Lengthy seaside roads wind past cows grazing under coconut trees before ending at secluded bays. Shaggy mountains conceal little-known waterfalls within a short ride of the coast, where you can kick back on an empty patch of sand or watch the teal waves roll in from a rocky viewpoint. Beaches stretch for some 50 kilometres in Khanom and Sichon, two districts straddling the Gulf of Thailand in the far northern reaches of Nakhon Si Thammarat province.
Advantages of holidaying here, rather than on the nearby islands of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, include better-value beachfront accommodation and a sedate setting that’s free of scamming tuk tuk drivers, tacky bars and other banes of mainstream tourism. We’re talking serious peace and quiet. A spread-out landscape means that Khanom and Sichon are best suited to cyclists or anyone up for hiring some wheels to get around.
Instead of seeing migrant workers constructing yet another huge resort, you’ll come across local fishermen patching up their wooden boats. Rather than stepping over gap-year backpackers nursing hangovers, you’ll meet families and older couples chilling out long-term in rented beach houses. The area gets its share of Thai tourists but is by no means busy, even in peak season.
If hunting for secluded beaches and waterfalls by motorbike sounds like your idea of a great holiday, then Khanom and Sichon are for you. Eight different beaches are included in our coverage, and the sand keeps right on stretching north to Don Sak in Surat Thani province and south past Nakhon Si Thammarat town and beyond. Pack a picnic and see where the sea breeze takes you.
All of the beaches taper into gentle drop-offs, with the water deepening enough for a swim fairly close to shore, no matter the tide. The sand ranges from grainy golden-tan to fine off-white. Tidal garbage is a major problem; most resorts clean the beach in front of their own properties, so head towards these when ready for a sunbath. The area was once a favourite of campers, but these days the secluded beaches are too littered to make pitching a tent any fun. If you’re set on beachfront camping, consider the nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park.
A handful of activities will help to break up long stints in the hammock. Take a boat trip to see pink Irrawaddy dolphins frolicking offshore — or at least take notice of them grinning on all of the street signs. A few minor waterfalls, viewpoints on Dat Fa Mountain and the Khao Wang Thong Cave are worth checking out in Khanom. Down in Sichon, don’t miss Thong Yang Waterfall as it flows towards a gorgeous bay of the same name.
Khanom and Sichon also make fine bases for taking inland day trips to Sikiet Waterfall, Tai Rom Yen National Park and the magnificent Krung Ching Waterfall in the northern reaches of Khao Luang National Park. Keep in mind that rainstorms lash the coast and many of the waterfalls are too dangerous to visit late in the year. After bobbing amid surf-able breaks in mid December, we were told that the sea would calm by January. In the gusty months, Sichon Cabana Resort runs a professional windsurfing operation.
Khanom and Sichon can be thought of as two separate but related destinations, each with its own set of beaches. They’re the northernmost two districts of Nakhon Si Thammarat province, located 70 to 90 kilometres east of Surat Thani town and about the same distance north of Nakhon Si Thammarat town. The most widely used ferry piers for Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan are located just 25 kilometres northwest of Khanom town, in Don Sak district.
Khanom’s southernmost beach, Ao Thong Yee, is only two kilometres north of Sichon’s northernmost beach, Ao Thong Yang, but due to rugged mountains in between you have to take a roundabout 40-kilometre route — or hop on a boat — to get from one to the other. It’s a 35-kilometre ride between Khanom town and Sichon town, including an inevitable stretch on busy Highway 401. While the majority of accommodation is found in Khanom, Sichon also has its share.
Below we’ve done our best to demystify this long stretch of coastline that, initially, can seem downright baffling. For more help, check out our post on Exploring the Khanom and Sichon coast, and take a look at this exhaustive article by a blogger who explored the area in 2011 (don’t worry, these areas change very slowly).
Khanom town is clustered around north-to-south running Route 4014, two kilometres west of Ao Khanom (ao is Thai for “bay”) and its beaches. The unimpressive main drag has little more than a 7-eleven, some ATMs and banks, a couple of minibus pick-up points and, on the far north side of town, the hospital, police station and post office. Most travellers only come to town when requiring one of these services.
Head north out of Khanom town and you’ll reach a river where fishing boats can be seen unloading their catches. Continue north and take a left on Route 4150, and after some 10 kilometres you’ll reach a right turn for Ao Thong Ching, another small bay with a couple of restaurants and at least one resort. Keep north on 4150 for five more kilometres and you’ll hit Ao Thong Nien, where a left will take you to Laem Prathap, a peninsula with a pier for dolphin-spotting trips. A few kilometres south of Laem Prathap is Wat That Tharam (aka Wat Khao That), a temple featuring a chedi made out of coral.
Back in Khanom town, head straight east from the hospital and you’ll come to the northern-most stretch of Ao Khanom, known as Haad Kho Khao (haad being Thai for “beach”). Here you’ll find a bunch of good seafood restaurants, though the sand is grainy and a nearby industrial-size conveyor belt detracts from the view.
Beginning just south of Haad Kho Khao, the beach road runs for eight kilometres alongside long and wide Haad Nadan, which hosts more than a dozen beach resorts and guesthouses in various budgets. Even on this, the area’s most developed beach, everything is well spread out and it will take a solid 15 minutes to walk just about anywhere. Around the centre of Haad Nadan, near the Golden Beach Resort, a road cuts inland to the centre of Khanom town.
Note that Haad Kho Khao, Haad Nadan and a southerly portion sometimes called Haad Hua Thanon are collectively known as Haad Khanom.
Continuing south, a left turn takes you uphill and then down again into the shorter and narrower Haad Nai Phlao, where a handful of small resorts operate despite a huge unfinished concrete resort making for a major eyesore to the south. Keep heading south from here and the road narrows, winding up into hills with jungle-clad mountains on one side and paths leading to rocky coastal outcrops on the other. The road ends at Ao Thong Yee, a small and heavily littered beach with a restaurant and some broken-down boats.
Head west out of Khanom town on Route 4014 and you’ll bump into the major Route 401, which runs south to:
Straddling a river that empties into the Gulf of Thailand near some fairly large fishing boat piers, Sichon town is a bit larger and more interesting than Khanom town, but still nothing to write home about on its own. The main east-to-west drag begins at Route 401 and runs past a market, where minibuses drop off, and then the hospital, police station and post office. You’ll also find a few ATMs and curry shops. Near the coast, the main road diverges south to the small but pretty Haad Sichon, which is sheltered by a rocky peninsula.
South of the peninsula, a second beach road continues south past Haad Hin Ngam, a “beach” of unusual rocks. Keep south and then cut left to find a narrow lane running for several kilometres alongside Haad Piti, an underrated beach that stretches as far as the eye can see to the south. Home to only a few small resorts, Haad Piti is mostly rimmed by tranquil seaside villages.
Back in Sichon town, cut north from the hospital and you’ll cross the river, after which you’ll come to Route 4232. A right will take you north for 12 kilometres past Haad Thong Sai and Haad Bang Po, two long beaches with nothing but a few houses and fishing boats. North of Haad Bang Po, the road cuts uphill for a first glimpse of Ao Thong Yang (aka Haad Phlai Dam): our favourite beach in the Khanom and Sichon area. Head inland from here to reach Thong Yang Waterfall, set amid the splendid scenery of Khao Phlai Dam Mountain.
By David Luekens. Last updated on 11th October, 2016.