Though many begin their Thailand adventures in the infamous capital of Bangkok, I choose to save the most notorious for a later date and head straight for what is arguably the most beautiful: The Andaman Coast. This stretch of island-dotted coastline, which lies along the very Southwest edge of the Thailand Peninsula, consistently accounts for a significant chunk of every travel guides’ “World’s Best Beaches” list – and rightly so. The powdery white sand, neon blue waters, and jagged limestone cliffs all work in unison to embody the essence of ”the perfect beach” – the ideal setting to lie back in the sun, soak up some rays, and sip on a fruity cocktail. If your idea of a vacation includes more activity than occasionally dragging yourself out of your beach chair to take a dip in the ocean, however, then you’ll be in luck here, too, as the snorkeling and diving are also world-class.
Before heading straight to the limestone karsts and white sands — aside from the obligatory Long-Tail-Boat picture that I gave as a preview above – we’ve got to set up camp. In an effort to avoid the pushy touts, rotisserie-cooked tourists, and neon-clad stretches of “girlie bars” that much of the area suffers from (when things are both beautiful and well-advertised, there are, after all, going be both crowds and business catering to the crowds), I decided to hunker down in Phuket Town – the main city on the island of Phuket — which is pronounced “poo-get,” by the way. What I lose in proximity to the beaches, however, I gain in culture, heritage, and a sense of peace and quite. Here are a few of my more colorful images from Phuket Town:
After enjoying the sights on Phuket, I decided to pay a visit to Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh — two much-heralded islands on the backpacker circuit that are beautiful enough to make the necessary head-first dive into the tourist fray worth the effort. The islands are both quite small, but the juxtaposition of the clear, shallow waters, scenic coves and harbors, and gorgeous beaches create some of the most jaw-dropping sights you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Basically, when people imagine their ideal tropical island, this is what they are thinking about:
And no visit would be complete without a stop at Maya Bay — the famed beach where the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed:
With Phuket and Koh Phi Phi checked off my list, I next made my way towards Koh Phang Nga — or “James Bond Island” as it is more commonly known, due to its appearance in Roger Moore’s The Man With the Golden Gun. Whereas the island itself is quite breath-taking, many of the boat tours that will take you there will also ferry you around a whole host of neighboring islands, all of which hold their own charm.
My favorite aspect of this trip wasn’t Koh Phang Nga itself, however. Around Hong and Panak Islands (on the way from Phuket), they drop you off into sea kayaks and allow you to not only cruise around the perimeter and harbours of these small dots of land, but to actually delve through small caves in the rocks that lead to hidden bays on the interior of the hollowed-out islands. It was a pretty surreal experience to be kayaking in near-complete darkness, ducking to avoid the low-hanging rocks, only to emerge to a beautiful beach inside the cliffs.
In addition to the sights sampled above, a few other great options nearby are the undeveloped Similan and Surin Islands, the small Ko Chang (there is another on the gulf side), the beach-heavy Ko Lanta, Khao Lak National Park, and Krabi – as well as dozens and dozens of other islands.
Additionally, before heading out of town, I did manage to squeeze in (and survive) a nice white water rafting trip back on the mainland (though unfortunately, this wasn’t a camera-friendly expedition, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say the scenery alone was worth the price of admission). And after my time here comes to an end, I’m heading Northeast to check out the sights on the gulf side of the peninsula to see how they compare. Until then, Choc-tee from the Andaman Coast!