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Southern Thailand

Plentiful islands, national parks and top scenery

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Stretching from just south of Bangkok down to the Malaysian border, Southern Thailand plays host to some of the Kingdom's biggest tourist drawcards. From diving off Ko Tao, to climbing in Krabi, kayaking of Phuket or just laying in a hammock pretty much anywhere, Southern Thailand really does have something to offer so many different interest.

The southern region of Thailand is climatically split in two -- the south east and the south west. Each is affected by a different monsoon through the year meaning that regardless of when you're in Thailand, you'll be able to get a slice of good weather somewhere.

The islands of Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao are probably the best known of Southern Thailand's islands, though there's over a dozen others to choose from -- all with accommodation and at least semi-regular ferry connections. Don't make the mistake of thinking this quartet of islands is all the South has to offer.

Phuket has long been Thailand's most popular island, with over a third of all tourists to Thailand finding themselves here at some stage during their trip. While it was badly damaged in places by the tsunami, the main beach areas are now fully recovered and the crowds have returned.

Despite the returning business, rates on Phuket remain far off their pre-tsunami highs and those looking for mid range to deluxe resorts can get some incredible deals -- let your fingers do the walking -- Phuket is one place where online reservations can pay off big time.

Many budget travellers though have long steered clear of Phuket -- put off by the higher prices and heavily touristed nature of the place, instead spending their time on the more backpacker-orientated islands off the coast of Ao Nang, Krabi, Trang and Satun.

For more details on the islands off Trang and Satun, see our dedicated Thailand islands page.

But don't make the mistake of ignoring the mainland in your rush to get to that tropical beach paradise. On the west coast Krabi and the nearby Railay Beach area is home to some of Thailand's most spectacular scenery, with stunning beaches and towering limestone karsyts that have been Krabi the climbing mecca of Southern Thailand.

Heading up the west coast, north from Phuket, you'll find Khao Lak -- almost totally destroyed by the tsunami, it has been rebuilt and the tourists are back -- big time. Further north again you'll find the very little-visited Ranong -- the launching point for the offshore islands of Ko Chang (the other one!) and Ko Phayam.

If the season is wrong, many don't even bother with the west coast, instead plying their time in a hammock on the east coast islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. If you're not up on the Thai weather, be sure to give our page on Thailand's weather a read.

These east coast islands are all well-developed nowadays with regular ferry connections both to each other and the mainland. Ko Samui (the largest of the three islands) has an international airport, a Makro, hundreds of resorts and even three international hospitals -- and yet it continues to develop at a rapid pace. Ko Pha Ngan, infamous for its Full Moon Parties, and Ko Tao, famous for its diving are both big drawcards -- however long you're planning on staying here, don't be surprised when you suddenly find yourself staying twice as long.

If you're headed out to one of these Gulf islands, you'll be transitting through either Chumphon (for Ko Tao) or Surat Thani (for Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan). It's a straightforward deal to get a through ticket to any one of these islands from Bangkok.

On the mainland, the east coast includes the popular resort towns of Hua Hin and Cha Am have been long-running family favourites and continue to attract a mixed crowd of Bangkok-based Thais and expats, along with heady crowds of primarily European tourists.

While the beaches are not as lovely as those further south, they are very convenient to Bangkok and Hua Hin in particular is developing as a popular spot for retirees. Other points of interest along the coastal strip between Bangkok and Chumphon include Phetburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Bang Saphan Yai.

Further south you have the little visited provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phattalung -- rare indeed do these provinces get onto people's travel plans -- all the more reason to check them out we say!

For those comfortable travelling in a region with heightened security concerns, the predominantly Muslim far southern cities of Hat Yai, Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala are fascinating and certainly rewarding areas to visit, though we'd suggest you read our feature on travelling in the far south of Thailand, and kept abreast of current affairs before planning a trip through there.

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Southern Thailand

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