Thailand is a majestic and geographically diverse country that divides into four natural regions: the mountains and forests of the North; the vast rice fields of the Central Plains; the semi-arid farm lands of the Northeast plateau; and the tropical islands and coastline of the Southern peninsula.
Our four-week Thailand adventure was in the South, exploring the beach holiday hotspot of Phuket Island and the ecologically diverse Krabi province, famous for its dramatic scenery and endless natural attractions; with a final stop in Bangkok on the way home. In the Southwest provinces there are only two seasons: hot or wet. Phuket’s sunny season runs from November through April, and Krabi’s slightly shorter sunny season is from January through April (although we were there in December and had wonderful weather).
Exploring the Southwest provinces of Thailand was a special and unforgettable experience due to the diverse and awe-inspiring scenery, lovely hot climate, mouthwatering cuisine and warm and welcoming Thai people. There are endless options for activities in Phuket and Krabi Provinces, and after some internal debate we have created our list of the top things you must do while in Southern Thailand.
Our Top 5 Must Do’s in Southern Thailand
1. Discover the Hidden World of Hongs
The incredible and mysterious ‘Hongs’ are collapsed, open air cave systems found within the dramatic sheer limestone cliff islands of the emerald green Andaman sea. Scattered throughout Phang Nga Bay and Krabi Province, these island Hongs can only be reached at low tide by sea canoe or long tail boat. Each Hong is distinct with an ecosystem of jungle flora and fauna, including birds, fish and monkeys. There are numerous tour companies offering kayak trips through the Hongs; we selected John Gray’s Seacanoe as they are highly recommended by the Thailand Tourism Authority (TAT), and were the first to launch this program. Our ‘Phang Nga Hong Starlight Canoe Trip’ provides a once in a lifetime experience that we recommend to everyone travelling to Southwest Thailand. This nine-hour excursion includes a roundtrip boat ride to Phang Nga Bay, delicious Thai lunch and dinner, and very-friendly English speaking guide who paddles you through three hongs by day and one amazing starlight trip to play in the glittering phos fluorescents. The cost of this truly spectacular excursion is 3,900 Baht (approximately $130) per person.
2. Get Cooking
There is no better way to experience Thai cuisine than rolling up your sleeves, donning an apron and hammering spices with a mortar and pestle. While Thai food has gained popularity throughout North America and made its way to the pour-and-stir world of grocers, absolutely nothing compares to the taste of traditionally-prepared curry chicken with freshly made chili paste. Taking a cooking class is a wonderful and interactive way to learn about the history and inspiration behind the local cuisine – and an entertaining forum for meeting people from around the world. Most popular tourist destinations offer cooking classes, which are easy to find through published travel guides, online searches or your hotel concierge. We spent an evening at the beautiful beachside culinary school Time for Lime in Ko Lanta, and cooked up an incredible feast of Chicken Satay, Yellow Curry, and Spicy Lime Soup with Prawns; all washed down with refreshing Mohitos.
3. Jungle Trekking
It is sometimes difficult to trade an afternoon on the beloved beach chair for more taxing activities, but with Thailand’s countless national parks offering unspoiled tropical landscapes, we promise it is worth it (at least for a day or two). Our adventure, which took place in Khao Lak, located in the mainland province of Phang Nga north of Phuket, started with a jungle hike to a secluded waterfall. Next, we floated down a quiet stream on a manmade bamboo raft, staring in awe at the tropical birds and mangrove snakes asleep in the trees. After a delicious Thai lunch we got up close and personal with nature and ‘boarded’ an elephant to trek through a shaded forest and rubber tree plantation. There are numerous eco-tours available throughout the national parks in Southwest Thailand. If you want to plan your tour in advance, we recommend using internationally recognized Diethelm Travel as they provided exceptional service and were extremely professional.
4. Island Hopping & Snorkeling with Sharks
Exploring the small uninhabited islands sprinkled throughout the Andaman Sea was one of our trip highlights. From Ko Lanta in Krabi we traveled 30 km by boat to the unspoiled white sand beach and crystal clear waters of Ko Rok for a day of snorkeling. The afternoon was spent lounging on the quiet beach and snorkeling in the offshore coral reefs where we spotted barracuda and countless clown, parrot and leopard fish. Our most memorable snorkeling trip was a one day tour around Phi Phi Island. Throughout the day we stopped at numerous bays and reefs, including the famous Maya Bay where The Beach was filmed, and the somewhat intimidating Shark Point. Upon arriving at the ominous ‘Point’ we were instructed to hop out of the boat and swim 100 metres to a large rock face. It was there that we came face to face with the black-tip reef sharks. These ‘harmless’ sharks were over a metre in length, and although we were slightly nervous it was an incredible experience to swim so close to these creatures. The popular snorkeling points around Phi Phi Island tend to be quite congested, so if you hope to encounter the great black-tip reef shark we recommend taking the trip before 9 am or after 5 pm when they are easier to spot. Tours can be booked through your hotel or Diethelm Travel .
5. Check out Bustling Bangkok
Bangkok is a city that should not be missed. Endless shopping, exquisite temples and exciting nightlife await you in Thailand’s capital city. Perhaps one of the best ways to explore Bangkok is a boat cruise along the Chao Phraya River. International hotels line the banks of the river’s major artery, while the quiet canals are home to the simple riverbank dwellers. A visit to the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) and Grand Palace, the previous King’s residence is a priority when visiting Bangkok. Long pants and covered shoulders are required for admission to the temples, and going early is recommended due to the almost overwhelming afternoon heat. If you are in Bangkok over the weekend the Chatatuk Market, featuring over 15,000 booths selling everything from trinkets to furniture, is a great way to lose four hours (and is easily accessible by Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain rapid transit system). Another famous attraction is Khao San Road, which is buzzing with vendors, backpackers and partygoers; and with its high-energy, anything-can-happen vibe it is definitely worth checking out. Our final tip for Bangkok is to dress in your finest threads and head for a drink at one of the world’s highest open-air bars.
Skybar is suspended in the sky on the 63rd floor of the State Tower and overlooks panoramic views of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River. Reservations are not required for Skybar, however business casual dress is.
Our Accommodation Recommendations
It can often be overwhelming securing accommodation for an extended oversees holiday. A great resource for booking hotels in Thailand is www.sawadee.com; a reputable tourism portal approved by the TAT. We used Sawadee to book some of our hotels and found it very easy to navigate, and while many booking sites list rooms that are on request, all rooms on Sawadee are actually available. If you are looking for accommodation in Phuket, Krabi or Bangkok we highly recommend the hotels we stayed at: Kata Thani Resort in Kata Beach (Phuket), Amari Vogue Resort in Aonang (Krabi) and Chatrium Suites in Bangkok. For more information on magical Thailand, visit the official TAT website at www.tourismthailand.org.