Thailand: Take me to the beach
Looking for a bamboo hut on an empty beach or party nights in an exclusive resort? Thailand has an island for you
Wednesday 07 December 2011
What's the attraction?
We all have our own idea about the perfect island – a bamboo hut and a hammock on the beach, or maybe a villa with a swimming pool and butler. Happily, Thailand has an island to suit most dreams.
There are more than 1,400 to choose from, spread out in the Andaman Sea to the west of the mainland and the Gulf of Thailand to the east, some just a short ferry ride or flight away and others involving a journey of a day or more from the capital, Bangkok. The Foreign Office has lifted its warning against travel to Bangkok, due to the floods abating. The city is served non-stop from Heathrow by British Airways, Eva Air, Qantas and Thai.
24-hour party people
Before Alex Garland's narrator, Richard, found that mythical island in The Beach, he hit Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand. Notorious for its wild, hedonistic full-moon parties, Koh Phangan has matured somewhat since the heady Nineties. Haad Rin's Sunrise Beach is the place to hang out at full moon and for the Alex Garland mythical beach experience.
If you can't make the full moon, you can still experience one of the "black-moon" or "half-moon" parties. There are numerous daily ferry departures from Koh Samui, taking anything from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of boat. There are also mainland connections from Surat Thani (including a night boat) and Chumphon. Don't board a vessel that looks overloaded or in poor condition, and ensure that life jackets are available.
If sleep is on your agenda on Koh Phangan, the Sanctuary Resort (00 66 81 271 3614; thesanctuarythailand.com), located on a corner of Hat Thien beach, offers a variety or rooms from 5,990 baht (£123) for an Ocean View room right down to dorm rooms for 250 baht (£5). It's close to the action but also offers yoga and meditation classes. For sheer luxury, the family owned Santhiya Resort (00 66 7742 8999; santhiya.com; doubles from 10,000 baht/£206) on the isolated north coast should do the trick.
An island for two?
Koh Samui, blessed with stunning beaches, sparkling seas and romantic hotels, is a winning choice for honeymoons. Avoid the bustling main resorts, particularly Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai, and head to the north coast, home to some beguiling hotels that offer a number of special honeymoon packages. These include the Tongsai Bay (00 66 2381 8774; tongsaibay.co.th; B&B from 8,600 baht/£177). A newer competitor is the Six Senses Samui (00 66 77 245 678; sixsenses.com; doubles from 11,184 baht/£230 room only).
Go large in Phuket
Phuket, Thailand's largest island, has by far the most comprehensive range of accommodation, entertainment and attractions. Patong is its pulsating centre, packed with restaurants, bars, shops and a frenetic nightlife. Outside the town, choose your attraction from elephant trekking, crocodile and snake farms, waterfalls, forest treks, markets, go-karting and water sports. Hotels line Patong's beachfront and to the north and south are more laid-back and exclusive resorts. Kuoni (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk) offers seven nights' B&B at the Amari Coral Beach Phuket from £1,036 per person, including flights and private transfers.
City to sea
Just over an hour's drive south from Bangkok's international airport, you're ready to take a short ferry ride to Koh Samet. It boasts Thailand's highest number of sunshine days per year, which is why it is known as the "hot, dry island". The northern beaches are pretty boisterous, particularly at weekends. Further south there are far fewer resorts.
At the southern tip of the island is one of Thailand's most exclusive, the Paradee (00 66 38 644290; samedresorts.com; doubles from 17,000 baht/£350), with gorgeous villas on perfect, blinding white sand and an otherwise inaccessible beach.
Just a 15-minute longtail boat ride off the mainland from Hat Yao, Koh Liebong is the largest, but one of the least developed islands in the southerly Trang Province. The mountainous island, known for it outstanding flora and tremendous birdlife, has a number of sparsely developed beaches and low-key resorts. It is also one of the last habitats of the rare dugong, of which about 40 graze on the sea grass out in the turquoise-coloured bay. The Libong Beach Resort libongbeachresort.com) offers dugong-spotting tours by sea kayak, led by trained naturists for 1,000 baht (£20) and rooms starting at 800 baht (£16).
The ultimate escape
Koh Phayam, located off the west coast in the northern Andaman Sea, has yet to be colonised by boutique hotels. With the nearest airport over four hours away, Koh Phayam is the ideal spot for those seeking empty beaches and a serene scene. It is accessed only by boat from Ranong and has no banks or ATMs. On its south-west coast, Ao Yai is a 3km sweep of palm-fringed sandy beach, home to many of the small beach resorts. Bamboo Bungalows (00 66 77 820012; bamboo-bungalows.com) has a range of accommodation from simple huts for 200 baht (£4) in low season, to sturdy villas available for 1,500 baht (£30) in the high season.
Offshore Thailand offers some world-class diving opportunities. You can dive in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, which are affected by different rainy seasons – making it an almost year-round dive destination. The best opportunities are found in the Andaman Sea, particularly off the Similan and Surin Islands, which are usually accessed by live-aboard boats from Phuket and Khao Lak. Dive Worldwide (0845 130 6980; diveworldwide.com) offers a 10-night package, including two nights on a liveaboard and five-nights in the resort of Khao Lak from £1,495 per person, including flights and transfers.
Who said that?
"In 1974 in Phuket you could stay at one of the hotels in Phuket Town. Out at the beaches? Well there was an open-air restaurant at Patong Beach where you could unroll your sleeping bag on the floor! That was it, nothing else. How times change." – Tony Wheeler, co-founder, Lonely Planet
"I feel we are all islands – in a common sea." – Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
"I wanted my next film to be something I felt strongly about, and The Beach and the character of Richard were the first things I felt some kind of connection with." – Leonardo DiCaprio.
"No man is an island." John Donne.
"The first thing I ask someone hoping to visit Thailand is 'what time of the year?' Koh Samui and its neighbouring islands in the Gulf of Thailand have a different monsoon season. The best time to go is June to September as opposed to November to March for the rest of the country. The word I use to describe Thailand is diversity – from the beaches to the stunning jungles and mountains of Northern Thailand." Chris Lee, Tourism Authority of Thailand
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