If you live in the northern hemisphere and north of the 30th parallel, you’ve probably noticed the days getting shorter, the weather becoming colder and wetter. Maybe you’ve started daydreaming about tropical beaches, or perhaps even flipping through some brochures of tropical escapes. Maybe you’ve already booked yourself on a warm-weather adventure.

I’m not a beach person…

Just so you know, I don’t think of myself as a beach person. I have no desire to lie in the tropical sun for hours, baking myself to a crisp Yet, as soon as the days start getting shorter, what am I thinking about? A beach. In my mind’s eye I see the perfect beach: fine white sand, turquoise water, palm trees arching gracefully over the sand to provide some shade (and also hang your hammock). I can hear the gentle surf. The beach is mostly deserted, but there are a few people milling about in the distance (just so I feel safer). The water is warm, but not too warm; refreshing but not too cold. There is a soft, salty breeze in the air. The sun shines but doesn’t burn.

OK. Time to wake up. In 23 years of travels I’ve never found this beach. The trouble with beaches is that they can look perfect in photos, but when you actually get there, reality often doesn’t live up to expectations. The world has many magnificent beaches (most of which I have not explored yet because they cost a fortune – the Maldives being a good example). The world also has a lot of crummy beaches. Most fall somewhere in between.

Here is list of things I could have done without on some beaches I’ve visited:

  • Crowds of coconut-smelling tourists
  • Heat-stroke inducing temperatures
  • Sharp rocks at the bottom of the water
  • Slimy sand at the bottom of the water
  • Water too shallow to swim
  • Jellyfish in the water
  • Pick-pockets on the beach
  • Rip-tide currents
  • No shade
  • Grass floating in the water
  • Strong waves
  • Freezing water
  • Sand full of garbage (cigarette butts, bottle caps, etc)
  • Sandflies

Yes, I am picky, but as I said, I’m not really a beach person. Check out the photos below. If you want to daydream (and keep your head in the sand – pun intended) you can turn off the captions.

(Cape Town, South Africa)(Playa Ancon, Cuba)(Siquijor, Philippines)(Aitutaki, Cook Islands)(Aitutaki, Cook Islands)(Isla Zapatilla, Panama)(Isla Damas, Chile)(Nazaré, Portugal)(Serendipity Beach, Cambodia)(Boracay, Philippines)(San Cristobal, Galapagos)

Photos only speak to one of the senses: sight. And even then, they don’t show you everything. Add to the above the need to slather yourself with sunscreen (and possibly insect repellent) and the possibility of getting sunburned anyway (on the one square inch of skin you forgot to cream). Add the certainty of sand getting into your bathing suit, your bag, your shoes and everything else. It makes me itchy just thinking about it. I told you; I’m not a beach person.

My idea of enjoying a beach is sitting in the shade reading for an hour or two, interspersed with short swimming sessions, and a little beach-combing. I love hearing the sound of the surf, smelling the salty ocean tang, and walking bare feet in the wet sand by the edge of the water as the sun sets. After a few days, ideally involving a snorkelling trip or two, I’m ready to move on.

So far, my favourite beach destination has been Southern Thailand. I visited twice in the 90’s and spent some time on the islands of Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, as well as Railay beach and Phra Nang beach on the mainland near Krabi. Those were pretty close to my vision of the perfect beach. I suffered from food poisoning in Ko Lanta, almost got seasick on a day trip in Ko Phi Phi, and fell off the boat trying to disembark at Phra Nang, but to be honest, this was not the fault of the beach!

Trying to pick a beach in Thailand is no picnic!

There are so many beaches in Southern Thailand that Lonely Planet has published an entire guidebook covering only that region. I am leaving for Thailand in 25 days, and even though (as you may remember) I’m not a beach person, I’m eagerly trying to determine which islands and which beaches I’d most enjoy this time. This is no easy task. How do you know what a beach is really like by reading a two-year old description and looking at a few pictures? Things change so fast in Thailand. A beach that was nearly-deserted five years ago could now be covered in expensive resorts. And considering people’s different tastes, reading reviews is of limited help. This is hard work! (Yeah, I know, life is tough).

So what is it that so attract people to beaches, even those self-described “non-beach people” like me? Why this longing, this fascination? Is it because we evolved from fish and still hear the call of the ocean? (Wasn’t that poetic or what?) Whatever it is, I have to find that perfect Thai beach!

Do you have a favourite beach somewhere in the world? What’s so special about it?


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