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Weekend trip: Cha-am is a hidden gem around 3 hours from Bangkok

Weekend trip: Cha-am is a hidden gem around 3 hours from Bangkok

Published on

24 Apr 2023

Published by

The Straits Times

CHA-AM, Thailand – Bangkok is an all-time favourite destination for many. But, this February, I skip the crowded malls and jam-packed sois for a coastal getaway in nearby Cha-am.


Not many Singaporeans have heard of Cha-am, a 30-minute drive from the more popular Hua Hin – one of Thailand’s top beach getaways located about three hours by road from Bangkok, and a summer destination for Thai royalty.


Cha-am is often described as what Hua Hin used to be. The cheap seafood, fewer visitors and more relaxed beaches make Cha-am a favourite weekend destination for locals.


This may change in time, as the Thai government announced plans in 2018 to improve road, rail and airport infrastructure and boost tourism to the Thai Riviera, a name for the districts located along the Thailand Gulf, south of Bangkok.


These upgrades have been delayed by Covid-19 but, if you relish an undiscovered gem, now is the time to visit Cha-am before accessibility brings the crowds. Here are my top things to do there.


Be mesmerised by bats


Catch the nightly bat exodus from Nayang Bat Cave, an unexpected highlight of the area.


The faint-hearted need not fear, as this is not a visit to the actual cave where the bats live, but to a viewing platform located on a private farm in Nayang Village nearby.


Every evening, two million tiny fruit bats wake up at sunset and head out of the cave in search of dinner.


One might imagine a Dracula movie scenario where swarms of bats flap by screeching, but the reality is more orderly and surprisingly mesmerising, like a National Geographic documentary in real time.


First, a small black stream of bats emerges from the cave like an errant spire of campfire smoke. This ribbon grows thicker as more bats awaken, pulsing and swaying to nature’s invisible rhythm. Hawks circling nearby take this opportunity to pounce on a bat or two for dinner.


After about 10 minutes, the pulsating stream shifts with the wind and scatters. Several bats zip past us as they spread out to the surrounding orchards and farms in search of insects and fruit. They will return to the cave before dawn.


You can visit the bat-viewing platform ( on your own. There is no entrance fee, though you are encouraged to donate to the family whose home the platform is located in.


Or book a guided tour with SO Sofitel Hua Hin Resort, which costs 500 baht (S$19) a person, including transport, binoculars rental, drinks and snacks while waiting for the bats.


Hike a legendary trail


Between Bangkok and Cha-am, concrete highways and buildings give way to pastures and the occasional limestone karst peaks that litter the landscape.


Spend a morning hiking up one of these hilly clusters, known as Khao Nang Phanthurat Forest Park (, located about 15 minutes from Cha-am beach.


According to a local folk tale, Nang Phanthurat is the name of a giantess who was able to disguise herself as a human. When her adopted human son Phra Sang discovered the deception, he stole her treasures and left, and Nang Phanthurat died of grief.


The park is named after her because the mountains look like the prone body of a giant woman from afar.


This legend informs viewpoints and landmarks found throughout the park such as Lady Glass Shoe Field, named for its unusual shape, and Khok Chang viewpoint, where the giantess was said to have hunted elephants for snacks.


A steep but short stair climb takes me to a 4m-tall, oval-shaped hole dubbed Nang Phanthurat’s Mirror, which the giantess was said to have checked to see if her human disguise held up before returning to her adopted son.


The main Khao Nang Phanthurat Trail is about 3km long and takes about three hours to hike, passing through rocky trails and bamboo forests. It is generally well-paved, though the terrain gets rougher as you ascend and the rocks can be sharp.


Wear hiking shoes with good grip if you plan to ascend the trails. You can camp at the open ground next to the visitor centre if you take along your own gear.


Khao Nang Phanthurat Forest Park is free to enter and opens daily from 8.30am to 5pm.


Take a beach day


Cha-am’s biggest draw is its 5km of white sandy beaches that attract Thai vacationers in droves on the weekends. While generally safe to paddle in, the waters are less clear than those at Hua Hin and can be choppy at high tide.


Weekdays are more relaxing, but on weekends, the beach comes to life with sea sports activities such as banana boat and jet skis, and horseback rides up and down the beach. It costs 100 baht to rent a deck chair and umbrella, with no time limit.


Those looking for luxury should book a hotel with a private beach, such as SO Sofitel Hua Hin Resort (, where I stay. The property is located about 10 minutes from Cha-am beach.


With three swimming pools and a private beach area behind a low protective sea wall, there is always a quiet spot I can retreat to. Rooms start from 4,000 baht a night.


Where to eat


Have your fill of seafood at the popular local restaurant Khrua Khiang Khluen (, with coastal views north of Cha-am beach.


Staff speak mostly Thai but the menu has some English translations, enough for my group of four to order a spread that includes palm-size river prawns, curry soft-shell crab, seafood tom yum soup and squid fried rice.


Four dishes of fresh seafood, including Chang beer, come up to just over 1,000 baht in total, which works out to a very affordable $10 a person.


Cha-am also has Instagrammable spots such as Panna Cafe ( You can sprawl on suspended nets amid paddy fields and grazing cows while sipping on a 70-baht coconut latte.


For those who cannot get enough of the beach, try mocktails and cocktails from Tumlay Cafe and Bar ( – which range from 140 to 250 baht a drink – while snapping wanderlust-worthy shots with sea-facing swings and cute signs in the background.


The site is also home to Away By A Day (, where you can stay in charming refurbished camper vans by the sea for 2,000 to 3,500 baht a night.


Cha-am’s night market operates only on Wednesdays. From Friday to Sunday, make the 30-minute drive to Hua Hin’s Nong Kae district, where vendors at Cicada Market ( hawk local crafts and Tamarind Market ( is full of food stalls. Located side by side, you get dinner and entertainment all in one place.


Meanwhile, Hua Hin Night Market near Hua Hin Beach is open every evening with stalls selling snacks and souvenirs, and many adjacent seafood restaurants.


  • Jaclynn Seah is The Occasional Traveller (, a freelance travel writer and blogger juggling a full-time job with perpetual wanderlust. She was hosted by SO Sofitel Hua Hin.


  • Weekend Trip is a series that looks at regional destinations through fresh eyes. For more travel stories, go to



Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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