With flights to Asia cheaper than ever, it's time to give in to temptation. Take the plunge and find yourself immersed in the spectacular scenery of Southern Thailand. Travel beyond Phuket to places far more beautiful than the filtered Insty photos clogging your newsfeed. Explore all that the region has to offer, from the magical islands and gorgeous beaches to the peace of the jungle...
Here are our 3 Must See Places in Southern Thailand
1.) Phi Phi- to soak up some sun and sand
Flying into Phuket, we escaped the town in favour of the Phi Phi Islands. The larger inhabited island Phi Phi Don is only a short longtail ride from its famed counterpart Phi Phi Leh, home to "The Beach". Staying on the far side of Phi Phi Don in a bamboo shack 100 metres from the beach was bliss. Away from the frantic Tonsai Pier, the island is much more peaceful and has much to offer a traveller. Visiting the local village there are stark reminders of how the boxing day tsunami devastated the region in 2004. The evacuation route is still marked clearly alongside a path lined with tin-shed housing. And yet the locals' delightful attitude is infectious, evidence that in spite of the loss they still make the most out of everyday life.
Forever on my bucket list, Maya Bay "The Beach" was as beautiful as I had imagined. Rough conditions on the water meant no snorkelling in the neighbouring lagoon, but moored just off from the beach the water is teeming with fish. Be welcomed into the bay with dramatic views of white silicon sand and crystal clear water. Staying overnight on the "Maya Bay Sleepaboard" allowed us access to the National Park for the evening when the crowds of tourists were long gone.
At 9pm with the sun down and the group settled in for dinner I counted myself lucky enough to have the beach all to myself. In tribute to the movie we capped the night off by swimming amongst the sparkling plankton and squeezing in an awkward underwater snorkel-kiss. If you plan to visit as a day trip, be aware that the first longboat revellers arrive at 6am. From there on it becomes a madness of crowds and selfie sticks.
Enjoy a paddle or a swim at Monkey Bay but help to preserve the beauty by taking your rubbish with you and not touching the coral or local marine life. Whilst it is fun to observe the monkeys, resist the urge to feed or touch them which is extremely disruptive.
2.) Krabi- to experience the local culture
After a bit of a debacle with our ferry tickets, we headed across the waters towards Krabi. Having been pressured in Phuket to purchase our onward ticket, we ended up paying double the price of what was available on Phi Phi. Somehow in that madness I'd also managed to buy two tickets to Krabi town and not Ao Nang. Double fail. Make sure to hail your own metered taxi or tuk tuk directly from the street. As helpful as the man waiting in your hotel lobby appears to be, he will charge you extortionate tourist prices and despite all of your street smarts you will find yourself scammed.
Arriving into Ao Nang was an adventure in itself. After being shepherded from the ferry to a tender to make the trip to shore, we found ourselves huddled in a car park where we were loaded into open trucks. Having only spoken a single word to the driver we all crossed our fingers and were miraculously dropped off at the doors of our corresponding hotels. Get yourself down to the beach to treat yourself to an $8 one hour massage and some freshly char-grilled corn on the cob served beachside.
Inspired by all of the delicious food we enrolled ourselves into the "Thai Charm Cooking School" to learn the local secrets. Wespent the evening preparing a banquet of 5 dishes each under the tutelage of Heng, a master chef from Bangkok. Heng is a true delight, rattling off jokes whilst advising what your curry needs simply by inspecting the colour. A recent vegetarian, he helped me to adapt all of my favourite traditional dishes. We left armed with cookbooks and will forever be trying to recreate the food at home.
For a more relaxed vibe, venture by boat to the peninsula of Railay. Cut off from the mainland by towering limestone cliffs thearea boasts some of the best rock climbing in the world. With its gorgeous beaches and wealth of activities on offer, I will be staying here next time.
Head to Phra Nang Beach where you'll be served street food straight from the longboats lining the shoreline. After a spot of climbing we spoke to the locals and set off to find the elusive cave at the end of the beach. By the light of an iphone we scrambled through dark caverns and scaled rickety bamboo ladders to be rewardedwith breathtaking views across West Railay. It was made all the better for having it all to ourselves.
3.) Khao Sok- to explore the jungle
Khao Sok National Park is located a few hours drive north of Krabi and Phuket. For a wonderful treehouse experience (reminiscent of Swiss Family Robinson) stay at "Our Jungle House" which sits on the edge of the jungle. After living off pad thai, curries and street pancakes for days, I could not get enough of their delicious spin on western food. Lying amongst the tree tops and listening to the call of Gibbons is a truly relaxing experience.
Booking ourselves onto a night jungle safari, we came away having seen a singular snake up in the canopy and a handful of insects. With more appearances of wildlife on our weekend camping trips, I would suggest steering clear of this one.
A day trip out on Cheow Lan Lake offers another glimpse into the surreal landscapes of the area. The lake is so vast that despite large numbers of visitors, the feeling of tranquillity is contagious. After the lake was dammed a fisherman rediscovered a precious limestone cave with formations that had long been forgotten. The short journey through the jungle was spent looking for tarantulas and dodging a motorbike. Once inside our host named the glittering stalagmites and stalactites for their likenesses, pointing out a formations of elephants and Buddha.
Eating lunch at the floating rafthouses, I was sad to have not had the foresight to stay there. Jumping in a kayak to head across the lake we started to take on water and began to sink. Bailing out and jumping overboard, I can only imagine the trouble we would have gotten into mid lake with no life jackets. Make sure to do a test run if in doubt.