Winter in the Andaman Sea
With November to March the coolest and driest time to explore the Andaman Sea, this is a great time for an outdoor adventure. Here’s what you can expect…
1. Get under the skin of Krabi
Reef-fringed desert islands, wild mangrove forests, caves dripping with stalactites… Krabi is famous for its beautiful beaches, but there’s plenty to do besides relaxing on the sand.
Take a long-tailed boat to the twin islands of Koh Rok to snorkel with turtles over multi-coloured corals. Test your head for heights with a rock climb on the plunging cliffs behind Ray Lay beach, which are good for all-comers whether beginners or advanced. Or sea-kayak around Khao Phanom Bencha National Park or Thalane Bay, where mangrove forests are cut with canals and dramatic cliffs are carved with sea caves and canyons you can paddle through.
The region has no shortage of cultural adventures too. Clamber up the steep paths at Wat Tham Suea Tiger Temple for sweeping ocean and forest views, stretching at the feet of a giant golden Buddha. Sample the great sea food at Krabi town’s night market, where locals whisk fresh prawns, noodles and lemongrass around flaming woks before serving them sizzling at tables set under the stars. And when the busy day is done, relax with a foot bath or an ayurvedic aromatherapy massage at one of the myriad spa-shops that sit right on the shoreline.
2. Discover uncrowded adventures in Khao Lak
Khao Lak is where the great rainforests of southern Thailand meet the gin-clear Andaman Sea, offering those famous southern Thai, palm-shaded beaches and bays but without the crowds. There are heaps of nature-based adventures, from hikes on jungle trails, boat rides on wild rivers and dives over fish-teeming reefs. And the kayaking is superb. At Takuapa, also known as ‘Little Amazon’, you can paddle along tree-lined canals past huge coiled reticulated pythons, monitor lizards over a metre long and myriad wading birds. Over on Cheow Lan Lake you can drift through forest-covered pinnacle islands on bamboo rafts, hopping ashore to scramble through stalactite-filled caves.
Hiking can be found in Khao Sok National Park, a vast swathe of pristine forest, rivers and lakes watched-over by towering limestone mountains, where clouded leopards, forest elephants and tigers still live wild and free.
At the Phang Nga Coastal Fisheries Centre you can get close to hatchling hawksbill and green turtles, rescued from busy beaches, reared and released into the sea. You may see them in the wild on a dive in Similan National Park where unspoilt coral archipelagos are fringed with pearl-white sands and pristine corals.
3. Sabai Sabai on the twin islands of Ko Yao
Sabai Sabai means ‘twice relaxed’ in Thai, which is what life is like on the tiny, traffic-free Koh Yao Noi in Pha Nga Bay, near Krabi. Even by Thai standards, this little island is idyllic. The gentle, turquoise Andaman Sea licks long tongues of talc-soft white sand. Craggy cliffs swathed in lush forest hang overhead. In the distance, long-tailed wooden fishing boats chug across a horizon of pinnacle islands that jut out of a mirror-calm ocean. The stars at night sparkle across the sky, and the only sound is the splash of fish in the sea, the whistle of wind in the palms and the lap-lap of waves on the shore.
There are only a handful places to stay: two luxurious but laid-back resorts and a sprinkling of beach shacks and homestays. And there are just a few over-the-water or on-the-beach, locally-owned seafood restaurants. The only way around the island is by kayak (along the coast, past mangroves and bays), or motor scooter. You can hire these in Koh Yao Noi’s only village, before whisking off to one gorgeous beach after another, or to the butterfly-filled, scented forest that covers the island’s rugged, rocky north.
Summer on the Gulf of Thailand
With June to September the best time for adventure on the Gulf of Thailand, here’s how you should spend your time…
4. Explore Koh Samui
Your own plunge pool perched over a bay of islands, massage and pampering in one of Southeast Asia’s most sumptuous spas, romantic meals al fresco under the stars: Koh Samui is on-the-beach Thailand at its most luxurious. And it comes with plenty of natural beauty and local colour.
Take a day trip to the Ang Thong Marine park to snorkel, sunbathe and hop between unspoilt islands. While you’re there, hike to Tham Bua Bok cavern with its lotus-flower-shaped stalagmites, or the Pha Jun Jaras viewpoint that looks out over an emerald sea, scattered with hundreds of tiny, forested islands.
Hire a motorbike to whisk along Samui’s narrow roads, climbing inland to the waterfalls that streak the island’s centre and stopping off at beachside restaurants en route. Wander the bars and day spas of Chaweng, Samui’s busiest beachside neighbourhood, and enjoy a Mai Tai at sunset, right on the sand. Visit the fisherman’s market in Bo Phut and sample the fresh prawns and crabs. Don't miss the giant Buddha at Wat Phra Yai, set on a peninsula next to a long sweep of golden beach, surrounded on all sides by ocean.
5. Lose yourself in Koh Pha Ngan
Rugged Pha Ngan island is just a short ferry-hop from Samui. But it feels a world away. Rainforest swathes the steep ridges and valleys of Than Sadet National Park in its jungle interior. Chic-shack, laid-back resorts cluster on steep hillsides above coconut-palm-shaded coves.
This is an island to lose yourself on. There are so many places to explore, from the buzzing beaches west of Rin Nai in the south to the forgotten bays and rocky capes around Haad Khom in the island’s secret, sultry north.
Hire a motorbike and drive from village to village, stopping to snorkel over shoreside coral reefs along the way and explore jungle roads that run through lush avenues of trees to forgotten waterfalls. Climb the steep steps to Top Rock for cocktails and sunset with rainforest and ocean at your feet. And get lost in local life: craft your own batik, feast on the great seafood and spicy laarb (leaf wraps) at Thong Sala Night Market and learn how to make the perfect masaman curry at one of the myriad cooking schools on Ban Tai or Haad Rin – the island’s most famous beach.
6. Dive right in on Koh Tao
Shaped like a crescent moon, fringed with white sands and surrounded by fabulous reefs, Koh Tao is the Gulf of Thailand’s scuba capital. This is one of the best places in Asia to learn to dive, with warm shallow seas as still as a bath and myriad coral pinnacles. Whale sharks congregate around the Chumphon Pinnacle near the island between in the winter months. Turtles, reef sharks and barracuda are here all year round.
Koh Tao offers plenty more besides diving. With ocean this calm, it’s a great place to learn to stand-up paddleboard, and you’ll find rental shops on almost all the beaches. You can sea kayak right off the sand in Sairee to the tiny Nang Yuan archipelago where a hill climb brings you to a view of tiny islets connected by brilliant-white strands of sand, set in a turquoise sea. And you can hike through thick forest to the John-Suwan lookout in Koh Tao’s far south and find yourself perched over twin coral bays, separated by a lush jungle-covered peninsula.
Hoh Tao has great climbing too, with dozens of agencies offering trips and classes for all levels over cliffs and boulder-mountains to yet more wonderful views.
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