10 Highlights of Southern Thailand (Gulf Coast)

 10 Highlights of Southern Thailand (Gulf Coast)
Thailand’s Gulf Coast is home to some of the most inviting stretches of sand in the country. From the gorgeous beaches of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan to the serene coastline of Khanom, this is a region that oozes tropical charm. Beyond the beaches it’s also a region that is home to a diverse number of attractions with royal palaces, amazing National Parks, world-class golf courses, and luxury spas all waiting to be discovered. In no particular order, these are our pick of the best destinations on the Andaman Coast.

1) Ko Samui
With its palm-fringed beaches and modern infrastructure, Ko Samui is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand. The option of taking a direct flight from Bangkok to Ko Samui’s delightful, award-winning airport also makes arriving on the island a hassle-free experience. Samui enjoys a broad appeal that attracts honeymooners, families, and solo travellers with plenty going on to keep all age groups entertained. Laze on the beach, visit the gorgeous islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park, sample delicious seafood or enjoy the nightlife.  
2) Ko Pha Ngan
A close neighbour to Ko Samui, the island of Ko Pha Ngan has earned a reputation as a place to let your hair down because of the Full Moon Party. But don’t let that put you off if you’re not a party animal because there is far more to Ko Pha Ngan than the monthly parties which take place in one small corner of the island. With attractive beaches and fewer visitors than neighbouring Ko Samui, there are many regular visitors to Thailand who actually prefer the quieter and less commercial atmosphere of Ko Pha Ngan.

3) Hua Hin
Hua Hin is Thailand’s original seaside resort and remains as popular as ever with Thai tourists and European travellers. Located on the mainland and only a three hour drive away from the Thai capital, Hua Hin and neighbouring Cha Am are a comfortable choice for a twin-centre break combined with Bangkok. In addition to the beaches, Hua Hin is a great location for golfers with a number of world-class courses on the doorstep. With an eclectic food scene and some surprisingly good wines to sample at the Hua Hin Vineyard, this area also has much to offer away from the beach.

4) Prachuap Khiri Khan
Hua Hin is the best-known beach resort in the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan, but is by no means the only one to choose from. The eponymous provincial capital is home to the attractive  beach of Ao Manao and further south are the sleepy beaches of Ban Krut and Pranburi.

5) Phetchaburi
Situated to the north of Hua Hin, the province of Phetchaburi is extremely popular with Thai visitors because of the royal palaces that are located here. They also make for an enjoyable half-day excursion from Hua Hin or Cha Am with the hilltop palace at Phra Nakhon Khiri and the difficult to pronounce but easy on the eye, Marukhathaiyawan Teakwood Palace, being two of the best royal sites to visit.

6) Chumphon
Most overseas tourists bypass Chumphon en route to the islands of Ko Tao or Ko Samui. Although Chumphon may lack the obvious appeal of the offshore islands, this is an emerging destination that may be suitable for anybody seeking quiet mainland beaches. The tourist infrastructure isn’t as well-developed as other parts of the Gulf Coast, but that can be considered a positive asset for those looking to get away from the main tourist trail.  

7) Ko Tao
Considered to be one of the best diving and snorkelling destinations in Thailand, Ko Tao has a loyal fan base. The island tends to attract younger visitors and there is a prominent party scene in the evening on Sairee Beach. That said, there are quieter family-friendly locations to enjoy on the island which is also home to some stunning viewpoints for those who don’t mind a little bit of hiking. And over on neighbouring Ko Nang Yuan there is another stunning viewpoint looking down on the sandbars and turquoise waters below.

8) Khanom
Don’t believe anybody who tells you there are no quiet beaches left in Thailand. Anybody that says that has never been to Khanom, a relatively untouched area of the Gulf Coast. The long stretches of almost empty beaches are one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets. With most tourists rushing instead to the offshore islands of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, it has allowed the mainland beaches of Khanom to enjoy only modest development with the pink dolphins that live off the Khanom coastline the most famous residents in the area.

9) Nakhon Si Thammarat
The historic city of Nakhon Si Thammarat makes for a great excursion for anybody interested in history or Thai culture. The temple at Wat Phra That Woramahawiharn is one of the most important in the south of Thailand and with foreign visitors to the city scarce, this is a chance to explore more of the culture of Thailand beyond the islands and beach resorts.

10) Khao Sok National Park
One of the most spectacular locations in Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is located inland from the Gulf Coast in Surat Thani province. Filled with tropical rainforest, lakes and lush limestone mountains, Khao Sok is a breath-taking destination. The park can be visited on a day trip from Surat Thani town or from Khao Lak on the opposite coast, but to really appreciate the area an overnight stay is recommended with the award-winning Elephant Hills offering luxury tented camps that make the most of the sublime location.