A TO Z GUIDE (almost)
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.