Things to Do in Gulf of Thailand
The 42 karst islets of Ang Thong National Marine Park (Mu Koh Ang Thong) in southern Thailand comprise a picturesque seascape spanning more than 95 square miles (246 square kilometers). These limestone pinnacles harbor secluded powdery beaches, sheer cliffs, and caves, and are home to myriad birds, monkeys, dolphins, and other wildlife.
With crystal clear water, plentiful coral reefs, and beautiful stretches of fine white sand, Thailand’s Coral Island (Koh Larn) is a veritable paradise. Take a day trip to this popular spot—about 4.5 miles (7 km) off the coast of Pattaya—to enjoy beaches and a variety of water sports, including scuba diving and snorkeling.
In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen, Ko Taen, and Ko Tan) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago. Koh Tan also has a thriving population of monitor lizards, a boardwalk through a mangrove forest, a quaint local temple, a handful of local restaurants and a cluster of bungalow-style accommodations.
Khao Sam Roi Yot, which translates roughly to “the mountain with three hundred peaks,” protects the largest wetlands area in Thailand, a freshwater marsh that comprises over a third of the national park’s total area. Outdoor enthusiasts come to the park to explore its beaches, caves and marshlands, where an estimated 300 species of birds make their home for all or part of the year. Other park residents include crab-eating macaque, barking deer, Malayan pangolin, dusky leaf monkey, fishing cats, wild elephants and guar.
Apart from the wildlife, the park’s most popular feature is Phraya Nakhon Cave, arguably one of the most spectacular caves in all of Southeast Asia. Its spectacular chamber houses a stunning gold and green pavilion — a sight that few visitors to Thailand are lucky enough to see for themselves.
Home to miniature replicas of both top Thailand sights and global landmarks, Mini Siam is a family-friendly Pattaya attraction. Travel through Thai history on the Mini Siam side, where you’ll see to-scale versions of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Bridge on the River Kwai, and then admire the Eiffel Tower in Mini Europe.
Nestled among Koh Samui’s central mountains, the Na Muang Waterfall has two tiers: a lower stretch that’s easily reachable and falls into a lovely natural pool, and a higher tier that requires a 30-minute hike. The falls are set among lush jungle surroundings, and access to the site is free.
With its golden sands and clear water, Nang Yuan Island (Koh Nang Yuan) is the poster child of southern Thailand. Hike the rocky, forested landscape; swim and snorkel in crystalline water; or just relax in relative quiet. Nang Yuan sees only a fraction of the crowds that flock to its neighbors.
Take a walk beneath the water as sharks and rays glide overhead at Underwater World Pattaya. This walk-through aquarium highlights the diverse range of marine creatures found in Thai waters, from shallow rock-pool dwellers to colorful coral and deep-ocean fish. More than 2,500 critters are on display, representing some 200 species.
Apart from the beaches, Koh Samui’s most distinctive attraction is the golden Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai) visible above the red-tiled rooftops on the island’s north coast. The 40-foot (12-meter) Buddha statue can be seen from several miles away—even from a plane—and the site is an active place of worship.
Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks - or Hin Yai/Hin Ta - are rocky outcrops on Lamai Beach. Often photographed and commented on, the rocks bear an uncanny resemblance to male and female genitalia.
The rocks are set on a lovely stretch of beach, and create tranquil rock pools when the tide is in.
More Things to Do in Gulf of Thailand
The 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) stretch of sand known as Pattaya Beach ranks among the area's liveliest beaches. The crescent-shaped coast remains lively day and night, with the party atmosphere of the bars and restaurants of Beach Road to one side and a host of water sports—wind surfing, jet skiing, parasailing, or banana boating—to the other. The popular beach also serves as a departure point for diving expeditions to Pattaya's offshore coral islands.
Thailand’s answer to Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família cathedral, the Sanctuary of Truth (Prasat Sut Ja-Tum) was begun in 1981 and is scheduled for completion around 2050. The wooden structure is a whopping 345 feet tall (105 meters tall), hand-carved by artisans using traditional techniques, and full of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.
Deep in Koh Samui’s jungle-clad hills is the Secret Buddha Garden (Magic Garden), where a waterfall tumbles past stone sculptures of the Buddha. The oasis was created by local durian farmer Nim Thongsuk, whose tomb sits among the carvings of Buddhist spirits, musicians, and animals.
Nobody goes to Pattaya for the snow, but Frost Magical Ice of Siam, a wintry theme park kept at a temperature of 14°F (-10°C), features plenty of ice. Inside the chilled dome, enjoy ice carvings themed around the Arctic, an ice bar, an ice slide, and even an ice tuk-tuk. Outdoors, view white-sand sculptures inspired by Thai culture.
At the Pattaya Floating Market, traditional thatched huts perched on stilts over the water house vendors selling handicrafts, Thai street food, and souvenirs from around the country. The market’s four areas represent the culture and architecture of Thailand’s four main regions: north, northeast, central, and south.
Talu Island (Koh Talu) is a privately-owned island in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s around a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland town of Bangsaphan, and approximately three hours from Hua Hin. The island is a popular day trip due to its pristine beaches lined with palm trees, crystal-clear waters, and tropical wilderness inland.
Koh Talu’s shallow waters are ideal for snorkeling, and it’s the closest place to Hua Hin for scuba diving, with reasonable depths and good visibility. Further inland, a wild tropical rainforest covers the landscape of the island, with some fantastic opportunities for trekking. There is only one resort on the island, and it offers activities such as mountain biking, kayaking, and sailing in addition to beach and garden bungalow accommodation.
Talu Island is also home to a sea turtle conservation programme, where turtle eggs are harvested and nurtured before being released into the ocean when they’re nine months old.
Home to a number of rare Irrawaddy “smiling” dolphins, Pattaya Dolphin World is best-known for its dolphin shows. Besides four daily live performances, the site offers a petting zoo, a toy museum, horse-and-carriage rides, and a short all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) circuit, as well as a restaurant and a bar.
Covering 8 acres (3 hectares) of downtown Hua Hin, Vana Nava Water Jungle is one of Thailand’s largest water parks. In addition to around 20 slides and rides, some of which will thrill even adults, the park has a kids’ zone, food options, massage stations, and retail outlets. The adventure area features a ropes course, surf simulator, and climbing wall.
Fronted by a house balanced on its roof, Upside Down Pattaya is a quirky attraction that’s too small to count as a theme park. Pose for photos inside the upside-down house, where floors work as ceilings and vice versa; spin on an astronaut-style gyroscope; explore the labyrinth; enjoy the leaning castle; or brave the wobbly bicycles.
Occupying 10 acres (40,000 square meters) fifteen minutes outside of Hua Hin, Black Mountain Water Park opened in 2011 and has already become one of the most popular regional attractions. Large, clean and staffed with professionally trained lifeguards, the waterpark features all the crowdpleasers, including Thailand’s biggest wave pool, lazy river, zero entry pool, children’s pool and a 56-foot (17-meter) tall tower with 9 water slides.
Changing rooms and lockers are offered free of charge. An on-site restaurant serves a variety of Thai and international dishes, and park-goers will also find snack and ice cream kiosks located throughout the waterpark.
In keeping with Ko Pha Ngan’s party spirit, Slip N Fly is more than just a water park. It’s a daytime pool party, with two 130-foot (40-meter) slides, a couple of smaller slides, a large freshwater pool, plus dancers, musicians, and DJs. As you’d expect, the island’s notorious “bucket” drink options flow throughout the day.
Intricately sculpted knot gardens create a world of beauty at the Nongnooch Garden Pattaya (Nong Nooch Tropical Garden). Elephant and Thai cultural shows are held in these lovely botanical gardens, which include notable collections of palms and orchids. The elephants play football and basketball, and Thai dancers and actors re-enact historical events and Muay Thai boxing.
A resort adjoins the 240-hectare (600-acre) gardens, so if you run out of time you can easily spend the night here. There’s also a range of different cuisines to choose from at several restaurants.
Koh Samui is known for its incredible beaches, turquoise waters and sandy shores. But hidden away from the coastal wonder lies one of the most unique temples in the nation—Wat Khunaram.
While this gilded red and white temple may look typical to travelers who climb the dozen or so stairs that lead to its entryway, once inside, visitors will find a site unlike anywhere else. That’s because a vertical glass casket holds the mummified body of Loung Pordaeng—a famous monk—in his most meditative state. Locals say his meditation techniques, which required less oxygen than his peers—are responsible for his still well-preserved state. Visitors can come tour the site, learn about the life of this religious icon, and bear witness to local Buddhists praying at wat shrines.
Home to a collection of more than 2,000 teddy bears spread across 13 different themed zones, the Pattaya Teddy Bear Museum (also known as Teddy Island) is exactly what it sounds like. Unlike at traditional toy museums, though, where exhibits are kept behind glass, here visitors are free to pose with the bears. There’s a well-equipped gift store, too.
- Things to do in Koh Samui
- Things to do in Pattaya
- Things to do in Koh Tao
- Things to do in Ko Pha Ngan
- Things to do in Surat Thani
- Things to do in Hua Hin
- Things to do in Ko Chang
- Things to do in Hat Yai
- Things to do in Southern Thailand and Andaman Coast
- Things to do in South Coast
- Things to do in Kedah
- Things to do in Krabi
- Things to do in Khao Lak
- Things to do in Mekong Delta
- Things to do in Southern Vietnam