19 February 2018
19 February 2018
If you’re a first-timer to Thailand then having an Andaman coast itinerary is undoubtedly a great place to start. After all, the region combines the quintessential Thai mixture of island-hopping, karst islands, marine national parks and jungle escapism.
Oh, and I nearly forgot – crowds of people.
Although it’s a fact of life that, nowadays, Thailand is buckling under the strain of tourism in many parts, there are still places where you can escape some of the worst excesses.
That’s not to say that you should avoid the more popular spots altogether. They’re popular for a reason. But by applying a little bit of savvy you can still see some of the most beautiful coastal scenery on the planet with relative comfort.
So, what you won’t find on our itinerary are tourist hot spots such as Kho Phi Phi and Phuket’s beaches. Neither will you find yourself getting tired of being in one place for too long.
What you WILL find is an adventurous mixture of the quintessential elements I’ve already alluded to. Along with some great accommodation, fabulous food AND probably the best deserted beach you’re ever likely to witness.
It’s a busy three-week itinerary, which assumes you’ll be arriving by air into Krabi. And it includes some challenging local travel between destinations. But, for us, jumping on a songthaew (a cross between a small bus and a truck) with our backpacks and enjoying the bumpy ride in the company of locals and other travellers is just part of what makes Thailand so enticing.
You’ll find a day-by-day summary of our recommendations at the end of the post. But, of course, you can adjust the itinerary to suit your own requirements, budget and the amount of time you have to spend. And, if you need any help or advice, please feel free to contact us.
Andaman coast route map
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Having arrived in Krabi, you’ll find yourself in the centre of a tourist hub that includes some of Southern Thailand’s most famous spots.
In addition to Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, there’s also the marine playground in and around Phang Nga Bay. It’s where the famous “James Bond Island” is located and it’s gorgeous. It also gets incredibly crowded.
Our choice would be to head from Krabi to Ao Nang and spend your first night there. And if you like fish and seafood take a songthaew to Nopparat Thara and enjoy fabulous seafood at the Krua Thara restaurant. The snapper in Thai red curry sauce is still one of my favourite plates of food of all time.
The following morning catch the first longtail boat (at 8 am) for the 20-minute journey to Railay. You’ll disembark at the spectacular beach of Railay West, one of four beaches on the isthmus.
At the north end of the beach, a 20-minute clamber over rocks and through a bit of jungle will bring you to a second beach at Ton Sai. It’s quieter than Railay West and also attracts rock climbers.
But the best of them all is waiting for you behind exclusive Rayavadee Premier Resort. Phranang is described by Lonely Planet as “quite possibly one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. And I can see where they’re coming from. Gorgeous white sand and incredible jungle covered cliffs at either end, framed by limestone karst cliffs both just off the beach and in the distance.
Unfortunately, by the early afternoon parts of it get completely overrun as more and more boats arrive. So, if that bothers you, just be prepared to leave by mid-afternoon
From Ao Nang, either take a couple of songthaews to Krabi Town ferry terminal or get a taxi directly there and then catch the two-hour speedboat to Koh Lanta.
When you arrive at Lanta’s Saladan pier, be prepared to run the gauntlet of taxi operators offering their services. We recommend you stay at the Lanta Castaway Beach Resort in Haad Phra Ae, which is a 6km ride away.
The resort is at the quieter end of popular Long Beach and provides some of the best food and friendliest service we’ve experienced in Thailand. It also has an onsite diving school (the excellent Dive And Relax) with whom I took my PADI open water diving course. And if it’s something you’re planning to do you might want to stick around for an extra couple of days to complete the course and get certified.
Otherwise, you can spend your time here just relaxing on the beach or you can explore further afield by taking a taxi along the coast to gorgeous Kantiang Beach, generally regarded as the best on the island.
Long Beach, Koh Lanta
Suitably relaxed, it’s now time to include a spot of island hopping in your Andaman coast itinerary. So you’ll return to Saladin pier to catch another speedboat for the one-hour journey to Koh Kradan.
Justifiably renowned for its main beach, it’s a stunning strip of white powdery sand cascading into the most beautifully emerald/turquoise/electric blue sea we can ever remember setting our eyes upon. With a vista across to the islands of Koh Muk and Koh Libong to boot.
You can actually visit the island on a day trip from Lanta, but the trick to visiting Koh Kradan is to stay overnight. Between the hours of 7 and 11 am the beach is uncrowded. But then, on the horizon, longtails, speedboats and larger ferries carrying hordes of day-trippers start to appear. And between 12 noon and 3 pm, the central section of the beach is out of bounds for anyone who treasures their sanity. So that’s a good time to head for some lunch or wander through the jungle trail at the back of Paradise Lost resort to a smaller, secluded beach on the other side of the island.
The good news is that sanity returns to the main beach after 3 o’clock as you wave goodbye to the last of the boats disappearing back to Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and elsewhere.
Your next point of call is the southernmost Thai island of Koh Lipe, which is a two-hour speedboat journey from Kradan. And, with any luck, your journey will be less arduous than the seven-hour debacle that we experienced!
Lipe is a small island and it too is blessed with wonderful beaches. Not to mention a reputation for gourmet food with its large selection of restaurants in the unique Walking Street, connecting the east-facing Sunrise Beach and the west-facing Pattaya Beach.
Our tip though would be to take a short walk out of town to the tiny Burmese-owned Forever Restaurant. Sublime Burmese/Thai food served with a smile.
And, away from the island, there are plenty of longtail boats you can charter for a half or full day trip around some of the surrounding islands, such as Koh Adang and Koh Rawi.
Unfortunately, Lipe does suffer from over-crowding for most of the season (with the inevitable associated rubbish issues) and Walking Street can be heaving at night. But it’s still not on the scale of some of the bigger ticket Andaman hot spots so we reckon it still deserves a place on our itinerary.
Secluded beach on Koh Lipe
The beautiful waters surrounding Koh Lipe
Island-hopping duties completed, you’ll now be ready for a change of pace. So, having taken the five-hour speedboat from Koh Lipe to Phuket, instead of heading for its famous beaches catch a songthaew to Phuket Old Town. Better still, book a room at the 99 Old Town Boutique Guesthouse on Thalang Road.
It’s a somewhat gentrified area but it’s a lovely place to spend a day wandering around, taking in a Thai massage (try Kim’s) and enjoying terrific non-touristy Thai food.
And if you happen to be there for the weekly Sunday night market you can feast like a king on fabulous Thai street food from dozens of stalls.
Pride of place for us went to the tray of “moneybags”, a collection of small crispy parcels of gorgeousness filled with vegetables and prawns.
Khao Sok National Park
From Phuket Town, it’s a five-hour bus journey to Khlong Sok, on the outskirts of Khao Sok National Park.
Book in at Our Jungle House, a beautifully designed resort where you can experience sleeping in a rustic wooden bungalow or treehouse in a jungle setting. Being “rustic”, that does mean that your bungalow isn’t completely sealed so you’ll want to tuck your mosquito net under your mattress before you drop off!
And don’t miss the opportunity to eat at Pawn’s in the village, a restaurant run by three sisters who produce wonderfully fragrant and spicy Thai food.
But your stay in Khlong Sok is merely a precursor to a two-day guided tour to Cheow Lan Lake in nearby Khao Sok National Park. You can either pre-book before you arrive in Thailand or walk into one of several travel agencies in the village. And there are trips that range from one to several days, depending on how far you want to explore into the jungle.
Most people opt for the one night / two-day trip, which includes an overnight stay on the lake in a floating raft bungalow.
Take it from us, the scenery for the whole two days is nothing short of stupendous. It remains our favourite part of Thailand and we only scratched the surface in the time we had there. But you can expect your tour to at least include a couple of jungle treks, a nerve-shredding waltz through a spider and bat-infested cave and a couple of wildlife “boat safaris” – one early morning and another after dark. There are swimming and kayaking opportunities, too.
The bungalows themselves are little more than glorified kennels, connected by a rickety wooden boardwalk. Luxury it ain’t. But, waking up to the sounds of the jungle and the sight of monkeys playing beside the lake more than makes up for a slightly uncomfortable night.
Koh Phra Thong
After your jungle exertions it’s only right that you wind down your Andaman coast trip with some more island beach time.
And we’ve got a special one for you to finish with.
Koh Phra Thong is something of a headache to get to. It doesn’t have any mains electricity. And it’s not blessed with any of the iconic karst island scenery you’ll find further south. Which is perhaps why it also doesn’t get crowded.
But it has two of the best beaches we’ve ever seen and has such a laid back atmosphere that you might just find it difficult to leave.
To get there from Khlong Sok involves a bus to Takua Pa and then an onward bus to Khuraburi, from where you can get a ferry across to the island (book through your accommodation). But unless you get to Khuraburi early you might need to spend an overnight there as the ferries tend to stop running in the afternoon.
We stayed at the eco-friendly Phra Thong Nature Resort, but if you’d prefer to stay in more luxurious accommodation right on one of the two amazing beaches, we’d suggest Moken Eco Village on Phra Thong Bay.
The beach here is unusual in that at low tide it completely drains like a bathtub. But when the tide starts to roll back in, the water transforms into multicoloured hues of apricots, pinks, turquoise and blue. And when high tide arrives, the gully through the mangrove forest behind magically transforms into a temporary river to be explored by kayak.
Just a short walk over into the next bay is Golden Buddha Beach, an 11-kilometre long stretch of golden sand, which might be the best beach you’ve never heard of. In fact, it’s so big that it doesn’t get remotely busy. And it was here that the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami smashed into the island.
That shocking event is commemorated on Hornbill Hill, which separates the two bays and can easily be climbed. Not only does it provide an astonishing view of Golden Buddha Beach but it also serves as a place to reflect on an event that wreaked such devastation in South and Southeast Asia.
Your Andaman Coast Itinerary
Of course, the Andaman coast has plenty more to discover in addition to what’s covered in our itinerary. So, if you have more time, why not add one or two additional National Parks to your list. The only difficulty is deciding on which one to choose!
Arrive at KRABI AIRPORT Songthaew from KRABI to AO NANG Do Eat at Krua Thara Restaurant Accommodation San Bainai Resort
Do Boat trip to Railay Accommodation San Bainai Resort
Songthaew from AO NANG to KRABI FERRY Speedboat from KRABI to KOH LANTA Motorbike taxi from ferry dock to Long Beach Accommodation Lanta Castaway Resort (recommended)
Do Explore and relax in Koh Lanta – diving course (extra 2 days required), Kantiang Bay, Long Beach, eat at the resort Accommodation Lanta Castaway Resort
Motorbike taxi from Long Beach to ferry dock Speedboat from KOH LANTA to KOH KRADAN Accommodation Paradise Lost (recommended)
Do Relax on the main beach; switch to a beach on the opposite side of the island after 11 am; return to the main beach after 3 pm Accommodation Paradise Lost
Speedboat from KOH KRADAN to KOH LIPE Accommodation Gipsy Resort
Do Boat trip to Koh Adang and/or other nearby islands; enjoy the beaches and wandering around Walking Street; eat at Forever Restaurant
Speedboat from KOH LIPE to PHUKET Songthaew from ferry pier to Phuket Town Accommodation 99 Old Town Boutique Guesthouse (recommended)
Do Have a Thai massage; wander around the old town; visit the Sunday market if you can; eat well!
Bus from PHUKET to KHLONG SOK Accommodation Our Jungle House (recommended)
Do Explore Khlong Sok and the National Park; book your Khao Sok trip if you haven’t already done so; eat at Pawn’s restaurant Accommodation Our Jungle House
Do Guided 2-day trip to Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park Accommodation Floating raft bungalows
Do Complete the trip in Khao Sok National Park before returning to Khlong Sok Accommodation Our Jungle House
Bus from KHLONG SOK to TAKUA PA Bus from TAKUA PA to KHURABURI Accommodation Khuraburi Resort
Motorbike taxi to Khuraburi pier Boat from KHURABURI to KOH PHRA THONG Transfer from ferry pier to accommodation Accommodation Phra Thong Nature Resort
Do enjoy the beaches; kayak through the mangroves; climb Hornbill Hill Accommodation Phra Thong Nature Resort OR Moken Eco Resort (recommended)
DAY 22 Transfer from accommodation to ferry pier; Boat from KOH PHRA THONG to KHURABURI Taxi from ferry pier to Khuraburi bus station Bus from KHURABURI to PHUKET Taxi or minivan to PHUKET AIRPORT
What did you think? Have you been to the Andaman coast? Do you have any recommendations to add to our itinerary? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
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Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.