy a single ticket so you can decide when you’ve had enough and negotiate a return trip.

The event is infinitely more commercial than it used to be, with a glitter ball of bars and sound systems pumping out the necessary juice, though illegal drugs are in short supply due to a stellar performance by the local constabulary. Read more Full Moon advice on our Ko Pha Ngan page.

Hat Sai Ree, Ko Tao

Ko Tao is one of Thailand’s largest diving venues, with warm, clear gulf waters, is known for its inexpensive certification courses. It is relatively undeveloped and less commercial compared to its neighbours, Ko Phangan or Ko Samui.

For beaches try the 2 km stretch at Hat Sai Ree, Ko Tao’s longest beach, for facilities and action, or Ao Chaloke Ban Kao on the south coast, for shelter from the monsoon rains.
Best December-March. Book ahead if possible. June – Oct can see heavy rain and strong winds.

Ko Chang island

Quite a way (200 miles/320kms) south-east of Bangkok, Ko Chang is big and sophisticated enough to have air-con available if you choose, but undeveloped enough to feel you are in a relatively undiscovered tropical paradise.

This mountainous island is covered with dense vegetation and offers many excellent beaches but only one seriously touristy village (so far) – Bang Bao on the island’s southwest corner – which is the source of most diving/ snorkelling/ elephant riding / expeditions.

Koh Chang, Thailand East Coast beaches.

Ko Mak island

10 miles (16kms) south of Ko Chang, Ko Mak is even less known than its maturing (not in a good way! ) neighbour with only a handful of small hotels but a lot of pristine white beaches totally bereft of towel-bagged sunbeds along the 15 mile of crystal water shoreline.

Pattaya Beaches

Pattaya beach, East Coast, Thailand

Pattaya beach.

Not for beach bums except as an interesting lay-over as the two beaches are either very narrow and unattractive or distant and unattractive. In fact Pattaya is one of the worst of Thailand East Coast beaches resorts, but it’s an easy 3 hours bus from Bangkok and then super Ko Samet is just a ferry ride away.

Amazingly families take holidays in Pattaya and there are amusement parks and other touristy activities available, though the beach is not up to scratch.

Pattaya does have an attractive, clean corniche overlooking a narrow, coarse, yellow sand beach, loaded with powerboats and murky green water that will probably grow you a second head if you spend too much time in it.
The rest of the town is a hideous mess, tho’ it turns a curious and not unpleasant colour after dark, with all the pink-lit ‘bar-beers’ (half outdoor girlie bars) around and there are plenty of wow! sights around.

Initially our reaction to Pattaya was a sustained ‘Yuk’! However, it does perform a social function with typical Thai relaxed grace and humour.

Sad, ugly, old, lonely love rejects with all the fashion sense of a third degree burn briefly experience a kind of South Seas romance here – usually over a few days or even weeks, travel with a girl they meet here, treat her like a princess and pour money over her that’ll support her family for a year. Prostitution, yes, but. . . but. . .