A Lovely Planet contributors Sarah and James head to Thailand’s Andaman Coast. Here is their guide to the region.
We’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about Thailand, the good, the bad and the pretty damn ugly within recent years, giving Thailand a pretty bad wrap.
After lots of research, planning and advice from friends, we think we’ve got a pretty great guide to the Andaman coast that will keep it as a top destination for your next trip.
Getting There & Around
Fly into Phuket or Bangkok as these are the most central hubs for exploring Thailand, with most major airlines servicing both airports.
There are plenty of inexpensive shared bus options to travel within Thailand, tickets available from all travel shops at a set price or a little cheaper direct from the bus stations.
A metered taxi is the cheapest form of transport when you have luggage in the cities, a moto (bike taxi) is cheaper for quick rides and a cool way to explore. Generally Tuk Tuks seem to overcharge, so we thought best to avoid these after a few hugely inflated quotes.
Koh Ya Noi
From Phuket we took a 30 minute metered taxi to the ferry port Bang Rong Pier to catch a speed boat across to island Koh Ya Noi which translates “Little Long Island”.
Koh Ya Yai (Big Long Island) is also an option for the same price (250 THB)
Being so close to Phuket it’s surprising how this island still had a very local and relaxed vibe to it. Visited mostly by families, couples (us) and the more mature traveller (not us just yet), it was perfect for slowly adapting to the climate and the local culture. Possibly overlooked because of its infamous neighbouring islands with glistening Instagram pictures, but we think this is a great island and not to be missed for some downtime.
Bikes are really your only option to get around (push or motorbike). Most places rent a motorbike for 300 THB a day. We loved exploring the winding roads and seeing what we found. We discovered the best sunsets and local eats this way and you really feel like you know the island after a few days.
Food in Koh Ya Noi
The Coffee Break Cafe was hands-down the best and somehow cheapest coffee in town, free WiFi and frequented by ex-pats working on their business ventures, it became our morning hangout.
Near the markets we found some of the best local cuisine including our favourite Pad Thai from the whole Thailand trip and Ice Tea for only £0.25, winning!
If you want a little adventure, there are lots of tours from this island to some of the famous neighbouring limestone islands, some of which you can kayak across too and climb to the top for a birdseye view.
Head further south by boat or grab a minivan from Krabi, for a more bustling vibe at Koh Lanta. We used Krabi Town as a transit stopover as there are many options from here to travel North or South.
Koh Lantas’ streets are packed with restaurants, markets, shops and places to stay, so it’s a little harder to find the quieter side of life here.
The further south you go the quieter it gets however, so if you want some peace, head towards Mu Ko National Park or Koh Lanta Old Town. Look out for monkeys in the cooler hours hanging by the side of the road nibbling on forest fruits.
If you want a more vibrant atmosphere, you can find it nearer the Saladan Pier in the North of the island, with lots of bars and parties on offer.
Night markets light the streets after dark, where you can find inexpensive but delicious Thai treats and a souvenir treat for yourself too.
Diving Koh Lanta
The main reason we visited this island, was for the diving which has influenced our destinations in a big way.
Whilst looking around for a dive shop to choose amongst many, family run Lanta Divers came out on-top.
They not only provide flexible packages, but they really prioritise the safety of their divers, so we felt in really good hands from the beginning.
The boats are top-notch and so is the onboard menu, which to any diver is very important.
Koh Haa which translates to “Five Islands” in Thai is popular for day trips, snorkelling and diving. With its striking limestone rock towers, sandy beaches and calm blue waters, it’s clear to see why.
Koh Haa was equally impressive underwater as it is above. Our local guide ‘Pop’ had a fountain of knowledge on the areas marine life and spotted some awesome creatures, including a rare Zebra Eel, (Our first time seeing one).
Dive site The Caves was our personal favourite, with cave swim-throughs and cool overhangs, it really felt like an underwater adventure.
To try and spot the big stuff head to the famous Hin Mueng and Hin Daeng (Rock Purple and Rock Red) for hunting Trevally, schooling Barracuda and if your very lucky Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. We unfortunately did not see any this time, but hey, that’s nature. These dives sites rank among the best in the world, so add them to you dive bucket list!
Food in Koh Lanta
Back on land our favourite pastime is visiting as many different eateries as we can. A favourite, vegan Cafe Kaya had a great menu, excellent Italian coffee and a cute courtyard.
The owner here told us about other interesting places in the area to visit in-line with their ethical values.
One of them being Lanta Animal Welfare Shelter. Located just around the corner, we jumped on the bike to check it out.
Here volunteers take in and rehabilitate abused, sick or abandoned cats and dogs. The thing we loved most about this place was how easily holiday-makers could get involved.
Our favourite option was to come by for a few hours and take one of the dogs out for a walk along the beach!
We asked around and heard that Koh Jum was a favourite island for simple and peaceful paradise. A boat transfer will cost around 300 THB and will take around two hours with an interesting change from a ferry to long-tail boat out in the ocean due to the island not having a pier.
Although one island, locals will refer to the island in two parts: Koh Jum (South) and Koh Pu (North), which you’ll need to know when getting off the ferry.
While a handful of upscale resorts can be found on this beautiful island, most accommodation options in the North are aimed at budget travellers or those who enjoy the simple life.
Grab the opportunity with both hands to switch off and relax, because Koh Jum allows just that, a refreshing contrast to neighbouring islands, Phi Phi and Koh Lanta.
Embracing the back-to-basics lifestyle, we opted for a bungalow amongst the trees at family run Sunset bungalows on Luboa Bay in the North. With a hippy laid-back vibe and beachfront hammock bar it won’t be long until you forget the busy city life.
Diving Koh Lak
A top dive site that continued to pop-up was Richelieu Rock located in the Surin Islands, so we couldn’t leave Thailand without seeing for ourselves.
From Krabi Town it’s an easy three hour bus ride North to Koh Lak (300 THB) one way in a local bus.
Koh Lak similar to Koh Lanta is lined with restaurants, shops and numerous dive outlets.
Researching dive shops, Wicked Diving Thailand caught our eye with the focus on being environmentally friendly, only using ocean safe products onboard such as shampoo and detergent, and a no plastic policy.
A % of the fee paid by divers goes into local projects giving back to the community, so it was an easy decision to join this team.
You can choose from day trips or a three day liveaboard to Surin or Similan Islands aboard the MV Marianer, a charming boat with so much character.
The crew at Wicked Diving Thailand are different from most, treating their staff, each other and their guests like a little family adding a little English banter for good measure.
With a constant flow of snacks, fruits, fresh filter coffee, a mix of Thai and Western food choices, we left the boat with our wetsuits fitting a little too tight!
“So how was Richelieu Rock” you may be wondering?
It was one of the most spectacular dive sites we have ever experienced, with average visibility of 25m. The amount of sea creatures in one place was just breathtaking!
Koh Bon was another great dive site especially for a night dive, where Octopus & huge Moray Eels can be found hunting along with Lionfish using your flashlight to spot their prey, so watch out for them lurking close-by.
It is easy to forget the places we visited were devastated by the 2004 Tsunami. Most families, homes and businesses were affected in some way, but have sprung back in memory of those they lost.
You’ll find most Thai people open, friendly and willing to share their stories of love, loss and legacy.
A navy boat can still be found in Koh Lak, where it washed up during the devastation all those years ago by the Tsunami Museum.
Everyone gets around on motorbikes in Thailand and it really is the best way see the islands. Ensure you’re either comfortable on one, ask for a test drive or factor in funds for other transport instead. You technically need to have a motorbike license and wear a helmet at all times to avoid being fined by police if you get stopped. Check your bike before paying as we had to swap bikes due to faulty rear lights.
All ATMs in Thailand charge to withdraw funds, on average 250 THB per transaction. This is a huge amount and could go along way on an Thai island.
Currency Exchange booths are the alternative option, which charge far less in fees, however most only take cash so come prepared.
Eating out can be overwhelming with so many options, but it’s hard to find a bad meal in Thailand if you follow the tips below:
The Pad Thai is just out of this world, we found simple is best!
Thai Pancake stands pop-up everywhere, choose your filling from chocolate, fruit or more savoury options (dependent on your mood). Most cost around 40 THB. Be careful though as they can be quite addictive.
Avoid restaurants that cater for too many palettes and try to find where the locals eat. Stick to Thai food as Western food in general will be overpriced and likely won’t meet your expectations. Lookout for street stands with fresh ingredients, wok and broth pots. Usually everything is prepared from scratch straight into your bowl!
You can follow Sarah and James’ adventures on Instagram.