But where to go? Thailand of course; where else will you find all of the above and much more. A long time favourite of backpackers the world over and an increasingly popular tourist destination – a trip to the country will leave you hungry for more.
The country basks in year round warm temperatures (best to travel between November and February though to avoid the rainy season), will amaze you with its culture and tradition, and has something for every traveller, backpacker or family to experience.
If you do decide to make Thailand your next holiday destination, here are my top 5 places to visit:
The capital city of the country and the perfect place to start your Thailand experience, Bangkok has it all; streets lined with food stalls selling exotic Thai cuisine made with fresh ingredients (fridges are quite a rarity in Thailand as all food is freshly prepared), temple after temple with stunning intricately designed interiors, a busy China Town where birds nest and shark fin soups can still be found, western influences and of course the floating markets which Thailand is so very famous for.
Don’t miss: China Town (Yaowarat), the spectacular Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) and finally, the Bang Khu Wiang floating market.
Ko Pha Ngan
If you like to party then why not attend one of the full moon parties which Thailand is also well known for? The island where it all started is Ko Pha Ngan and you can still join revellers every month for the spectacular party.
Once you’ve danced the night away and spent a couple of days recovering on one of the white sandy beaches, why not explore the Ang Thong Archipelago (containing over 40 islands – many very secluded) or go scuba diving in the beautiful crystal clear water (don’t forget to check whether you are covered on your travel insurance policy).
Don’t miss: Haad Mae Haad Beach (a National Marine Park perfect for snorkelling or scuba diving), Haad Rin (location of the full moon party) and finally, Haad Yao a long white sandy beach on the west coast of the island.
Siam Water Park
Once you’ve had enough of partying the night away on Ko Pha Ngan, and you need to recover from one too many hangovers, why not head back towards Bangkok and visit the Siam Water Park.
The park has a variety of pools, a man made beach with wave machine, slides, waterfalls and whirlpools. All in all, a fun place to spend a day chilling out with friends or family.
If you’ve not yet tired of white sandy beaches then head for Ko Samui Island (Thailand’s 3rd largest island), home to the white sandy beaches and turquoise water which are so typical to the country.
Another perfect destination for snorkelling or scuba diving; or simply relaxing on the miles of beautiful beaches lined with palm trees. Much drier than the mainland during the rainy season, but beware, it does however have its own rainy season between October and December.
Don’t Miss: Namtok Na Mueang & Namtok Hin Lat (2 stunning waterfalls), Wat Khunaram Ko Samui (an interesting temple with a mummified monk on display) and The Secret Buddha Garden (located at the islands highest point and affording visitor’s panoramic view across Ko Samui).
Once you’ve definitely had your fill of the many beautiful beaches Thailand has to offer, why not head inland for something altogether different. Chiang Mai is a bustling metropolis with boutique hotels, trendy clothes shops and internet cafes, beneath which beats the heart of an ancient walled city with over 300 temples and history galore (you’ll only find small sections of the wall now visible).
Don’t miss: Wat Phra Sing (perhaps Chiang Mai’s most beautiful temple), Chiang Mai Arts & Cultural Centre and for those with children, Chiang Mai Zoo (with over 7,000 animals).
Over the years scuba diving has become a popular activity for beginners and experienced divers alike. This is probably due to the many natural history programs that are shown on TV channels worldwide, with holidaymakers seeking to view up close what they see on their screens. Recently, as global travel has become more popular, Thailand has seen a steady growth of diving tourists coming to enjoy the facilities and rich array of marine life that can be found in its coastal waters.
It is possible to scuba dive all year round, with its crystal clear waters and colorful sea life – Thailand offers divers an experience never to be forgotten. Most of the diving areas of Thailand are situated along the west coast within the Andaman Sea, with Phuket Island being used by many divers as a base to explore the mystical waters of the area. The East Coast is not as well served but there are still worthwhile sites available within the Gulf of Thailand.
November until April is the time for best possible diving conditions and it is possible to see marine life come alive within the area around this time, with whales, sharks, and various other species being visible between the months of February and May. During the rainy season, water visibility is reduced but it is still possible to scuba dive and explore.
As its popularity has increased, there is now a range of diving courses that are available as a part of your holiday. These can be for a complete beginner or even an expert diver, who needs the qualifications to advance further. Diving schools are normally situated within the more populated areas, such as Phuket and Koh Tao.
The most famous dive site to be found in Thailand’s waters is Richelieu Rock. This is an underwater photographer’s dream. Brightly colored coral reefs, schooling fish, turtles, and the famous whale shark, can all be found here at different times of the year. Add to this the smaller marine marvels such as seahorses and clownfish, even the most unimaginative photographer should be satisfied.
Thailand also offers a range of diving vacations where there are great diving cruises and hotel based day trip diving tours on offer. So in conclusion, if you are planning a scuba diving vacation in the near future, then Thailand is most certainly a destination to consider. With its breathtaking sea life and legendary spicy cuisine, you will more than likely return to this wonderful place once you’ve had a taste.
Endless summers, fabulous sea views, beachside dining, wonderful sunsets and a laid-back lifestyle are exactly what makes Phuket a true tropical paradise. But while this is heavenly for the most part, what is life without an adrenaline rush once in a while?
Ever wanted to dive with turtles, learn to surf, be a boogie-queen, or go on a jungle adventure? You’ve come to the right place. Seize the moment and live your dreams with one of these eight exciting experiences awaiting you in Phuket in Thailand.
1. Martial Art Mix
An explosion of worldwide interest in the King’s sport of Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is attracting many international visitors to Phuket’s training gyms where experts run professional courses in the centuries-old martial art. Originally used on the battlefield in male combat, muay thai is also attracting a growing number of females fans interested in learning for fitness and competition.
Students enroll in courses ranging from one week to several months that, along with personal techniques and kickboxing sessions, also include gym workouts to increase body strength. Schedules are serious in the Phuket Thailand gyms, but still, leave plenty of time for enjoying other attractions in the region of Phuket.
2. Surf’s Up in Phuket
Popular with the surfing fraternity during monsoon season (April to November) when currents, winds and swells descent on the west coast of Phuket, the beach scene gets funky with local and international board-riders and boogers hanging out for waves. Although not of the mind-blowing caliber raved about on the international circuit, the local surf scene does attract a decent crowd for fun of the sport and is a great place to learn.
Several surf competitions in Phuket are held each year from Surin in the north to Kalim and the south of the island at Kata Beach. Nai Harn is also a popular surf spot during these months on Phuket, with a legion of surfers and boogie-boarders catching some great waves.
3. Jungle Jaunts on Phuket
Nature lover will delight in the variety of wildlife found in the tropical jungles of the Andaman region and within easy reach of Phuket Thailand, including the myriad of national parks located just over Sarasin Bridge on the mainland in Phang Nga province from Phuket. Drive yourself or take a tour, but be sure to pack a swimsuit, as many feature stunning waterfalls and natural pools for a refreshing dip after exploring the nature trails.
For the serious and hardy trekkers, Khao Sok National Park is a few hours drive from Phuket Thailand and offers hiking trails deep into the jungle where untouched beauty abounds. A wealth of exotic animal and bird species can be sighted, such as wild elephants, macaques, gibbons, hornbills and perhaps even an elusive tiger.
4. Kayaking in Phuket
The amazing waters of Phuket and the region are easily explored by kayak. Sea kayaking, in particular, offers many great experiences including the chance to explore offshore islands, karsts, and caves. Head to Yanui in Phuket; this is one of the most scenic coastal regions in the island’s south- with gorgeous surrounding beaches and uninhabited islands nearby, plus a rich marine life to view with a snorkel.
5. Dive In
The elusive Green Sea Turtle, weighing up to 200kg, is the largest hardshell sea turtle found in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate waters off of Phuket. Protected by the Endangered Species Act, it can be sighted in Phang Nga Bay, the Similan Islands and occasionally Phuket’s west coast. This marine species brings excitement to any dive expedition in operation around the Andaman region of Phuket and along with the amazing coral reefs found here, make this home to some of the world’s best dive sites.
6. Hold Tight in Phuket
An emerging activity for thrill-seekers bound for Phuket during monsoon time is kite-surfing – also known as fly-surfing or kite-boarding – the art of jumping waves on a wakeboard and flying through the air propelled by wind and a hovering sail. A rapidly growing sport across the world, many enthusiasts travel with their own equipment and can be seen ripping along the waters at Karon Phuket and off Rawai Beach Phuket Thailand.
7. Phuket Beach Digs and Bumps
Recent host of the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour Women’s Professional Beach Volleyball Tournament and other popular competitions, Phuket has witnessed a rise in the popularity of this energetic sport, with volleyball nets on most major beaches of Phuket. Many Thai locals are now forming teams for friendly matches and anyone is welcome to join in the Phuket beach action and fun.
The activities start when the day cools down, sometime in the late afternoon, when volleyball matches can be found on the sand at Surin, Patong, Karon, and Nai Harn. It’s a great way to meet new friends on Phuket and indulges in fun fitness – plus, the waves are right there for a quick dip afterward.
8. On the Water in Phuket Thailand
Boating is one of Phuket’s most popular adventure activities for visitors, and the variety of watercraft available for charter is astounding, although usually, the tour itineraries are set on dedicated courses that don’t deviate from its path along Phuket’s shores. Itineraries are specialized to cater for every whim. It might include a half-day outer island trip on a super-speed, six-passenger Silver Clour or overnight cruising of the Phuket’s Similan Islands Marine National Park aboard a private, fully-catered Ferretti motor yacht.
Those who prefer the buzz of being at the helm couldn’t be in a better place to learn. Home of the King’s Cup, Asia’s largest sailing regatta, Phang Nga Bay Regatta in Phuket, Phuket Race Week and other regular yachting events, this part of the Thai cost boasts some of the world’s best sailing waters. With a growing number of marinas in Phuket on the island an more planned for the Andaman region, the opportunities for sailing adventures look set to abound.
Phuket vegetarian festival
Phuket is without any doubt, one of the most famous holiday destinations in Southeast Asia. Almost everyone has heard of Phuket. It has amazing beaches and diving spots made even more famous by numerous Hollywood movies filmed on location such as “The Beach” starring Leonardo Dicaprio, “Cutthroat Island” starring Geena Davies, “The Edge of Reason” starring Bridget Jones and even Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith).
Once this little piece of heaven was devastated by a tsunami in 2004. It is now starting to pick up the pieces and once again becoming a popular tourist destination. One festival that has started to gain international interest is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. A festival which shows the world that there are more things in Thailand than the beautiful beaches and wonderful sceneries. And with resilience and determination, Thailand can once again become a viable tourist destination.
The Vegetarian Festival has long been a part of Thai tradition having its start in 1825. During that time, the island’s major town was transferred by the governor to another district which is still primarily covered with jungles and mines. At that time some group of people visited this area and however, the entire troupe fell sick of unknown causes and were seeking the help of their emperor gods.
Then they went on a vegetarian diet. According to the history, the gods apparently took pity on them and miraculously cured their sickness. People heard about this miracle and started to embrace the gods and honor them as well. And this started the Vegetarian Festival, which is celebrated for nine days (in honor of all nine emperor gods) from the first night of the ninth lunar month until the ninth night.
Prior to the festival, devotees prepare themselves by fasting and abstaining as early as three weeks before. They also abstain from eating meat throughout the entire period of the festival. The first day is marked by the lighting of nine lanterns which are then placed on a ten-meter high pole. Devotees believe that their god Shiva would descend through this pole to bless them.
They then flock to the shrines to pray to the gods three times a day. These shrines are also filled with food and drinks as a form of offering. What makes this festival attention-grabbing is the ritual procession that happens on the sixth day whereby devotees perform incredible feats like walking on live coals with their bare feet, going up ladders with rungs made of knives, undergoing tongue, face and body piercing using an assortment of sharp objects like hooks, skewers, knives and etc.
At last the parade with never-ending firecrackers is the best part of the festival which will probably offer you more chances for a great and unusual shot than a bloody cheek piercing.
The Vegetarian Festival is the only time when one can witness Phuket in such a state of revelry and passion. So for those who are looking to witness and experience fun, amusement and bizarre, vegetarian or not, this festival is a must. It starts in late September and ends in the beginning of the October.
What to do in Koh Chang
Western escapees seeking virtual exile on a tropical island, enchanted by this one’s strips of brilliant – Koh Chang white sand, towering coconut palms, and inviting sweeps of the blue sea. The Westerners changed the beach’s Thai name – which means “Beach Pier Water” – to one that was truer to its character, Lonely Beach, a name still in use today.
Not quite another Phuket, at least not yet, but not far behind now either. Still, one of the quietest beaches, Had Tha Nam now boasts five resorts, and last year, Koh Chang’s Siam Beach felt compelled to adapt to the times by tearing down the rustic bungalows and rebuilding swankier residences complete with air-conditioning, TV and parquet floors. The island of Koh Chang was on the up – both in terms of visitor numbers and in style of accommodation.
The Rising Tide of Koh Chang
Elsewhere on Thailand’s second largest island (after Phuket), the real estate development has proceeded even faster. Koh Chang – whose Thai name translates to “Elephant Island” as it is shaped like an elephant’s head – is the largest of an archipelago of 52 islands which were designated a National Park in 1982. At the time, it was home to a few thousand fishermen and a rugged backpacker’s hideaway; rapid growth in tourism only came in 2001 to Koh Chang when the government traced the road that skirts almost all of its coast and improved the ferry service from the mainland.
The introduction of Bangkok Airways flights a few years later made it all the more accessible – flight time from the capital is just 40 minutes to Koh Chang – and the proximity to Bangkok ensured that it became a viable weekend getaway for city slickers looking for some fun in the sun. Visitor numbers to Koh Chang have climbed to around 800,000 annually, and the transformation from a backpacker’s escapade to an upscale destination resort is now almost complete.
This new influx of higher-budget tourists spurred the construction of several plush Koh Chang resort on some of the west coast’s beaches – best of which are the Amari Emerald Cove Resort and Spa; AANA Resort and Spa; Ramayana Resort and Spa, Aiyapura Resort and Spa, Panviman Resort, and the SPA Koh Chang. All come kitted with luxuries set among tasteful designs and boast impressive spas offering all types of exotic therapies – traditional or modern massages as well as many rejuvenation treatments.
More new Koh Chang resorts are sprouting up with at least two openings expected in March; The Dewa, from the same owners of the upscale Ramayana, and the swanky Princess Resort Koh Chang by the Dusit chain, whose 96 rooms are a study of sublime Thai contemporary design.
Now, the island of Koh Chang is also due to get another first in the form of two separate private luxury residential developments – Tranquility Bay Residence near Bang Bao and Siam Royal View in Khlong Son village – to be sold as a holiday or retirement homes, both complete with private yacht marinas.
Something for Everyone in Koh Chang
Not all resorts are high-end in Koh Chang, but different types of visitors will find something that suits their tastes and budgets in the three main beaches. Broadly speaking, these house expensive designer resorts at Had Kai Bae; cheaper backpacker bungalows at Had Tha Nam; and mid-range accommodations at Had Sai Khao, the longest beach in Koh Chang.
Yet, all these beaches hold the three quintessential Koh Chang experiences: a Thai massage under the coconut palms right in the sand, a dinner of fresh grilled seafood on tables set up on the beach and shows by the famous fire jugglers.
It is also possible to choose from a multitude of water-based activities such as snorkeling, or diving tours to explore coral reefs filled with barracudas at a cluster of offshore isles from Koh Chang in the south or fishing trips to reel in a variety of marine life, including the night time catching of squid.
Emerald Island, Koh Chang
Everywhere else, Koh Chang largely remains gloriously natural. The new developments are limited to small pockets along the west coast. Every vista is dominated by the interior spine of Koh Chang’s mountains, which meet the clouds at the higher summits and are covered in impenetrable old growth jungle.
Indeed, the island of Koh Chang is one of Thailand’s greenest spots, and it is a joy to explore on a moped and make fascinating little discoveries –waterfalls and lagoons, tranquil creeks or streams, and a handful of quiet undeveloped beaches. The tastes of nature are all around: fresh watery wind, massive trees looming overhead, birdsong in the mornings, cacophonies of toads at night, short-tailed macaque monkeys dashing across the road, and cobras hissing in the grass.
The easiest way to get closer to the forests of Koh Chang is an elephant from the elephant camp called Ban Kwan Chang in Khlong Son village. The camp’s 10 elephants and 10 mahouts (elephant masters) – one mahout for one elephant – all hail from Surin, the northeastern province where mechanical tractors have yet to supersede the trunked workers in farms.
The docile giants are playful with Koh Chang tourists, joyfully frolicking and trumpeting when fed, and splashing in the river like excited children during the treks that take Koh Chang visitors up the river and into the virgin jungle on elephant back.
Even more untamed nature exists on the eastern side of the island of Koh Chang where there is only a handful of small hotel resorts. Most interesting to explore is an intact grove of mangroves at Ban Salak Khok, one of two fisherman’s villages that have changed little despite the swelling number of Koh Chang visitors coming to explore the area.
At Ban Salak Khok – which consists of a cluster of wooden houses built on stilts among the mangroves – fisherman mill about, mending nets or tinkering in their colourful boats whose brows are laden with striking talismans, ribbons of cloth that give protection according to Buddhist tradition as well as bundles and garlands of flowers that appease the sea and mangrove spirits.
There are also kayaks for rent on this side of the Koh Chang island, in which you can spend an afternoon prowling among the mangroves, an eerie watery maze where the only sound you hear would be the splash of your oar.
A few miles south, Ban Salak Phet is another quaint fisherman’s village set on the western scoop of the large bay called Ao Salak Phet on Koh Chang. The houses in this commune are bigger, their back terraces facing the shimmering sea. Yet, few tourists to Koh Chang make it to this village (it is a 45-minute drive from Had Sai Khao) and it is possible to sit almost alone on the back terrace of the southernmost house of the village where an entrepreneurial family serves drinks.
It is a timeless spot – the endearing view revealing an azure sweep of sea, a big blue sky, and thickly forested mountains across the bay of Koh Chang Island. The silence interrupted only by the faint rustle of the breeze and water lapping the stilts underneath. A place made for reveries.
This is what makes Koh Chang so special or “cool”: luxury, nature, and solitude all contained in one small island destination in Thailand.
Where to Stay in Koh Chang – the Top Five Koh Chang Hotels
1. Amari Emerald Cove Resort and Spa
The resort has plush rooms, massive dens in pastel creams and browns, full of exquisite fixtures such as handsome lampshades, masculine writing desks, and wooden TV cabinets in traditional East Asian style. The grounds also hold the Koh Chang’s largest swimming pool and the best Thai restaurant.
2. AANA Resort and Spa Koh Chang
A great location on a bend of the Khlong Prao river, the view is best enjoyed from the cluster of romantic igloo-style bungalows scattered in a dense tropical forest. Although on the small side, the bungalows at AANA resort are full of light, all set in whites and creams, including minimalist cream furniture and high-pitched rattan ceiling, as well as plunge pools on the terraces.
3. Aiyapura Resort and Koh Chang Spa
Offering a variety of styles of bungalows nestled in a secluded location, complete with attentive service, Aiyapura Resort and Spa in Koh Chang also features a great French restaurant, and lots of facilities that include all manner of watersports and tours, and a yacht available for charter. Among the Aiyapura bungalows on Koh Chang Island, the Private Pool Villas have many luxury fixtures, including an oval bathtub, large enough for two, a digital piano, and a private pool – so much so that you might forget there’s a world outside.
4. Siam Beach Resort on Koh Chang
An informal and friendly place, with open-style minimalist rooms featuring wooden floors, cement bathrooms and funky yellow walls (that are also rigged with air con and TV). Common facilities at Siam Beach Resort are limited to a small pool behind the beach, a beach bar that reverberates with dance music, and a Thai restaurant that serves fresh, plainly grilled seafood on the beach Had Tha Nam.
5. The Spa Koh Chang Resort
By a mangrove in the Koh Chang Island’s quiet east side, this place is a veritable inland retreat. Here, everything is deliberately rustic, mostly built of aged wood scavenged from farms. The bungalows at Spa Koh Chang Resort which nestle in a tropical garden complete with water cascade have wooden floors, palm frond ceilings, tasteful furniture, artistic bathrooms and spacious terraces. The restaurant serves Thai staples and healthy Western food.