After leaving the Wang Saen Suk Hell and Heaven Gardens, my friend Ying and I caught a songthaew to Chonburi’s Bang Saen Beach. (Ying asked me about the English word for songthaew. I explained that there isn’t one, because we don’t let people ride around in the tray of pick-up trucks and hence have no need for the song thaew or ‘two benches’ in the back. But I did teach her the word ‘ute’). Again, I was sussing out a place as a setting for my WIP and it proved to be perfect.
Bang Saen Beach is for locals — and not hi-so locals, as Ying pointed out. It’s a beach for ordinary Thai people. This translates as:
Shade trumps sun: coconut palms line the beach, but this alone doesn’t cut it. Beach umbrellas cluster around the palms, overlapping like fishscales to block out the sun, and taking up half the sand. You can hire deck-chairs and tables on the beach beneath the umbrella (30 baht per seat), or spread plastic mats under the coconut palms. The folks who hire out the inner tubes and jetskis have their own umbrellas on the sand. No one lies out in the sun.
Food trumps swimming: The path along the beach is lined with food vendors cooking a fabulous array of seafood, and offering sweet drinks, roti and snow cones. You place your order and they bring the food to your table under the beach umbrellas (Ying and I ate fried rice with crab, barbequed squid and green papaya salad). Vendors wander among the tables offering trays of deep-fried prawns and crab, sliced fresh fruit, clear plastic bags of spicy salad, buckets of ice and bottles of water. Many people bring their own rice in baskets or pots. Beer and local whisky flow freely.
Clothing trumps skin: partly out of modesty and partly to avoid acquiring an unflattering tan (traditionally associated with poor rural labourers), if they swim at all, Thai people swim fully dressed. With the exception of a few younger kids, I saw no one in swimwear. Soaking wet clothes are not really a liabilty, though, when it’s 36 degrees!
Fun rules: When I was taking notes on what sounds I could hear around me, laughter featured heavily among the chatter, electronic devices, jet ski engines, and the rhythmic clicking of a pinwheel in the wind. Little kids laughed as they jumped waves and floated in tyre inner tubes. Older kids laughed as they pedalled tandem bikes or clung to banana boats towed by speedboats. Adults laughed at shared jokes or funny faces pulled by sleeping babies, speaking which…
Sleeping is perfectly acceptable: Babies fall asleep at the bottle or on towels over shoulders. Grown ups fall asleep with bellies full of food. Everyone is happy.
There’s never a bad time to shop: in addition to food, you can buy inflatable rings and beach balls, clothing, plastic mats, sarongs, toys…
As I say, the perfect setting for the scene I had in mind.
(Special thanks to Ying for a wonderful day.)