Around the World Trip: The Beaches of Southern Thailand

*By Whitney*

We had already been to Thailand twice earlier in our trip. Now we were coming back there for a whole month more! 10 countries down so far, but Thailand was our favorite!

If you haven’t already, check out my posts on our adventures at the other stops: 

Timeline: Hua Hin November 13-21

We had a rough 9 or so hours of traveling from Cambodia back to Thailand. I wasn’t feeling well, and we had to take a Tuk Tuk, a plane, a local bus, a long distance minibus, and another taxi to get from Phnom Penh to Bangkok to Hua Hin! Once we arrived in Hua Hin though, we were very excited for where we were staying. We had a free hotel night through IHG that we used at the amazing Intercontinental Hua Hin Resort. This was a magnificent property with several guest buildings, 3 infinity pools, glorious lounge chairs and private cabanas, ocean front views, several bars and restaurants including a swim up bar. When we arrived, they offered to upgrade our room to a suite because of our IHG membership status (and because we don’t think the hotel was very busy). The only caveat was that the suite was in a new building across the road from the main building (the oceanfront side). But they have a guest shuttle that can take you between the two buildings and there’s a pedestrian bridge. So of course we took the upgrade because we anticipated the suite would be fabulous, and it was! We had a big plush bed; two balconies; a separate living room with mini bar, coffee maker, TV, couch, desk; a huge bathroom with a separate tub, walk in shower, toilet room, powder room, closet, etc! It was easily one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed! The new building was also connected to a fancy “resort” mall, just as spectacular as all the other malls we had seen across Southeast Asia. Really, the malls are incredible, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US.

So we got to take advantage of this amazing place for about 24 hours! We enjoyed relaxing at the pools and beachfront, got a complimentary smoothie while sitting in our lounge chairs inside the infinity pool, and got a great night’s rest in the plush hotel bed (much needed for my ill self)! The hotel also offered a complimentary shuttle and free day passes to a few locations around town, but the main ones we wanted to go to were the local water park and local sports/fitness center. We were able to take advantage of the water park, but unfortunately I misplaced our tickets and we weren’t able to go to the fitness center. Jared had a lot of fun at the water park, but I wasn’t feeling too great so I only did a little bit there. I also got injured trying to knee board in the wave pool, so that was not fun! But we were excited about all the free perks we got from staying at the Intercontinental, even if we only had one day at the hotel!

After we checked out, we moved to an Airbnb for the rest of our time in Hua Hin that was about a mile from the beach. This Airbnb was a private condo in a large building, which also had a rooftop pool, a small gym, a library, and laundry services. Inside the apartment we had a small kitchen and a living room. It was a cute and small space, and we thought it’s somewhere we could actually live, ha! We were pretty lazy the rest of our time in Hua Hin. Neither of us were feeling too well, so we spent a lot of time catching up on sleep, hanging out in the condo and by the pool, catching up on blog work, watching Netflix and reading. We did go to a few local restaurants, the night markets, and two malls. We also ventured out to the beach a few times, but unfortunately there were HUNDREDS of jellyfish washed up all along the beach and in the ocean, so we didn’t get in! I’d never seen anything like it! Last, we visited a temple on a mountain with awesome views of the ocean!

When it came time to leave, we had to get a bus back to Bangkok to catch our flight down to Krabi. The bus was the nicest one we’ve been on, 100x better than the minibus (van) we came there in! It had huge reclining seats and lots of leg room. We also got to take advantage of an airport lounge at DMK airport for some free food and beverages, as well as massage chairs, before we headed to Krabi.

Timeline: Krabi November 21-24

We had planned just two days at Ao Nang Beach in Krabi because we needed to fly into there to get to the place we were really excited about (Ko Lanta), and we figured we better check out the famous Railay beach as well. We took the airport shuttle from the airport to our Airbnb, which was a private “bungalow” in a quiet neighborhood really close to the main tourist area. Our bungalow was really neat, all except for having the hardest bed of all time. It was literally like sleeping on just a box spring.

The next day, our friend and fellow travel therapist arrived in Krabi to meet us which was really awesome! He had been planning a trip to Thailand and Indonesia, but didn’t have a specific itinerary, so he planned to meet up with us for part of the time in the islands of Thailand! He was in the same area as us for the next 3 stops, so we got to hang out with him quite a bit and did a lot of fun activities! Being with a friend also encouraged us to be more adventurous and not to waste as much time, like we had tended to in some of the locations.

While staying in Ao Nang, we went to the beautiful beach and some of the local bars there. We were coincidentally there on Thanksgiving and were able to have a “Friendsgiving” home-away-from-home meal with our travel buddy! Sadly it was just normal Thai food, no American meal like I was hoping we might find!

We also took a day trip over to Railay beach, which can only be accessed by boat, so we went on a long tail boat directly from Ao Nang beach. Railay was amazing. The beaches and views there were absolutely stunning. It looked unreal. We went on a steep climb up to a viewpoint overlooking turquoise waters. Jared and our friend were daredevils and did a steep climb down to a “secret lagoon,” despite signs that said that part of the trail was closed and dangerous. But they survived and said it was an incredible sight. We saw lots of different kinds of monkeys, up close and personal while on the island! We also met up with another couple (who we originally met in Vietnam) and their friends while we were there. It was great seeing them again, and I got to try a little “acro yoga” on the beach! Afterwards we rented kayaks for about 2 hours and kayaked around the perimeter of the beaches and rock formations and into some shallow caves. Finally we got to see the most incredible sunset on Railay beach before catching the last long tail boat back to Ao Nang.

Once we were back, we went to a pub crawl hosted by our friend’s hostel, right across the road from where we were staying. It was what we would call very “fratty” and we all felt much too old to be on this pub crawl, haha, but it was still fun!

The next day it was time to make our way to Ko Lanta, so we booked a bus from Ao Nang. Unfortunately it was another minibus/van situation and we got the absolute worst seats in the very back. The drive took way longer than it was supposed to, and we got delayed a long time waiting to get on a car ferry to cross over to the island. It was a long journey but it was worth it once we arrived!

Timeline: Ko Lanta November 24-29

In Ko Lanta we booked a place through Airbnb, but it was really a hotel where they rent some of the rooms via Airbnb. Some of the buildings were bungalow style, but some were small buildings with 4-8 rooms. We had a lovely, large room in one of the buildings, with a great bed, lots of space to spread our stuff out, a nice bathroom, and a balcony. The property had 2 pools, oceanfront views, and an oceanfront bar/restaurant. It was directly adjacent to another hotel with a different pool, restaurant, bar, hammocks and lots of lounge chairs that we were allowed to use as well. All of this for $14/night! It was incredible. We loved Ko Lanta so much and can’t wait to go back there!

While there we did our fair share of relaxing at the pools, the beach bars, and on the gorgeous beaches. We enjoyed the local restaurants there and had some delicious and cheap food. We also went on a great day tour with our travel therapist friend. We went out on a large long tail boat where they took you to a few different islands for snorkeling, swimming through the Emerald Cave to a secret lagoon at low tide, plus lunch on a pristine beach. We made some friends from Spain on our tour, and also made some more friends from the US at our hotel!

Another day, the 3 of us amigos rented motorbikes (just 2, I can’t and won’t drive one, just ride with Jared!) and drove out to Ko Lanta National Park. There we did a short hike to a small waterfall, walked around on a lovely beach, checked out a lighthouse and some gorgeous views!

On our last day there, our friend had left us to spend a few days on a different island, so we soaked in the last little bit of oceanfront property, relaxed in hammocks, had happy hour cocktails, and I got a massage by the ocean at sunset! Ko Lanta is hard to top in our book of our favorite places we’ve been in the world!

When it was time to leave Ko Lanta, we arranged a ferry to take us from Ko Lanta to Ko Phi Phi, then a later ferry to take us from Ko Phi Phi to Phuket. It was great that we were able to arrange all this with the local travel agents for a reduced cost, and it all included taxis at the beginning and end of the journey.

We did just a quick stop over for the day in Ko Phi Phi (the Phi Phi islands) because it was expensive to stay there and we didn’t want to bother with moving around so much and staying so many different places. It was a gorgeous place, but definitely very touristy and overpriced. I’m glad we visited, but it wouldn’t be top of our list of places to go back!

Timeline: Phuket November 29-December 4

After spending the afternoon at the beach (with our luggage) in Ko Phi Phi, we arrived by ferry and then minibus to our place in Phuket. We stayed in Patong Beach area on the island, which is definitely more of the party area. We stayed about a 20 minute walk away from the beach and main tourist area, in a small “budget” hotel we booked through Airbnb. The space was very tight, but overall it was clean and nice there. I surely was missing our place in Ko Lanta though. And, despite being on a small side street, it was really quite noisy there unfortunately.

A day or so later, our friend arrived to meet us in Phuket, but he was staying a little further from us this time. We still managed to hang out quite a bit at the beach, at the bars, at his hostel one night, and on a day tour together! We booked another boat trip, after some significant haggling for the price. I was surprised how expensive the tours were there compared to everywhere else we’d been in Thailand, but it is quite touristy there so it makes sense. This boat tour took us to a few different locations in Phang Nga Bay, and at each stop we went on 4 person canoes with a guide who rowed us. We saw “James Bond Island” where they filmed one of the James Bond movies from the 70s. We also went to another “secret lagoon” (those are apparently quite common with all the different rock formations in the area). The views on our tour were just amazing! The only downside was the main host was a bit annoying and was using a lot of salesman tactics to get people to tip and buy more things while on the boat (drinks, souvenirs etc).

Overall we had a great time in Patong and made a few new friends there as well. But I don’t think we’d go back to Patong since it’s so touristy and definitely more of a party scene. It was also smelly and quite polluted. We much prefer other areas of Thailand we’ve been to, and we’d like to check out some different beaches on Phuket island next time.

This was the last of our beach days on our trip, as our next (and last) two stops were Bangkok and Hong Kong- both huge cities! We had to say goodbye to our friend who we had been traveling with for almost 3 weeks which was pretty sad. I also couldn’t believe we only had two weeks left in our trip! Check out my next post about what Bangkok was like!

Next Stop: Bangkok!

Insider Tips for Southern Thailand:

  • US citizens visiting Thailand for 30 days or less do not need a visa.
  • The local currency is the baht, which is about 33 to 1 USD.
  • They use Grab taxi in Hua Hin and Phuket. In Ko Lanta and Krabi I think they just have local tuk tuk drivers, I didn’t see Grab there.
  • It’s fine to visit some of the more touristy areas like Patong Beach, but I definitely recommend also going somewhere more off the beaten path like Ko Lanta.
  • If you go to Hua Hin, watch out for jelly fish! I don’t know if it’s always as bad as when we were there, but there were hundreds and we did NOT go in the water at all.
  • There is a larger Muslim population in southern Thailand, especially Ko Lanta. This was different than other parts of Thailand which are predominately Buddhist.
  • Haggle for the prices of tours that you book through travel agents there, especially in Phuket. We got our tours down from what would’ve been over $60 USD to $35 USD.
  • Recreational drugs are more common in southern Thailand and they are less strict there than other parts of Thailand.
  • Beware of “Go Go Bars” or “Lady Bars” in all of Thailand, but especially southern Thailand. This goes mostly for single guys, because often you’ll think you’re just talking to a normal girl but they’ll rope you into spending a lot of money or paying a lot of money to hang out with a girl who works there or buy her drinks.
  • Beware of monkeys! They’ll try to steal your stuff! Most times they’re nice, but sometimes if you get too close to them they can be aggressive.
  • Always always be very careful if you rent a motorbike. Lots of people do it but they can be so dangerous! And getting hurt in a foreign country can be a really bad situation! In most cases it’s better to pay just a little extra and hire a taxi or tuk tuk instead.

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