Thailand has it all: ancient ruins, holy temples, elephant rides, world-class parties, and so help me Buddha, the very best, cheapest street food I have ever tasted. There is one other thing you will encounter while touring here though: other tourists. Tons of them. When we travel, many of us want to feel like we are getting away from familiarity. If you ever wanted to drop your smartphone or laptop and dive headlong into an off the grid coastal paradise in Thailand, here are our top picks.
Don’t be turned off by the fact that you’ve already heard of this island, I know it’s the third largest island in Thailand, and an increasingly popular tourist destination. Take a peek at the island on a map though, and you’ll see a large town on the northern tip of the island (named Ao Sapparot if you’re curious). This is where a boat from the mainland will arrive. Driving south along the road winding down the western coast of Ko Chang will show you resort after resort until you reach the island’s second main beach, and that is where this blogger is blogging about.
South of the populated resorts is where the jungle begins creeping onto the road, the beaches begin emptying out, and the sound of motor vehicles begins melting away. Locals call this Lonely Beach. There are few hot tourist destinations in Thailand where you can still find cheap beach bungalows to hide away in, and this is one of them. From your bungalow, the island offers kayaking, snorkeling, diving, elephant trekking and more than a few beautiful waterfalls. And if you start missing other people, the island still has a vibrant town and nightlife just up the road (The island has many bars and beach parties, but ONE, the island’s first nightclub, opened in 2011.)
The Surin Islands are off the western coast of Thailand, nearer to the border with Myanmar, and comprise one of Thailand’s most protected national wildlife parks. Only open for travel from mid-November to mid-May each year, a stay here will not be at a familiar-looking resort, but at one of two campsites. There is no airport on the islands, and there is no boat pier on the islands. In fact, the only way to reach them is to contract a diving or snorkeling company out of the small fishing town of Kuraburi, 40km away by boat, which is itself a tough place to get to. A note to backpackers: there are times when it may be simpler to hire a trusted travel agent or diving company to get you where you need to be, this is one of those times.
What do you do besides camping here? Why, only the most exclusive, naturally beautiful snorkeling and diving in all Thailand. Pristine, extensive coral reefs, rare sea turtles, warm, calm waters and a variety of marine life all come together to make this region a bucket list destination for snorkelers and divers.
If you were looking to drop off the face of the planet, you need not look further than Koh Lipe. Not only is the island itself tiny, but there are also tons of smaller, uninhabited islands reachable by longboat where one can camp and relax for a night. Koh Lipe is reachable from November to May via ferry boats from Phuket, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi, and features three white sand beaches, all about a 15 minute walk from each other. The island sits just outside a National Park boundary, so there are a few signs of development around its beaches, including a growing number of resorts.
If you don’t want to walk the short distance across the island, longboats will take you anywhere you like for 50-200 baht, depending on where you want to go. Other than exploring the surrounding archipelago island by island, there is of course some world-class snorkeling in the region, and honestly, not much else. You are off the grid here. There are no organized elephant treks and no nightclubs. Only a small tourist town and no cars. Just you, your beach, and your drink. Koh Lipe is hands down the ultimate off the grid destination in Thailand.
Every country considered a tourist destination has a few “locals only” weekend getaway spots, and Thailand has Hua Hin. This is where Bangkok residents go to get away from the daily grind, and with good reason. The bad news is that it is developing rapidly as a destination for foreigners, but municipal and regional officials are frantically trying to prevent the city from reaching the critical-levels of foreign tourism found in other beach resort cities in Thailand.
A quiet fishing village until it was discovered by Thai royalty and nobility in the early 20th century, Hua Hin grew into a quiet beach resort town for the wealthy ala Martha’s Vineyard. Thanks to the relative affluence of the population, there is something here that is hard to find elsewhere in Thailand: golf (finally, a reason to bring your clubs to Thailand). Ideal for couples and families, the town is also home to sea caves, a huge variety of international seafood restaurants and is near a couple of the most beautiful national parks in the country.
*This post made possible by Global Basecamps.