A guide to the islands and beaches of Thailand, form the popular resorts of Phuket, Samai and Pattaya, to the tranquil coves on Ko Tarutao, Ko Lanta anbd Ko Chang. The guide includes detailed recommendations of the best beaches for both families and partying, as well as expert advice on diving, snorkelling, kayaking and other water sports.
Paul Gray has been a regular visitor to Thailand since 1987 when he taught English for a year at Chiang Mai. He is the co-author of the Rough Guide to Bangkok. Lucy Ridout has spent most of the last decade travelling in and writing about Asia. She is co-author of the Rough Guide to Bangkok, the Rough Guide to Bali & Lombok, and First-Time Asia.
WHERE TO GO
Airline schedules decree that many beach holidays begin in Bangkok, and despite initial impressions, Thailand’s crazy, polluted capital is well worth a couple of days of your time. Within the city’s historic core you’ll find resplendent temples, canalside markets and the opulent indulgence of the eighteenth-century Grand Palace, all of which make a good antidote to the mind-boggling array of markets, boutiques and restaurants in the fashionable downtown area.
Within easy striking distance of Bangkok, the East Coast resort of Pattaya is the country’s most popular – and least interesting – destination, a concrete warren of hotels and strip joints that makes its money from package tourists who are unaware of what they’re missing. Yet just a few dozen kilometres further east sit the islands of Ko Samet and Ko Chang, whose superb sands are dotted with beach huts and bungalows designed to appeal to all budgets and tastes.
After an interesting inland diversion at the atmospheric, temple-filled town of Phetchaburi, the peninsular Gulf Coast kicks off with the historic resort of Hua Hin – now rather disfigured by excessive hotel development, though still a good place for a seafood dinner and a round of golf. The main draw on this side of the peninsula, though, is the Samui archipelago to the south: Ko Samui itself is the most developed of the three main islands here, but has kept its good looks and offers an appealing variety of beachside accommodation; Ko Pha Ngan, with its small resorts and desolate coves, is still firmly backpacker territory, drawing teenage ravers and solitude seekers in equal parts; while the last outcrop, Ko Tao, is the most rustic of the three, but has established itself as one of the world’s leading centres for scuba-diving courses.
Across on the other side of the peninsula, the Andaman Coast boasts even more exhilarating scenery and the finest coral reefs in the country, in particular around the spectacular Ko Similan island chain, which ranks as one of the best dive sites in the world. The largest Andaman Coast island, Phuket, is one of Thailand’s top tourist destinations and is graced with a dozen fine beaches; many of these have been over-developed with expensive high-rises and throbbing nightlife, but quieter corners can still be found. Ko Phi Phi has also suffered under unregulated construction, but its coral-rich sea remains an untainted azure, and the sheer limestone cliffs that characterize the coastline here – and elsewhere around the harbour town and beaches of nearby Krabi – are breathtakingly beautiful. The island of Ko Lanta has a more understated charm and is a popular destination for families. Inland attractions generally pale in comparison to the coastal splendours, but the rainforests of Khao Sok National Park are a notable exception.
Further down the Thai peninsula, in the provinces of the deep south, the edgy relationship between Thai sovereignty and Malaysian Islam – the kind of cultural brew that has characterized Thailand throughout its history – makes this a rewarding region for the more adventurous traveller to explore. The immediate attractions are the teeming sea life and unfrequented sands of Ko Tarutao National Marine Park and the islands off Trang, while Songkhla on the east coast is a good sand-and-see all-rounder, with miles of beach and several diverting museums.
WHEN TO GO
The climate of most of Thailand is governed by three seasons: rainy (roughly June through October), caused by the southwest monsoon dumping moisture gathered from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand; cool (November to February); and hot (March through May). The rainy season is the least predictable of the three, varying in length and intensity from year to year, but usually it gathers force between June and August, coming to a peak in September and October, when unpaved roads are reduced to mud troughs and whole districts of Bangkok are flooded. The cool season is the pleasantest time to visit, although temperatures can still reach a broiling 30°C in the middle of the day. In the hot season, when temperatures often rise to 35°C in Bangkok, the best thing to do is to hit the beach.
Within this scheme, slight variations are found from region to region. In southern Thailand, temperatures are more consistent throughout the year, with less variation the closer you get to the equator. The rainy season hits the Andaman Coast of the southern peninsula harder than anywhere else in the country – heavy rainfall usually starts in May and persists at the same level until October. The Gulf Coast of the southern peninsula lies outside this general pattern – with the sea immediately to the east, this coast and its offshore islands feel the effects of the northeast monsoon, which brings rain between October and January. This area suffers less than the Andaman Coast from the southwest monsoon, getting a comparatively small amount of rain between June and September.
Overall, the cool season is generally the best time to come to Thailand: as well as having more manageable temperatures and less rain, it offers waterfalls in full spate and the best of the flowers in bloom. Bear in mind, however, that it’s also the busiest season, so forward planning is essential.
Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful.
tons of info
By Jodi R. Thompson
Have been using this book while planning an upcoming trip to Thailand. I have used Lonely Planet books in the past but I think I will be switching to Rough Guide from now on. This book contains lots of helpful info on all areas of Thailand's beaches and islands as well as a thorough section on Bangkok. Unlike Lonely Planet, Rough Guide does not assume that only backpackers will be using their guidebooks and therefore makes an effort to review all levels of accomodation and restaurants.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful.
By Brian Pressman
I used this book while traveling in Southern Thailand this past summer. The book is great! Having a section on BKK is also very helpful as almost anyone coming/going to Southern Thailand passes through.
The book is small and much more convenient than the larger country wide or SE Asia guide books. Assuming you are just going to Southern Thailand.. this is all you need. The format is clear and very well formatted. The prices were a tad off, but this seems to be the norm with guidebooks.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful.
Covers the road less traveled
By Christine Johnson
Great and giving advice and suggestions for areas that are less visited by tourists!!! Perfect for an independent traveler like me.