South of the Tourists

Text & Photo : Stefan Christensen

Have you ever been to Phuket, Krabi or even Koh Lanta and felt like there is too much of everything? Too many people, too many restaurants, too many bars and way too much traffic? The answer is to go further south – south of the tourists.

Along the Andaman Coast is a stretch of land extending from just south of Koh Lanta all the way to the Thailand / Malaysia boarder. This territory is largely devoid of tourists and, therefore, offers peace and tranquility for those seeking a less hectic, more serene experience.

The southern town of Trang is the first stop on a trek south. It is connected to Bangkok by both daily flights and train. This writer personally recommends the night train from Bangkok. Trang has been a trading center for hundreds of years. The city itself is located a bit inland so the next step of the journey entails getting to the beach or a pier for further exploration.

Pak Meng Beach

Pak Meng Beach, a good starting point, is a long stretch of beach located in the Hat Chao Mai Marine National Park. The stretch of road that leads up to the pier of Pak Meng is lined with small hotels, guesthouses and restaurants that are inexpensive and modest. This is an area where mass tourism has not yet to arrive. If you find it difficult to survive without coffee ground from Peruvian beans and brewed with water from a Norwegian fjord (or any other pretentious food) or food and drink from chain style outlets, this is not the place for you.

But if you want to share the beach with local fishermen who are mending their nets while you take a leisurely swim, this is paradise. Delicious local Thai dishes are served along the beach in addition to the special Trang style coffee ideal for breakfast. There are no big chain hotels here and it is best to book in advance, primarily because the hotel can provide transfers to and from the airport or the train station.

Koh Ngai Island

Koh Ngai is a small island reached by boat from Pak Meng Pier. It is home to about a dozen accommodations ranging from nice hotels with a pool to budget hostels with a fan. While the various accommodations are not in a centralized “tourist” cluster, this is a small island easily and thoroughly explorable on foot. This is a place to relax, read a book, take a swim and do nothing except relax.

Koh Muk Island

Koh Muk is a larger island south of Koh Ngai and home to around fifty different accommodation options. Close to the pier, where the boats from Pak Meng Pier arrive, is a cluster of houses, shops and accommodations that approximates a village. Most available accommodations, restaurants and bars are concentrated in this “village”, but there are a few others spread across the island that offer the same tranquillity as found on Koh Ngai.

The Emerald Cave on Koh Muk draws a number of day-trip tourists to the island. Fortunately, these tourists tend to only visit the cave on the western side of the island and perhaps have lunch in the “village”. Then they are off and the tranquillity is restored.

Koh Tarutao Island

Koh Tarutao is one of the biggest islands in the south and part of Koh Tarutao National Marine Park. The marine park consists of 51 islands with Tarutao being by far the largest; it is also said to be haunted. The haunting is attributed to two events. A Malaysian princess, executed for a love affair she had on the island, promised that upon her death, peace and prosperity would leave the island forever. From 1939 till 1949, Koh Tarutao was a used as an isolated prison for first the Japanese and then the Thai government. Both events provide ample imagination for ghost stories.

If confrontations with ghosts are not a personal concern, rumours of hauntings can be good news as one result is this big island is virtually deserted and feels uninhabited. If living a Robinson Crusoe lifestyle is an attraction, this is the place for that experience. There are long deserted beaches, steaming rainforests and relatively high mountain peaks. One can also take a boat trip through the island’s mangrove swamp and see how many crocodiles can be spotted. Ah! A reason to reconsider the idea of camping in a tent on the island!

There are only a few accommodations here, all quite simple and rustic, but one can really get away from it all. To get to Koh Tarutao Island, take a boat from Pak Bara Pier in the Satun Province.

Koh Lipe Island

This island used to be exclusively a backpackers’ destination. Located farther out than the other islands in the marine park, Koh Lipe has changed somewhat in character and offers an interesting experience even if one is not sporting a henna tattoo and dreadlocks. Take the boat from Pak Bara, a 90-minute bumpy ride on a speedboat that eventually drops passengers off at Pattaya.

No, not “The” Pattaya but Pattaya Beach on Koh Lipe, a beach with more than one kilometer of smooth, pristine sand. The island also is home to Sunset Beach in the west and Sunrise Beach located on the eastern part of the island.

Of the places visited on this trip, Koh Lipe is by far the most developed for tourism with accommodations ranging from inexpensive fan rooms to exclusive 4-star resorts. All still provide a cozy vibe.

What to do here?

These islands and beaches in the south are ideal for travellers who want to get away from the major, crowded tourist destinations and yet still experience more than afforded by just parking a bum on a beach chair for two weeks. This is adventure combined with vacation. There are more challenges on a trip in the less visited south. ATM´s are not available around every corner, power blackouts may occur and there might even be squat toilets.

But the rewards here are huge – deserted beaches, great snorkelling, yummy local food and a hospitality you might have thought was gone forever.

So go south, go south off the tourists tracks!

Destination Asien