Gateway to Thailand’s southern region, Chumphon province is best known among foreign travellers as a jumping off point for Ko Tao with its many diving outfits and mainstream tourism scene. Those who tire of the crowds could stick around Chumphon to taste fresh seafood while lounging on vast mainland beaches that are usually empty, save a few fishers and beach dogs.
The province will introduce you to the coconut groves and vast coastlines that help to define Southern Thailand, as well as the food, culture and dialect that culturally set this region apart from the rest of the Thai kingdom. The regional cuisine features pungent curry pastes and seafood products, while the Muslim minority found throughout the South starts to become noticeable. The province, and Tha Sae district in particular, produces enough Robusta beans to make Chumphon one of Thailand’s largest coffee-producing areas.
Centuries ago, Chumphon was a battlefield between Thai and Burmese kingdoms fighting for control of a crucial trade route over the Isthmus of Kra. During the World War II, the area lived up to its martial reputation when volunteers resisted an occupying Japanese force. A memorial to Prince Chumphon, a decorated early 20th-century naval captain, now stands beside an old warship at Sairi Beach. The province was called Chumphon long before the prince came along, with the name referring to either a “merging of people” or a type of banyan tree.
The provincial capital, Chumphon town, is a typical Southern Thai city of some 30,000 residents located 15 kilometres from the coast. A fistful of travel offices and guesthouses service the travellers who crash here for a night before catching a ferry to Ko Tao or heading southwest towards Ranong, Phuket and Krabi. While it’s a pleasant enough spot to wander around, Chumphon town has no real attractions and isn’t much of a travel destination on its own.
The town does make a fine base for exploring the province’s 220 kilometres of coastline. Located 15 kilometres northeast of town and reachable by public transport, Haad Thung Wua Laen is a beautiful white-sand beach with a mellow vibe and plenty of restaurants and accommodation. Hop on a motorbike and you’ll find several other sweeping stretches of sand that will make you forget all about the crowds and touts found on Ko Tao.
While Ko Tao is officially part of Surat Thani province along with Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui, Chumphon province does boast some 40 islands of its own. Nearly all of them are teeny blips developed with nothing more than a few shacks where harvesters of swiftlet nests, eaten in bird’s nest soup, lay their heads after a day on the cliffs. Day trippers are welcome to the beaches and crystalline water found at Ko Ngam, Ko Khai and Ko Lang Ka Jiew, among others. To reach them, Siam Catamaran offers snorkelling tours departing daily from Chumphon town for 1,200 baht per person.
You could also hit the small Chumphon National Museum, located a few kilometres north of town off Route 3180, to learn about the province’s war history and Typhoon Gay, which devastated the area in 1989. The province also boasts a number of caves, such as Tham Rubror, with its multitude of ancient Buddha images located off Route 4 (the turn is at Km 490) at Wat Thep Charoen in Tha Kham sub-district.
Located 450 kilometres south of Bangkok and 180 kilometres north of Surat Thani town, Chumphon town, or Amphoe Mueang Chumphon, is a small city that’s easy enough to navigate.
The train station is located on the north side of town at the west end of Kromluang Road. Saladaeng Road cuts south off Kromluang, just east of the train station, and runs past several guesthouses and hotels on the way down to east-to-west-running Poraminmanka Road. The Municipal Market is located of Poraminmanka, sprawling up to Phacha Uthit Road near the small inner-city bus station and songthaew stop for Haad Thung Wua Laen. (Buses and minibuses depart from a few different places in town; see Travelfor details.)
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has an office handing out maps and brochures on the north side of Sinkhar Road, a stone’s throw southeast of the train station. Easy to spot on Saladaeng just south of Kromluang, Fame Tour (T: 077 571 077) also offers maps and travel advice along with ferry tickets and motorbike rental. ATMs and banks are scattered around town, including some on Saladaeng. Internet terminals are available at Future Gaming between the Euro Boutique Hotel and Salsa Hostel on Kromluang.
A Tourist Police office is located at the corner of Kromluang and Saladaeng alongside another tourist info centre. Chumphon has a few options for medical care, including Virat Sin Hospital on Poraminmanka across from the A-Te Hotel, and the larger Chumphon Khet Udomsakdi Hospital situated near the provincial stadium at the east end of town off Phisit Phayaban Road.
Going further afield, Route 3180 begins at Chumphon Train Station and runs northeast for 16 kilometres to Haad Thung Wua Laen. It continues north, linking to 3201 on the way up to Chumphon airport.
To the east of town, Poraminmanka becomes Route 4001 and runs southeast for 15 kilometres to Pak Nam Chumphon, where the Tha Taphao River empties into the Gulf at a cluster of seafood restaurants. Route 4098 begins just south of Pak Nam and runs down to Haad Sairi.
West of town, Route 4 (or Petchkasem Road) is a major trucking route that runs west and then south for 120 kilometres to Ranong before continuing down to Phang Nga and beyond. Route 4 also shoots north to Prachuap Khiri Khan province and, eventually, all the way to Bangkok.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 11th October, 2016.