Visiting a Thailand beach or island is the preferred holiday for hundreds of thousands of visitors to Thailand every year. Thailand is blessed with natural beauty and its islands are amongst the most scenic and beautiful in the world. Likewise, each Thai beach, such as Karon Beach in Phuket, Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui, or picturesque Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, is simply stunning, and many feature powdery sand, crystal clear water, and postcard-perfect scenery.
Each Thai beach and island has its own character and identity and therefore draws a specific type of visitor. Each coastal area contains a slice of heaven suitable for a different style of traveler: The west coast of Thailand, along the Andaman Sea, features beaches that appeals to every type of traveler, including the activity-filled resort island of Phuket; the popular backpacker beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Krabi; the family friendly, laid back, and pristine coast of Khao Lak (the launching point for trips to the spectacular Similan Islands); and the remote, undeveloped islands of the far south.
Along the Gulf coast, the resort island of Koh Samui lies nearby the natural splendor of Koh Phangan and the scuba diving paradise of Koh Tao. Closer to Bangkok are the popular resort town of Hua Hin, a favorite among Thais, and its quieter neighbor Cha Am. Finally, to the east of Thailand, the northern Gulf features Bangkok weekend getaway Koh Samet, and the up-and-coming resort island of Koh Chang, which has both upscale resorts and budget beach bungalows.
Certain Thai beaches and islands, like Koh Tarutao National Park, offer limited accommodation and facilities and draw more adventurous travelers who are looking for a more ‘back to basics’ holiday experience. Others, such as Kamala Beach in Phuket, offer world class facilities (accommodation, restaurants, nightlife, etc) to entice visitors with bigger budgets who require creature comforts. It is important to note that this diversity exists not only between the islands, but between different beaches as well. Whereas one Thai beach might offer raucous entertainment, another a few kilometers away on the same island might only draw those looking for a quiet holiday.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is a perfect example of this contrast. Phuket is certainly the most developed Thai island, having been the first Thai beach resort destination. Located on the Andaman coast, Phuket contains numerous beaches, including the activity filled Patong beach, with its exciting nightlife, and the more family friendly Karon and Kata beaches. Across the island are luxurious five-star resorts and a wealth of Thai spas that serve to pamper visitors on any budget. In addition to a lush, tropical interior that features a variety of exotic wildlife, Phuket is an ideal location for day trips to nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi, a favorite destination for scuba divers, and Phang Nga bay, where visitors can snorkel, kayak, and visit iconic James Bond Island (Koh Tapu). Phuket is easily accessible via its international airport that connects domestically with Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai.
Koh Samui is the prime island attraction in the Gulf of Thailand. The most popular beach, Chaweng, features accommodation from five-star luxury resorts to affordable beach bungalows, and dining includes fine dining on international cuisine and casual beachside seafood barbeques. Samui is both family friendly and budget oriented with a host of activities, some of Thailand’s finest spas, and is conveniently located nearby some of Thailand’s finest diving off neighboring Koh Tao. Samui International Airport connects domestically to Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, and Chiang Mai.
Krabi is a province on the mainland Andaman coast, near Phuket. In addition to popular beachside resort areas, such as Railey Beach, Krabi includes a number of spectacular islands, such as the Phi Phi Islands and Koh Lanta, off of which some of Thailand’s most popular scuba diving sites are found.
For any traveler wishing to explore the wonders of nature, a Thailand National Park is an outstanding destination. There are many forest parks if you long to explore the tropical rainforest or travel deep into the wild jungle to see some of the exotic animals in Thailand. If you prefer scuba diving, snorkeling, or sea kayaking there are a number of national marine parks in the south and east of Thailand that are simply stunning.
In fact, Thailand has over 100 national parks, including more than 20 marine parks; each park in Thailand contains unique flora and fauna as well as basic amenities, including some bungalows with electricity and grounds for camping (even if you don’t bring your own tent.) Most of these parks are easily accessible and admission fees are relatively modest, though booking ahead is often recommended as some parks are very popular with Thai visitors, particularly over long holiday weekends.
Eco-oriented activities at a national park in Thailand range from trekking, kayaking, nature photography, camping and snorkeling to spotting exotic birds and other animals in Thailand unlike those found elsewhere in the world. However, simply relaxing and enjoying the pristine beauty of unspoiled Thai nature may be the most rewarding experience of all.
A few of Thailand’s more popular national parks are:
Khao Yai National Park is perhaps the most popular Thai park as it is just 200 km from Bangkok and the bucolic surrounding area features a variety of accommodation options, a variety of activities, and diverse wildlife that includes wild tigers, elephants, bears, and exotic birds, such as the giant hornbill.
Doi Inthanon National Park in Northern Thailand features Thailand’s highest peak and contains waterfalls and forests containing numerous species of orchid. The area is also inhabited by indigenous hill tribe villagers.
Sam Roi Yot National Park is a favorite for bird watchers as the coastal region of the park features marshes that are home to a variety of waterfowl and other marine life.
Erawan National Park, located in Kanchanaburi Province in western Thailand, features a renowned seven tiered waterfall and a tropical forest that contains numerous wildlife species.
Marine parks include Koh Samet (conveniently located near Bangkok), Ang Thong Marine National Park (a favorite kayaking and snorkeling day-trip from Koh Samui), Tarutao Marine Park (the most remote and unspoiled of Thailand’s southern islands), and Ao Phang Nga National Park (a popular day-trip from Phuket that features unique limestone islands such as “James Bond Island” from the film The Man with the Golden Gun).
Plants and animals in Thailand are both unique and diverse. Thailand’s geography, which stretches from the coasts of the Malaysian Peninsula to the mountains of mainland Asia, features a variety of climates and thus a diversity of plant and animal species.
Despite a majority of Thailand having been converted to agriculture over the centuries, natural forest still covers roughly 25% of Thailand’s area. Thailand’s woodlands mostly consist of monsoon forest and rainforest, which are differentiated by the amount of rainfall each receives. Furthermore, monsoon forests typically consist of deciduous or hardwood trees, which shed their leaves during the dry season in order to conserve water. Thailand’s most useful hardwood is the teak.
The rainforest zones are mostly covered with evergreen trees, although much of Thailand has considerable overlap and it is not uncommon to find bamboo, coconut palms, and banana trees throughout the country. Across the coastal lowlands, in addition to more predominately rainforest cover, mangroves and rattan abound.
In addition to the aforementioned Teak, Thailand is famous for its variety of fruit and flower-bearing trees and plants, the most iconic of which is the orchid, Thailand’s national flower, which appears in over 27,000 different varieties.
While encroachment on their habitat has reduced the populations of many exotic animals in Thailand, there are still a great variety of indigenous species. The most iconic of these is the Elephant, of which roughly 1,000 remain in the wild, mostly within the National Parks in Thailand. Among the larger mammals are the tiger, leopard, Malaysian sun bear, sambar deer, otter, and civet cat. Climbing animals include the gibbon and many species of monkeys. There are also sheep, goats, oxen, tapirs, wild cattle, wild hogs, and a wide variety of snakes, including cobra. Crocodiles, lizards, and turtles are also very numerous and fish abound in the rivers and coastal waters.
Finally, there are over 900 breeding bird species indigenous to or that migrate to Thailand. Bird-watching tours are particularly popular in Sam Roi Yot National Park and Khao Sok, which is home to six species of hornbill.