The ironic thing is that right next door is one of the most touristy, kitschiest, and overdeveloped in Thailand: Pattaya. It is loud, it is bright, it is built on the sex trade. That is why Jomtien, the very next town south, comes off as a different planet.
But being almost on top of Thailand’s flesh capital — a small promontory separates the two towns — does have a few advantages. Getting Jomtien is a snap; Pattaya is rightly hailed as “Bangkok’s beach;” forget how it looks on the map, Bangkok is not a seaside town. Because Pattaya really is the closest beach community, a major highway connects the two. Once in Pattaya, Jomtien is a quick cab ride. Seriously, it’s like 10 minutes.
In fact, it is not unusual for people to get their hotels in Pattaya, but go to the beach in Jomtien. While Pattaya certainly has a beach, it also has a lot of traffic. Speedboats, if they are not zipping around in the bay, are moored to the shore. Also in the bay are jet skis, parasailors, banana boats, paddle sailors, kayakers, windsurfers, and floating restaurants. It is bumper to bumper, so much so that swimmers take their lives into their hands if they want to actually swim in the ocean. It is not a surprise that many Pattaya visitors stick to the pools of their respective hotels…or go to Jomtien for the day.
So to be fair, it would be false billing to say that Jomtien is “undiscovered.” There is clear evidence of development, what with this high-rise and that. The better term is “overshadowed,” and in this case, that’s a good thing. So much attention is lavished on Pattaya (it really is the moneymaker) that Jomtien very easily gets away with going at a much slower pace. It’s not trying to compete. Sure, there are hotels and bars, but they are far and away more tranquil and relaxed. And then there is the beach.
No trash. No kiosks. No in-your-face peddlers. No titty bars. This is the Thailand you see in the brochures, but never quite in reality beyond the manicured, hypercontroled environment of a hotel compound. Jomtien is just this big, huge expanse of sand that ever so slowly recedes into the clean, gentle waves of the South China Sea. Green headlands form a perfect bay. There is an island in the distance. The air is soft and warm and clear. And it is quiet. There are no jet skis or floating restaurants. It was the sand, the sea, and me.
All I heard were waves and wind and gulls. The ocean was warm, the water sparkling. When I inhaled, the most pungent scent my New York City lungs could detect was sea salt. Looking out across the ocean was looking on paradise. The waves were Rated G ripples, and they were deceptively shallow. I could walk out a good distance from the shore and still have the H2O only be up to my waist. No wipe-out danger here. And since the troubles of the world did not follow me here, I simply let them go.
Still not sold? This is a beach where there is still wildlife. When the tide goes out and water is still draining from the sand, tiny fish make their homes in the tiny rivulets making their way back to the oceans. Once the water did clear away, the crabs came out. Little itty bitty ones that immediately went about digging burrows. When this happens, there are some sections of Jomtien’s beach that seem to be made little pearls of sand; actually, they are the balls of sediment these crabs shovel out. It was like a National Geographic shoot.
It wasn’t just me and the crabs and fish. Food carts routinely make the rounds, and HOLY JESUS IT IS THE BEST SEAFOOD I EVER HAD. I’m talking shrimp the size of your palm! Clams and muscles the length of your fingers! All of it was clearly caught that day and all but cooked right in front of me; the freshness cannot be beat and it is pure Thai cooking without any appeasement to Western palates. Of course, that means things tend to be a tad on the spicy side, but who cares! There’s plenty of bottled water to go around. You’ll need it; it gets hot in Thailand, food notwithstanding.
Think of Jomtien as one of those destinations hiding in the radiance beaming off some other place. People don’t go there because something jet a little bit closer takes up all the spotlight. In travel, however, it always pays to wander just a little outside the glare of all the LEDs and neon. You find stuff.
I found a beach I had to myself that I didn’t have to pay out the nose to get. When was the last time you had that? I mean, really?