"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
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.
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
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
Ko Racha Yai & Ko Racha
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
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 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
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.
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, 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.
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
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.