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Bangkok Travelbug August 11 – Bang Saen – the lovers’ tragedy
July 29, 2011

Bang Saen – the lovers’ tragedy

Welcome back to the August 2011 Travelbug. This month we move down the coast of Chonburi to the sea-side town of Bang Saen. It’s a popular holiday place with the Thais. Besides having a rather sad story behind it, Bang Saen also has its place in South-east Asian history.

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Bang Saen, Chonburi

Bang Saen is a seaside town in tambon Saen Suk, a sub-district in the city district of Chonburi city. The town is about 14 km from Chonburi city and about an hour and a half drive from Bangkok.

Bang Saen beach

In August 1967 the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, met in Bang Saen and negotiated the contents of a document that led to the founding of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations).

That document became known as the ASEAN Declaration.

Bang Saen is a university town, the Burapa University with its medical faculty is located here. But the place is popular for the 3 km of beach where mostly Thais come to spend the day by the sea eating, drinking and chatting with friends on the beach under the shade of beach umbrellas.

There’s a rocky hill at the tip of a headland north of the beach. Up on this hill stands a famous shrine also very popular with the Thais.

This is the setting to the story that is about to unfold.

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The lovers’ tragedy

In the 18th C, a rich family lived in a small fishing village on the coast of Chonburi. One day, Saen a son from this family was trying to retrieve his kite which fell into a garden. While he was doing so, he met a beautiful girl called Muk whose father owned the house and garden.

Saen and Muk grew up together and fell in love. Saen gave Muk a ring and they vowed that only death could separate them. That vow would prove to be ominous.

Saen’s father disapproved of his son’s relationship with a girl from a poor family. Arrangements were made for Saen to marry a girl from another rich family.

On the wedding day, the broken-hearted Muk returned Saen’s ring to him, said goodbye and ran out of his house. Muk ran along the beach up to a craggy hill to the north with Saen hot on her heels.

When Saen finally caught up with Muk, she was standing at the edge of the cliff. As Saen called out to her, Muk turned round, "wai" to her loved one for the last time and plunged to her death into the sea. In desperation, Saen jumped after her.

In memory of these two young and tragic lovers the villagers named the beach Bang Saen and the hill, Khao Sam Muk. The shrine on top of Khao Sam Muk is dedicated to the Goddess Sam Muk. Her statue stands like a guardian angel over the fishing community below.

A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.

Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

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Bang Saen beach

It was almost noon when I arrived in Bang Saen beach. As it was a weekday, there weren’t many visitors. A few beachcombers were out at low tide.

A favourite pastime at low tide

But most of the visitors were under the shade of the beach umbrellas enjoying a long lunch which probably started long before I arrived.

Beach vendors lining the beach

To appreciate places like Bang Saen, you’ll have to enjoy it the way Thais do. Get a group of friends, pick a comfortable spot, order your food and drinks and while the afternoon away.

You don’t have a complete meal in one sitting. Take your food slowly, there’ll be more vendors passing by with more goodies, save some space for them. When you’ve had your fill, take a nap in the cool sea breeze.

Relaxing by the beach

It’s like Hong Kong’s "yum chou cha" (having morning tea) which is actually a marathon lunch, except that it’s by the sea. I’ve seen some lunch sessions that stretched till 6:00 pm! That’s the way to enjoy Bang Saen.

By late afternoon, the tide was coming in and the sea was getting rough. Evening by the beach is my favourite time, a chance to catch the glowing sunset reflecting off the water.

Sunset over Bang Saen

Enjoy Bang Saen by night with dinner in one of the beach restaurants and have a drink while enjoying the sea breeze and the sounds of the crashing waves as the tide comes in.

It wasn’t busy in Bang Saen during that period, just a steady trickle of diners to the restaurants. The atmosphere in the evening was peaceful and pleasant, in stark contrast to an evening out in Bangkok.

The early morning revealed another face of Bang Saen. Beach vendors have yet to start and visitors haven’t arrived. Traffic was light on the beach road and it was calm and serene. It’s a good time to take a walk on the beach.

Morning in Bang Saen

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Khao Sam Muk

The cape, half way along the coastal road between Ang Sila and Bang Saen, protrudes almost a km out into the sea. A long ridge runs along the cape where there’s a beautiful park with lots of monkeys scampering right onto the road. The rocky hill is right at the tip of the cape with cactus growing between the cracks.

Khao Sam Muk

It was from this cliff that the jilted Muk jumped to her death. The hill Khao Sam Muk is named after her. The shrine dedicated to the Goddess Sam Muk is built into the side of this hill.

Chao Mae (Goddess) Sam Muk Shrine"

Within the shrine, there were several altars dedicated to different deities.

On the upper level there’s an impressive statue of the Goddess Sam Muk gazing down on the sea below.

Goddess Sam Muk

A road called "rob khao sam muk" goes around the hill, with a wide walkway overlooking the sea.

Going round Khao Sam Muk

Around the bend at the tip of the cape, I found a small shrine also dedicated to the Goddess Sam Muk. There’s a statue of a monkey in the shrine and there were several live monkeys running around as well.

I decided to go down Khao Sam Muk and the way I came and I am glad I did. On the way down I passed the fishermen’s pier where the fishing boats dock to bring in their day’s haul.

Fishermen’s pier

Further down there’s another huge statue of the Goddess Sam Muk just outside Wat Trai Sam Muk Chayaram. Like the statue in the shrine up on the hill, this statue is also facing the sea to the north-east.

Goddess Sam Muk, may all your wishes come true

Walk through the Khao Sam Muk Park; enjoy the greenery and the monkeys.

I leave you with two memorable images from this trip; one of Bang Saen beach and the other at the Goddess Sam Muk Shrine on Khao Sam Muk, two places named after two young people who couldn’t find happiness in their short and tragic lives.

Yet these two places must have made so many people happy over the years. In the midst of all this, the tragic tale is often forgotten and so is the fact that Bang Saen is actually the birthplace of ASEAN.

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Map of Chonburi city and Bang Saen

View Bang Saen, Chonuri in a larger map

How to get there

Take a mini-van from the Victory Monument in Bangkok. Fare is 100 baht. The mini-van station is near exit 4 of the skytrain station and the Century Plaza.

Drop off at the Bang Saen junction. The Galaxy Entertainment Complex is right at the junction. Catch a red "song taeow" (pick-up) to Bang Saen. The fare is 10 baht. The "song taeow" will make a detour into the side lane for other passengers. Don’t panic, it will eventually end up on the main road leading to the beach.

To get back take a "song taeow" to Chonburi. The fare is 20 baht. Get off at the junction indicated on the map which is just after the Chonburi Hospital and catch a motor-cycle taxi to Eastern Hotel where there are mini-vans going to the Victory Monument in Bangkok.

There are also tour buses from Eastern Hotel going to Mor Chit the northern bus terminal and Ekamai the eastern bus terminal in Bangkok.

Getting around Bang Saen

There are three main roads in the Bang Saen which visitors should know. The first links the Sukhumvit Road to the beach. The road is called "long had bang saen", literally road leading to Bang Saen beach. This is Bang Saen’s main street where the university and Laem Thong Mall are located.

The red "song taeow" plying the Chonburi/Bang Saen route pass on this road. There are also motor-cycle taxis here.

This roundabout is the major landmark in Bang Saen

Bang Saen Road 1 runs northwards from the roundabout (to the right in the photo) along the beach and goes all the way to Khao Sam Muk. Most of the hotels are along this stretch of road. The "song taeow" ply this road.

If there aren’t enough passengers going to where you are going, you’ll have to charter the whole vehicle. I chartered the vehicle to Khao Sam Muk from the beach for 50 baht one way.

South of the roundabout (to the left in the photo) is the Bang Saen Lang Road (Lower Bang Saen Road) where there are more hotels and restaurants. There is no public transport along this road.

Where to stay

Pick a hotel that’s within walking distance of the roundabout for ease of public transport and the availability of restaurants and convenience stores. I chose the Rimtalay Resort along Lower Bang Saen Road which was 1,500 per night with no breakfast.

Rimtalay Resort (from top – bottom) hotel building, room, balcony,
view from the balcony

The Nanachart Bang Saen 500 m away is around 1,100 with breakfast and free Wi-Fi, a far better deal (prices are in July 2011 during the off peak season and on a weekday). However it’s further away from the main road.

Here are some of the other hotels in Bang Saen.

Le Casa Bang Saen Royal Sammuk Villa

Sammuk Resort Yanadin Serviced Apartment

For more please see hotels in Chonburi

Where to eat

During the day, the beach vendors sell various types of food along the entire beach. They close at 6:00 pm. That’s when the beach restaurants open. There are several along the Lower Bang Saen Road where I stayed.

The main street has got more restaurants. There are two 7/11 stores in the area, one near the roundabout and the other next to the Rimtalay Resort.

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Next month

Chanthaburi – Gem of the East

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Eric Lim

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