There’s a subtle magic to the right Thai beach.
The ocean has something to do with it. It’s clear green-blue, salty enough to keep you afloat and warm enough to stay in all day.
The type and scale of development is a factor as well. On the best islands, accommodation is small-scale and low rise, usually a cluster of bungalows with an open air restaurant and sometimes a pool. The bungalows are often built on hillsides, so everyone gets a view and the buildings blend in to the palms.
Then there’s the food. I love it all, but I love breakfast the most. I almost always get an ABF (American Break Fast) – two over-cooked scrambled eggs, two pieces of what my dad would call cardboard bread, and a single serving of butter that is rock hard because it’s been stored in the freezer.
If I need to shake it up, I order a fruit salad with yogurt and honey. On more than one occasion, I’ve watched the chef pick the fruit from a tree on site, cut it up, and serve it to me five minutes later. Forget 100 mile diets, over here we do 10 metres.
The interior design is focused on making pretty places that allow you to be still and admire beauty.
Sometimes it’s a pool.
Sometimes it’s a hammock.
Sometimes it’s the art cafe with great falafel across the street.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a bamboo platform with triangle pillows.
Most of these places are good spots for happy hour, when you drink one more Chang beer than you should and watch sunsets that go on forever.
Like this one.
Or this one.
People tend to disappear during the day, retreating inside to get out of the midday heat, or heading out on a boat to dive or snorkel. About an hour before sundown, the beach comes alive again and people float around in the water as the sun sets slowly.
On a Thai beach, life is simple and easy. Get a Thai massage, where your body receives all of the benefits of a yoga class but you don’t have to do any of the work. Or drop your laundry off and get it back the next day, smelling so fresh, ironed and folded, sometimes even organized in the bag according to colour.
If you want to go somewhere, there’s a taxi. If you want to buy something, you’ll usually find it at just down the street. I got my hair cut by a Thai ladyboy with an English vocabulary that started and stopped with “okay”. The cut cost CAD$6, took 10 minutes, and turned out just fine.
I was reminded of these elements last week when I got sucked into the magic on Ao Chao Phao, a small crescent-shaped beach on the north west coast of Ko Pha Ngan. Ao Chao Phao may be only 20km from the beach that hosts 10,000+ glowstick-waving revellers each month at Ko Pha Ngan’s legendary full moon beach rave, but it feels like the other side of the world. I booked two days, I stayed eight, and it still wasn’t long enough.
But don’t take my word for it; try it for yourself. Because like love, or faith, the chill perfection of the right Thai beach is better experienced than explained.
To get to Ao Chao Phao, fly to Ko Samui and take the Lomprayah fast ferry to Thong Sala, on Ko Pha Ngan. It’s a 15 minute taxi ride north to the beach. I stayed at Beyond the Blue Horizon Resort and loved it. Other good options are Sea Garden Resort (great pool) and Benjamin’s Hut. The Ko Phangan Guide is a good place to start for general island information.