Electric green, irregular cliffs, blue-gray skies, often rains and yellow beaches make the southern tip of Thailand, from Ranong on the Andaman Sea to Songkhla on the Gulf of Thailand an exciting location to visit; it offers endless activities from sun-bathing to a close encounter with the local culture.
by SeenThat on December 27, 2007
On the Thai mainland and in front of Phuket Island, the little town of Krabi is a wonderful stop while in Southern Thailand and a good place from where to reach the popular Koh Phi Phi islands. The lack of beaches in the town itself is a refreshing novelty in the south and allows giving attentions to other southern cultural characteristics. Krabi RiverThe Krabi River is just five kilometres long and connects the town with the Andaman Sea. Nearby is an extensive mangrove forest which can be visited through organized tours from the town; rare birds populate the area.Wat Klong Tom The small temple in the eastern side of Krabi includes a humble museum with a collection of local ancient tools and artefacts. Wat Tham SueaThe Tiger Cave Temple is located northeast of town and is named after its peculiar shape. The temple includes several niches in the rock which serve as meditation caves; even the temple’s viharn was constructed within a cave. Visiting the monks’ quarters and climbing to the beautiful hill’s top is possible through a staircase.Nearest BeachThe nearest beach to Krabi is Ao Nang; songtao (truck taxis) do the way from town in half hour. On the way to the beach is Su San Hoi or Shell Cemetery, an impressive seashells’ rock cliff; the wonder is best seen during low tide.Almost a hundred islets fill the bay around the beach; they can be reached with long-tail boats’ tours arranged from the beach itself; Hong Island is one of the most popular destinations. However, beginning at 800B for a half day tour, they are rather pricey; using the boats as a taxi to the islands is less expensive, a return trip costs around 200B. A popular activity in the area is canoeing; the boats can be hired on a daily or hourly base. Scuba diving is possible.Other ActivitiesThe town’s distance from the beaches was an incentive for the creation of alternative activities. The karst (limestone) formations surrounding Krabi allow rock climbing, which became a popular sport, especially around the charming Princess Lagoon. The lush vegetation covering the area adds a special thrill to the adventure, which includes walking through a real rainforest. For the inexperienced, courses ranging from half a day (500B) up to three days (3000B) are available at Ao Nang Beach.TravellingTwo roadways lead to Krabi; one route is the Phuket to Trang highway and the other one is from the eastern side of the peninsula, from Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat. Thalat Kao, Krabi’s bus station, is near the Phetkasem Highway (Highway 4); songtao connect it with downtown.Ferries to Koh Phi Phi from the town pier leave six times per day and cost 150B; the last one leaves at 3pm. Other nearby island resorts – like Koh Pu and Koh Lanta are readily accessible as well.
Despite its humble size, Ranong provides several interesting sights. Next to the fountain, along the main road, is the old governor place, from Ranong’s Hokkien period. On the way leading to the port is the Stigmatines Catholic Church; the Thai-style church features a happy Christ, several big statues in the yard, and a school at its side. In front of it, over a low hill, is a big Buddhist temple, with a tower bell and the local crematorium. By the market is a small Chinese temple with a nice bird of paradise at the roof's corner and not far away a small mosque. This mix of cultures and religions is typical of Southern Thailand.ClimateRanong is the wettest province in Thailand; suitable clothes should be brought during all seasons.PortRanong’s port is a fishing one; Burmese and Thais work together classifying and selecting the fishes in several open warehouses, in the docks and in the back of the trucks parking there.Raksawarin ParkIn the Raksawarin Park, three kilometres east of downtown, are thermal springs favoured by the local tourists, frequent songtao taxis reach them from downtown. Nam Tok NgaoNam Tok Ngao is a waterfall twelve kilometres south of downtown; the best way of reaching it is taking any southwards bus from the highway.FoodNext to the shallow stream near the highway is an exceptional seafood market. The late afternoon is the best time for a visit; the products’ variety is immense. In downtown is the Morning Market, where Thai coffee and fresh fruits are available, including mangos, papayas, coconuts, longans and lakams. If arriving during the mango season, a rare delicacy awaits the visitor. Thais usually eat the mango while it is unripe with a mix of sugar and chilli; however, when ripe, they prepare a heavenly dish called khao nio ma muang. Sticky rice is bathed with coconut cream and then covered with orange, sweet mango chunks.Thai Visa RenewalThe Thai immigration is at Saphan Pla (Bridge-Fish) Road, 500m before the port and it is open from 8:30 to 16:30. A songtao travels from downtown to the pier in twenty minutes and costs 7B.The next step, crossing to Victoria Point (Kauw Thoung), involves a rather pricey travel by boat between the two countries; the half an hour ride costs 300B, and transforms this crossing point into a non-economical one.Once at the Burmese Immigration office, the traveller is required to deposit a crispy five dollars note for a fresh stamp on his passport; old or dirty notes are rejected. In Myanmar, staying a few days at Kauw Thauong is possible.Another option is getting an exit stamp at the Andaman Club Pier; every day from 8:00 are boats to the club in Koh Son. While returning, an entry visa is issued. If less than five days are left, then there is an extra 750B surcharge. The pier is twenty kilometres north of Ranong.
by SeenThat on December 28, 2007
If traveling along the eastern coast of Southern Thailand, Nakhon Si Thammarat is on the way to Hat Yai and Malaysia. Stopping there is a pleasant break during the long trip to the southern tip especially since the city is the biggest southern cultural center.DowntownWalking around Nakhon Si Thammarat is easy since it is built along Thanon Ratchadamnoen, the highway crossing it; there are only two other main roads parallel to it, one on each side.Exploring the place from south to north makes sense, since most hotels, restaurants and commercial centres are on the north; thus, if beginning early from the south, the north would be reached for a well-earned lunch. Another advantage is that the main attraction would be reached before it gets crowded. Wat Mahathat is the most important shrine in Southern Thailand due to the Buddha relics in it. The big complex is impressive and easily recognizable as a big religious center; it includes a museum which displays an incredibly rich collection.The city is famous in Thailand mainly due to its shadow puppets, and nearby the temple, one and half long-block to the east is the Shadow Puppet Workshop, where guests are introduced to the Nang Thalung art.Further north along Thanon Ratchadamnoen is the Phra Buddha Sihing Temple, where the Buddha image of that name found a loving home – two other images claiming to be the original one as well are in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, facts that emphasizes the religious importance of Nakhon Si Thammarat.A few blocks away are two other temples, one in front of the other, which mark the entrance back into downtown. The centre is very pleasant to explore and offers various interesting options for a meal. Bovorn Bazaar, along Thanon Ratchadamnoen, is the best option for tasting southern food during the day, while the Night Market on the parallel Thanon Chamroenwithi fulfills the same function at later hours. Krua Nakhon in the bazaar, offers an excellent Southern Thai cuisine; ka-nom jeen is a recommended dish prepared by pushing rice-flour paste through a sieve into boiling water and then served with various curries.AccommodationTowns which are big local centers of activity but do not attract many tourists, offer usually good-value accommodations. Nakhon Si Thammarat is not different in that aspect and the Thai Hotel, next to the intersection of Thanon Ratchadamnoen with Thanon Neramit is such an excellent option. Its location between the Night Market and the Bovorn Bazaar is fabulous and the rooms, albeit a bit old, are comfortable and well priced; air-conditioned rooms with hot-water cost 350B.TransportThe bus terminal is across the Khlong (canal) Na Wang, turn west from the main road at Thanon Paniet after the Police Station. Being a stop between Surat Thani and Hat Yai, these are the two main locations served, besides the ubiquitous buses to Bangkok.
by SeenThat on January 2, 2008
Despite its name meaning "Big Beach," there are no coasts in Hat Yai; the nearest beach is twenty-five kilometres away in Songkhla.Nevertheless, Hat Yai is worth a visit due to its place within Thailand as the Gate to Malaysia; being a bi-directional one, it caters mainly to Singaporean and Malaysian tourists. Consequently, the prices here reflect more the economic reality in those countries than the Thai one.TransportThe bus terminal is southeast of downtown; hence, using the stop by the clock tower, next to the Night Market, is recommended.Hat Yai is well connected; the main lines are:Nakhon Sri Thammarat: Buses leave during the day (between 73 and 102B, 4h).Bangkok: A regular bus leaves at 07:00 (315B, 13h), while the VIP leaves at 15:00 (830B, 13h).Surat Thani: Buses leave during the day (between 160 and 207B, 5h).Padang Basar (Malaysia): air-con minibus tickets are available at the Cathay Guesthouse (220B); the share taxis cater mainly to the Malaysian and Singaporean tourists.AccommodationNext to the bus terminal are a hotel and a guesthouse, but they are of low quality and far from the centre. The best deals are around Thanon Thamnoonvithi, the avenue leading to the train station.The many tourists crossing the town mean that finding a bed may be difficult. If in troubles, the Cathay Guesthouse, at the corner of Thanon Thamnoonvithi with Thanon Niphat Uthit 2, provides basic rooms and has one (#330) which was transformed into a very basic dormitory, which costs 100B per night. The dormitory is hot and damp, the beds are too crowded and a small, single electric fan in the room provides no relief; the toilets are of the kneeling type and the shower has no hot water. The point of light is the reception area that doubles as a café and information centre; the information available here is invaluable and justifies a visit even if not planning a stay.FoodThe preferred local breakfast is called kow yam; it is made of dry rice with grated toasted coconut, bean sprouts, dried shrimps, lemongrass and the obvious chilli. Another local dish is gang tai plah, a curry made with fish stomach, pickled bamboo shots, green beans and potatoes.Hat Yai has many places serving Malay and Chinese dishes; the Night Market is the perfect place for experiencing the fusion cuisine.SongkhlaSongkhla is the nearest beach; the small town is simple to navigate since the beaches are at its northeast, beyond two low hills. Despite being less flashy than Koh Samui, the turquoise waters and the looks of Hat Samila Beach belong to the Gulf of Thailand. Inexpensive tours on the Thale Sap Lake calm waters can be arranged. The Amsterdam Guesthouse next to the intersection of Thanon Rong Muang with Thanon Saiburi is a basic choice; around the corner, on Thanon Saiburi, is the Sooksomboon 2 guesthouse, which offers rooms with private bathrooms and air-conditioners.
Surat Thani is the classical passing-through town. It enjoys a key location in southern Thailand; hence, evading it is hard. An ugly scene taking advantage of the passing tourists have developed here; it is not a reason for avoiding it, but an eye should be kept open and buying any kind of tourism packages is definitely not recommended here.However, not everything is dark; north of the centre, is the Tapi River, which beyond its unspoiled look, offers an interesting glance to the coconuts industry. The local food is good and there is a plethora of local places serving tasty dishes around both terminals at Thanon Taladmai.AccommodationThe town is not a good place to stay overnight, its accommodations are of low quality and overpriced. However if a stay is forced, then next to the Night Market and one block north of the main terminus, on Thanon Tonpor, is the Seree Hotel, which provides reasonable rooms.TransportThere are three bus terminals in the city. The one on Thanon Taladmai and next to Talat Kaset I, serves mainly short distance buses. It is surrounded by tourist offices selling overpriced tickets for a bus to Bangkok while claiming "there is no northern terminal, we offer the only VIP bus." However, the truth is that they sell tickets for a private bus; these cars are of much lower quality and more expensive than the VIP buses leaving from the northern terminal and suffer of bad reputation: stealing of goods from the stored backpacks is a real danger, getting false promises of a guesthouse included in the ticket price at the destination is another one.The terminal in front of that one, next to Talat Kaset II serves the southern lines, mainly to Ranong, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Krabi, and Hat Yai.The best way of reaching Bangkok is from the Northern Terminal; the term northern refers to its handling of buses heading to the north; the terminal is actually located south of downtown. Buses span the distance from downtown for 10B. Once there, the well-advertised VIP counter sells tickets to Bangkok for 380B while claiming that there are no regular buses; however, in front of that counter is the regular, air-conditioned-bus counter selling tickets for 295B. Koh SamuiSurat Thani apparent main function is to feed tourists in the way to the ferry reaching Koh Samui; night buses from Khaosan Road stop here around 6am for an early breakfast until the ferries begin their operation. The stop is in a guesthouse in Rat Bumrung Road, not far away from the bridge over the Tapi River and a 7 Eleven branch; a few snacks and a take-away coffee for the way will brighten the way.
Southern Thailand is narrow and long, hence moving from the western to the eastern beaches is easy; however, north to south trips, tend to be long. Hence, it makes sense to break the long way to Malaysia in one or more of the beautiful towns peppering the path. Nearby are some of the better known Thai islands; this entry overviews a trip in the area.TravelingBuses offer an excellent value in Thailand, with a well organized network, reliable schedules, comfortable cars and economic prices. If departing from Bangkok, then the most comfortable option is to make the first stop in Ranong – the northernmost among the cities reviewed here - and after a recovering period to continue to Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and finally to Hat Yai. The southern Thai railways network loosely follows the mainland southwestern coast, and it is inconvenient if planning a stop at Ranong or some other location by the Andaman Sea. Travels from the western to the eastern coast cross beautiful areas of low, green hills and cliffs; hence, making such a trip in the slowest buses and sitting by the window, allows emerald-colored photographs and the greenest memories. LanguageThe Southern Thai dialect is very rapid and sounds different from the other ones; hence, if having learned the Thai language basics in other zones, a phrasebook is recommended. FoodThe food in the south is in many aspects richer than the food in other areas of Thailand and shows certain Malay influence; unforgettable experiences await the traveler in the night markets. RanongThe wettest city in Thailand, Ranong offers excellent seafood, thermal waters, a waterfall, a fishing port, easy access to Phuket and a Thai visa renewal through Kaw Thaung in Myanmar. However, this is not the best point for renewal of the Thai visa via Myanmar, see my Myanmar journal for further details. KrabiOn the Thai mainland and in front of Phuket Island, the little town of Krabi is a wonderful stop while in Southern Thailand and a good place from where to reach the popular Koh Phi Phi islands. The lack of beaches in the town itself is a refreshing novelty in the south and allows giving attentions to other southern cultural characteristics.Hat YaiDeep in the south, this is where the last leg of the trip to Malaysia begin; it is also the departing point for Songkhla beaches, and offers a variety of foods: in the night market, a single plate can be filled with Thai, Chinese, Western, and Malay dishes. Nakhon Si ThammaratThe biggest secret in the south, the town has many historic temples and is the biggest religious and cultural center in this part of the country. Unknown by most tourists, it remains the most unspoiled city in the south and surprisingly hosts many of the best souvenirs shops in the south.Surat ThaniThe departure point to Koh Samui and other islands in the Gulf of Thailand, Surat Thani is by the Tapi River and it offers great views next to its mouth, coconut warehouses and elaboration centers.These mainland towns provides access to some of the most important Thai islands:Koh Phi Phi is one of those magical places that got overcrowd once the word of its existence spread around. Nonetheless, it is worth a look and if the visit is planed carefully – maybe during the off-season – an unforgettable experience awaits the avid traveler.Phuket – the biggest Thai island has much more than beaches to offer. Its main town, bearing the same name, is a charming Thai-Portuguese hybrid, while the island itself offers beaches open to the Andaman Sea and others which face the mainland and are more protected.Koh Samui – is the island that began the tourism boom in Thailand and despite all the development, it has an overwhelming beauty. The boat taking you there crosses incredibly turquoise waters spotted with small islets. This view alone will make your trip worthwhile.
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