Phuket
"Pearl of the Andaman", Phuket is Thailand's largest island and home to some magnifi-cent resorts.lt is an island of great and varied natural beauty, rich in vegetation and scenery of all kinds. Phuket has long been Thai-land's richest province; tin and rubber were its main exports before tourism. Phuket was also on the main trade routes from Europe in centuries past, and Sino-Portugese architecture can still be seen in Phuket town. The largest concentration of resort hotels is on Patong Beach, also the centre for shopping and a vibrant nightlife. South stretches Karon, a wide peaceful beach backed by hotels. Further south there are the smaller but equally beautiful expanses of Kata Noi and Kata Yai. To the north, around Surin Beach, are some of the most luxurious resorts in Southeast Asia. As you would imagine, there are a huge variety of activities on offer on this delightful isle, from elephant riding, to bungee jumping to parasailing. Water sports are even more varied, with wind-surfing, wakeboarding and jetkiing just some of the options. Diving trips from Phuket leave for excursions to some of the best diving sites in Southeast Asia, and indeed the wotld. Large well-established dive firms offer unforgettable trips to prime spots such as Shark Point, Red Rock, Ko Yao, Ko Yai and Ko Raya. Phuket is home to the pioneering eco-tour company Sea Canoe, which takes adventurers in small groups of rwo-passenger inflatable kayaks on tours of up to three days and more, particularly around the fabulous limestone seascapes of Phang-nga. The island is also the home of Thailand's sailing fraternity, artracting the cream of Thai society as well as the international sailing crowd. The biggest artraction in the sailing calendar is the Phuket King's Cup Regarta. The week-Iong race every year attracts up ro 100 sailboats from all over the world to vie for the coveted trophy. Phuket's marinas have a wide variety of vessels for charter. Find them at Laem Phrao Yacht Marina, Phuket Boat Lagoon, Yacht Haven and jimmy.s Lighthouse at Chalong Bay.

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Krabi
Krabi and irs 150 nearby islands share the characteris- tic beauty of stunning limestone cliffs. Originally a refuge for visitors wanting to get to an unspoiled seaside paradise, Krabi is today well-served by hotels, shopping facilities and restaurants, and yet retains its natural charms. Krabi is also a center for sports. The cliffs of Hat Tham Phra Nang and Hat Rai leh East offer almost unlimited climbing opportunities for any level, and instruction and tours can be arranged at practically any hotel or guesthouse. Sea-canoe expeditions around uninhabited islands, hidden lagoons and tidal caves are just as easily arranged, as well as diving trips to submarine tunnels and coral reefs. Around Krabi, Phra Nang Beach is considered by many to be the most beautiful on the Andean coast. Backed by steep limestone cliffs, a gleaming white beach faces two rocky inlets rearing up from a turquoise sea. Inside the cliff is Phra Nang Cave and a tidal lagoon that can be reached by a brisk rock climb. Phra Nang and neighboring Rai lye Beach are located on an isthmus accessible by longtail boat from Krabi town. A little further away from the town, Hat Noppha-rat Thara is a long sandy beach, popular with Thais. which is patt of a national marine park of the same name. At low tide it is possible to walk out to some of the islands in the bay. South of Krabi is the island of lanta, with a laid-back beach scene of unique character, and breathtaking unspoiled beaches.

Ko Phi Phi
Famous for irs breathraking beaches and relaxed pace of life, Phi Phi islands have attracted a unique beach-cum-diving community from all over the world. The Phi Phi islands are patt of the Hat Noppharat Thara Marine National Park. Their closeness to prime dive sites and profusion of respected dive shops make the islands one of the most popular diving destinations in Thailand. Other popular activities include swimming and snorkelling over the coral reefs that surround the islands. The group consists of Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Le, Phai Island (Bamboo Island) and Yung Island (Mosquito Island). The area is distinguished by soaring limestone cliffs, the crumbly rock carved by the elements into fantastic shapes. These extend underwater to the sea bed, forming a natural network of caves and caverns. Characteristic undersea life includes long sea whips, giant orange sea fans, black corals as well as the more usual varieties, and species of ttopical fish unique to the immediate area.

Ko Racha Yai & Ko Racha Noi
South of Phuket, Ko Racha Yai is the larget of twin islands. It is popnlar with divers who enjoy floating along its sloping rock face, taking in the colourful colonies of hard corals and looking at the diversify of the tropical fish. Ko Racha Yai is known in particular for its octapi, cuttlefish and false barracudas. The smaller of the Racha islands, Ko Racha Noi offers more demanding diving for older hands, with deeper sites and sttonger cnrrents. To the south of the island is a beautiful beach, from which you can experience an excellent drift dive. The notthern point comprises a large stone atoll around which larger fish and mammals are frequently spotted.

Surin islands
Only five islands make up this national marine park just south of the Myanmar border and 53 kilometres from mainland Thailand. If you fancy getting lost in an island paradise, you could do no better. The small group of islands contains dozens of beautiful coves and bays, and is choked with thick jungle. The waters around Ko Surin are said to have the most diverse coral in all of Thailand, and seem to attract stranger species of marine life; divers and snorkellers may catch sight of the ghost pipe fish and frog fish.

Richelieu Rock
Richelieu Rock is, it is generally agreed, a world- class dive site. The submerged rock whose tips are just visible at low tide, is 18 kilometers east of Ko Surin and home to the widest diversity of sea life. It is the playground for schools of whale sharks which are so friendly they often pose for photographs.

Ko Ha Yai
Accessible from the Trang coast, Ko Ha Yai is synony- mous with div!,rs in the know'with incredible underwater caverns. It's an unforgettable experience exploring the spooky interiors, where looming stalactites of up to 30 metres hang from the ceiling and you never know what kind of creature you are about to surprise next!

Ranong islands
The thriving fishing port of Ranong is famous for its hot springs. A half-hour boat trip takes visitors to Victoria Point in Myanmar, the only town open along the Andaman coast. South of Ranong is Laem Son National Park with its casuarinia-lined beaches, Laem Son and Bang Ben. The park has bungalows, tents and an open-air restaurant. For snorkellers, a favourite spot is the coral reefs around a boulder called Hin Khan Na, 15 minutes from the shore. Great snorkelling and swimming is also to be found on some of the small islands off Laem Son, Ko Phayam and Mu Ko Kam. For jungle trekkers there are paths leading to the Ngao Water-fall in neighbouring Khlong Phrao National Park.

Phang-nga
The coast of Phang-nga province has an otherworldly atmosphere created by hundreds of weird-shaped limestone atolls and islands that rise up from the jade warers. By far the most famous of these is that immortalised in the movie, The Man With the Golden Gun, called, whar else? James Bond Island. As well as the scenery and some excellent beaches of its own, Phang-nga is a gateway to the fabulous Surin and Similan island groups. The best beaches on the mainland are Loparaet, Laem Hat and Laem No Ok. Visitors shouldn't miss the jungle temple of Wat Tam Suea (Tiger Cave temple). For nature lovers, the Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Muang National Park has trails for trekkers to Lampi and Ton Phrai waterfall.

Mu Ko Similan Islands
This national park in Phang- nga Province 100 kilometres northwes( of Phuket consists of nine desert islands whose natural beauty and incredible underwater vistas make them possibly the most loved dive sites in the Andaman Sea. The Similans boast 25 world-class dive venues. They are famous for their dazzling marine life, warm, clear water and mild sea conditions. Visibility is usually berween 18 and 25 metres and at times exceeds 40 metres. There is a huge variety of wildlife under the water, with sites on the west of the islands open to the sea, and sites on the east fringed wirh hard coral. Larger marine animals that inhabit the waters around the Similans include whale sharks and cow-tail rays. Several sites feature giant coral bommies, covered with soft corals and sea fans rising dramatically ftom the bottom. Out of the water, the virgin beaches and the flora and fauna beyond are breathtaking

Trang
Trang, halfway berween Phuker and rhe Malaysian border, is on the international sea route linking Thailand and its southern neighbour. Trang has been largely overlooked by foreign visitors, and is quiet and unde-veloped. The town is home to a large Chinese community and famous for its delicacy kanom ieen Chinese noodles with curry. Trang is also close to some excellent beaches, with several beautiful islands with great diving and snorkelling off its coast. Hat Chaomai Beach, for example boasts five kilometres of white sand and some of the biggest surf in Thailand, although many say the beaches at Hat Pak Meng and Hat Samran are just as beautiful. Ko Libong is the biggest of the islands immediately off the Trang coast. A little further out, Ko Kradan is said to be the most beautiful island belonging to the Hat Chaomai National Park. Ko Muk, opposite Hat Chang Lang Beach, has vibrant live coral.

Ko Rok
Lying 25 kilometres south of Ko Ha, Ko Rok is a multi- layered diving site; the deeper you go, the stranger things get. At around 20 metres the undersea landscape is of hard corals and tropical fish. Deeper, divers see every surface breathing with soft corals.

Mu Ko Tarulao & Adaol-Rawi
Uninhabited and untouched, the 51 remote islands of the Tarutao were Thailand's first marine national park, established more than 25 years ago, The dramatic natural beauty of the islands is thus left to dazzle unimpaired, Conservation efforts have re-warded these islands and the waters around them with a stun-ning profusion of life, The National Park is divided into two groups, the Tarutao and the Adang-Rawi. Good snotkelling, swimming, trekking and diving is available on the major islands in the group, and the park authorities can advise you on the best routes or locations. Ko Tarutao, the largest island in the group, has a sinister past -it was once a prison colony for politi-cal prisoners. There are many dive sites around Tarutao, such as Papil-Ion Cliff and Ao Son. Divers see whales and dolphins here, as well as turtles and dugongs. The Adang-Rawi group has wild jungles and deserted beaches and is a prime destination for adventure travel. Pristine coral reefs fringe the islands, and granite hills rise from the interior. Walking on the islands you may run into dusky languar, mousedeer or crab-eating macaques. On Ko Adang, and Ko Li Peh to the south, live villages of sea gypsIes.

Hin Daenu & Hin Muanu
The names mean "Red Rock" and "Purple Rock" respectively, and a visit to these, Trang's most popular dive sites, will tell you why, Sheer walls carve out a natural underwa-ter grotto, carpeted with coral and populated by large marine life. Red Rock rises three metres out of water teeming with barracuda and needlefish. To the east is a gentle sloping wall, but to the south, the face is vertical.

Ko Bon & Ko Tachai
Despite the reputation of the Similans, some pros argue that for sheer excitement, you can't beat Ko Bon. Divers to this small island 20 kilometers north of the largest Similan should, as they negotiate the vertical walls, be prepared for close encounters with leopard sharks. Here the corals come in unique rich hues; blue, yellow and turquoise. Ko Bon is also renowned for its high number of manta rays, especially at the end of the season in April and May. A further 25 kilometers north of Ko Bon is Ko Tachai, with a stunning pristine beach straight out of fairy-tale imaginations. Ko Tachai is famous for its large sea creatures. Divers and snorkellers can expect to see whale sharks, leopard sharks and nurse sharks, as well as rays and hawksbill turtles. The waters around the island are teeming with all kinds of tropical fish and coral.


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