So - I've got my usual Chinese New Year holiday coming up (3 weeks) and a friend who started working at my school has never been to Thailand. I'm going to put on hold plans to travel to Burma or another trip to Laos and we were considering a flight into BKK and travel down to Khao Sok National Park and then from there hit up an area for beaches. Questions as follows,
I read LeonardC talk about how nice Ko Hong is, anyone have anythoughts about the place? Can you get there via Krabi or Phuket better?
How does Ko Jum hold up to a comparison to Ko Hong?
Anyone been to or consider the Similan Islands worth checking out?
What about heading closer to the border with Burma, the Ko Phayam/Ko Chang area? Any choice spots to explore?
Thanks for the time.
I went to Koh Phayam. It was ok but nothing special in any regard. Similan and Surin islands are supposed to be the best diving and snorkelling in Thailand if that interests you. Obviously it is very easy to get to just about any island in Thailand from Khao Sok as it is close to Andaman/Phuket, Krabi and Surat Thani.
Pretty sure there is still no accommodation on Ko Hong. I stayed there overnight years ago, but it was in a hammock I brought with, and you need permission from the national park in advance. It's mainly a day-tripper destination, but so nice once they go home ;-)
Captain Bob is right on Ko Hong -- a tiny national park island that draws day tours mainly from Ao Nang and I assume Phuket too. Not really a destination in its own right.
Never been to Ko Jum but Tilapia raves about it.
Personally I liked Ko Surin quite a bit more than Ko Similan. Both are beautiful but Similan gets packed with day trippers due to its proximity to Khao Lak and Phuket. Climbing up to the Donald Duck rock there felt like climbing the Statue of Liberty -- it's that touristy. But as Geer1 says if you're into diving then it's a different story. The snorkeling was certainly incredible, albeit crowded at times.
Ko Surin is further north in Phang Nga province, further away from Phuket / Krabi so doesn't get nearly as many tourists. It also has a Moken (sea gypsy) community, which gives it more of a unique feel than Similan. You can pay one of the Moken guys to take you around snorkeling in a longtail boat, where as in the Similans all of the touring is done by speedboat. I spent two nights on Ko Surin and felt it was the most visually spectacular island I've been to. Here's some photos. Snorkeling comparable to Similans.
I also liked Ko Phra Thong a lot for a really 'out there' island experience. There's no place like it in the region. Its inland is desert-like savannah landscape that reminds people of parts of Africa. It's a basic no electricity at night island but the beaches stretch on forever and there's hardly anyone on them. You could easily do Phra Thong and Ko Surin in the same go as they're both accessed out of Khuraburi. Here's some shots of Phra Thong. Of course, if you want nightlife, look elsewhere.
I missed Ko Phayam but little Ko Chang is nice. Similarly 'out there' vibe. Beach is huge but water on the murky side, similar to Phra Thong and Jum from what I understand. A lot of artsy Europeans go there for long stays. A lot of grass smoking goes on there. Nightlife is mainly beach campfires, which is more than you'll find on Phra Thong.
I'm still a big fan of Ko Lipe for the complete package. Stunning beaches, decent snorkeling, great boat trips to the surrounding national park islands, decent nightlife. I also dug Ko Bulon Lae, easily reached from Lipe by island hopping speedboat.