I’ve been heading to Jomtien for weekend escapes, literally now for decades. It’s only a 2-hour drive from Bangkok on what has become an increasingly easy route.
I like to stay on the stretch of beach called Dong Tan which is also known as Jomtien’s gay beach, though you’d be forgiven these days for not recognizing it as such until the masseurs and gay porn hawkers start to make their rounds. There still are a lot of gay men on the beach, a smattering of lesbians and the occasional transgendered individual, but with the development of a few smart resorts and condo’s along this stretch, the beach populous is now far more mixed and it no longer feels the domain of the beach bummers. A bit of shame as I always found the spectacle of speedo-clad glistening gym bod’s playing volleyball in front of me (sadly no longer prevalent) a very pleasant distraction.
The beach isn’t your stereotypical white sandy tropical Thai beach, but it’s cleaner than Pattaya’s and easy to get to. The water here isn’t clear either, but it’s pleasant to swim in if you avoid the seasonal jellyfish, which one year I did not, much to my detriment.
The Dong Tan stretch, at the north end of Jomtien Beach is a lot quieter, without a main public road running between resorts and the sand, and without activities such as jetski and parasailing which are scattered along the main Jomtien stretch. The seating on the beach here is a shade better than the usual rows of deckchairs too. While they are still an option, the front few rows of many beach side set-ups here comprise of cushioned loungers, where staff are happy to ensure you’re shaded or bathed in the blistering Thai sun, day long, as is your desire. There’s a 100 Baht charge for your lounger no matter how long you stay, and while you’re able to bring your own food and drink without charge, I often find it easier to order from them as they have full menus of Thai and Western food supplied by nearby restaurants and bars at good prices. These are from good establishments, and I’ve never been ill from anything I’ve eaten there, whereas I had the worst food poisoning of my life from a passing beach hawker’s king prawns. I usually bring a few bottles of my own prosecco though, and they keep one going in an ice bucket for me while storing the others in their cooler.
The hawkers who walk this stretch are quite varied, selling ice creams, fruit, seafood (avoid!), deep fried thai snacks, dried squid (fragrant if one stops in front of you), photocopied international newspapers of the day, books, hill tribe crafts, henna body painting, statues, porn (!) and fake electrical goods. There are also registered masseurs and masseuses identified by their blue smocks. The ladies also offer manicures, pedicures and foot care at different levels of skill. Best to wait and see how happy another customer is with their work before engaging, in case they’re not so hot at what they do. Massages can either be done on your lounger with a beach view, or behind the seating areas which is a bit too public a place for my liking while I’m having my fat kneaded like I’m in bake-off.
If you crave crystal clear water and soft, blindingly bright, clean sand beaches, it’s only a half hour speed boat trip away on Koh Larn, which is a great way to spend a Wednesday while Dong Tan beach (and Pattaya Beach) are both closed for cleaning. (Not sure who thought it a good idea to close both beaches on the same day – presumably those with shares in businesses on Koh Larn.) Speed boats can often be arranged / negotiated through one of the friendly staff on Dong Tan beach, or by walking down to the area where the main beach road starts, which is where many of the operators leave from.
My favorite time of day on Dong Tan Beach is sunset, and they’re usually quite stunning any time of year. As the sun loses its ferocity and starts to sink over Larn island, the beach umbrellas come down and the staff start to pack up their equipment uncovering a smattering of hangers on dotted around. All along the beach, guys strip to the waist and start raking the sand ready for the following day’s business. As evening approaches, the sea takes on a unique metallic glaze and the clouds’ pink hues gradually intensify to a molten red glow as if the sky were erupting. Staff are happy to let you remain and keep ordering drinks until it gets dark, although we usually get a couple in, pay up and sit on the sand if it looks like they’re only hanging on for us. This “magic hour” is not only stunning, but being suddenly exposed by the removal of the umbrellas, it becomes a little more social. I’m not sure if this is due to the uncovering of everyone from beneath the shade of their colorful canopies, inhibitions resulting from of a day of boozing on the beach or through a combination of both, but strangers seem to start talking to each other more once the brollies have gone.
Jomtien is a quiet little beach town compared to Pattaya with just enough on its main strip to keep you fed and watered on a quiet weekend away without having to head in to Pattaya. It doesn’t have any mall or shops to speak of other than a few stalls selling typical tourist tat and beach paraphernalia but there are plenty of restaurants, bars, resorts, massage parlors (above board and otherwise), to enjoy. If you’d like to enjoy a good Thai massage but worry about what you might be offered, take a walk up to the Jomtien Complex where you’ll find the Thai Blind Massage Institute. Many people hail blind massage in Thailand as the best available.
There are some excellent restaurants in and around Jomtien Complex too. This area is 90% gay bars and gay massage, but in amoungst are a few friendly open bars with pool tables, and an impressive Indian Restaurant, Italian Restaurant, and British Restaurant (serving great pies,) all of which I have very enjoyable meals at.
Some of gay bars can be good fun too, no matter what your persuasion, with a couple of them putting on fairly amateur, but enjoyable drag shows.
If you crave something a bit livelier, Songthaews (known as Baht busses in this area) run between Jomtien and Pattaya for 10 Baht per passenger, where you will find a plethora of entertainment including the more professional Alcazar Cabaret (ladyboy show), which hosts the annual Miss International Queen Pageant. Walking Street is a popular eye-opener with go-go bars, working girls on public display, 4D cinemas, restaurants and bars (some Western style with live music, and others Thai hostess bars where you can enjoy a few games of pool with friends or with one of the staff). It’s bustling with tourists and tour groups taking in the seedy sights and there’s a presence of tourist police who comprise Thais and foreigners working with the Thai police to assist in any disputes or problems.
Walking along the beach road you’ll find shops ranging from touristy stalls to large modern malls and of course many diverse bars and restaurants. Central is a fairly recent addition to Pattaya where you can enjoy a movie and at Royal Garden Plaza the entertainment includes “Ripleys Believe it or not! World of Entertainment“. On the top floor here are a couple of public 3D immersive rollercoaster rides and it’s always huge (free) fun to watch people try these. Most end the experience crouching on the floor screaming, taking the 3D head sets off with deep embarrassment to a round of applause from the large cackling crowd that built up to enjoy their torture. Be warned that the 3D Maze has strobes and is also really not suitable if you’re claustrophobic.
Coming out of Royal Garden Plaza, beach side and turning right, there’s a German-Thai Brewery called Hopf Brew House which is kiddy friendly, serves some great beers (in great receptacles) does excellent pizza and has quality live music on later in the evening. For late night entertainment, I like Hollywood which is a very Thai experience. It’s a large concert hall where you sit on stools around tables in rows facing the stage where live bands play mostly Thai but also some Western popular music, along to backing dancers performing some lively routines. The later it gets, the wilder and towards the end it’s often shoulder to shoulder dancing. Handily there are some fantastic late night open air Thai eateries opposite Hollywood for when you come out merry and with the munchies.
My pick of places to stay in Jomtien are Avalon Beach Resort or Rabbit Resort, if you want to be on Dong Tan Beach, mere steps from the sand, the Mermaid Beach Resort if you’ve a little less of a budget and don’t mind a little walk, or View Talay Villas if you’re looking for real privacy and are happy with a long walk or motorbike taxi ride to the beach. I’ll review each of these in a following post.