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Beach bliss

Exploring Thailand’s cities and beaches

Natalie Herrera September 24, 2015

Krabi beach

There are hundreds of Thai islands situated in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, from luxury paradise beaches where every need is met, to more rustic island getaways, choosing the right one can seem a little mind-boggling.

Perhaps you’d like to make the most of your trip and combine white sandy beaches with a stop in one of Thailand’s fascinating cities? Read on; discover why Thailand is a top destination and where your adventure should begin!

Bangkok

Great for: Sublime food and mad-cap tuk-tuk rides

Bangkok is the gateway to Thailand; with two busy airports (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang), it’s the ideal starting point for your Thailand city experience before heading on to your beach paradise.

The city contrasts high rise buildings with lowly market stalls selling everything from dragon fruit to handmade souvenirs – a great example of this is bustling Silom Road.

While tuk-tuks are undoubtedly the most fun way of getting around the city, the sky train (BTS) is great for quick, easy and cheap (single from 15 baht) access to some of the must-see sights, such as the dazzling Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

In the evening, explore Chinatown with its huge neon signs and selection of Thai street food with an irresistible Chinese twist. On a weekend, get the BTS to Chatuchak Park for the market, then spend the afternoon relaxing in the park and enjoying city views across the lake.

Chiang Mai

Great for: Ancient traditions and craft markets

In the north, Chiang Mai is a must-do experience for visitors to Thailand; the culture is rich, the locals are friendly, and the air is (slightly) less humid. Chiang Mai is famous for its ancient traditions in the practise of massage; much needed after a day exploring the temples in the Old City.

If you only have time for one temple, make sure its Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Overlooking the city from its secluded mountain location, the sacred temple is a harmonious oasis with fantastic views and a little community of market stalls selling lucky charms.

Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road is a real highlight; a huge night-time market selling all sorts of trinkets and handicrafts every evening. For food, head south of the old city walls to taste some of the local street food, such as Sai Oua – a spicy sausage made with lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal.

Thailand beach resorts

Koh Samet

Great for: Romantic getaways and seeing the ‘real Thailand’

Koh Samet offers an island getaway and a favourable tropical year round climate. Made popular by its close proximity to Bangkok, the island is the first choice of many locals and tourists who don’t want to travel too far from the capital.

Koh Samet is part of Khao Laem Ya National Park, and the island is home to stunning scenery and beaches as a result. While the north is livelier with many bars and restaurants, the idyllic south beaches such as Ao Nuam and Ao Wai, are pleasantly secluded.

Koh Tao

Great for: diving and snorkelling
Accessible from: Koh Samui

Found near to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, the littlest island of the group, Koh Tao, punches above its weight with a small yet perfectly-formed blend of culture and off the beach jungle-clad experiences. The real treasure of this tiny isle, however, lies off shore in spectacular diving waters with sparkling coral gardens shimmer in the reflection of your divers mask; a playground for reef fish, rays and sharks.

Koh Samui

Great for: indecision   

You want it all – beach, dive, food, family and fun but you can’t decide which you prefer most? One of the most developed of the Thai islands, Koh Samui provides a paradise island to suit all tastes and pockets.  Choosing the right beach to stay on is very important.  All the beaches and towns of Koh Samui have something very different to offer, so choose wisely if you want to enjoy your holiday to the full. If you want plenty of nightlife then Chaweng is the place to be, and also benefits from beautiful beaches and a wide range of activities for the young and young at heart. So from the hustle and bustle of Chaweng Beach to the lively yet relaxed atmosphere of Lamai Beach to the timeless feel of Bophut's Fisherman's Village to the tropical beach paradise of Maenam, Koh Samui is unique among Thailand's islands in maintaining a broad appeal for everyone. This helps to give the distinctive relaxed atmosphere that sets it apart. Everyone is welcome.

Then there’s Bophut; an old fishing village in the north which displays Koh Samui’s heritage. Bophut is a timeless resort where the old and modern are intermingled for a more traditional, but comfortable, family-friendly destination.

If you fly into Samui, you’ll notice the Big Buddha temple, or Wat Phra Yai as it’s known locally. The temple is marked by a 12 metre Buddha and is one of the island’s most popular attractions.

Koh Phangan

Great for: Idyllic seclusion plus full moon parties
Accessible from: Koh Samui and Koh Tao

Idyllic, secluded, rustic hideaway, Koh Phangan may be famous for full moon parties - yet on the other side of the island, no one can hear you dream. Wander away from the beach and you find markets to browse in small towns with easy going attitudes. As busy as it is quiet, Koh Phangan really is whatever you make it. Food is always an adventure here so ensure you try the island speciality called ‘No Names’, a vegetable, chicken or pork fritter served with dipping sauce. Wash it down with a sublime coconut and banana milkshake and you will quickly understand why people return to Koh Phangan over and over again.

Koh Chang

Great for: Cycling tours through forests
Accessible from: Trat

On the other side of the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Chang sits further north and within the province of Trat. You’ll find the best beaches on the west coast. A firm favourite is Ao Klong Prao with its length of white sand and beautiful rocky landscape to the north.

Diving is a popular past time for those visiting Koh Chang with lots of trips running from the south to the islands of Koh Kood and Koh Wai – home of vividly colorful coral reefs. But we love hiring a bike and following the cycling tour around the Klong Son area through the forest with stops at the temples and a waterfall.

Khao Lak

Great for: Families seeking unspoilt beauty

It’s not just the limestone cliffs that impress. The lack of high rise development and the beauty of Khao Lak-Lam National Park will astound as sea cliffs plummet into turquoise waters. For a touch of tropical heaven, swimming in the natural pool under Tone Chong Fah waterfall will rate as a standout moment from your holiday - watch out for lemurs monkeys and tapirs too. Just off the coast, Phang Nga Bay is a stunning rocky ecosystem containing a myriad of exotic lagoons.  Khao Lak delivers your very own slice of paradise, perfect for couples, families and diving enthusiasts alike.

Phuket

Great for: Ying and Yang

Secluded and seductive, Phuket has stunning remote beaches and a kaleidoscope of colourful of night time scenery where it seems the party never stops until you want it to. Although Phuket is endlessly energetic, there are also colonial mansions and temples to explore. Bustling Patong has the nightlife, but for contrast head to Mai Khao Beach in the northwest for tranquillity and calm. For culture, drop into the Thalang National Museum to local to discover the rich  history of the sea gypsies and the region’s tin mining history and Wat Chalong, the temple dedicated to the monks who aided the miner’s rebellion of 1876.

Phi Phi

Great for: Iconic images of Thailand
Accessible from: Phuket, Krabi and Koh Lanta

White sands, turquoise water and a whole host of beach hut accommodation; Koh Phi Phi is the island paradise you see in the posters. Depending where you stay, however, your experience on Koh Phi Phi will vary; while Tonsai Village offers lively bars, restaurants and shops, Long Beach is quiet and secluded, yet still only a two-minute longtail boat ride from all the action in town.

Other than sun-worshipping and snorkelling, Phi Phi is a great base for exploring the nearby uninhabited island of Phi Phi Leh – home of Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed. It’s best to head out early (ideally before 8am) to beat the crowds from Phuket and get some alone time on the stunning beach.

Krabi

Great for: Island hopping and rock climbing

Remember those tall craggy limestone rocks jutting out to sea – it is our duty to inform you that these rocks are also the ones you see splashed across travel articles. They originate from Khao Kanab Nam in Krabi and for some hardy souls it is not enough that they compose their perfect island photograph; but no - they must climb them too. Why? Because they are there, of course, beautiful and inviting, especially the stalactite karst cathedrals at the peninsulas of Railay and Tonsai. To spy these edifices rising from the sea, take a long tail boat ride to uninhabited islands such as Khao Kanab Nam. 

Koh Yao Noi

Great for: getting away from it all. Romantic getaway
Accessible from: Phuket

If quality time is your reason for travel, then Koh Yao Noi offers the simple pleasures where the most active thing you will do is a spot of gentle kayaking along a deserted island shoreline. Explore rubber plantations inland from the back seat of a taxi-scooter while spotting the odd water buffalo or two. Had Yao and Buddha Beach provide the white sand experience but be sure to explore the secluded lagoons of Koh Roi and nearby Koh Kadu also. 

Almost too beautiful for words, a holiday that invigorates, tantalises and constantly surprises - visit our Thailand pages for more multi centre options and inspirations or places to perhaps even plan your dream wedding or honeymoon.

To get the most from this fascinaing country, we strongly recommend one of our group or private tours. Call our destination specialists to tailor your perfect beach and city tour. For an idea of what you can see there, watch our ‘2 Minute Tour of Thailand’ video.