Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lower Southern Gulf

It really isn’t fair – there are over 200 countries around the globe and Thailand has managed to snag a disproportionate amount of the world’s top beaches. These creamy stretches of sand undulate along the paper-thin coast, and scallop tonnes of jungly bumps out at sea. They’re everywhere. So how are we ever supposed to choose from these honey-tinged paradises when every acre boasts enough beach options to give Goldilocks a complex?

It’s simple. If you’re plagued by indecision, head here – to Thailand’s lower southern gulf, and follow three simple steps to reach your ultimate beach-holiday nirvana.

Step 1. Before hitting the waves, start below the surface. Ko Tao is the ultimate playground for scuba neophytes, sporting shallow reefs teeming with slippery reef sharks, skulking stingrays and radiant blooms of waving coral.

Step 2. Now that you’ve swum with the fishes, it’s time to drink like one. Ko Pha-Ngan has long been synonymous with white nights, and on the eve of every full moon, pilgrims pray to party gods with trance-like dancing, glittery body paint and bucket-sized beverages.

Step 3. An intensive detox session is a must after your lunar romp. Ko Samui is the ultimate place to pamper yourself silly, and five-star luxury is the name of the game.

If the triple threat of gulf island paradises didn’t quite do the trick, then add on one of
Ang Thong Marine National Park’s 40-odd islets. Each craggy fleck peppering the azure ocean boasts sandy bays that gingerly await your footprint. This ethereal realm, forever immortalised in backpacker lore, is the last frontier for unbridled castaway fantasies.


The best time to visit the Samui islands is during the hot, dry season from February to April. From May to October, during the southwest monsoon, it can rain intermittently, and from October to January, during the northeast monsoon, there can be strong winds. However, many travellers have reported sunny weather (and fewer crowds) in September and October. November tends to get some of the rain that affects the east coast of Malaysia at this time. The overall lack of tourism south of the Samui archipelago can be explained by the fact that the southwestern Gulf’s best season (climatically) runs from April to October – the exact opposite of Thailand’s typical tourist season (which coincides with the European and North American winter).

National Parks

There are a couple of notable parks in this region. Ang Thong Marine National Park, the setting for the perfect beach in the movie The Beach, is a stunning archipelago of 40 small jagged limestone islands. Khao Luang National Park is known for its beautiful mountain and forest walks, waterfalls and fruit orchards. It is also home to a variety of elusive animals, from clouded leopards to tigers.

Getting There & Away

Travelling to the lower southern Gulf is fairly straightforward. It’s extremely easy to hop on a bus or a train in Bangkok and then catch a ferry to the Gulf islands. Several daily flights connect Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya to Ko Samui. Bus and train travel from Bangkok is generally cheap, relatively efficient and mostly takes place overnight

Getting Around

Numerous boats shuttle back and forth between Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan, Ko Tao and Surat Thani, while buses and trains link Surat Thani with destinations further south. Consider using the port in Chumphon to access the Gulf islands from
the mainland.