Thailand’s islands and beaches have long been synonymous with paradisiacal beauty, and while most people stick to just a few of the attractions, there is so much to explore along the 2,000 miles of coast lapped by the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Regardless of whether you are a couple looking for a romantic getaway or a family bringing the kids of an exotic break, you’ll find the perfect fit in Southern Thailand. Hire a Phuket car rental and use the region as your base to explore this fascinating part of the country.
Swim to the Emerald Cave
Down of the western side of Koh Mook island is the unique (and popular) Emerald Cave. Only reachable at low tide, you can’t help but gasp as you swim down through a dark tunnel which opens into a hidden underground beach flanked by an emerald lagoon. It’s worth timing your visit properly or you may not be able to reach it.
Party at Haad Rin’s Full Moon Party
Haad Rin lies on the island of Koh Phangan and is perhaps most famous for the wild monthly Full Moon parties. Drawing in tens of thousands of tourists every month for the event, the beach becomes rather packed with festivities, sound systems and party goers. Best enjoyed before returning to your hotel on the other side of the island!
Wander through Trang’s Night Market
Trang sits somewhat off Thailand’s beaten path, but those who do make the effort to visit this southern gem are treated to one of the best weekend night markets in the country. Come with an empty stomach and gorge on delights from fresh fried fish to crispy taro cakes. You won’t regret it.
Read a book on Sairee Beach
While most people visit the tiny island of Koh Tao for the diving, it’s got some incredible stretches of beach including Sairee. Located along the western edge of the island, it’s popular, so get there early to secure yourself a shady spot.
Lie back on Railay Beach
You’ll be hard pressed to find a beach quite as spectacular as Railay. Lying on a peninsula near Krabi which juts off the mainland into the Andaman Sea, the white sandy beach overlooking towering limestone karsts is only accessible by one of the wooden long-tailed boats. If you can drag yourself away from the beach and shallow waters, you can go rock climbing up the jaw-droppingly beautiful karsts, or just watch from a distance. Just grab a Phuket car rental from the airport and you’ll be in paradise in no time.
Marvel at the Erawan Falls
The biggest draw of the Erawan National Park is the waterfall of the same name. Its name comes from the three-headed elephant in Hinduism which the tiered cascade is supposed to look like. While you’re here, you’ll likely see monkeys swinging through the park’s trees and huge monitor lizards slinking along the water’s edge. It’s as magical as it sounds, but don’t expect to be the only one there.
Step back at Wat Phra Mahathat
For anyone with an interest in Buddhism, the Wat Phra Mahathat temple serves as a pilgrimage destination. Over 1,000 years old, many of the items in the temple grounds including the large chedi were transported from Sri Lanka where it is thought the religion originated.
Dive or snorkel on the Similan Islands
It’s hard to put the Similan Islands into words. This incredibly beautiful archipelago lying in the Andaman Sea to the west of the mainland is truly spectacular. Only one of the islands is inhabited, and it’s possible to walk right the way across it in just a few minutes. There are no permanent structures, so if you want to stay here, you’ll have to sleep in a tent or on the beach. Expect some of the finest snorkeling and scuba diving in the country.
Take a boat trip to Maya Bay
Made famous as the filming location for the movie adaptation of Alex Garland’s award-winning book, ‘The Beach’, Maya Bay is one of the most visited spots in Thailand. Wraparound limestone mountains almost completely seal the white sandy beach and shallow waters. Don’t expect to have it all to yourself!
Sun yourself on Jomtien Beach
The oceanfront city of Pattaya lies some 50 miles south of the capital. While most people just stay on Pattaya Beach, those in the know go a little further up the coast to Jomtien, a large swath of pristine white sand. Here, you can take part in watersports, eat in one of the seafront restaurants or simply find a secluded spot on the beach to work on your tan.
Admire the largest Buddha engraving in the world
Just outside Pattaya lies the largest engraved Buddha in the world. It was carved into the limestone cliffs to celebrate the King of Thailand’s 50th anniversary on the throne just over 20 years ago. Well worth the effort to go and see.
Find a spot on Lamai Beach
One of Koh Samui’s top spots, Lamai Beach has long attracted travelers for its swathes of white sand lapped by the turquoise ocean, laid back atmosphere and quieter nature than neighboring Chaweng. Here, you’ll still find watersports, great guest houses, bars, and oceanfront eateries.
Glide along Pattaya’s floating market
Though it teems with other tourists, it’s fascinating nonetheless. It is split into sections which represent the different areas of Thailand and the best way to experience it is with one of the English-speaking boatman who’ll act as your guide.
Volunteer with gentle giants at the Elephant Village
While you must be careful about which animal sanctuaries you visit in Thailand, the Elephant Village in Pattaya lets visitors volunteer to work with these gentle giants. Spend a day feeding and washing the elephants who have been saved from captivity or abandoned.
Swim at Koh Nang Yuan
Flanked on both sides by the clear ocean, the beach on tiny Koh Nang Yuan is spectacular. You can take a boat out from Koh Tao and when you are there, be sure to walk up the rocky trail to a viewpoint that looks down over the little island, beach, and ocean.