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Southern Thailand draws millions of visitors each year and is a “must-do” because of its archipelago of incredible tropical islands, white sand beaches and warm weather all year round. A scattering of islands can be found across the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, making it easy to go island hopping along the South Thailand map. With so many diverse activities on offer, Southern Thailand has something for everyone.
The Andaman Sea on the Thai west coast is composed of several of Thailand’s most popular islands, with the largest being Phuket. With its own convenient airport, it is world-renowned for its numerous white sand beaches, balmy seas and water activities with ten main beaches. Phuket is also known as the spa capital of Thailand, with endless wellness packages to leave you feeling shiny and new.
Another popular destination on the southern Thailand map is Khao Sok National Park. It highlights Thailand’s preservation efforts on bio-diversity. Covering a huge 739 square kilometres, it features rich rainforests, wildlife sanctuaries, limestone structures, and the scenic Cheow Larn Lake in the heart of the park. Its climate and weather remain consistent throughout the year making it a must-see destination at any time.
Phang Nga Bay is a bay nestled between Phuket and Krabi with breathtaking limestone rock formations, caves, beach havens and hidden lakes. Many tour operators can arrange trips but sea canoeing is a fun way to explore this spectacular region.
Ko Phi Phi consists of six islands located off the mainland coast of Krabi. Ko Phi Phi Leh is the most popular, made famous by the year 2000 film named “The Beach”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. However, the Thai government closed this area in 2018 due to damaged coral reefs impacted by tourism. The region remains closed for coral rejuvenation but new eco-tourism projects see it eyeing a possible 2021 opening.
Krabi province boasts impressive natural attractions and is home to Ko Lanta National Park with famous diving sites. Nearby Ko Lipe is known for its natural beauty and is an idyllic paradise featuring a marine park with impressive coral-rich snorkelling and diving spots. Further afield, Koh Lanta is developed and yet still uncrowded enough to enjoy pristine beaches, ancient caves, dense jungle, and a myriad of waterfalls. After sundown, luminescent plankton can be found in the warm surrounding waters.
Moving across Thailand southern islands into the Gulf of Thailand, you will find the largest island in this region- Phuket – and Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Ko Tao and the lesser-known Ang Thong islands.
Koh Samui also houses an international airport and is popular for its palm-lined white sandy beaches, luxury spas and resorts and iconic Big Buddha statue at the Wat Phra Yai temple.
The island of Koh Phangan is a well-known backpacker party destination for its full moon parties. Also home to Than Sadet-Ko Pha Ngan National Park, which boasts a beautiful waterfall and good hiking routes.
Koh Tao (known as Turtle Island) is a recreation lovers paradise. It is a favourite among scuba divers, rock climbers and adventure seekers. The name Koh Tao comes from being a special breeding ground for hawksbill and green turtles.
The Ang Thong Islands were declared a national park in the 1980s, They form an impressive group of islands characterised by magnificent limestone cliffs and hidden coves, coral reefs and rich marine life, rugged jungle and waterfalls, native wildlife and fine white sandy beaches. The perfect day trip from Koh Samui or Phang Nga.
Southern Thailand fits the bill of a tropical paradise. Thailand is known for its beautiful white sandy beaches and it has around 1,430 islands. Most of these belong to the southern provinces.
Khao Sok National Park is a protected nature park in Southern Thailand. Known to be the location of the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest, the park is a dense virgin jungle with towering limestone karst formations that soar up to 300-600 meters above sea level and the man-made Cheow Lan Lake from the Ratchaprapha Dam. A lot of bamboo grows in this park, the oldest grass in the world, and prevents erosion of the topsoil in the mountainsides.
A good number of rare species call this park their home, like the giant parasitic Rafflesia flower, white-handed gibbons, hornbill birds, Malayan tapir, Asian elephant, sambar deer, bear, gaur, banteng, serow, wild boar, pig-tailed macaque, langur, squirrel, muntjak, mouse deer, barking deer and tigers.
The world’s only known amphibious centipede, the Solopendra cataracta, was discovered on a stream bank by the park in 2001.
The park contains various kinds of wild fruit, on which the animals feed on, like the wild jackfruit, mangosteen, durian, rambutan, jujube, pomelo, wild bananas, wild pepper and ginger. Khao Sok National Park fame is perhaps due to the bua phut or Rafflesia flower, the species of the world’s largest flower.
Khao Sok National Park offers many things to do for an adventure trip. There are trekking, elephant back safari, canoeing, kayaking, bamboo rafting. The Sok River is amidst lovely views. Local guides are available for hire in the canoeing and bamboo rafting tours.
The Similan Islands is an archipelago of 9 islands (hence the name Similan, from the Malay Sembilan meaning 9) in the Andaman Sea and part of Phang Nga Province in the south of Thailand. It is a marine border between India and Thailand and has been established as Mu Ko Similan National Park in 1982.
Around 84 km northwest of Phuket, the Similan Islands has become one of the Andaman Sea’s best-known island groups for the wonders that lie beneath its clear aquamarine-turquoise waters. It is a favourite destination for boat and yacht tours, but more as one of the most interesting dive areas in the world.
There is more variety here than you will find in most other dive destinations in the world. The Similan Islands has almost everything divers and snorkellers revel in gazing at, from coral walls to big rocks, huge sea fans and barrel sponges, caves, swim-throughs and plenty of shallows. You can find coral gardens in as little as 6-7 metres down.
The most distinctive features of the islands are the huge boulders dotting the western and southern shores, the picturesque and not crowded white coral-sand beaches and the spectacular coral growths in the world.
You can get to these islands by flying in from Bangkok to Phuket, from where you take a ferry boat to the islands.
Koh Samui or Ko Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket and a locally self-governing part of Surat Thani Province. It lies in the Gulf of Thailand off the eastern coast of the Kra Isthmus. Ko Samui is known for its clear water palm-dotted beaches, coconut groves and lush mountain rainforests, and the wide array of accommodation options from luxury resorts and posh spas to small hostels and bungalows.
Known as one of three “sisters” being closely located, with Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, Koh Samui is the largest island in the Gulf. Popular activities to do on the island are diving, snorkelling, swimming and basking on the stunning clean beaches, and touring around the awesome seascape of the Ang Thong National Marine Park.
Ko Samui tourist landmarks are the majestic 12 meter-tall golden Big Buddha statue at Wat Phra Yai Temple Complex and the Secret Buddha Garden (aka Tarnim Magic Garden), a sculpture park on top of one of the island’s tallest hills filled with fountains, gardens, sculptures (of the Buddha in several poses), animals, angels, musicians, a lovely oasis for rest and meditation.
Ko Samui is the only one among the “three sisters” with an airport so domestic and international visitors of different groups land here from Bangkok. Regular ferries commute between the three islands, making for a convenient island-hopping tour.
Koh Phangan, or Ko Pha Ngan, is an island in southeast Thailand, part of Surat Thani province and is known all over the world for its famous (or notorious) Full Moon Party. This is one boisterous, colourful, super vibrant all-night bacchanalian celebration, tied to the lunar cycles, and attracts party people every month. The merriment hub is Sunrise Beach on Haad Rin peninsula, where the beach bungalows draw in a backpacker crowd.
Ko Phangan is Thailand’s 5th largest island and among its most beautiful and “untamed” nature in the region. Its interior lush verdant tropical jungle, idyllic white-sand beaches that stretch for miles and more than 20 dive sites have made this Thai island among the popular tourism destinations. Aside from the Full Moon Party getting in from 10,000-30,000 revellers on New Year’s Eve, there is also the Half-Moon Party and Black Moon Party, also monthly. If you seek a quieter beach of the same white-sand and clear waters to explore, these are on the north coast.
The fastest way to Koh Phangan from Bangkok is a direct flight to Koh Samui then a ferry to the island. The main disembarkation destinations are Thongsala and Haad Rin peninsula.
Phuket City, aka the “original Thai paradise island,” is the capital of the Thai province of Phuket Island. Thalang Road in the Old Town showcases Sino-Portugues influences on the buildings, shops and houses.
Phuket, the largest island of Thailand has remained one of the most popular among Thai destinations for its stunning sandy beaches with awesome sunsets, its vibrant nightlife and warm friendly people, delectable Thai cuisine, not to forget it has a history of welcoming foreign traders.
Popular activities are snorkelling, diving, island-hopping on the traditional long-tail boat to nearby islands, James Bond Island, Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi Don, Phang Nga Bay, and more. There is a myriad of activities to do in Phuket for different inclinations – outdoor activities, water sports, cultural performances and shows, tours (inland and boat tours), and food!
On top of it all, Phuket is conveniently accessible with just a one-hour flight from Bangkok. At the same time, a number of international carriers land at Phuket too.
The Phi Phi Islands is an island group between Phuket and the Strait of Malacca coast of Thailand and part of Krabi Province.
Koh Phi Phi Don is the only habitable of the six islands where all types of accommodations are available. Koh Phi Phi Le had become so popular for its Maya Beach when it was the location of a Hollywood film that the Thai government had decided to close it in 2018 for environmental repair and rejuvenation.
Popular activities are island-hopping, snorkelling, scuba diving. There are boat tours for day trips where you can explore the other islands. You can get to Koh Phi Phi by flying from Bangkok to Krabi or Phuket, from where you take a ferry or speedboat to Koh Phi Phi. The whole trip would take from 5-10 hours.
Koh Tao, or Ko Tao, literally “Turtle Island” is an island in Thailand on the western part of the Gulf of Thailand and one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations. Best known worldwide for scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking, rock climbing and bouldering are also popular activities on the island.
Though not yet as developed with tourist infrastructure as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Ko Tao became popular starting with the backpackers seeking relatively inexpensive scuba diving certification. Lately, the island has welcomed back visitors from ten years or so, bringing along their families.
Overall Thailand is considered safe. But it is always smart and safe to take caution and practice alert awareness since you are in a foreign country, especially when you are travelling alone. Be aware of the norms and taboos of the local culture, as well. Drug possession is taken strictly by the Thai government, it can result in a year (or more) of prison time. In Southern Thailand, three provinces are not recommended for tourists to explore.
Southern Thailand is known for its many beautiful beaches and islands, in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Among the tourist-favoured destinations are Phuket Province, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe and Koh Tao.On the Gulf Coast, there are the beaches of Koh Samui, the Full Moon parties at Koh Phangan, the diving at Koh Tao, the natural splendour of the hAng Thong Marine Park. In the Andaman Coast, there are Khao Lak, Similan Islands, Surin Islands, Koh Chang and Ranong, as well as the picturesque Koh Tarutao archipelago and the Trang Islands. Krabi Province has its white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, fascinating coral reefs, caves and waterfalls. And of course, there is Phuket.
Southern Thailand, the southernmost region of the country separated from Central Thailand by the Kra Isthmus, has 14 provinces, namely: Chumphon, Prachuap Khirikhan, Ranong, Surat Thani, Phang Nga, Phuket, Trang, Krabi, Yala, Pattani, Nakhon si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla.
Southern Thai cuisine is characterised as much spicier, hotter and saltier, than the milder dishes of the north. Fresh fish and seafood also feature heavily along with coconut-based curries.
The best time to visit the south is during the cooler dry season from November to April. The east and west coasts have different weather patterns. The Andaman Coast beaches are at their sunniest best and temperatures around the mid-30s (°C) from November to May. June to October should be avoided due to the rainy monsoon season. The Gulf of Thailand coast is best from May to September. October and November are the wettest months in this region, so best be avoided.
Take your pick! Each island offers something unique- it just depends on what you’re looking for.
Phuket is one of the most popular tourist destinations, offering white sandy beaches, temples, festivals, luxury resorts, spa retreats, shopping and nightlife. Koh Phang Nga remains a party magnet, best known for hosting full moon parties. Phang Nga Bay possesses some of the most breathtaking protruding limestone rock formations, caves, beach havens and hidden lakes. Koh Samui remains a tourist favourite as it has a more relaxed feel to it than the busy vibe of Phuket. It is family-friendly and has a range of natural and man-made attractions to discover.Phuket is accessible to international flights so you can get there directly from where you are. If you want to have more shopping and taste “inland” culture before going back home, you could depart via Bangkok, with two international airports.
If you are passing through to the islands, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai are good options to visit shrines and temples, try local street foods in the night markets, do a spot of shopping and engage in local provincial city life.The major cities have flights from and to Bangkok so getting there and leaving won’t be a problem.
The best time to visit is during the cooler dry season from November to April. Keep in mind that the east and west coasts have different weather patterns. The Andaman Coast beaches are sunny from November to May. June to October should be avoided due to the rainy monsoon season. The Gulf of Thailand coast is best from May to September with October and November being the wettest months.
Again, the answer to this question lies in you – your interests, your preferences. Both have their own unique attractions. Both are accessible via Bangkok.
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