Most tourists heading to the south of Thailand have only one thing on their mind - the beach. However a drive down the south coast can be a great way to discover Thailand. Peninsula Thailand has good, fast roads and fabulous beaches as well as some great national parks such as Kaeng Krachan, Thailand's biggest park or Sam Roi Yot, arguably Thailand's most scenic with its hundreds of limestone peaks and caves waiting to be explored.
Another gem waiting to be discovered is Khao Sok National Park. Well known to the backpackers this unspoiled rainforest is close to Phuket, Samui and Krabi, yet is rarely visited by the hordes of tourists that flock to the beaches. Elephant Hills, an eco-resort on the edge of Khao Sok, is a fantastic place to spend a few days. Global Travel & Tours can offer a range of tours that include Khao Sok.
A really nice touring journey is to drive south to Pranburi and visit Sam Roi Yot National Park, continue to Chumphorn and then onwards to Khao Sok via Wat Suan Mok temple or Surat Thani monkey training school. After a few days exploring khao Sok head to any one of the beaches of Krabi, Khao Sok, Phuket or Samui. Alternatively fly to Phuket and then take a self-drive tour of the south. We will book your hotels, deliver the car and provide a map and road book. So Easy! So Global Travel & Tours!
Thailand's beaches are the stuff of legend. Whether you are looking for a classic palm-fringed hideaway, a friendly family resort or all night partying, Thailand has it all. And there is quite a wide range of choices too.
Everybody has heard of Phuket and Samui, but the last decade has seen the growth of many new beach destinations, such as Krabi, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Yao, Koh Chang and Koh Tao and it is often at these lesser known beaches where the real paradise feeling can be found.
One of the neatest things about heading for a Thai beach is the fact that with two weather systems which bring the tropical rains at different times of the year, it's possible to enjoy Thailand's beaches year-round. From January to September you can choose a beach in Koh Samui or Koh Phangan where you will have the best chance on sunny and dry weather while from October to April a beach like Krabi, Khao Lak or Koh Samed and Koh Chang offer the best chance of getting an even tan.
Phuket is Thailand's number one beach resort and one of the world's most famous holiday destinations. Here you find the best of the best. Super luxury hotels, yachts, restaurants, fine wine, golf courses, shopping and miles and miles of great beaches. Phuket has many options for shopping and eating and a great choice of truly superb hotels and resorts. It is often associated with colourful nightlife, which in reality is centred on Patong area. Our customers are frequently surprised to learn that Phuket has wonderfully peaceful retreats.
Yes Phuket is full of tourists and you will see tour buses all over the place but this is a big island (the size of Singapore) and there are plenty of places to hide away if you want. Phuket is the place to head to if you are looking for a luxury destination or if you are with your family and want lots of facilities. It is not the place to find small charming hotels at reasonable prices.
The best beaches and most of the best hotels are in the north of the island. The southern beaches of Patong, Kata or Karon are busy, noisy and not very classy. Hotels we recommend to our luxury clients are Trisara and Amanpuri, where the elite traveler will be treated to top service and extraordinary luxury. After that you should try the Banyan Tree, The Shore at Katathani, Andara Resort and Sri Panwa both of which are fabulous options for a stylish stay. Other favorites include Indigo Pearl, JW Marriott Phuket, SALA Phuket, Anantara Villas, The Racha, Mom Tri’s Villa, The Surin Resort and Vijitt Resort all of which offer great value and lots of class. Although not on the beachfront, we like the beautiful Twin Palms Resort while those traveling on a budget will enjoy Sawadee Village and Avista Phuket Resort for a beach getaway.
The beaches in Krabi area were first discovered by the backpacking crowd and have developed slowly into international standard resort destinations while retaining plenty of charm. Krabi is home to a string of beaches and islands. The scenery is amazing with limestone karsts exploding out of the sea and jungle everywhere.
The Phra Nang peninsula is an idyllic retreat, and the beaches of Railey are among the most beautiful in Thailand. The Rayawadee is a magical combination of luxury and nature. Accessible only by boat, giving a true ‘desert island’ ambience you stay in a villa surrounded by coconut palms and towering limestone cliffs. The rest of Railey beach is lined by family run resorts the best of which is Railey Bay Resort with Sea Sand coming next. Rock climbing has become a hugely popular activity in this area and Phra Nang is now recognized as one of the hottest climbing spots in the world and the islands and mangroves make for superb sea kayaking opportunities. The new international airport at Krabi has seven flights a day to Bangkok, making the entire area easily accessible.
Ao Nang is still the vibrant tourist centre of Krabi but the beach can be disappointing and the village is crowded. The best option here is Amari Vogue and Nakamanda Resort as it has its own beach. Further north Khlong Muang has become the choice for those seeking an up-market resort. One of our favorites in the area is the Tubkaak Resort, a hip luxury resort, providing a touch of class and style that make Khlong Muang an exciting new beach destination.
Just south of Krabi on an island of its own is the charming Koh Jum Resort. Managed by a French couple this is one of those great little secrets you hope stays just the way it is. Backpacker Deluxe is a good way of explaining the style and comforts. If you don’t need an Aman but want to get away from the crowds this could be for you.
In the south of Krabi and not far from the airport, Koh Lanta, is gaining a reputation as the Thai island of choice for those looking for a balance between island charm and sophisticated accommodation. 'Laid back’, 'Thai style’ and 'chilled’ are words that are often used to describe the atmosphere on Lanta Island and it is hard to disagree. This is where the swaying palms and wide sandy beaches are found without the traffic or nightlife of Samui or Phuket. World class hotels such as Pimalai and Layana combine stunning locations with five-star services, while the diving here is also outstanding with the pinnacles of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang within easy daytrip range from Lanta (but too far for Phuket day-trippers); it is an attraction for feeding whale sharks and mantas as well as divers. The islands still retain a rustic charm - Koh Lanta had no telephones before 2001 and electricity only arrived on the island a short time before that!
Luxury lovers should check in to the exclusive Pimalai Resort, especially the new pool villas. Layana Resort is also a good choice as is the more relaxed Sri Lanta. For those with a tighter budget, we like Anda Lanta Resort and Costa Lanta Resort.
The islands of Phi Phi have been immortalized by many Hollywood movies, most recently the Beach starring Leonardo Di Caprio. Badly damaged by the tsunami in December 2005, Phi Phi is now almost recovered and is back in business and welcoming tourists. The beaches are cleaner than ever and the small town in the centre has reestablished itself - although it must be said it is something of a scruffy backpacker’s ghetto. On a secluded beach the Zeavola has established itself as the best on the island and offers a nature-chic alternative
to the more established choices such as Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort. Avoid the backpacker throng in the centre of the island, unless of course you are a backpacker.
Also devastated by the tsunami but now very much back on the scene is Khao Lak. The clean-up of the beaches of Khao Lak has been incredible and apart from a few monuments of the wave, such as the Thai navy boat that was washed a kilometre on-shore and is still lying on its side close to the main road through Khao Lak, there is little evidence of the tsunami. By far, our favorite is Sarojin Resort. Best suited for honeymooners, the secluded Sarojin doesn't allow kids. The JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa, recipient of the 2010 Conde Nast World's Top New Hotels award. Its pristine white sandy beach stretches for miles.
Koh Yao, which means ‘long island’, is the two islands (one long and one not so long) in between Phuket and Krabi in the heart of Phang Nga Bay. Just a few minutes by boat or seaplane from Phuket, Koh Yao is and hardly noticed until recently. Koh Yao has had none of the development of its larger neighbour and is still a real tropical hideaway. We still love Koh Yao Island Resort, which was the original Robinson Crusoe resort on the island but with lots of style and more than adequate comfort. Smaller, but also highly recommended is Paradise Koh Yao Resort, with different room categories located in a beautiful bay with a stunning cliff at the edge of the beach. Offering substantially more comfort is Six Senses Evason Hideaway which was built with environmentally-friendly materials and occupies an idyllic stretch of property on the waterfront.
Trang and the Far South
Even further south, Trang province has even more attractions and even less tourists. With clear waters and limestone islands dotting the horizon, it is easy to see why travelers are beginning to discover Trang. The Anantara Resort is a fabulous luxury accommodation – the best in the area. There are also some charming resorts on the island of Koh Ngai (pronounced and sometimes spelt Koh Hai). This is where you really get the desert island treatment. Stay at Thapwarin Resort or Koh Hai Fantasy.
If the Andaman Islands are paradise for just flopping on a tropical beach, Samui is heaven for the active traveler (although of course there are plenty of beaches to flop on too). There are literally hundreds of activities and attractions on Koh Samui, from diving in the pristine waters of the marine park to learning how to be a sea-lion trainer!
Avoid crowded Chaweng and Lamai beaches, unless you don’t mind the occasional sleepless night listening to techno music and head for Cheonmong, Bophut or Mae Nam Beaches on the north of the island. New world-class five star resorts such as Napasai, Four Seasons, Tongsai Bay Cottages & Hotel, SALA Samui, and Zazen Boutique Resort are all top choices and definitely top-end. The Rocky’s Boutique and Karma Resort is also highly recommended and they have a great choice of villas for families or larger groups. New Star Resort also a great choice. One resort on Chaweng that does stand out from the crowd is the Library which features a sleek modern design.
The luxury market is quite new for Samui but the island is quickly adapting itself to cater for the tastes of a more discerning crowd. Santiburi Golf Resort & Sap is one of the best and one of the most difficult in Asia and there are a preponderance of new up-market restaurants and night clubs, including the trendy Q-Bar.
Samui has established itself as one of South-East Asia’s leading destinations for wellness and therapeutic retreats, and its hotels, day-spas, yoga and meditation centers have become a Mecca for stressed out visitors from around the globe. Our pick of the wellness resorts is Kamalaya.
Just a short boat ride away is Koh Phangan. Although best known for its full moon parties, which attract thousands of travelers from all over the globe, there is a lot more to stunning Koh Phangan than partying all-night on the powder-soft white sand. The island has swathes of beautiful beaches, great walks, adventurous boat and fishing trips, fabulous diving and even kite-boarding. Some new and interesting resorts have recently opened on the quiet but beautiful beaches lining the north of the island bringing Phangan onto the radar for more than just backpackers. Avoid Haad Rin Beach as it is little more than a party venue and the only place to stay is Santhiya Resort in Thong Nai Pan Noi on the north of the island. It is quite an adventure to get to and it will not get on the Conde Naste list but Santhiya, is another great little Thai beach secret.
Koh Tao, which means Turtle Island, is one of Thailand's premier diving locations and those willing to make the journey by boat from Samui or Chumporn on the mainland are rewarded with gorgeous beaches, great viewpoints and hospitable locals. If you are a diver, Koh Tao is the perfect destination as it really does have the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand. If you are not a diver then be warned there are lots of divers here and the island can feel a little crowded as there are a lot of small backpacker resorts selling cheap dive packages. The main beaches, Saree and Mae Had are noisy at night and dive boats chug noisily around the island all day. Koh Tao is not for everyone and best suits divers or those looking to revisit their backpacker experiences. The best places to stay are Charm Churee Resort, while serious divers should consider Koh Tao Coral Grand Resort.
Hua Hin, Cha Am and Pranburi
On the mainland, Hua Hin and neighboring Cha Am have great family appeal, with a bucket-and-spade atmosphere and plenty to entertain every member of the family. Located just a couple of hours’ drive from Bangkok and a long-time favorite with the Thai royal family, Hua Hin is easily accessible, even to those with limited time in the kingdom. A wide choice of hotels, including no less than six five-star hotels, and small independent resorts makes it an attractive destination for a wide range of tourists. Recently Hua Hin has shaken off the sedate seaside town image and taken a cool contemporary feel. Trendy restaurants and cool resorts have sprung up all over the town and the annual Jazz festival has added certain vibrancy.
In Hua Hin there are five or six big five-star hotels, of which our favorites are the Anantara Resort and Aleenta
Resort. For those on more of a budget we recommend Baan Talay Dao. In neighboring Cha Am, we like Veranda as it has a great beachfront with a lot of style, and the sophisticated Alila Cha Am.
Also easily accessible from Bangkok is the local's favorite is the island of Koh Samed. Although just a couple of hours from the capital, Samed have some of the best beaches in Thailand and all the atmosphere of a tropical island escape - it is not too touristy. Hotel choice is not too bad either with the new Paradee Resort at the top of the list and offering real barefoot luxury with its own private paradise beach. We also like Sai Keaw Resort which has great charm although it is fairly basic. Otherwise Ao Prao Resort and neighboring Le Vimarn are good options.
Further east close to the Cambodian border is Koh Chang, Thailand’s third largest island. Although there are no serious luxury resorts here, the Amari Emerald Cove will not disappoint. Koh Chang Paradise Resort is also nice and Aana Resort is one of our favorites even if it is not right on the beach.