Balmy days at Bang Niang beach

Saturday, December 03, 2011
Bang Niang beach, Phangnga, Thailand
Bang Niang has been an excellent choice for our couple of weeks’ relaxation. It is a fantastically laid back resort with a scattering of hotels and guest houses, most small boutique style establishments, tastefully designed and set in beautiful tropical gardens. None are more than 3 storeys high to comply with the "nothing higher than a palm tree" rule. There are restaurants and bars galore, but all unsophisticated and none catering to the tackier side of Thailand’s tourist trade. The beach itself is long, clean and sandy and delightfully tranquil with a complete lack of noisy watersports and persistent beach vendors. Bliss!!

It is difficult to find fault with our accommodation . The room is enormous, clean and very comfortable. We have a large flat screen TV with 67 channels, wifi, a powerful shower and a spacious balcony overlooking the pool. Breakfast is an attractively presented buffet with European and Asian foods on offer. As is generally the case in Asian hotels the staff appear to outnumber the guests and so the service is excellent with people falling over themselves to help you. There is a choice of two pools and also the opportunity to use the beach front sunbeds at another of their hotels close by.

We have fallen easily into a lazy routine of spending the morning at one of the hotel pools, adjourning to a beachfront bar for lunch and spending the afternoon on the beach. There are a couple of lovely spots for sunset drinks and a good choice of eating places for later. The food is cheap and delicious but just now and again a bit too heavy on the chillies. Prices seem to vary little from one restaurant to another (£2 -£3 for a main course), whether you choose to eat at a large establishment on the main road or a simple beach bar on the sand . We have had excellent food wherever we have been but have probably enjoyed eating on the beach most - a simple candle lit table, feet buried in the warm sand, mouthwatering freshly prepared dishes, the relaxing sound of waves lapping gently on the beach and a light show of lanterns floating soundlessly up into the sky and out over the Andaman Sea until they are just pinpricks of light. This is one rather touristy practice that has caught on here. The "sky lanterns" are supposed to bring good fortune and the idea is to make a wish as you light the burner under the large paper lantern and release it.

Most nights have ended at the Piranha Bar where the music is good and there’s always a warm welcome. We have got to know the owner Pak quite well. He hails us as “Hello, Man City” every evening when we arrive. One evening he was really excited to see us “Ah Man City, I have found Man U for you” and dragged us over to a young couple who looked rather startled to have us plonked down at their table . They turned out to be really nice people, despite their football allegiance, and we got on well. They were from the Bolton area but knew Stalybridge, as everyone does, as they’d been to the Buffet Bar. They had also been to Burma so we were interested to hear of their experiences there.

The weather has improved over our stay. The first few days brought frequent thunderstorms and downpours. We still get the occasional tropical rainstorm, often late in the afternoon, but are now waking to a clear blue sky every morning. It is very hot and often humid.

We are vastly outnumbered by the Germans here in Bang Niang but our hotel seems to cater in the main for Scandinavian visitors. I am glad to have brought a particularly long book to read as the hotel book shelves are weighed down with Nordic sagas and the selection of books written in the English language is very small. It was something of a relief, however, to find that this area seems not yet to have been discovered by the Russians . English is the language used by all the locals when conversing with the tourists but one or two bars are heavily slanted towards German tourists. We were surprised to find that many of the staff at the hotels, restaurants and in particular in the tailor shops, are from Burma. We have had many a long chat with them. They invariably become very excited to hear that we are going to be visiting their country and keen to tell us where we should go and where their family home is.

The Khao Lak area was badly affected by the 2004 tsunami and there are now warning signs and evacuation routes posted throughout the village. The wave hit Bang Niang beach at 10.30am on Boxing Day morning. The daughter of the king of Thailand was holidaying here with her family. A police boat was on patrol as the king’s grandson jet skied near their beachfront resort. When the wave hit, the grandson lost his life;  the police boat was lifted and carried 2 kilometres inland. It has been left where it came to rest, close to the market on the main coastal road, and is now a memorial to the Tsunami. Amazingly only one of the crew of ten on the boat was killed. At the site there are lots of gruesome statistics and photographs of the tsunami as well as locally made handicrafts offered for sale by people who lost their homes and livelihoods. In the UK the media coverage seemed to focus on Phuket where there were many European tourists on holiday. In fact 279 people lost their lives in Phuket whilst the death toll here was officially 4225 . There were hundreds of bodies that could not be identified - families who perished without any survivors and large numbers of unidentifiable Burmese immigrant workers.

We have not done much in the way of exploring the area during our stay. We visited this part of Thailand many years ago and so have already been to most of the places to which excursions are offered. The most popular trips are diving excursions to the Similan and Surin islands, not our cup of tea. The second most popular pursuit seems to be to hire a motorbike for the day. This is very cheap but we have seen far too many plaster casts and badly bruised and grazed limbs to be tempted by this. So, apart from one trip by bus to the nearby town of Khao Lak, our exertions have been restricted to walks along the beach, lengths of the swimming pool and the occasional stroll around the thrice weekly market. I did try to enrol for a cooking class. They needed a minimum of two people I was told but they would take my details and contact me. I heard nothing more.

So the days have flown by and it is time to move on. We have thoroughly enjoyed our two weeks in Bang Niang and can foresee a return visit sometime in the future. But now, ready for a change of scene, we are looking forward to the next stage of our travels, which will take us to Burma.
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