Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand is large and inviting, featuring dozens of beautiful islands and a whole host of pristine beaches on which to top up your tan or enjoy water sports. The most famous resorts are on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, and the east-facing Gulf of Thailand coast.

Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.

Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.

Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.

The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Famous for its lively full moon parties at Haad Rin Beach, Koh Pha-ngan has a chilled-out hippy atmosphere that combines nightly hedonism with day time water sports and lazing on the beach. Situated in the south of Thailand 20 kilometres north of Koh Samui in Surat Thani Province, this is an ideal destination for travellers who enjoy less crowded, more private beaches. The best way to reach Koh Pha-ngan is from Koh Samui and the boat trip takes about an hour.

Haad Rin is Koh Pha-ngan’s most popular beach. Lined with beach bars playing a wide assortment of music, the white sands can get pretty crowded. Luckily, Koh Pha-ngan offers many more secluded stretches of white sand for those who prefer a little privacy. Ao Thong Nai Pan is perhaps the second most beautiful beach on Koh Pha-ngan reachable by boat or songthaew from Thong Sala Pier.

Another extremely beautiful and tranquil beach is Ao Si Thanu, whilst the nearby tiny island of Koh Tae Nai can be reached just 5 minutes by chartered boat. This island offers jungle-covered hills, a long stretch of golden sandy beach and colourful coral reefs, perfect for diving or scuba diving.

Koh Pha-ngan has some extremely pretty jungle waterfalls waiting to be discovered including Than Sadet Falls, Phaeng Falls, Than Prapat Falls and Than Prawet Falls. A great way to see the falls and the rest of the island is to take a guided boat tour. Boat trips usually take around 10 people, last all day and include snorkelling and lunch. The boat trips are also a great way to meet fellow travellers and exchange tall tales and travelling tips.

Wat Khao Tham is a cave temple located on the hilltop of Khao Kao Haeng. There is a monastery here that is ideal for meditation amidst the well-preserved nature. The monastery offers 10 days meditation retreats and can be found near the pretty village of Ban Tai.

Another interesting temple is Wat Madio Wan, where a replica of Lord Buddha’s Footprint is enshrined on the hilltop Mondop, whilst jungle trekking up to the island’s largest mountain of Khao Ra is a great way to see the island.

Many people stop at Koh Pha-ngan for a day or two before heading on to Koh Tao, which lies 45 kilometres north of Koh Pha-ngan and is known as the best diving site in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao, which means Turtle Island in the Thai language, is very small and covered with palm trees and pristine white sand, the perfect exotic island.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui, Thailand
koh_samui_4

Located in Surat Thani Province in the south of Thailand, Koh Samui is Thailand’s third largest island and has an area of 228.7 square kilometers. Koh Samui is a very popular tourist destination and has much to offer. There are several beaches located around the island, all with distinctly different characters set to appeal to different desires, entertainment needs and paces of life.

Hat Chaweng is the island’s longest and most popular beach. This area is party central and you will find restaurants catering to every taste, large beach bars and theme pubs and clubs. Although not as large as those on Koh Pha-ngan, there are often lively beach parties at Chaweng, especially around the full moon.

Also popular is Hat Lamai, which is famous for the Grandfather and Grandmother rocks and the slightly seedier night life.

Hat Bophut is a quiet and romantic fisherman’s village. This area is relaxed and more traditional than the larger communities, and has a number of very good French-owned cafes and restaurants.

Nearby, Ao Bang Po is a quiet bay perfect for snorkeling, swimming and meditation, whilst Ao Tong Takian is a small cove north of Lamai beach. Also known as Silver Beach, this is a good place for people who crave tranquility.

Bang Rak, is situated just two kilometers east of Bophut. The big attraction in this area is the 19-metre gold tinted statue of Lord Buddha, which overlooks the entire bay. Climb the steps to the top for an excellent view over the island.

Getting to Koh Samui is pretty simple as there is a large airport on the island with regular flights from BangKohk. The flight takes just over an hour, or you can choose to travel by train or air-conditioned bus to Surat Thani and then take the ferry.

There are many interesting attractions on and around Koh Samui. Perhaps the most popular is the Ang Thong National Marine Park. A good way to explore the park is to go on a boat tour, which will enable you to see the 40 small islands, limestone cliffs, white sandy beaches, lagoons and caves. No trip to the park is complete without visiting Tham Bua Bok, a cavern filled with lotus-shaped cave formations.

Another weird and wonderful attraction is the mummified monk, which can be found at Wat Khunaram. The mummified remains are of monk Luang Phaw Daeng and can be seen complete wearing dark sunglasses.

Of course, water sports such as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, jet skiing and kayaking are popular in the area. Other diversions include a crocodile farm, monkey theatre, elephant trekking, a snake farm, an aquarium and a butterfly garden.

Koh Samui is an island that likes to look after its wildlife, and visitors can donate to the Dog Rescue Centre Samui, which cares for hundreds of local pooches.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

An area of incredible natural beauty situated in Krabi Province, there are actual two main islands of Koh Phi Phi; Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. The Phi Phi Islands are believed by many to be among the most beautiful tropical islands in the world and have become one of Thailand’s most popular tourist attractions.

Koh Phi Phi Don is the area’s tourist hub. This is where you will find the majority of the hotels, beach bungalows, bars and restaurants. Koh Phi Phi Don covers an area of 28 square kilometres and features the twin bays of Ao Ton Sai and Ao Lo Da Lam with their stunning curving white sandy beaches, the perfect picture of an exotic tropical paradise. A great way to get an idea of the island’s true beauty is to tackle the 1000 foot vertical climb to Viewpoint. Although slightly challenging, the climb, which takes you through a lush leafy jungle, and the view more than make up for it.

There are many interesting activities to engage in on Koh Phi Phi Don, and it is easy to spend a week or more there. Fire jugglers and beach bars make up the evening entertainment, and there are plenty of restaurants showing western movies throughout the day and late into the night. There is dancing on the beach most nights. To experience a true touch of hedonism, visit the island around the full moon.

The sunset yoga classes on the beach are a good way to unwind, and you can learn a new skill and impress your friends by taking Thai cookery classes.

When it comes to food, just about every taste can be catered for, whether you fancy a fish barbecue on the beach, an all-you-can-eat feast or traditional Thai cooking. There is also a small market where you can eat with the locals at dramatically reduced prices and this is a good place to buy fresh fruit.

The clear waters, beautiful coral and colourful fish mean that the area is popular for diving and snorkelling, whilst many visit the island to climb the limestone cliffs. Boat trips are extremely popular and are usually combined with snorkelling and a visit to the extremely striking island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.

Koh Phi Phi Leh is famous for Ao Maya – the location where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. The island covers a mere 6.6 square kilometres and is surrounded by limestone mountains and sheer cliffs, which plunge hundreds of metres to the sparkling blue sea. The sea is around 20 metres deep and the deepest point to the

south of the island is approximately 34 metres. There is no accommodation on Koh Phi Phi Leh, and the only way to see it is by an arranged boat trip.

Koh Phi Phi Other islands in the area to explore include Koh Jam (also know as Koh Pu) and Koh Si Buya. Although extremely pretty, both of these small islands are less popular with tourists and are great places to stay if you want to avoid the crowds.

Narathiwat, Thailand

Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand

Situated on the banks of the Bang Nara River, this friendly province can be found approximately 1,149 kilometres south of Bangkok near the Malaysian border. Malaysia can be reached from Narathiwat though a ninety-minute bus trip, and this is a good place to rest for a day or two before making the crossing.

75 percent of this beautiful province consists of jungles and mountains, and there is a lot for the nature lover to explore. There are also pretty beaches on which to top up your tan and magnificent temples to discover.

The name Narathiwat literally means “the residence of good people” in the Thai language, and visitors will soon find that the area lives up to its name as hospitality is as warm as the weather. The city of Narathiwat has preserved its traditional culture and authenticity and has a feel of village-like tranquillity. The residents of Narathiwat are mainly farmers and fishermen and the majority are Muslim.

If you love nature, a visit to Hala-Bala Wildlife Reserve should be top of the list. Established in 1996, the reserve covers the Sankala Khiri mountain range, Hala forest and Bala forest and is a good place to see a large selection of wildlife. Lucky visitors have the chance to see hornbills, gibbons, the large Thut frogs, and rhinoceroses.

Another area of great natural beauty is the Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest Nature Reserve, and you can combine a visit with a trip to the Khao Kong Buddhist Park, which is situated about 9 kilometres from town. Here you will find Wat Khao Kong and the golden Phra Phuttha Thaksin Ming Mongkhon Buddha image sitting in the lotus position atop a mountain. And the park offers spectacular views over the province.

Other interesting temples to explore include Wat Chon Thara Singhe, Wat Choeng Khao, the Old Central Mosque and Taloh-manoh Mosque, while Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is situated on Tanyongmat Mountain, and contains throne halls decorated with an assortment of trees.

Back to nature; don’t miss the stunning Ao Manao Park, which features a 4 kilometre sandy bay lined with pine forest to explore when you tire of soaking up the sun. Other beaches include Hat Narathat, Kubu Beach-Ban Khlong Tan and the small, peaceful island of Ko Yao.

Visitors arriving during one of the area’s lively festivals are treated to displays of traditional song and dance, combined with much laughter.

The Narathiwat Products Fair showcases the highlights of the province, such as special arts and crafts.

The Kolae-Long Boat Races are held on Bang Nara River opposite Sala Prachakhom (community pavilion). This is an annual event held when the Royal Family is in residence at Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace.

Krachut Sedge Day is held around the same time as the boat races in order to promote hemp products. Activities include an exhibition on production from the preparation of raw materials that are the Krachut sedge trees that grow in peat swamp forests or waterlogged areas of the province, to weaving the sedge into beautiful mats or transforming it into other unusual products such as hats, handbags, letter holders, food covers, and lamp shades. There are also Krachut contests and stalls selling Krachut sedge products.

Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand

Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand

Nakhon Si Thammarat is the second largest province of the south of Thailand, located 780 kilometres from Bangkok. This pretty province consists of high plateaus and mountains, lush mangosteen forests, picturesque beaches and beautiful waterfalls.

A great way to see the area’s stunning scenery is to visit one of the impressive parks such as the Namtok Yong National Park, the Khao Nan National Park and the Khao Luang National Park. The area is well known for its many sparkling g waterfalls. Some of the best include Namtok Phrom Lok, Namtok Ai Khiao, Namtok Ranae and the very pretty Karom waterfall.

Nakhon Si Thammarat is blessed with a large number of powdery white sand beaches to soak up the sun on. Sun worshipers should check out Ao Karom, Hua Hin Sichon, Hat Kho Khao and Hat Hin Ngam among many others.

Many people travel to Nakhon Si Thammarat especially to visit the shadow play house of Suchat Sapsin, where there are regular performances and work shops. Other popular attractions are the Fan Making Village, the Pottery Village and the interesting Wat Mokhlan Archaeological Site.

Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan is the largest temple in South East Asia, and no visit to Nakhon Si Thammarat is complete without paying respects at the magnificent temple. Other interesting temples in the area include Wat Nantharam, the Wat Chai Na Meditation Centre and Wat Khao Khun Phanom, which is also home to the Khao Khun Phanom Scientific Study Centre.

When it comes to eating, the area’s large Muslim population means that there is a lot of cheap and tasty Muslim food to be food at night from small stalls and carts. A great way to dine in style is to buy a selection of Muslim treats and eat them at one of the folding tables whilst you watch the world go by.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Province likes to celebrate, and a good way to get an idea of the area’s culture is to time your trip to coincide with one of the vibrant festivals. Chak Phra Pak Tai is an interesting festival which involves the parading of Buddha images through the town, accompanied by chanting and singing.

Hae Phaa Kun That is held in the third lunar month. Most of the town turns out to see a cloth jataka painting, which is wrapped around the main chedi of Wat Phra Mahathat.

The ceremony is followed by displays of traditional singing and dancing and hundreds of small stalls selling local products such as fans, pottery, food and cloth.

Chumphon, Thailand

Chumphon, Thailand
Chumphon, Thailand
Chumphon, Thailand
Chumphon, Thailand

Blessed with warm welcomes, good food and pretty palm groves, Chumphon is one of Thailand’s southern provinces and features more than 200 kilometres of seashore, picturesque beaches, nearby islands, sparkling waterfalls and caves to explore. This province is ideal for those who seek relaxation amongst beauty away from the tourist and backpacker scene.

A big attraction in the area is Hat Tha Wua Laen, which is a good place for windsurfing and kiteboarding, whilst the beach of Hat Sai Ri is a good place to arrange day trips to the surrounding islands.

A big attraction in the area is Hat Tha Wua Laen, which is a good place for windsurfing and kiteboarding, whilst the beach of Hat Sai Ri is a good place to arrange day trips to the surrounding islands.

There are a large number of enchanting tropical islands just waiting to be explored in this amazing province. Many people hire a boat and take a tour of several islands all in one day, combining the trip with snorkelling in the crystal clear waters and sunbathing on the beach. Some great islands to explore include Koh Phithak, Koh Ngam Yai and Koh Ngam Noi, the limestone island of Koh Thalu, Koh Mattra and Koh Chorakhe, which means Crocodile Island in the Thai language.

There are some spectacularly beautiful national parks in the area, including the Mu Ko Chumphon National Park and Khlong Phrao National Park. Most of the tiny islands feature waterfalls nestled in the jungles, which are extremely beautiful and great for swimming in. Look out for Namtok Heo Lom, Namtok Thap Chang, and the incredible Namtok Kapo Forest Park.

Caving enthusiasts will not be disappointed as there are a large number of interesting caves to explore including Tham Thip Prida, Tham Thong and the Tham Khao Phlu Wildlife Conservation Area. Visitors can also combining the caving experience with relaxation at the Tham Khao Plu Hot Spring, which actually contains three hot springs of various temperatures all with a lush jungle backdrop to enjoy while you soak and receive the healing benefits of the natural mineral waters.

The mountain of Khao Chao Mueang provides spectacular views over the area, while the adventurous can take a trip to explore the pretty winding canal network with Phato Canal Rafting.

Although generally quite peaceful, the area comes alive in April to celebrate the Chumphon Marine Festival. The main focus of the festival is the Windsurfing Competition, which takes place at Hat Tha Wua Laen. There is also a marathon and exhibits of folk art, dancing and beach barbecues.

Also worth looking out for is the Lang Suan Buddha Image Parade and Boat Race Festival. The festival features a procession of temple boats and a boat race on Mae Nam Lang Suan, which is situated 60 kilometres to the south of Chumphon.

Trang, Thailand

Trang, Thailand
Trang, Thailand
Trang, Thailand
Trang, Thailand

Located approximately 828 kilometres from Bangkok, Trang Province is one of Thailand’s most southern provinces and covers an area of 4,941 square kilometres. The province features a group of pretty, chilled out islands and regularly wins awards for the ‘Cleanest City in Thailand’.

Two major rivers flow through the province; the Trang River, which originates in the Khao Luang Mountain Range and Maenam Palian from the Banthat Mountain Range. This is an area of stunning natural beauty, featuring breathtaking islands and astounding beaches along the coast as well as awe-inspiring inland limestone mountains, caves and sparkling waterfalls, most of which feature pools for swimming in.

Many people travel from all over the world to visit Wat Tantayapirom, which features a footprint of Lord Buddha. Nearby, the Chinese Meunram Temple shows performances of Thai Shadow Theatre.

There are a large number of pretty islands in the area, and a great way to see them is by going on a sea kayaking tour. One of the most popular islands in the area is Ko Ngai, which is a small island with a long sandy beach in the east and unspoiled coral reefs. This is a great island for snorkelling and scuba diving.

Koh Muk and Tham Morakot (Emerald Cave) are also extremely popular, whilst Koh Kradan is said by many to be the most beautiful island in the area. Koh Chueak and Koh Waen are small islands good for snorkelling and scuba diving, while the Libong Archipelago Wildlife Reserve on Koh Libon preserves the rare dugong, also known as the sea cow. Although large, these animals are extremely graceful and it is delightful to see them in this reserve, which is one of the last areas of refuge open to them.

There are a large number of beautiful flowing waterfalls in Trat. Among the best are Namtok Ton Te and the incredible 17-tiered Namtok Phrai Sawan.

Hat Yao is a very chilled out fishing hamlet, perfect for escaping the crowds and the abundant bars of other beach areas. Hidden amongst the cliffs, you will need to hire a long-tail boat to reach the tiny bay of Hat Apo, but it is well worth the trouble. Whilst there, pay a visit to the extremely beautiful cave of Tham Chao Mai, which has hosts of glittering stalactites and stalagmites.

There are many different snorkelling trips available in the area. A good option is to book a trip to Koh Rok and go trekking in the mighty mountains of Khao Banthat.

Surat Thani, Thailand

surat_thani_1
Surat Thani, Thailand
Surat Thani, Thailand
Surat Thani, Thailand

Surat Thani is the largest province in the south of Thailand and is located 685 kilometres from Bangkok. The name literally means “City of the Good People” in the Thai language and features high plateaus and richly forested mountains, low river basins and numerous pretty little islands. This is the perfect place for losing yourself for a week or two and simply drifting away for a while.

Surat Thani Province is home to several great tourist destinations, including Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan, Ko Tao and the stunningly beautiful Ang Thong Marine National Park.

Although to many people the town of Surat Thani is simply a stop off point on the way to one of the area’s beautiful tourist destinations, the town and surrounding area actually has a lot to offer and is worth looking at more closely.

Worth exploring is the tiny village known as Chaiya. In the village you will find Wat Suan Mokkhaphalaram, which is a tranquil forest temple founded by Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikku, who is perhaps Thailand’s most famous monk. The temple holds monthly meditation retreats, and this is a perfect place to get in touch with your spiritual side and discover a sense of inner peace and harmony.

Also situated in the village is the Chaiya National Museum, which is a good place to discover the area’s interesting history. Another interesting place is the Folklore Museum, which is located around 300 meters from Chaiya, whilst Ban Phumriang is a small handicraft village, which can be found 6 kilometres east of Chaiya.

The stunning Khao Sok National Park features 646 square kilometres of thick rainforest and mountains. With its sparkling waterfalls, mysterious caves and cool lakes, this area has an ancient feel about it. Elephant trekking is a great way to explore, and you can spend the night on a floating lodge if you find yourself reluctant to leave and return to the ‘real’ world straight away.

When it comes to eating, just about anything is possible in this province of plenty. If you love oysters, pay a visit to the Oyster Farms, where you can buy large fresh oysters for a bargain price.

The Chak Phra Festival is an interesting event which takes place each year immediately after the end of the three month rain retreat in October. Although widely celebrated, Surat Thani’s festivals are particularly vibrant and long anticipated. The festival features elaborately decorated floats, which are pulled across the town by the eager participants. At the same time, a float decorated

with colorful Thai design carries an auspicious Buddha image across the water. The festival also features an exciting boat race and traditional songs, dancing and games.

Songkhla, Thailand

Songkhla, Thailand
Songkhla, Thailand
Songkhla, Thailand
Songkhla, Thailand

Songkhla can be found in the very south of Thailand, near the Malaysian border. Located 950 kilometres from Bangkok, Songkhla is known as ‘the great city on two seas’. Songkhla’s history and culture is quite different to much of Thailand, making this an interesting place to get to know. About a third of the population is Muslim, and most are of Malay ancestry, which means that they speak the Patani Malay language.  

Songkhla has a lot to offer, whether you are interested in history and culture, appreciate stunning scenery or simply want to chill on the beach and swim in the sea. The town is endowed with ancient ruins, arts, and places of cultural importance. Songkhla is a melting pot of Thais, Chinese and Malays and charms visitors with its unique traditions, dialect, and folk entertainment.  

To discover the area’s history, the first stop should be The Songkhla National Museum, while the Phathammarong Museum is also a great source of local knowledge. The Bronze Mermaid Statue usually appears on postcards of Songkhla and represents the Hindu-Buddhist earth goddess Mae Thorani.  

Songkhla is well known for its interesting architectural styles, which can best be seen in its temples and chedis. Some good examples are Wat Cha Thing Phra, Wat Pha Kho, Wat Chai Mongkhon and Wat Matchimawat. The city’s black and white stupas – known as Chedi Ong Dam and Chedi Ong Khao – should not be missed and Sating Phra Ancient Community is well worth a visit.  

Songkhla also contains some areas of stunning natural beauty. Top of the list are the Khao Nam Khang National Park with its jungle, caves and waterfalls and Khu Khut Waterfowl Park. As its name suggests, Namtok Boriphat Forestry Park features a large number of waterfalls and beautiful forest, while Wat Tham Khao Rup Chang is an interesting cave temple.  

Songkhla is blessed with a large number of caves to explore and mountain tops offering spectacular views over the area. A good place to start is Khao Nam Khang Historic Tunnel, while other mountains include Khao Tang Kuan, Khao Kao Seng and Khao Noi.  

There are some very pretty beaches to soak up the sun on including Hat Samila and Hat Sakom, while Hat Yai is the liveliest town and famous for fresh seafood and Muay  

Thai boxing matches. Whilst in Hat Yai, pay a visit to Wat Hat Yai Nai, which features a 35 meter reclining Buddha known as Phra Phut Mahatamongkon and the very pretty and peaceful Hat Yai Municipal Park.  

Amongst the area’s small and somewhat secluded islands are Koh Maeo and Koh Nu (cat and mouse islands) and Koh Yo, which is a very pretty island famous for its cotton weaving community.  

Of course, when it comes to eating, seafood dominates the menu. The best place to find a good selection of reasonably priced seafood is at the local night markets, where you can relax for a while at one of the small tables and watch the dramas of this charismatic area unfold around you.