Southern Thailand: the Gulf Coast

By: Moonoi

The major part of southern Thailand's Gulf coast, gently undulating from Bangkok to Nakhon Si Thammarat, 750km away, is famed above all for the Samui archipelago.

Three small idyllic islands lying off the popular seaside venue for independent travelers. The Samui beachfront bungalow is so seductive that most people overlook the attractions of the mainland.

  • the sheltered sandy beaches and
  • warn scenery dominated by forested mountains that rise abruptly behind the coastal strip, and
  • a sprinkling of historical sights. notably the crumbling temples of ancient Phetchaburi.

The stretch of coast south of Phetchaburi, down to the traditional Thai resorts of Cha-am and Hua Hin, is handy for weekenders escaping the oppressive capital.

Nearby Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park is one of Thailand's most rewarding bird-watching spots. Chumphon, 150km further down the coast, has little to offer in its own right, but is the most convenient departure point for direct boats to Ko Toa.

Southeast of Chumphon lies Ko Samui, by far the most naturally beautiful of the islands, with its long white sand beaches and arching fringes of palm trees. In recent years the next island out, Ko Pha Ngan, has drawn increasing numbers of backpackers away from its neighbor: its bungalows are generally simpler and cost less than Ko Samui's, and it offers a few stunning beaches with a more laid-back atmosphere. Hat Rin is the distillation of all these features, with back-to-back white sands relaxed resident hippies though after dusk it swings into action as Thailand's rave capital, a reputation cemented by its farang-thronged full moon parties. The furthest inhabited island of the archipelago, the small, rugged outcrop of Ko Tao, has taken off as a scuba-diving center, but remains on the whole quieter and less sophisticated than Samui and Pha Ngan.

Tucked away beneath the islands, Nakhon Si Thammarat, the cultural capital of the south, is well worth a short detour form the main routes down the center of the peninsula - it's a sophisticated city of grand old temples, delicious cuisine and distinctive handicrafts. With its small but significant Muslim population, and machine-gun dealect, Nakhon begins the transition into Thailand's deep south.

The train from Bangkok connects all the mainland towns, and bus services, along highways 4 (also known as the Phetkasem Highway, or, usually, Thanon Phetkasem when passing through towns) and 41, are frequent. Daily boats run to the islands from two jumping-off points: Surat Thani, 650km from Bangkok, has the best choice of routes, but the alnatives form Chumphon get you straight to the tranquility of Ko Tao.

Highlights

  • Hua Hin - Thailand's oldest beach resort, used to be little more than an over grown.
  • Samui - A great choice of beachside pads. There are simple bangalows to luxurious cottages.
  • Full moon at Hat Rin - DIY beach parties draw ravers in their thousands.
  • Ko Pha Ngan - Beautiful, secluded bay with good accommodation. 
  • Boat trip round Ko Tao - Satisfying exploration and great snorkeling. 

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