It may not be the most idyllic, but it’s definitely the closest. Bang Saen is a beach town just 1.5 hours outside of Bangkok, depending upon where you depart in the city. Bang Saen is definitely more popular with locals than international tourists, however, it is a quick fix for swapping capital city pollution for a sea breeze.
The sand is coarse but clean at Bang Saen; thankfully, it’s groomed by the many restaurants along the beach. If you want to get out of the city long enough to enjoy a walk on the beach and eat fresh seafood with a view, Bang Saen is the solution.
Koh Laan (also written as Koh Lan and Koh Larn) is one of the small islands seen off the coast from Pattaya Beach. Coming in at a little under 2.5 miles long, it’s the largest island in the cluster. Although Koh Laan is most famous as a day trip activity to escape Pattaya, there are several accommodation options for spending the night on the island.
Koh Laan has six nice beaches, but they are inundated with day trippers. Jet skis and banana boats are the beach soundtrack. If staying on the island, you’ll enjoy some more tranquility and personal space once people leave for the mainland in late afternoon or early evening.
Hua Hin is best described as a busy resort beach; it's certainly a popular choice for locals and expats. You see more families and golfers than backpackers and budget travelers. That said, Hua Hin’s easy accessibility from Bangkok makes it a tempting — and less seedy — substitute for Pattaya as a beach close to Bangkok.
Although locals enjoy Hua Hin, particularly on weekends, don’t expect an “exotic” paradise. The busy strip is loaded with familiar signs for American fast food and coffee chains. Spas and Thai eateries squeeze in as well. The beach at Hua Hin stretches over three miles and is surprisingly clean for such an urban beach. Golf is a serious option in Hua Hin; the courses are world renown. The strip is also home to numerous spas and holistic health centers that are gaining international acclaim.
Cha-am is even a bit closer (around 16 miles) to Bangkok than Hua Hin. Like other spots on the coast, it’s busy and has an urban feel, but there are a handful of natural attractions nearby for getting off the beach. When you’ve had enough sun worship, head to Khao Nang Phanthurat park for some short hiking trails among interesting rock formations. Wat Cha-am, not far from the main strip, is a cave containing a reclining Buddha statue. As with all temples, don't visit in swimwear. One of King Rama VI’s palaces can be toured in Cha-am.
For something completely different, consider making the short drive to Santorini Park—a little microcosm replica of the Greek island. An art market on weekends and live performances make the tourist-oriented village more interesting. It’s a daytime thing: closing time is at 7 p.m.
Around 30 minutes south of Hua Hin is Pranburi—a much more relaxed option on the Gulf of Thailand coast. Although Pranburi isn’t nearly as popular as Hua Hin, that’s a good thing: development feels less out of control. Beaches are in good shape, and the views of nearby islands in the gulf add some exotic flair to the scenery. The sand is more coarse than powdery, but it’s surprisingly clean.
Pranburi is a much more toned-down vacation option in Thailand when compared to Hua Hin. It’s certainly not the right pick if you’re looking for nightlife or even the ability to walk around town. Having your own transportation (car, bicycle, or scooter rental) will come in very handy for getting between the spread-out eating and sleeping options. Khao San Roi Yot National Park is within easy striking distance of Pranburi. It was the first coastal national park in Thailand and is home to Irrawaddy dolphins and an abundance of birds.
The mainland beaches near Bangkok are nice enough, but islands—especially small ones—always win. At around four hours away, Koh Samet is pretty well the most accessible island from Bangkok. Koh Samet is small, hilly, and part of it is designated as a national park. Although it’s not as charming or charismatic as some of Thailand’s other impressive islands, it is way easier to visit!
Koh Samet attracts a mix of foreign and local visitors. The island gets busier on weekends. Many travelers heading home soon choose to burn their last day or two in Koh Samet’s sand rather than plodding Bangkok concrete before flying out.