There aren’t many places in the world I despise or fill me with disgust. One of those places is Ko Phi Phi, Thailand. I’ve never understood the hype about it or why people like it so much. Other than being a place to buy expensive drinks, it really has no redeeming qualities. Just like Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.
For some reason, Ko Phi Phi has remained “the” place to go in Thailand, much like Sunny Beach is the hot spot to visit in Bulgaria, especially if you’re Russian, English (northern English, specifically), or Scandinavian.
Ten years ago, Sunny Beach was a quiet seaside town with beautiful beaches and good clubs. But as with so many other destinations in the world, as word got out about how nice it was, it got more and more popular and more and more built for tourists. It went the way of Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Cancun and turned into a gawdy resort town.
Everyone told me Sunny Beach was a good party, but that didn’t really sell the place to me. Another beach party town? Great. I had just spent three weeks in Ios working on my tan and ouzo-drinking skills. But the people I was traveling with were heading there, so I figured I’d join them. We were all going the same route back to Sofia anyway.
While the nightlife is amazing (if you like to party until 6am with drunk 18-year-olds, that is), there’s really nothing else special about this place. Absolutely nothing. I stayed three nights (two nights too long) because I ran into friends from Ios.
You’re probably thinking, Come on, Matt, is it really that bad? There must be something nice about it. You’re right, there is something nice about it — it has a pretty amazing water park nearby. It’s huge, with some great water slides. I love water parks, and this is a really good one. But you can go to the water park as a day trip from Varna or Burgas and avoid Sunny Beach entirely.
So why do I hate Sunny Beach so much?
Well, first, the beach itself. It’s covered in beach chairs. So many beach chairs that you can barely put down a towel. I’m not exaggerating. Here’s a photo:
Look at all those chairs! This photo is from the end of the beach where there’s some sand, but if you look in the distance, you see chairs spreading out like a virus. In fact, it’s not really a beach so much as a parking lot full of chairs placed over some sand. They should rename this place Sunny Chair.
Next, there’s the water. A few hours north in Varna, the water, despite being near a port, is crystal clear, beautiful, and inviting. It was just as wonderful as the water I played in in Greece. But in Sunny Beach? The water is polluted and filled with an algae bloom so large that the shoreline turned green. If you go in, you walk out looking like a swamp thing.
My Bulgarian friends say this only happens “sometimes” and that the water is “usually” nice. But when I pressed them a bit more, they got vague on just how little “sometimes” was. I got the impression that sometimes might be a bit more frequent than they let on.
Lastly, Sunny Beach is tacky tourism central. It’s full of glowing neon lights, bars, people on the street trying to get you into their restaurants or clubs, fast food chains, cheesy t-shirt vendors, and everything else a built-for-tourists destination has. If you’d blindfolded me, drugged me, and woken me up in Sunny Beach, I could have easily said I was in Kuta Beach, Phuket, Cancun, a bad Florida beach town, or any number of cookie-cutter beachy places in the world. There’s no culture or uniqueness to this place, except that some signs are in Bulgarian.
Finally, Sunny Beach is filled with people who just want to overpay for a week of drinking. It’s always happy hour, there are always free shots, and huge night clubs go until dawn. I felt like I was on spring break. But if you really want to go on a binge on the cheap, there are tons of better destinations in Europe: Barcelona, Lagos, Ios, Dubrovnik, Varna, and Constanj, just to name six. Those places at least have some history, culture, and charm to them.
In sum, Sunny Beach is a giant tourist trap of a destination with a bad beach, overpriced food, tacky bars and souvenir shops, and a bunch of drunks. If that sounds like fun to you, I highly recommend it. But there are better places to party than Sunny Beach. (I know, I’ve partied in them). While I love great nightlife, I’d rather party in a place that also actually has a nice beach.
If I never see Sunny Beach again, I’ll be the world’s happiest man.