The natural beauty of southern Thailand’s postcard-perfect beaches and islands features miles of soft white powdered sand, national parks that play home to refreshing waterfalls, and pristine coral reefs that each year attract millions of globetrotting tan fans. Culture vultures find additional appeal exploring the region’s ancient temples, jaw-dropping palaces, colourful festivals, and spicy indigenous dishes.
On my first visit to Thailand, in 2009 I made a point of backpacking to the country’s most popular destinations: cosmopolitan Bangkok, the serenity of ancient Sukothai, Chang Mai’s elephant jungle country, rock climbing in Krabi, and monkeying around on the tropical island paradise of Ko Phi Phi.
This time, I wanted to focus on travelling slowly from one beautiful beach to another, so I could really get a sense of each place, rather than wasting endless hours zig-zagging on bounding buses in an attempt to try to see it all.
In preparation for my Thai beach hopping adventure, I researched the destination months in advance using the newest edition of Eyewitness Travel Thailand’s Beaches and Islands (DK Publishing, 2016). The informative guide includes detailed itineraries and “don’t miss” destination highlights at a glance, illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights, floor plans for major temples, area maps marked with popular sights, top hotel and restaurant listings, as well as a slew of info on niche interests such as scuba diving, a glossary of typical Thai dishes, temple etiquette, and best spots to shop for local arts and crafts.
Things to Do When Beach Hopping in Thailand
Master the Tastes of Thailand
Thailand is one of the world’s most famous destinations for curious culinary fans to take a cooking class. For Westerners, the idea of creating your own curry at home can seem a bit daunting as half of the ingredients are often missing in our pantries, but after an intensive class one quickly realizes how easy Thai cooking is to master.
The JW Marriott Phuket Resort offers a fantastic, immersive cooking class experience hosted by the hotel’s resident Thai Chef Tham. Guests begin their adventure by enjoying a tour of the local food market. Led by Chef Tham, we skip across spicy curry stalls, watch as fresh coconuts are transformed into cream, and gather groceries for that day’s menu. Stops at Sarasin Bridge, Sai Kawe Beach, and the Black Crab Community show where the chef sources sustainable seafood. Back at the hotel, excited students gather into groups at the culinary classroom located next door to Ginja Taste, JW Marriott Phuket’s signature Thai restaurant. The class spends two hours preparing a selection of authentic Thai dishes before sitting down to a fine feast.
JW Marriott Phuket Resort sits perched over Mai Khao Beach, which is a famous nesting site for sea turtles who come onshore in hordes to lay their eggs during the cool season from November to February. In 2014 Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, in partnership with the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, opened the doors to the Marine Turtle Shelter & Education Centre at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort.
The shelter offers nature lovers an awesome opportunity to learn about the local turtle population during its daily turtle feeding and education sessions. Today there are currently five disabled/injured turtles living at the shelter: two young Green turtles, two Hawksbill turtles and one Olive Ridley sea turtle.
Cruising the Coast
Southern Thailand’s dramatic coastline is the perfect place for wannabe pirates to set sail in paradise. Beach bums at The Tongsai Bay in Koh Samui can easily find a quiet spot to rest and relax along the resort’s secluded bay. If you’re getting restless, wave down one of the resort’s friendly waterfront crew and enjoy a guided tour of the colourful coastline via kayak or catamaran.
Culinary Culture Connection
The Tongsai Bay also offers a multi-sensory signature experience via a weekly Thai Cultural Night. The mouthwatering event features a grand buffet where live cooking stations showcase the various flavours of the four regions of Thailand. Thai folk music and talented local dancers perform in traditional costumes as tongues wag over an endless parade of spicy curries. With over 30 dishes on offer, The Tongsai Bay’s Thai Cultural Night is a perfect way to fall in love with new Thai dishes while enjoying a live performance fit for a Thai King.
Write Your Own Motorcycle Diary
Keen to explore things at your own pace while zooming past sun-soaked beaches and bustling markets? The easiest way to get around rural Thailand is by hiring a motorcycle (rates are typically $10 a day). I enjoyed a thrilling day exploring Koh Samui on the solo – visiting two Buddhist temples, a quiet beach, and coffee shop before adventuring across the island’s north shore. After a quick chug up a steep slope I hopped off my bike and let out a heroic “yipee!” before a smiling concierge chirped, “Welcome to the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui.”
Serious Spa Time
The Secret Garden Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui is nestled in a coconut grove and features five luxurious salas that offer total privacy for indoor and outdoor treatments. The spa treatments and services here are based on a fusion of techniques from Thai, Yogic, and other Asian cultures using mother earth and the island as sources of inspiration. Popular spa rituals include the internal as well as external use of Thai herbal tonics and organic teas from the island. Massages, body scrubs and wraps, herbal steams, baths, head massages, foot and hand treatments, and facials are offered in harmony with island traditions.
Tap Into the Beauty of Buddhism
Ninety percent of Thais practise Theravada Buddhism, first brought to the region from India around the 3rd century BC. Most Thai males are ordained as monks in adolescence, a major rite of passage. They usually spend at least a few months as monks, earning merit for themselves and their families. Those who decide to pursue the practice into adulthood collect alms from the local community each morning. Thais believe that giving alms is a way to improve their karma in this life as well as into the next. If you’re looking to snap a few photographs of local monks, the best time is in the early morning at the local temple.
Craft Cocktails on Fleek
Open on three sides and perched on the corner of a hillside, WooBar at the W Koh Samui offers 270-degree views of the Gulf of Thailand. Guests arrive to WooBar from the hotel’s W Lounge, where interactive digital floor projections give way to an environment accented with off-white terrazzo floors, high ceilings clad in angular bleached wood veneer panels, large bookshelves and oversized lamps.
Whether you’re taking in the views of the Gulf of Thailand or chilling with a craft cocktail while tapping your foot to the W Music Curator’s beat-heavy playlist, you’ll quickly recognize why WooBar at the W Koh Samui is a destination all on its own. Craft cocktail fans swoon for WooBar’s thoughtful presentation with favourites including a hazelnut-adorned glass bird and sweet sphere filled with fresh florals.
Luxurious Villa Life
Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Krabi, is a striking boutique resort with 54-villas and pavilions. All accommodations feature modern touches such as flat screen televisions, large indoor baths, spacious walk-in wardrobes, and breezy verandas appointed with comfy lounge beds. The use of traditional story-telling Lanna art forms, both in architectural structure and as paintings and artworks on the walls and doors of villas, further stimulate the senses.
With 108 square metres of total indoor and outdoor space, the Ocean Pavilion features a sundeck overlooking the sea and a sensuous orchid-shaped bath. To ensure your needs are met, a personal butler is at your service 24 hours a day. Simply ring your butler and they’ll zoom over in a jiffy to pick you up in a limo buggy so you’re never late to enjoy cocktails at sunset or a soothing spa treatment.
Snorkel Across Colourful Coral Reefs
If you’re looking to explore Krabi’s natural wonders book yourself a private boat tour of Hong Island. Known locally as Koh Hong, it’s the most famous island in the region protected within Than Bokkhorani National Park. This particular paradise is popular for its white sandy beaches, colourful coral reefs, and dramatic caves.
Eat Like a Local
Amari Hotel in Phuket is a local Thai boutique brand that manages a handful of properties from Bangkok to Pattaya. Each of their properties features a signature restaurant offering hungry guests an opportunity to enjoy an authentic taste of Thailand. Treat each menu like a checklist and chow down on popular dishes from plump prawn-stuffed spring rolls, classic cashew chicken, sweet meets sour duck curry and fragrant fried rice.
Late Nights with Ladyboys
It’s safe to say that Thailand is the most gay friendly country on earth. Acceptance of the LGBT community into everyday life is best expressed via kathoey, a Thai term that refers to either a transgender woman or an effeminate gay men. A significant number of Thais perceive kathoeys as belonging to a third gender.
Several popular Thai models, singers and movie stars are kathoeys, and Thai newspapers often print photographs of the winners of female and kathoey beauty contests side by side. The phenomenon is not restricted to urban areas; there are kathoeys in most villages, and kathoey beauty contests are commonly held as part of local fairs.
If you’re keen to tap into kathoey culture be sure to check out a flamboyant cabaret referred to locally as a Ladyboy Show. Each performance features dozens of dolled-up Ladyboys who sing and dance in extravagant gowns while lip-syncing to pop hits by Beyonce, Madonna, and Lady Gaga.
Hot Tip: skip the pricey post-dinner price tag at the local Ladyboy theatre and head to a bustling gay bar after midnight where you’ll find the local Queens performing for free (don’t forget to tip your faves) into the wee hours of the morning.
You May Also Enjoy Reading…