Things to Do in Southern Thailand and Andaman Coast
From the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea, the jungle-shrouded limestone cliffs of Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands rise majestically, giving way to white-sand beaches and lush green jungles further inland. Longtail boats putter between the islands, collectively known as Koh Phi Phi or Ko Phi Phi, surrounded by turquoise waters and colorful marine life.
A starring role in the 1974 James Bond movie “The Man With the Golden Gun” put the towering limestone islands of Ko Khao Phing Kan and the 66-foot-tall (20-meter) islet Ko Tapu firmly on Thailand’s tourist trail. While boats are forbidden from getting too close to the islands, opportunities for sightseeing abound in the surrounding area.
With limestone rock formations jutting out of the emerald green sea, Phang Nga Bay (Ao Phang Nga) in Thailand is famous the world over for its natural beauty. Many visitors to Thailand will find themselves crossing the bay on the way to popular tourist spots, such as Phuket or Krabi, but this place deserves some dedicated exploration time of its own.
The stunning Maya Bay (Maya Beach) 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.
It’s true that Maya Bay’s popularity has taken a certain degree of the shine from this once little-heard of slice of paradise. It’s become so well-known that its shores are filled with hoards of boats dropping visitors off and picking them up throughout the day, particularly in peak season. Visitors should arrive early in the morning to avoid the larger part of the crowds.
Please note: Maya Bay (Maya Beach) is closed indefinitely due to overtourism.
The Hong Islands (Mu Ko Hong or Mu Koh Hong) are a group of rocky blips in the Andaman Sea, located just off the coast of Krabi in southern Thailand. A popular day trip destination from Ao Nang or Krabi, the islands are fringed with rain forests, hidden lagoons, and white-sand beaches.
Phranang Beach is a sweeping curve of pale gold sand that’s backed by limestone cliffs and overlooked by the distinctly-shaped Chicken Island. Phra Nang Cave (Princess Cave) features a one-of-a-kind fertility shrine, while bioluminescent plankton create spectacular night-time effects when conditions are right.
The Big Buddha Phuket is hard to miss. Built on a patch of virgin rain forest on Khao Nakkerd Hill high above Phuket, this gigantic 148-foot (45-meter) statue is one of the island's most prominent landmarks, easily seen from most places in the south. From the statue’s base, visitors enjoy panoramic views of Chalong Bay and Phuket town.
The prominence of Phuket’s beaches and out islands mean that Phuket Old Town is often overlooked. Yet, it offers a wealth of 19th-century architectural delights and fantastic photo ops. Beside the latticed windows of Malay-style shop-front buildings on Soi Rommanee, Old Phuket Town boasts temples, museums, and restaurants.
As the most significant of Phuket’s 29 Buddhist temples, Wat Chalong attracts hundreds of visitors daily. A mountain backdrop emphasizes a golden spire, while wall paintings inside each temple depict vibrant Buddhist images. The main stupa, known as the Grand Pagoda, is said to harbor a splinter of the Buddha’s bone.
Koh Panyi is a charming Muslim fishing village built on stilts over the water. Visit to see the 18th-century houses, the mosque, and the floating market. The area is a popular stop on tours of the region that also take in well-known sights such as James Bond Island (Khao Phing Kan) and Hong Island.
More Things to Do in Southern Thailand and Andaman Coast
Tup Island(Koh Tup) is one of the most popular offshore islands around Krabi, and is a staple part of the itinerary for most day trips from the mainland. Situated southwest of Ao Nang and between Poda Island and Chicken Island, Tup is smaller than the other islands in the archipelago it belongs to, but its white sands and excellent snorkeling certainly don’t disappoint.
Tup Island(Koh Tup) is most commonly visited as part of a ‘Four Islands’ longboat tour from Ao Nang. The three other islands include Poda Island, Chicken Island, and Mor Island, with a stop at Phra Nang Cave Beach usually included. This entire area is incredibly scenic, with panoramic views of the Krabi coastline as its backdrop.
The clear waters and abundance of tropical fish surrounding Tup Island(Koh Tup) make it a haven for swimming and snorkeling, although many visitors prefer to simply relax on the beach or enjoy a stroll. At low tide, a sandbar emerges linking Tup Island with Chicken Island as well as the smaller Mor Island. This unique occurrence is commonly referred to as Talay Waek, meaning ‘divided sea’.
Surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and backed by thick forest, the interconnected fairy-tale beaches of Railay (Rai Leh) are accessible only by boat. The four beaches—Tonsai, Phra Nang, East Railay, and West Railay—offer powder-soft white sand, clear calm waters, and a decidedly bohemian vibe perfect for those looking to get away from it all.
Emerald Cave (Tham Morakot) takes its name from the water’s vivid green color and is one of the most popular attractions in Thailand’s Trang islands. At first blush the cave looks like only a hole in a limestone cliff—but once you venture inside the dark entrance, a paradisiacal, sunny white beach appears.
Known for its limestone rock formations rising out of the turquoise Andaman Sea, the protected Ao Phang Nga National Marine Park covers a large swathe of water in southern Thailand. Many visitors come to the area to enjoy the scenery and take part in watersports.
Krabi is famous for its towering limestone cliffs, idyllic beaches and peaceful mangrove forests, and Ao Thalane (Thalane Bay) represents one of the most beautiful mangrove forests in all of Thailand. On this stretch of coast 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Krabi Town, dense mangroves shroud the karsts and cliffs, hiding caves, small inlets and secluded lagoons.
The best way to explore Ao Thalane is with paddle in hand. Shaded by the canopy, kayaking through the winding network of mangrove roots gets visitors close to nature, where it’s possible to spot kingfishers, crab-eating Macaques, river otters, herons, monkeys, monitor lizards and snakes. It’s an ideal place to escape the bustle of Ao Nang or Krabi for a day spent surrounded by only the sounds of nature.
Situated at Phuket’s most southerly point, Promthep Cape (or Laem Phromthep) is the rocky headland than juts out into the sea here, offering incredible views over the east and southeast of the island, particularly at sunset.
Promthep Cape is a popular spot with ample parking and a large open space on top of the hill from which to enjoy the views. There’s also an elephant shrine plus a lighthouse with historical maritime artifacts on display for those interested in the history of the area. If you go up to the viewing balcony of the lighthouse, you will be rewarded with some spectacular views of the surrounding islands – on a clear day, you can even make out the distinctive shapes of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Racha Yai, and Koh Racha Noi.
Every evening, tour buses and other vehicles arrive at Promthep Cape full of tourists and locals looking to catch the sunset. As a result, an inevitable series of stalls selling the usual tourist fare have been set up on the hill. After the rush at sunset, a sudden peace descends on the area, and those who like dining with a view can enjoy a peaceful dinner overlooking Nai Harn Beach at the Phromthep Cape Restaurant.
A trip up to Promthep Cape can be combined with visiting Phuket’s other viewpoints and attractions on a half-day Phuket city tour or a full-day island and city tour from Krabi. Those into their motorbikes will love exploring the island’s most scenic parts on a ‘big’ motorbike day trip.
Ao Nang beach sits along the edge of the town of Ao Nang, Krabi’s main tourist hub. Fine sand, clear waters, beautiful views, and cluster of bustling bars and restaurants make the beach a popular spot to spend a day relaxing in the sun or swimming in the Andaman Sea.
Big, brash, and bold, Patong is a high-energy resort on the west coast of Phuket, Thailand. Patong Beach, a deep stretch of white sand on a crescent bay, holds natural charms. But many head here for the restaurants, cabarets, dance shows, Thai boxing matches, and the loud and lively nightlife that draws travelers young and old alike.
Khao Sok National Park is a secluded pocket of southern Thailand that contains one of the oldest rainforests on the planet. The area is characterized by rugged limestone formations, dense greenery, and turquoise waters. The park also harbors a variety of wildlife, such as sambar deer, sun bears, Malayan tapirs, and 200 species of birds.
Krabi’s Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea) is a spiritual center that’s famed for its 1,237 steps which lead to the massive, gilded Buddha statue which dominates the peak. While the climb is not for the faint of heart, the spectacular views of Krabi, the surrounding countryside, and the Andaman Sea make the effort worthwhile.
Thailand’s Similan Islands National Park (Mu Ko Similan National Park), a group of 11 islands in the Andaman Sea, is one of the most pristine places in the world for diving. The islands boast picturesque landscapes with white-sand beaches, large granite rocks jutting out from the earth, dense jungles teeming with diverse fauna and flora, and crystal-clear azure waters.
The Mu Ko Lanta National Park (Mu Koh Lanta National Marine Park) protects 15 islands in the Ko Lanta island group, including the southern tip of Koh Lanta Yai, the main island. Perhaps the most beautiful island is Koh Rok Nai, with its cliff-backed crescent bay, gorgeous beach and great reef diving.
There are limestone caves to explore at Koh Talabeng, a popular destination for sea-kayaking tours.
With blue-green waters that can turn a vivid emerald when the light is right, the Emerald Pool (Sa Morakot or Sra Morakot in Thai), is a natural travertine swimming pool set in a protected evergreen forest. A pretty path lined with smaller pools runs through the trees to the Emerald Pool, then continues to the Blue Pool further on.
Step into the tropical forests of Phang Nga to visit one of southern Thailand’s most important temples, Cave Temple (Wat Suwan Kuha). Commonly known as the Cave Temple, it sits inside a large cave complex and features many religious statues—the most prominent being the 50-foot (15-meter) golden reclining Buddha in the Tam Yai cave.
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