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.
Buses 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
Deep 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 Thammarat
The 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.
The 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.