They gaze across at each other from opposite ends of the upper Gulf of Thailand: Pattaya, an established beach resort now vibrating with excitement and activities, and the towns of Cha-Am and Hua Hin, more quiet and dispersed.
Lapped by aquamarine waters, both provide rich opportunities for sun-and-sand holidays, sea-sports and yachting with excursions to lush national parks and idyllic remote islands. Neighbouring countries are not far away — from Pattaya, you can drive to the border with Cambodia, and fromCha-Am Hua Hin to the Burmese border.
About two-hours drive from Bangkok, Pattaya is Thailand's premier beach resort and annually attracts hundreds of thousands of pleasure-seeking tourists from all over the world. Pattaya Beach hugs the coast in a four-kilometre arc. The northern part is a more quiet area of the resort while the southern part is hustling and bustling; both sides of the street are lined with shops of all kinds, department stores, restaurants, discotheques, bars and nightclubs. Visitors can windsurf, water ski, swim, sunbathe, snorkel, sail, or take trips to offshore coral islands.
They can rent water scooters to explore Pattaya bay, and motorcycles and jeeps to explore neighbouring beaches such as Jomtien, just south of Pattaya. Tennis enthusiasts can enjoy themselves at leading hotels' courts, and golfers can visit beautifully landscaped and challenging golf courses around Pattaya. In recent years, bowling alleys, snooker halls and shooting galleries offer further entertainment while Tiffany and other female-impersonation cabarets offer fascinating night shows with broader appeal.
Pattaya offers some of Thailand's choicest seafood in speciality restaurants. Steak houses and fast-food provide attractive alternatives. Gourmets find satisfaction in restaurants featuring Italian, Swiss, German, Hungarian, Scandinavian, Indian, Muslim, Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes.
Travel within the resort is most convenient by mini-buses that continually ply the Beach Road and Pattaya 2 Road in counter-clockwise circuits, picking up and dropping off passengers for only 5 bhat per person. For those who like it hot, every April,Pattaya puts on its most festive face for the annual festival, held at the height of the summer. Food and floral floats, beauty contests, stalls selling local delicacies, and a spectacular display of fireworks on the beach are only a few of the highlights that attract merry-makers. Not far from Pattaya, the province ofRayong is known for its fine beaches, tasty food and delectable durians. Sapphires and rubies can be found in Chanthaburi, while a little further on is Trat, Thailand's eastern-most province, about 400 kilometres from Bangkok.
Hemmed in by mountains, the Khao Banthat range serves as the natural boundary with Cambodia. There are many islands and islets with delightful natural scenery. About midway between Pattaya and Bangkok is the provincial seat of Chonburi, not only a well-known seaside destination, but also a major agricultural and industrial producer, with extensive sugar-cane, tapioca and coconut plantations, shallow and deep-water fishery, as well as manufacturing plants. Commercial activities predominate on the Pattaya side of the Gulf because that entire surrounding area is part of the Eastern Seaboard development zone, with its own major airport and deep-sea port. But for the more sedentary,Cha-Am/Hua Hin are the perfect all-weather holiday spots, with links to Thai history, too. His Majesty the King has one of his summer palaces in Hua Hin. One of Thailand's oldest hotels is located in that region, as is Thailand's first golf course.
The opportunities for exciting water-sport activities are as diverse as in Pattaya. The beach at Hua Hin is still undeveloped, but for many visitors, the beautiful bay and picturesque backdrop of green hills make this a fine place to relax. Surrounding Cha-Am/Hua Hin is a fascinating plethora of natural, cultural and historical attractions. Visitors must see Tham Phraya Nakhon, one of Thailand's most magnificent caves. Accessible only by a/30-minute boat-ride, it is highlighted by a couple of large holes in its roof, thus allowing sunliglnxtoshin^inside directly on its most popular attraction — a four-gabled roofing pavilion constructed in 1890. The result is a truly magnificent spectacle, specially if viewed around mid-day. The beauty and distinctive identity of this pavilion have made it the symbol of Prachuap Khiri Khan, the province in which Hua Hin is located. Also take in Tham Khao Yoi, a cave containing brilliant Buddha images of various attitudes before
The year-round green jungles of Kaeng Krachan National Park also mesmerize visitors. The park is Thailand's most extensive, occupies an area of 2,915 square kilometres, and has a dam and reservoir filled with water from the many rivers. Within the mountainous forest are beautiful peaks offering
scenic views, and the 18-level Thothip Waterfall. Apart from being beach resorts, Cha-Am/Hua Hin have one thing with their comrade resort, Koh Samui: both are served by Bangkok Airways. Indeed, the airport at Samui is perhaps Asia's only privately owned airfield and is a true delight to arrive at. Its lush landscape well-prepares the visitor for a holiday at one of Thailand's most pristine beach resorts, totally devoid of high-rise buildings and boasting some of the country's most lavishlyexotic hotels. The island has numerous lovely beaches and bays. It is virtually an island of coconuts and forested hills, with plenty of avenues for scuba-diving, snorkelling and fishing. Samui's best beaches line the northern and eastern coasts, the most popular being Chaweng and Lamai.
In 1860, King Mongkut also built a royal palace on Khao Wang hill, located in Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park which is open to daily visitation, except Monday and Tuesday. Go up Khao Wang either by foot or cable car. A second beautiful palace is the Phra Ratchaniwet Marukkhathayawan, located between Cha-Am and Hua Hin. King Rama VI used it as a holiday accommodation during the summer time. The palace is noted for three two-storey wooden pavilions facing the sea, and is referred to as "The Palace of Love and Hope". To sample yet another piece of royal history, stop by at Chao Sainran beach. Legend says that two Thai kings used to make royal visits here and enjoyed it so very much that they spent many nights there causing the villagers to call it the "Beach of Royal Leisure".