With gorgeous scenery, a superb variety of accommodation to choose from and excellent transport links, it’s easy to see why established holiday resorts such as Ko Samui, Krabi and Phuket are so popular. But part of the beauty of a holiday in Thailand is the diversity of choice you have. If you’re a frequent visitor to Thailand or just looking to try somewhere different on your next trip away from the main tourist resorts, here are some up and coming destinations in southern Thailand for you to consider.
Chumphon province is regarded as the gateway to southern Thailand. It’s from mainland Chumphon where many travellers depart on boats that take them across the Gulf of Thailand to Ko Tao and onwards to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui. Most overseas visitors only see Chumphon as a jumping off point for Ko Tao and relatively few people actually take time to explore the province. This lack of tourists is part of the appeal of Chumphon which is home to some surprisingly good beaches and enjoys a relaxed atmosphere.
Where to stay in Chumphon
Chumphon town is a good base to explore the area with frequent and cheap public songthaews (passenger vehicles) running out to the main beaches. If you prefer to be right by the sea, the beach at Thung Wua Laen probably offers the widest choice of accommodation. However, one of the main draws for Chumphon is the fact that all of the beach areas remain relatively undeveloped so you won’t find the same variety of hotels here that you would in a more developed tourist area like Hua Hin or Ko Samui.
A-Te (Chumphon Town)
Chumphon Cabana (Thung Wua Laen Beach)
Novotel Chumphon Beach Resort & Golf (Parandonpab Beach)
Sairi Beach Cabanas (Sairee Beach)
What to see and do in Champhon
Chumphon province is home to numerous islands and beaches. The pick of Chumphon’s mainland beaches is Hat Thung Wua Laen. The name roughly translates as ‘running bison beach’ and comes from an old folklore dating back many centuries. The only bison you’ll see these days on Thung Wua Laen Beach is immortalised in statue form and this picturesque stretch of beach is a great place to visit if you want to escape the crowds. A quiet road runs parallel to the sand with a number of low-rise guest houses and local restaurants all offering sea views. You’ll also find some more unspoilt stretches of sand further along the coastline to the north although these are best explored with your own transport.
Sairee Beach is another pleasant location to visit which attracts a local crowd. Many of the Thais visiting here do so to pay their respects at a shrine to the Prince of Chumphon, the man who is known as the Father of the Thai Royal Navy. Adjacent to the shrine a viewing platform which is shaped to look like the bow of a ship offers views out to sea. To complete the nautical theme a decommissioned navy ship also sits on dry land next to the shrine. A few miles away from Sairee Beach, the viewpoint at Khao Chao Mueang provides fine views out over the Gulf of Thailand.
With a plethora of islands dotted around the Chumphon National Marine Park, the area provides some great options for snorkelling and diving. Chumphon Cabana Resort and Diving Centre and Siam Catamaran Company can both arrange trips to take in islands including Ko Talu, Ko Ngam Noi and Ko Ngam Yai. For more water-based activities further inland, the rivers of Chumphon are ideal for bamboo rafting most of the year and this is celebrated with a rafting festival held in February.
The centrally located night market in Chumphon town is a convenient and cheap option for dinner and you’ll also find more eateries inside the nearby Ocean Department Store. Do sample some of the wonderful variety of fresh fruits picked from the orchards of Chumphon which you’ll see on display at the night market and at the municipal market known locally as ‘Talad Sot’.
Nok Air fly from Bangkok Don Muang to Chumphon with a journey time of one hour. Trains from Bangkok to Chumphon take a leisurely eight hours, but are still a more comfortable option than the six or seven hour bus journey from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal. Chumphon train station is handily located close to the centre of town and the night market. Adjacent to the railway station, the Lomprayah Ferry office can arrange onward travel to Ko Tao as can Fame Tour or any of the other travel agents in town. Large songthaews to Sairee Beach take 30 minutes and depart from near the City Pillar Shrine. Smaller songthaews depart from opposite the Municipal Market for a 30 minute journey in the opposite direction to Hat Thung Wua Laen. The fare to each beach is 30 Baht.
Further south along the coast from Chumphon, delightfully laid-back Khanom is the sort of destination you may just want to keep to yourself. With miles of soft sand to walk along there are times when it feels like you have your own private beach. With most travellers in this part of Thailand heading to Ko Samui, it means that tourism in Khanom remains agreeably low-key. Visitors who come to Khanom tend to be those who have already explored other islands and resorts in Thailand and who prefer a quieter beach experience away from the main tourist trail.
Where to stay in Khanom
The area known as Khanom covers a long stretch of coastline which extends down to Sichon and takes in a number of mainland beaches including Nadan Beach and Nai Phlao Beach. You won’t find the same range and choice of accommodation in Khanom as you will on nearby Ko Samui, but you will still find a good selection of beach-front bungalows and value for money hotels.
What to see and do in Khanom
The main thing to do in Khanom is relax. This is a beach destination where the most arduous thing you are likely to do each day will be decide what to have for breakfast. If your idea of the perfect holiday is serenity and long walks along the beach, take a look at Khanom. The area is famous for its pink dolphins, a rare albino breed with a vibrant pink tinge, which can often be seen in the waters off Khanom. Boat trips to the nearby islands and to spot the pink dolphins can be arranged by Khanom Tour although sightings depend on weather, sea conditions and luck.
For a break away from the Khanom beaches, head inland to take in the outstanding beauty of Khao Sok National Park and stay at the award-winning Elephant Hills. Alternatively, the gorgeous Cheow Larn Lake and Ratchaprapa Dam is only 90 minutes drive away from Khanom and makes for an excellent day trip. And culture lovers will enjoy the historic city of Nakhon Si Thammarat to the south of Khanom. There isn’t a huge food scene in Khanom and unless you have hired a car or motorbike most visitors will eat at their hotel or at the small beachside restaurants close by. One restaurant that is often recommended by Khanom locals as a venue worth seeking out is Khun Lee’s restaurant.
The nearest airports to Khanom are both approximately 90 minutes away with Surat Thani to the west and Nakhon Si Thammarat to the south. Taxis are available at each airport, but once you arrive in Khanom the public transport options are limited. This helps with the feeling of seclusion and if you want to explore all of the Khanom coastline you will need to hire your own transport.
Ranong is another of southern Thailand’s unheralded destinations. Thailand’s Andaman Coast begins in the north of Ranong province where the Kra Isthmus marks the narrowest part of peninsular Thailand. Ranong often gets overlooked as tourists opt instead for better known destinations further south on the Andaman Coast such as Phuket and Krabi. But their loss could be your gain with Ranong home to some lovely islands and a host of attractions on the mainland.
Where to stay in Ranong
The majority of foreign tourists arriving in Ranong province are en route to the delightful islands of Ko Phayam or Ko Chang. Both islands are ideal places to unwind, but try to spend at least a night or two in convivial Ranong Town.
Namsai Khaosuay (Ranong Town)
The Blue Sky Resort (Ko Phayam)
PP Land Beach Resort (Ko Phayam)
Resort Sawasdee (Ko Chang)
What to see and do in Ranong
Located in the Andaman Sea, the diminutive and charming island of Ko Phayam is one of the highlights of a trip to Ranong. Ko Phayam attracts a mix of travellers across the age spectrum, but remains off the main tourist trail with limited development taking place here. There are no cars on the island although inland areas are connected by a decent network of paved tracks used by motorcycles. If you don’t mind the exercise, walking is a good way to explore Ko Phayam using a combination of the paved tracks and the myriad of trails that lead through the cashew trees and rubber plantations. Keep your eyes peeled for hornbills which you can often see around the island. Wat Ko Phayam, the distinctive temple you will notice on arrival as you approach the island’s pier, is a particularly good location to spot these amazing birds. Ko Phayam has a bohemian vibe to it, but you don’t have to be a hippy to enjoy the evening sunsets and Sang Som served up at the Hippie Bar on Ao Kao Kwai. Roughly cobbled together from driftwood in the shape of a boat, this is one of the coolest beach bars you will find anywhere in the world.
For an even more laid-back getaway, head to neighbouring Ko Chang. Not to be confused with the bigger and better known island of the same name on Thailand’s eastern seaboard, a trip to Ko Chang can be combined with a stay on Ko Phayam. Most accommodation on Ko Chang is basic, but people come here for the seclusion not luxury.
In your rush to hit the inviting sands and warm waters of Ko Phayam and Ko Chang, don’t miss out on the chance to explore more of the Ranong mainland. Ranong town is an agreeable destination in its own right with a lively food scene and an infusion of Burmese, Chinese, Malay and Thai influences. Be sure to explore the daily market at Talad Kao and look out too for the enjoyable Saturday Walking Street Market which sets up on Rueangrat Road during the dry season months. Also on Rueangrat Road, Farmhouse Restaurant offers a comfortable environment to try out some classic southern Thai dishes.
To see where the locals like to relax, head out to any of the hot springs in Ranong province. The pick of the bunch, and easiest to get to without your own transport, are Raksawarin Hot Springs located in a lovely hillside setting on the outskirts of Ranong town. Back in the town centre, photogenic Rattanarangsan Palace provides a scenic viewpoint to watch the sun setting over the Andaman. Ranong province is said to be the wettest province in Thailand, but the higher than average precipitation does wonders for the natural beauty of the region with an abundance of waterfalls tumbling down from the verdant mountains. If you have your own transport, take a trip out to Phu Kao Ya (also known as ‘Bald Hill’) and enjoy the views and walking trails.
Nok Air fly from Bangkok Don Muang to Ranong with a flight time of 1 hour 25 minutes. There is no railway line connecting Ranong, but there are regular buses to and from Chumphon (2.5 hours) and Phuket (6 hours). Boats from Ranong to Ko Phayam are frequent in the high season (November-April) with speedboats and a slow boat plying the route. Boat services to Ko Chang are less frequent and in some cases involves transferring from the slow boat to a smaller boat when you get close to the Ko Chang shore. Check at the pier in Ranong or your resort on Ko Chang for more advice.
Best time to visit Chumphon, Khanom and Ranong
On the Gulf Coast of Thailand, Chumphon and Khanom usually see settled weather with ample spells of sunshine from February through to mid-September. The end of the year and into January can see heavy downpours and blustery winds. Over on the Andaman Coast, the weather pattern in Ranong is different so the best months to visit here are from November-April.
by Roy Cavanagh www.thaizer.com
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