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I’ve been to deserted beaches in Zanzibar. I’ve swum with dolphins in Praia de Pipa in Brazil. I’ve seen clouds of gulls over Mancora in Peru. I’ve travelled all over South East Asia looking for white sands and towering palm trees. I’ve spent too long on beaches in India watching fishermen hauling in their nets and women splashing in the waves in tight wet sarees. I’ve tried lake beaches in Malawi and Uganda. I’ve sunbathed on empty beaches strewn with coconut husks in Tanzania. I’ve camped on Caribbean beaches in Colombia and I’ve spent childhood holidays staying on forlorn and windswept beaches in Britain. I just can’t get enough of beaches. I really am a beach addict.
At one point I even lived on a beach for 18 months. It was kind of an experiment to see if I would drift into an enlightened state through being surpassingly relaxed. It was also an experiment to see if I would get bored of the Thai beach that I chose for the experiment. The answers are that sadly I’m still chained by desire to the wheel of life and death and that no, I never got bored of living on a beach.
I chose the beach of Thong Nai Pan Noi because for too long I have considered this particular beach to be the epitome of a great beach. More than that: I considered Thong Nai Pan to be the apotheosis of a great beach. Thus, if I’m going to try and define a great beach it should be with reference to Thong Nai Pan Noi.
The first thing about a great beach is that it should be relatively undiscovered. This is not only an environmental must, but also inherent to the experience of a perfect beach. You should ideally walk through majestic palm trees and onto the white sands and see nothing but clear turquoise waters merging into green waters. The sand should be so white it reflects the sun and makes you squint. There should be no madding crowds with canopies, beer coolers, big cars and loud music. No ridiculously defunct swimming pools on the beach. No Bablesque high rise hotels. Just nature at its stunning best is best for me.
The next most important thing about a great beach, in my opinion, is beachfront accommodation. From my cheap bungalow in Thong Nai Pan I could hear the ocean lapping on the shore. I could look out the hole that was my window and see the moon through the swaying coconut palms. Not only do I like cheap beach accommodation, but I also like accommodation that does not drive away nature: when towering concrete comes to a beach the animals retreat and the beauty of a place fades as convenience grows. Yes mosquitoes are a pain and having a snake slide into your bungalow is a heart stopper but it is worth it to feel part of God’s not man’s glorious creation.
My next ‘must’ for a great beach is great local people. There is nothing more addictive than island life. Months can literally slip through your fingers like the sand on the beach and you wonder what you achieved. There is no point being in a hurry. There’s always time to stop and chat and enjoy a drink. For those lucky locals who have imbibed the liberating elixir of island life from childhood there is a definite calmness and openness that we city slickers find both infuriating and enchanting. Time is measured by things infinitely more valuable than minutes and hours.
Finally, my definition of a great beach must include a beach with a beach bar; but not just any beach bar. It must be made of local materials such as bamboo and coconut and have a make shift feel; just a basic counter, a bit of shade and lots of cold drinks. A place mostly deserted except for a couple of locals. I like a bar where when somebody does come in, you have the chance to have a real conversation and make a real friend.
Thong Nai Pan used to have all of this and more. Sadly half the beach has been sold to developers from Bangkok who are trying desperately to turn sand into a high rate of return. While we stayed there they knocked down cheap $5 a night bungalows as soon as we vacated them. We watched the ominous fad of the swimming pool take hold. We saw granite boulders chiseled away and trees cut down. Clean wide views of nature became cluttered with man-made lines. The price of everything went up. The locals grew a hint of misplaced avarice, the police decided they needed to investigate parties and those beach bars became cluttered with iPods, Amazon Kindle 3 readers, smart phones, laptops and people with nothing to say.
These pictures were taken by Carl Glancey using a Canon 5D Mark2. He specializes in Surrey wedding photography.