Southern Thailand: the Andaman Coast

By: Moonoi

As Highway 4 switches from the east flank of the Thailand peninsula to the Andaman coast it enters a markedly different country : nourished by rain nearly all the year round, the vegetation down here is lushly tropical, with forests replacing up to 80m in height, and massive rubber and coconut plantations replacing the rice and sugar-cane fields of central Thailand. In this region's heartland the drama of the landscape is enhanced by sheer limestone crags, topographical hallmarks that spike every horizon and make for stunning views from the road. Even more spectacular and the main crowd-puller - is the Andaman Sea itself : translucent turquoise and so clear in some places that you can see to a depth of 30m, it harbors the country's largest coral reefs and is far and away the top diving area in Thailand.

Unlike the Gulf coast, the Andaman coast is hit by the southwest monsoon form May to October, when the rain and high seas render some of the outer islands inaccessible. However, conditions aren't generally severe enough to ruin a holiday on the other islands, while the occasional mainland cloudburst is offset by the advantage of notably less expensive and crowded accommodation. Although some bungalows at the smaller resorts shut down entirely during low season.

Eager to hit the high-profile beaches of Phuket and Krabi, most people either fly over the first three-hundred-kilometer stretch of the west coast or ass through it on an overnight bus, thereby missing out on the lushly forested hills of Ranong province and bypassing several gems: the tiny and still idyllic island of Ko Chang (not to be confused with its larger, more famous namesake off the east coast); the Ko Surin and Ko Similan island chains, whose reefs rate alongside the Maldives and the Great Barrier Reef; the enjoyable Khao Sok National Park, where you can stay in a tree-house beneath the shadows of looming limestone outcrops; and the mid-market resort of Khao Lak, which hugs the rugged mainland coast on the edge of Khao Lak National Park. Tourism begins in earnest on Phuket, Thailand's largest island and the best place to learn to dive. The high-rises and consumerist gloss that characterize much of Phuket don't appeal to everyone, however, and many travelers opt instead for the slightly less mainstream but very popular beaches around the former fishing village of Krabi. Nearby the stunningly beautiful Ko Phi Phi attracts a lot of attention considering its size, and is beginning to crack under the strain, so many travelers have moved on again, searching out hideaways on Ko Lanta and bringing custom to the tiny retreats of Ko Jum and Ko Bubu.

Getting to Andaman coast destinations is made easy by Highway 4, also known as the Phetkasem Highway - and usually called Thanon Phetkasem when it passes through towns. The road runs from Bangkok to the Malaysian border, and frequent air-con and ordinary busses ply this route, connecting all major - and most minor - mainland tourist destinations. There is no rail line down the Andaman coast by bus before preceding southwards. Ferries to the most popular islands usually leave several times a day (with reduced services during the monsoon season), but for more remote destinations you may have to charter your own or wait for islanders' trading boats to pick you up. Alternatively, you fly direct to the Andaman coast: there's a busy international airport on Phuket, plus useful local ones in Krabi and Ranong.

Highlights
Khao Sok National Park - Sleep in a tree-house and wake to the sound of hooting gibbons. more ...
Ko Similan - Remote chain of islands with some of the best diving in the word. more ...
Reefs and wreaks - Dive Thailand's finest underwater sights from Phuket, Ko Nang or Ko Phi Phi. more...
Phuket - Thailand's largest island and p province in its own right. There are many activities of watersport, diving more...
Sea-canoeing along the Krabi coastline - The perfect way to explore the region's myriad mangrove swamps and secret lagoons. more...
Rock climbing on Leam Phra Nang - Get a bird's eye view of fabulous coastlal scenery. more ...
Ko Lanta - The loveliest white sand beach. more ...
Ko Jum - Tiny island where there's nothing to do but chill out. more ...

reference info. by The Rough Guide



Phi Phi Island



Phuket Island

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