How to Navigate Thailand’s Boundless Beach Scene
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TPG International Correspondent and beach lover Lori Zaino guides us through some great spots to get some sun in Thailand.
There is nothing that makes me happier than a long stretch of white sand and waves crashing the shore. I am a beach girl at heart and constantly searching the world over for beautiful seaside spots. If you’re a beach lover t00, Thailand is an ideal destination for enjoying sandy shores and pale blue water–not to mention it also offers a variety of delicious cuisine, cultural tourism and adventure.
It’s very important when planning a beach holiday to Thailand that you consider the seasons. Just as you wouldn’t hit up a beach in Maine in the dead of winter, going to the beach in Thailand during monsoon season can ensure you’ll be trapped in your room reading novels and watching Thai TV as it pours rain while you wishfully stare out the window.
Follow these guidelines:
- The west side of Thailand, which is the Andaman coast, including destinations like Phuket, Krabi and the Phi Phi islands see the rainiest weather in summer, July to September.
- The Southern Gulf of Thailand islands on the Southeast side, like Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao have their rainiest season from November to January.
- The Upper Northern Gulf beaches like Pattaya, Koh Chang and Koh Samet are often sheltered by Vietnam and Cambodia, therefore they often have milder rain than the other regions, but typically June to September is their wettest season.
Pro Tip: Many businesses throughout Thailand only accept cash, so be sure to have the local currency on hand. It’s also smart to travel abroad with a card with no foreign transaction fee, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or The Platinum Card from American Express.
Now that you know when to go, here’s a guide on where to go.
West Side/Andaman Coast
Phuket: This may be the most well-known island in Thailand and if you’re looking for a party this may be your spot. The touristy Patong has beaches, clubs and crowds for those who want a “scene.” To escape a little, try the lesser-known Kata Noi, Laem Ka or Haad Sai Kaew beaches, all which should offer the relaxing, white sand experience of your Thailand dreams. Nai Yang is a nice beach for families as you get some amenities, but it still won’t be as crowded as some of the other spots.
Standout hotel option: JW Marriott Phuket (rated the top family hotel in Asia by Travel + Leisure) starts at 35,000 Reward points or $173 per night in November. For a romantic night out, dine at 360 Bar & Grill–chic decor, delicious cocktails and perfect views.
Phi Phi Islands: Koh Phi Phi Don is the most popular of the Phi Phi’s (remember, the movie The Beach was filmed on these islands) and Koh Phi Phi Leh is the next largest, and much less touristy as its uninhabited. Long Beach and Maya Bay are nice spots, especially when the day trippers head home and you have the place all to yourself. Ao Tho Ko is a nice spot for snorkelers and dolphin sightings are common. However, this island has transformed rapidly–from an unknown backpacker’s paradise to a trendy, sophisticated party spot, so if you’re looking for something low key, you might want to look elsewhere.
For a more “sleepy Thai village” vibe, try Koh Phra Thong where you can snorkel and birdwatch without all the tourists, or Koh Yao Noi, often overlooked due to it’s extreme high and low tides, but it also offers traditional homestay programs where you can learn all about the Thai culture. The coral reef below the waters of Koh Surin makes it an ideal spot for snorkeling and the Mu Ko Surin National Park is host to one of the most famous dive sites in the world, Richelieu Rock. If you don’t have time to leave the mainland, Krabi is a popular spot for honeymooners and offers some beautiful white sandy beaches.
Southern Gulf of Thailand
Koh Samui: Here you can either hit up the party beaches of Chaweng and Lamai, or my personal preference, head up to Mae Nam in the north for a peaceful, Thai-inspired experience. Make sure to order a Chang Beer and some spring rolls at Nature Bar along the beach, which is my preferred hangout spot to chat with laid back, friendly owners Poy and Noi. Silver Beach is also a nice family area where kids can explore the big rocks and find crabs and other sea creatures at low tide. Afterwards, take in the views at The Cliff Bar while sipping a crisp Rose.
Standout hotel option: Stay at the Le Meridien Koh Samui on Lamai beach for 12,500 Starpoints or $166 per night in November.
Koh Phangan: Either rage at the Full Moon Party, or relax on the empty, sleepy beaches of this paradise island (or both!). Rent a scooter and in just two hours, you can ride around the entire island and see some breathtaking panoramic views. There is a beach for everyone here–try Haad Yao and Haad Salad for relaxed, cove beaches and yummy beachfront Thai food, or take the water taxi from Chokolum over to Bottle Beach for incredible views and a wooden boat trip. Partiers can head down to Haad Rin for some fun.
Anthong National Park is an interesting spot made up of 42 protected islands. Take a tour here, but rocky seas often make for a bumpy boat ride over, so be prepared. This is a great area for hiking or kayaking. Koh Tao is another island worth visiting, especially if you love snorkeling or diving. You can get your diving certification here, hike, rock climb or boulder, or simply chill out on the long Sairee or Chalok Baan Khao beaches.
Northern Gulf of Thailand
Koh Chang: This island is relatively new to tourism, so it still remains rather untouched, and it’s known for its jungles and wildlife, such as birds, snakes, and even elephants–the island’s name actually translates to “Elephant” island. Head for the west coast if you’re searching for an area without tourists, like Bailan Bay or South Klong Prao beach.
Koh Samet: A nature lover’s paradise, most of the island is protected as a national park, but you can stay here overnight. Over 80% of the island is covered in forest, but don’t worry-there are still some sandy beaches, Hat Sai Kaew being the most popular and if you want something more off the beaten path, try Ao Prakarang.
Mainland: Pattaya is a mainland city beach area that you can easily reach from Bangkok, as is Cha-am (this area is quite popular with Thai locals who often avoid more touristy beach resorts like Phuket). Ban Krut is another low key mainland beach in the North Gulf if you’re looking to escape hoards of tourists. Hua Hin offers more to do and is popular with tourists and locals alike, though isn’t nearly as exotic as the islands.
Do you have any favorite beaches in Thailand? Please share in the comments below!