Eastern Thailand

Head east from Bangkok into a region that blends trashy gaudiness and gorgeous beaches. Add to the mix some remote forested islands, gem markets and oddball idiosyncrasy and you won't look back.

On the enigmatic island of Koh Si Chang there are weird abandoned palaces, sacred Chinese temples and platoons of monkeys. Next stop is Pattaya. Even a mere utterance of this name sends anti-tourism activists apoplectic. Polluted waters, bad planning and an endless supply of worn-out bargirls clutching, fat, 50-something
men, has done little to endear Pattaya to the more discerning traveller but amid the neon and fleshpots, it has some of the best hotels in the country and there is no better place in Southeast Asia to dig ironic kitsch. A little further east is Koh Samet, a national marine park. Samet used to be a sleepy island surrounded by azure seas and crested with crystalline beaches. These days it has been transformed into the weekend destination of choice for Bangkok's younger, trendier and wealthier crowd - at times it can be seem completely overrun with drunk, Thai students. Chantaburi is worth a stopover for its gem market, traditional architecture and cathedral. As for Koh Chang: the traveller's idyll of isolated, white-sand beaches secreted away from the machinations of contemporary consumer society is quickly disappearing. Parts of the coast are slowly turning into a run of homogenous resorts. Girlie bars and sex tourists are proliferating and prices are rocketing. However, if you look hard enough, there are still some wonderful spots to lounge about in, losing yourself in the alluring sunsets, swimming in the calm, clear waters. Koh Chang's interior is also largely untouched, filled with waterfalls, jungle tracks and a colourful, noisy population of tropical birds and forest beasties.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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