One week in Southern Thailand can be an impossible task to plan; the extensive coasts and islands would take months to explore, thus a painful choice must be taken. However, most of the area has been overdeveloped and the places resemble each other, hence a decision based upon geographical accessibility and closeness to Bangkok is the best approach. Islands or coasts? One island and one coast?
Four islands are good candidates for a weeklong trip to the south:
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 you plan your visit carefully – maybe during the off-season – you will enjoy an unforgettable experience.
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.
Koh Chang – the greenest island in Thailand, offers the calmest surroundings of the main island destinations, despite the fact that finding a free spot along its blue shores is getting harder each season. However, the side facing the Thai mainland still offers many surprises. Its advantage as compared to the other islands in this list is its closeness to the center; it can be easily combined with a visit to Pattaya.
Two coasts are interesting candidates for this trip, Songkhla and Pattaya:
Songkhla, in the deep south, has great beaches and a peaceful ambience; it is perfect for meeting the Southern Thai culture, but its distance from Bangkok will leave no time for other beaches.
Pattaya offers the best deal in Thailand when it comes to beaches: a beautiful coast, water sports, a well-developed town and all that just a couple of hours away from Bangkok. The proximity to the capital transforms Pattaya into the ideal resort while waiting for visas or flights. However, its beaches are hidden under a thick cover of bad public relationships; Pattaya became a synonym for the Thai sex-industry, while reality is quite different. The scene is restricted to a well-delimited area and it is hard to spot unless you are searching for it; in Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui the situation is much worse. Being open-minded and visiting the place before deciding where to spend the bulk of your vacation is a proven way to discover a charming location with amazing sunsets over the gulf.
The town can be divided in four parts. Naklua is the name of the northern zone and is mainly a residential area with few open beaches. Jomtien is the southern zone which competes hard with Central Pattaya for the attention of the tourists. The last is the axis separating Naklua from Central Pattaya; there, next to the highway, are placed the two main terminals, and in its other end are most of the supermarkets in town. Jomtien has more beaches than Central, but the last offers better services and is the recommended place to stay in town.
Phuket: The island-province is connected to the mainland with two bridges and thus it is very easy to reach it from Bangkok. From the southern bus terminal, Sathaanii Sai Tai Mai in Thonburi (at the junction of Thanon Borom Ratchonni and the Nakhon Chaisri Highway), buses leave to Phuket at all hours. Plan to arrive around 04:30 and an awesome sunrise will welcome you.
Koh Phi Phi can be reached with ferries from Phuket; the island does not offer budget accommodations, thus, if on a tight budget, then it would be wiser to arrive with the first ferry from Phuket and then leaving with the last one to Krabi, on the mainland.
Koh Samui: There are many buses to Koh Samui from the southern bus terminal in Bangkok, which combine a ferry from Surat Thani to the island.
Koh Chang: From Bangkok’s eastern bus terminal, Ekamai, take a bus to Trat from where ferries leave to Koh Chang.
Songkhla: from the southern terminal in Bangkok, take a night bus to Hat Yai and from there a bus or a truck for the last leg.
Pattaya is accessible through hourly buses departing from Ekamai and from the northern terminal, Mo Chit. Be careful not to take the buses leading to Jomtien since they collect passengers along the way and stop in every town along the way – you can use better the extra two hours of the way. The town lacks a good system of internal transportation, the only option is overpriced trucks running along the main streets; therefore, it is wise to place yourself near the center, where all the facilities are easily accessible.
Choosing a single destination for a week wouldn’t be difficult; personal preferences should be the main parameter. Splitting the trip between two locations would essentially limit the choice to one of two options:
Phuket and Koh Phi Phi: the first is big and close enough to the mainland to be considered part of it and the second is close enough to Phuket for day trips.
Pattaya and Koh Chang: Pattaya’s sunsets win over all the other locations in this list; a short overnight visit to Koh Chang will diversify the visit.