SOUTH­ERN THAI­LAND

A TO Z GUIDE (al­most)

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From Phuket to Sa­mui and points in be­tween, there’s no lack of things to keep trav­el­ers busy when they’re away from the beach. Here, a sure-fire list of what to see and do, right down the let­ter.

AIS FOR ANG THONG NA­TIONAL MA­RINE PARK

An ar­chi­pel­ago of 42 karst is­lands in the Gulf of Thai­land, this 250square-kilo­me­ter ma­rine park daz­zles with hid­den la­goons, caves, white-sand beaches and shal­low co­ral gar­dens. Boat trips, snor­kel­ing and div­ing ex­pe­di­tions get you up close and per­sonal with but­ter­fly fish, blue-spotted fan­tail rays and gi­ant clams, while jun­gle trekking re­wards with scenic views—a 40-minute hike on Ko Mae Ko ends at an emer­ald­hued seawa­ter lake, en­cir­cled by lime­stone cliffs.

BIS FOR BIG BUDDHA

Big­ger is bet­ter at Ming Mongkol Buddha, a 45-me­tre-high shrine carved from white Burmese mar­ble. Set atop Nakkerd Hill on the out­skirts of Phuket Town, the statue sees some 1,000 vis­i­tors daily, at­tracted as much by the shrine as the shim­mer­ing views over sur­round­ing beaches. Koh Sa­mui’s Wat Phra Yai may only be 12 me­ters high, but the seated golden Buddha is equally im­pres­sive. Set on a small is­land off the north­east coast of Sa­mui, ac­cessed via a short cause­way, the tem­ple is sur­rounded by restaurants and sou­venir shops.

CIS FOR COOK­ING CLASS

Try your hand pre­par­ing the aro­matic, herb-laced soups and cur­ries served up at ta­bles across south­ern Thai­land at cook­ing schools in­clud­ing the Sa­mui In­sti­tute of Thai Culi­nary Arts (sitca.net) and Phuket’s Blue Ele­phant (blueele­phant.com). Both of­fer twice-daily classes de­signed to de­mys­tify the coun­try’s tasti­est dishes; daily-chang­ing menus might cover the prepa­ra­tion of curry pastes, fla­vor­some sal­ads, and fiery soups. Pri­vate and mul­ti­day ex­pe­ri­ences are avail­able.

EIS FOR ELE­PHANTS

Many people check in to Ele­phant Hills—30 up­scale tents with en­suite bath­rooms—to es­cape city life and get back to na­ture in Khao Sok Na­tional Park, the largest area of rain for­est in south­ern Thai­land. But most come here to learn about the trop­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and its in­hab­i­tants, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s gen­tle gi­ants. The re­sort’s hands-on Ele­phant Ex­pe­ri­ence al­lows you to in­ter­act with the an­i­mals—feed­ing and clean­ing them af­ter a trek—and their ma­houts ( ele­phant- hills. com).

GIS FOR GOLF

Golf en­thu­si­asts flock to Phuket for good rea­son— the is­land is home to eight world- class cour­ses of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of land­scapes and chal­lenges. Mis­sion Hills fea­tures 18 holes con­cep­tu­al­ized by Nick­laus De­sign, while La­guna Phuket Golf Course is a scenic 18 holes, de­signed by Max Wexler and David Abell. The of­fer­ings on Koh Sa­mui are not as ex­ten­sive, but they’re equally ap­peal­ing. San­tiburi Sa­mui Coun­try Club is the only 18- hole course on the is­land, with views of Koh Phang­han that are hard to beat, while Royal Sa­mui Golf & Coun­try Club fea­tures nine holes be­tween Chaweng and La­mai.

FIS FOR FLOAT­ING RESTAU­RANT

Din­ing es­tab­lish­ments don’t get much closer to the wa­ter than Phuket’s float­ing seafood restaurants. Strung along the east coast of the is­land, the no-frills eater­ies dish up ocean­fresh fish, crabs, prawns, and other seafood, much of it pulled straight from nets. Sim­ply stroll along piers, point out what you want to eat, and have it grilled be­fore your eyes. Don’t miss the lo­cal oys­ters, served with chili, gar­lic, lime, and herbs.

JIS FOR JIM THOMP­SON

Pe­ruse cov­eted silks and sou­venirs at Cen­tara Grand Sa­mui Beach Re­sort’s Jim Thomp­son bou­tique, a re­tail shrine to the late Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect and art col­lec­tor. Hav­ing ded­i­cated his life to or­ga­niz­ing a net­work of fine Thai ar­ti­sans, Thomp­son’s bou­tiques of­fer a thought­fully cu­rated collection of silk, linen and cot­ton scarves, pil­low­cases, and ties fea­tur­ing sea­sonal pat­terns in­clud­ing the Singing in the Rain and Tem­ple of Dawn col­lec­tions for 2014 ( cen­tara­ho­tel­sre­sorts.com).

HIS FOR HE­LI­COPTER TOURS

En­joy a bird’s-eye view of Phuket and sur­rounds with Thai­land He­li­copter Tours. Trips last from 30 to 60 min­utes and might take in the is­land’s beaches and man­groves or the dra­matic lime­stone is­land-stud­ded wa­ters of Phang Nga Bay, home to se­cret la­goons, James Bond Is­land and float­ing vil­lages ( skydance. aero).

KIS FOR KARSTS

James Bond Is­land may have thrust Phang Nga Bay into the global spot­light when it was fea­tured in The Man With The Golden Gun, but the sheer lime­stone karsts found here have an arche­o­log­i­cal his­tory dat­ing back some 10,000 years. Ex­plore the bay, be­tween the Krabi main­land and Phuket, on boat tours that take you to se­cluded beaches and la­goons, with lunch usu­ally sched­uled for Koh Panyee, a vil­lage stilted over emer­ald-green wa­ter.

LIS FOR LE­MON­GRASS HOUSE

Es­sen­tial oils, body and face creams, bath and shower prod­ucts, and herbal teas are all on the menu at Phuket’s Le­mon­grass House, ded­i­cated to skin­care prod­ucts in­fused with fresh and lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and pack­aged in re­cy­cled or re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als. In ad­di­tion to prod­ucts for ba­bies and mums, there’s a range specif­i­cally de­signed for pets ( lemon­grasshouse.com).

MIS FOR MUAY THAI

Catch a bois­ter­ous bout of tra­di­tional Thai box­ing at the Ao-Nang Krabi Muay Thai Sta­dium in Krabi, open ev­ery Mon­day and Fri­day and one of the best places to catch a kick­box­ing match in South­ern Thai­land. The gym and train­ing area is open dur­ing the day, if you feel in­spired to try your hand at the sport, while pro­fes­sional matches kick off from 9 p.m. ( ao­nang- thai­box­ing. com).

NIS FOR NA MUANG FALLS

While there’s plenty to like about Koh Sa­mui’s beaches, fresh wa­ter steals the show in the is­land’s cen­tral moun­tains. It’s here that you’ll find the dou­ble-cas­cade wa­ter­fall Na Muang; the first fall is easy to reach on foot, while the up­per cas­cade is best ac­cessed on the back of an ele­phant. Whichever you visit you can be guar­an­teed cool pools to swim in and beat the heat.

SIS FOR SUN­DOWN­ERS

On an is­land with its fare share of sun­set spots, Nikki Beach Phuket stands out for its wa­ter­side set­ting and un­bro­ken views of the An­daman Sea. The 10th Nikki Beach out­let, the Phuket edi­tion on Layan Beach is all about white day beds, palm trees, al­fresco din­ing and live mu­sic ( nikkibeach.com). On Sa­mui, the Big Buddha Café sits be­side the wa­ter at the en­trance to the is­land’s golden statue. But you come here for golden views of the sun slid­ing into the wa­ter, plus a menu ded­i­cated to seafood and ice-cold beer ( bbcrestau­rant.com).

PIS FOR PHUKET TOWN

Most people ar­rive on the is­land of Phuket and head straight for the beach, but there’s more than one rea­son to linger in the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter of Phuket Town. Once oc­cu­pied by tin barons, the town’s streets are lined with century-old Sino-Por­tuguese shop­houses, to­day trans­formed into hand­some bou­tique guest­houses, cafés, art gal­leries, and bou­tiques. A night mar­ket ev­ery Sun­day sees stores and restaurants spill onto the street, sell­ing knick-knacks and lo­cal snacks.

TIS FOR TUK- TUK

Tuk-tuks are every­where in South­ern Thai­land, and are a great way to zip around is­lands and be­tween towns. While semi-open, three-wheeled tuk-tuks are most com­mon, four­wheeled ve­hi­cles (sim­i­lar to a songthaew, a cov­ered-van) are a re­cently new ad­di­tion to Phuket. If you’re trav­el­ling in a group, hire an en­tire tuk-tuk, or find a spot on a com­mu­nal ve­hi­cle, sim­i­lar to a share taxi.

RIS FOR RAILAY ROCK CLIMB­ING

One of the best ways to get some per­spec­tive in South­ern Thai­land is by join­ing a rock- climb­ing tour in Railay, a small lime­stone penin­sula lo­cated be­tween the city of Krabi and Ao Nang and only ac­ces­si­ble by boat. Half- day and mul­ti­ple- day climb­ing trips cater to all ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els across the re­gion’s 800- plus rock- face routes. The best bit? You’ll en­joy un­ri­valed views of the karst scenery and An­daman Sea when you make it to the top.

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