If you’ve never been out east, Thailand is the perfect place for all your firsts.
Your first Tuk Tuk ride will be met with excitement, your first Buddhist temple experience with awe, and your first meal with countless recurring cravings of the sweet and spicy flavors. It’s equally full of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone as it is with the comforts you’re accustomed to, and has better weather and more beaches than the northern half of the country.
See, the south of Thailand is truly an experience fit for a king, and with the Thai Baht coming it at only 30 cents to each US dollar, you too can afford to live like one.
Here are just seven reasons (out of the millions) to visit Southern Thailand.
The people are welcoming
One of the biggest intimidations of traveling abroad is often the language barrier, particularly when the alphabet isn’t your own. I for one have spent my fair share of time lost in countries like Vietnam, China, and Germany all because I misunderstood a simple subway sign.
Luckily, I found Thailand’s locals to be extremely friendly and approachable; most speak English well enough to help you out. Even if you find yourself struggling at first, give them a chance – you might have fun communicating through body language and laughter, and they always appreciate an opportunity to practice their English.
If all else fails, just make sure you know a few polite phrases like “sawasdee” (hello) and “kob kun ka” (thank you). ‘Losing face’ is culturally inappropriate, so people tend to be patient and polite, and making an effort can go a long way.
The islands are endless
The actual number is so high that they can’t be counted, likely because many of the islands are an archipelago of several smaller ones. Whether you visit the Andaman (West) coast through Krabi or the islands to the East through Surat Thani, Southern Thailand feels worlds away from cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai to the north.
There’s an epic party scene on Ko Phangan, a chance to immerse yourself in the jungle on Ko Lanta, authentic fishing villages on Ko Phitak, and unspoilt beaches likened to those of the Maldives on Ko Kut. Add in an additional few hundred options and you’ll see how you’re spoilt for choice.
The beaches are dreamy
It’s practically a given that all those beautiful islands come with long stretches of flour-soft sand. While some like Railay and Chaweng (Ko Samui) are more easily accessible, others like Freedom Beach on Phuket are only visited by those willing to take a longtail boat or traverse a steep path. That said, all who stumble upon these hidden pieces of paradise are rewarded with the whitest sand, clearest waters, and quietest shores in the country.
As a first timer, try choosing a ‘base’ island like Ko Samui (East Coast) or Phuket (West Coast) that you can do plenty of daytime excursions from, as some of the most pristine beaches don’t permit overnight stays.
My personal favourite is the cheap 15-minute boat ride from Ao Nang to Tonsai beach — it’s connected by a trail to the popular Railay beach, but is a much quieter and less crowded alternative. Also if you go to Tonsai, make sure you stop at Mama’s Chicken for a chicken burger. It may not be Thai, but it’s really, really good.
The food is flavorful
On that note, there’s a good reason we took a moment to touch on the food at the beginning of this article. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed foodie or not, Thailand’s cuisine will have you experimenting, indulging, and drooling for more. Street food stalls, markets, and small, open-air restaurants line the little villages of the islands, and cooking classes — though they cost considerably more — are just as abundant.
While all the curries, soups, and rice dishes well-known to the rest of the country are available, there’s also some specific dishes you’ll only find in the south. Spend some time sampling gaeng som pla (a fish-based soup with bamboo shoots and green papaya), khao yam (a fragrant rice salad with coconut, shrimp, and herbs), and nam prik goong siap (a paste made from shrimp, chilies, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar served with vegetables).
There’s also plenty of vegetarian options for those who don’t eat meat.
With lush jungles, clear oceans, and countless limestone crags, Southern Thailand (arguably) beats the north with activities for the adventurous traveler. Considering the diversity of the islands, travelers often associate each island with a different, distinct activity, and they’re all so affordable you can try more than one.
Ko Phi Phi has impressive snorkeling, Railay has world-class rock climbing, and Ko Tao’s diving scene is second only to Cairns, Australia.
It’s also a great spot for cycling — explore jungles, islands and national parks on this 9-day trip.
And if you’re looking for something even more unique, sign up to float along the Klong Sung Nae river in Takua Pa — it’s a hidden banyan tree forest often referred to as the Little Amazon.
The national parks are pristine
It’s worth noting that Southern Thailand is so much more than just the islands it’s famous for. While often overlooked, the national parks on the mainland have just as much to experience, full of diverse wildlife and breathtaking scenery.
It’s here that you’ll find Khao Sok National Park (the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world) and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park (the largest wetlands area in all of Thailand). To traverse a path a little less traveled, visitors can also take a trip to Khao Luang National Park and swim amongst the many pools of the 20-tier waterfalls.
It’s affordable and safe
While the south of Thailand is admittedly more expensive than the north thanks to its higher volume of tourists, you’ll still find your dollar goes remarkably further than it does at home (try living off $50 a day, or less). And with its near 30 million international visitors each year, Thailand has an incredibly diverse community of backpackers that will keep you feeling safe and right at home.
Whether it’s a first-time trip, a solo jaunt, or an Intrepid experience, Southern Thailand has it all.
Want to visit this stunning part of the world? Check out Intrepid’s small group adventures in Thailand.
(Hero image c/o Andreas Stuerzinger. Cooking class image c/o Claire Gibson. All other images c/o Intrepid Travel.)