Who wants low tide on the beach in front of your hotel room to last all day, with the water far out, and perhaps not even enough for splashing around in, let alone swimming? Alternatively, during other months you may have so much water all day that the beach is completely submerged, leaving no dry sand for you to lay a towel on, or for your children to play in.
Here is a brief run-down on how the major beach destinations in the Gulf of Thailand are affected by the strange tides.
Koh Chang: narrow beaches
The beaches of Koh Chang are so narrow that none show up in Google Earth’s satellite images of the island. All beaches down the west coast (that’s most of them) are shallow, leaving little water for swimming during the low tide months.
Interestingly, Koh Chang’s west coast beaches of Sai Khao, Ta Nam (Lonely Beach) and Kai Bae all have deeper water at the north end, with much wider sand too. This is caused by the action of waves and currents moving during the monsoon season, when the winds push them from south to north. The beach with the deepest water and best swimming conditions on Koh Chang, even at low tide, is Klong Kloi in the far south – but only the east side of the beach in front of the large, interesting resort called Koh Chang Boat Chalet .
Koh Kood: beautiful pristine beaches; but narrow and shallow too
Beach conditions here almost replicate those on nearby Koh Chang; narrow and shallow, all lying down the island’s west coast. Here too is a wider, deeper beach on the far south coast at Ao Phrao. The most popular west coast beach, Klong Chao, is lucky to be wider than average with plenty of sand remaining dry through the high tides. But most others here are underwater by day during the ‘foreign’ high season months (December - March), then quite dry during the rest of the year.
Koh Samui: a varied mix of wide and narrow, deep and shallow beaches
Koh Samui is big and diverse enough to have a good variety of beach conditions. While some beaches are quite narrow, and prone to disappearing at high tides, there are others that are exceptionally wide, keeping lots of dry sand at high tide.
The majority of Koh Samui’s beaches are quite shallow, and dry out during low tides. But there are several nice exceptions with enough water for swimming at all but the lowest spring tides. Maenam and Bophut Beaches are prominent in this lucky group, with relatively deep water that puts them among the best swimming beaches here. Long Lamai Beach is exceptionally shallow at the top end, and delightfully deep at the south end, making this perhaps the best swimming beach on the island. All beaches on the west and south coasts are both narrow and shallow, and suffer the negative effects of both high and low tides.
Chaweng Beach is not too narrow, and retains dry sand at all but the highest spring tides. The northern end, however, is particularly shallow, while the south end is significantly deeper and better for swimming at all tides.
Koh Phangan: offshore reefs & 100s of metres of dry sandbanks
Virtually all beaches on Koh Phangan are hemmed in by an offshore reef that virtually rings the island. This helps make them both narrow and shallow, and therefore subject to the negative effects of both high and low tides. The Full Moon Party beach of Haad Rin is somewhat wider and the thousands of revellers always have enough sand to party on. But the best swimming beaches on this island, by far, are the twin beaches at Thong Nai Pan, for this pair have no offshore reef and their sand runs smoothly into deeper water.
Koh Tao: sometimes too much water, sometimes not enough
Beaches along the south and west coasts of Koh Tao have offshore reefs, and are thus shallow – plus they all have narrow sand. Expect either too much water, or too much sand through most of the year. The three small bays on the east coast have no reefs and the water runs deeper. Only the southern two of these – Ao Leuk and Tanote Bay, as shown on our maps – have real sandy beaches. Both are quite wide and offer the best beach and swimming conditions on the island.
Hua Hin: beach walls that chase away the sand
Virtually all 30 kilometres of the Hua Hin and Cha-Am coastlines have been walled by homes, condos and resorts trying to extend their land as far seawards as possible. This destructive practice has made a huge ecological mess of the beaches here. The worst sections have lost most or all of their sand to wave erosion – a direct consequence of the wall construction. A few areas less affected by walls have been rewarded with more sand.
Many visitors to Hua Hin are disappointed to find their beachfront has little or no sand. If a nice sandy beach is important to you, do check carefully when seeking a hotel in this area. This website shows the beach in front of all resorts along this coast, and highlights the mess the beaches of Hua Hin and Cha-Am have become due to those destructive walls.
Pattaya: messy crowded beaches
Pattaya is the beach resort highest in the Gulf of Thailand. That’s not a great distinction, for this enclosed body of water is thoroughly polluted by the discards of tens of millions of Thais living north of here, with the pollution being channelled down in the various rivers that empty their unsavory contents into the top of the Gulf. However, this high in the Gulf the tides are not affected so directly by the meeting, and cancelling, of opposing tides. So while they follow the general high-low, seasonal shifts, Pattaya tides are even more complex.
During the daytime low tide – May through October – Pattaya’s beaches are not pretty. During the daytime high tide – November to March – they look much better, even if there is far less beach to be seen.
by John Everingham
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Ask John E, the author here. He has photographed 1,100+ hotels on virtually every beach in Thailand with beachfront accommodation (and more in regional countries) over the past 30 years. “I try to answer all queries, and help as best I can.” E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org