Patong Beach may not offer travelers a true taste of Southeast Asia, but the kinetic energy of this popular destination has made it a favorite among westerners looking to party. Like the rest of Phuket, Patong is home to white sandy beaches, clear blue water and plenty of sun, making it an ideal spot to catch some rays. But bustling neon streets lined with crowded open-air discos and dozens of bars serving strong island drinks have made this a destination for the younger set looking to party long into the night.
Part of a small peninsula located between Krabi Town and Ao Nang, Phra Nang Beach is one of the most scenic and picturesque beaches in the country. This short but broad strip of sand boasts that classic jawdropping beach scenery only found in Thailand, with pure white sand framed by limestone cliffs and lapped by calm waters that are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. This whole area is particularly popular with rock climbers, and even if you don’t join in, it’s fascinating to watch those who do climb up right from the beach. At the southern end of the beach is a giant limestone cliff that contains the famous PrincessCave, said to be the home of a mythical sea princess. Other activities to keep you amused while you admire the scenery include having a massage, enjoying a barbecue, hiking, sunbathing and, of course, going for a swim.
Luxury beach resorts with pampering garden pools and high-end add-ons attract a jet-set crowd to Ao Nang Beach on the Andaman Sea. Ao Nang is an ideal base for island-hopping trips, sea-kayaking adventures and day tours to local attractions like snake farms, pineapple plantations and hot springs. Diving excursions head off from Ao Nang to nearby Raillay or further afield to Koh Phi Phi. The seafront promenade at Ao Nang is lined with souvenir shops, tailors and restaurants.
Phang Nga Bay is a classic Southeast Asian bay - bright jade water, limestone pinnacles and all. A large part of it has been protected as a national park.
Notable islands in Phang Nga Bay include the so-called James Bond Island (it's featured in The Man with the Golden Gun) and Koh Panyee, where you can visit a fishing community built out on stilts across the water. Bear in mind that this community is a Muslim one, so dress modestly.
You can take tours that will drop you at various beaches to swim and snorkel and take you to James Bond Island and Koh Panyee; you can also canoe.
The stunning Maya Bay became a major tourist attraction after the 2000 film, The Beach, was filmed here. It’s situated within Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands, off the coasts of both Krabi and Phuket on the mainland, and is distinguished by its beautiful white-sand beach sheltered by limestone cliffs on three sides.
There are in fact several beaches here, but most are small and some only exist at low tide. The main beach, where most boats drop passengers just offshore, is a 200-meter long strip of silky white sand. It’s surrounded by clear waters filled with colorful coral and an abundance of exotic fish, making it an absolute haven for snorkelers. Walking inland is also a treat, with a path that winds through lush greenery and reveals some simply spectacular scenery.
Koh Phi Phi is a group of islands, but most of them are just limestone spires. The only ones of any size are Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Ley. When you come to visit these heavenly islands, you'll be coming into the port on Koh Phi Phi Don.
After the infrastructure here was largely swept away by the 2004 tsunami, it was hoped that rebuilding could take place with more care for the environment and a swing upmarket. But the rush to get the tourist business back on track meant that the island - with all its rash of tourist businesses - remains much the same. Koh Phi Phi Ley has its share of over-touristing too - Maya Beach is where the film The Beach was shot, and it's regularly crowded and littered. Koh Phi Phi Ley is also famous for its bird's nests, which are used in soups.
Despite the islands' commercialization, they remain stunning little patches of paradise - all silken warm waters, limestone pillars and luminous underwater scenery.
This iconic set of islands used to be nothing more than a spot on the map in Ao Phang Nga National Park. But in 1974, when James Bond chose Khao Phing Kan as a hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun, this rarely visited limestone island became a popular destination frequented by travelers on Longtail Boat tours.
Along with the island's new fame came hoards of tourists and potential destruction of the island's natural beauty. So since 1998, it has been forbidden for boats to approach Ko Tapu, the 66 foot (20 m) limestone rock that lies just off the shore, in order to stop the erosion of the limestone and eventual collapse. Travelers love the lush vegetation, rocky cliffs and dark caves that make this pair of islands easy to spot. Most trips offer the opportunity to swim and explore the surrounding waters and hungry visitors can make the most of their excursion by eating lunch at the nearby floating Muslim village.
Along with the smaller but more developed Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai sits in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, with Phuket to the west and Krabi in the east. A beach-lover's paradise, Yao Yai is one of only a few of Thailand’s southern islands that remains a quiet, unspoiled refuge away from the crowds. Meaning ‘Big Long Island,' Ko Yao Yai is 18 miles (30 km) from top to bottom. It’s populated by thick mangroves, coconut groves, rubber plantations and picturesque villages, all of which are fringed by pristine white-sand beaches. The island has thus far managed to avoid any major tourism development, though it features a smattering of resorts and guesthouses. Fishing and farming remain the primary source of income for residents. A visit to Koh Yao Yai means to slow down and enjoy the lush landscapes, making it ideal for couples on a romantic break, families seeking a quiet beach holiday or those simply looking for peace away from the crowds of Phuket.
Koh Yao Noi is situated midway between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay. It’s a diverse and scenic island, with mangrove forests lining its west coast and white-sand beaches fringing its eastern edges. Yao Noi is around half the size of neighboring Koh Yao Yai, but is nonetheless the more developed of the two. However, beyond the 7Eleven, high-end resorts, and guest houses, local life on Koh Yao Noi continues, with farming and fishing the main source of income for the island alongside tourism. Yao Noi is a joy to simply ride around, either on a hired motorbike or via a tuk tuk. It has one main road that circles the southern half of the island, with smaller paved roads taking off in different directions, plus a few dirt tracks leading up to the north. Along the way, it’s all about taking in the scenery – the wooden houses on stilts, rubber plantations, rice paddies, and mangrove forests. Other activities available on the island include kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, and swimming.
Built on a patch of virgin rainforest high above Phuket City and visible from most vantage points, the serene - and very, very, big - Chalong Big Buddha will wow you even from a distance. Close up, it's quite overwhelming.
The giant statue was built by donations - visitors who donated were allowed to choose how their money would be spent. Also donated was the white marble that covers the sculpture, giving it a tranquil white glow.
There is another Buddha statue on the site, a smaller brass one - it stands a mere 12 meters (36 feet). The Big Buddha is 45 m (147 ft) and its lap is 25 m (82 ft) wide at the base. The smaller Buddha is dedicated to the Queen of Thailand, the larger to the King. Climb to the Buddha's feet to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and magnificent views.
There are 29 Buddhist temples on the island of Phuket, but Wat Chalong is the most elaborate and important. It is dedicated to two abbots who used their medical skills and authority to assist during the Tin Miner's Rebellion of the 19th century.
The building is large and impressive, but the main interest of the temple for visitors is its history. There are numerous stories that have grown up about its abbots and their magical qualities. Statues of the abbots inside the monastery are covered in gold leaf. Thai tourists visit here in great numbers, often to make decisions or receive lucky numbers. You can do as they do, but be sure to make a donation, and dress modestly.
While a lot of Phuket may be all neon and tanning lotion, there are some parts of town that give you a flavor of what once was. Stroll the streets of Old Phuket Town and you can go back to the days when it was dubbed 'Junk Ceylon' and made a fortune out of tin. The architecture from that time is based on other colonial forms in places like Malay and Singapore. 'Shophouses' are the signature construction, with their narrow fronts, long sides and internal courtyards. Latticed windows are another feature of the area. There are a few old villas scattered around, some of which are museums which are open to the public, some of which can be viewed from outside. Soi Romanee is of interest as the former red light district.
Railay sits on a peninsula between the busy tourist centers of Krabi and Ao Nang, but because of its fairytale limestone cliffs, it’s only accessible by boat. The four interconnected beaches that make up Railay Beach (West Railay, East Railay, Phra Nang and Tonsai) have a distinctly bohemian, easy-going vibe.
West Railay, where many of the boats from Ao Nang dock, has the talcum powder-soft sand and cerulean waters of any beach bum’s dreams. The craggy limestone formations of East Railay make it one of Thailand’s top rock-climbing destinations, with safety bolts and marked routes covering much of the cliffy area. While advanced climbers will find plenty of challenges at Railay Beach, new climbers can register for “top rope” climbing classes to learn the sport with added safety measures. Both East and West Railay have small promenades lined with shops and restaurants.
Koh Poda, part of a tiny archipelago in Krabi province off the west coast of Thailand, ranks among the most picturesque of the many uninhabited and semi-inhabited islands that line the coast. Longtail boats drop visitors off along a stretch of sugar soft, white sand beach, famous for its clear waters and stunning views off offshore limestone formations. Thanks to its west-facing beach, the area is particularly lovely around sunset.
Tropical fish are visible in the waters just off the beach, but just a little further out a coral reef rings much of the island, providing excellent snorkeling opportunities for those who can pull themselves from the beach. While the island does have a single guesthouse, most visitors come on a day trip from nearby Ao Nang.
More than 40 islands dot the green-blue waters of Ao Phang Nga National Park near Phuket. Their distinct limestone cliffs, unique sea life and close proximity to one another have made this natural escape one of the most popular Longtail boat trips in all of Thailand.
Ko Kan—also known as James Bond Island—Ko Phanak and Ko Hong are some of the regular stops on these memorable excursions. Travelers can coast over the mostly calm waters and see the spot where James Bond his out in The Man with the Golden Gun, or explore the caves of Lod Yai and Lod Lek. In addition to dozens of distinct and beautiful islands, travelers will pass through mangrove forests, where it’s easy to spot kingfishers, blue winged leafbirds and some of Thailand’s other unique wildlife.
The southern Thailand province of Krabi is surrounded by surreal rocky islands that poke out of the surrounding turquoise Andaman Sea, including the beautiful group known as the Hong Islands.
A popular day-trip destination from Ao Nang, the Hong Islands are fringed with rainforest and white-sand beaches, with rocky viewpoints and hidden lagoons.
Offshore dives reveals a spectacular underwater world of coral reefs, and if you’re sea-kayaking you can access lovely sea caves.
The limestone island of Koh Panyi is home to a floating Muslim fishing village, built on stilts over the water. The village has a mosque and a school, and is home to around 100 families who make their living from fishing.
Seafood restaurants are a big hit here, and market stalls sell souvenirs, T-shirts and postcards.
An overnight stay in a traditional home with a local family, in a room hovering over the water, is a unique Thailand experience.
When people talk of Racha Island, they’re usually referring to Racha Yai, which sits, along with the smaller and uninhabited Racha Noi, around 25 kilometers off the coast of Phuket. Both islands are blessed with white sandy beaches lapped by crystal clear waters, making them popular with divers and snorkelers on day trips. However, Racha Yai is becoming an increasingly popular place to stay a while, offering a variety of accommodation options to choose from.
Racha Island’s main beach, Ao Tawan Tok (also known as Ao Bungalow), is a U-shaped bay consisting of white powdery sand and perfectly turquoise water, not unlike nearby Siam Bay, although the latter is home to a longer and much more peaceful strip of beach. Kon Kare Bay and Ter Bay on the other side of the island offer similarly tantalizing beaches, plus ample opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and fishing trips.