Forever in the shadow of its more famous neighbour, Hua Hin, 25km to the south, the resort of CHA-AM is nevertheless very popular with Thais on short breaks, and it sports one or two package-holiday high-rises and Western-style restaurants for Europeans, too. Mostly, though, it’s weekending families and partying student groups from Bangkok who eat and drink at the rows of umbrella-shaded tables and deckchairs on the sand, or brave the sea on banana boats or rubber tyres, the women clad modestly in T-shirts and shorts rather than bikinis. The long, straight beach here is pleasantly shaded, though rather gritty and very narrow at high tide, and the water is perfectly swimmable, if not pristine. During the week the pace of life in Cha-am is slow, and it’s easy to find a solitary spot under the thick canopy of casuarinas, particularly at the northerly end of the beach, but that’s rarely possible at weekends, when prices shoot up and traffic thickens considerably.
Cha-am has a functional pocket of development around Thanon Phetkasem (Highway 4), close to the junction with Thanon Narathip, the main access road to the beach, 1km to the east. However, the 3km seaside promenade of Thanon Ruamchit is where you’ll find most of the hotels, restaurants, a small police station (corner of Thanon Narathip), several internet shops and a few other tourist-oriented businesses; Thanon Ruamchit’s sois are numbered according to whether they’re north or south of Thanon Narathip.