Looking for a tropical getaway? Easy peasy when you’re living in a country known worldwide for its stunning coastlines. And now simpler than ever, thanks to AirAsia’s newest daily route, from Chiang Mai direct to Surat Thani, the veritable jumping off point for Thailand’s best islands and beaches, but also a spectacular destination on its own.
Surat Thani’s stunning Khao Sok National Park (www.khaosok.com) is a surprisingly known locale, despite the fact that it features the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world and Cheow Larn, a crystal clear freshwater lake dotted with huge karst cliffs that resembles Vietnam’s world-famous Ha Long Bay.
Here, you can spot rare birds, monkeys and even wild elephants, explore underwater caves, hike to hidden cliff-top lagoons and kick back and relax at one of lake’s floating accommodations, which range from bare bones basics to lush comfort. Whatever you choose, you are guaranteed the rare chance to escape the madding crowds that clog the islands (not to mention all wifi and cellular service).
If you want to start at the top, the most luxurious digs on the lake can be found at the 500 Rai Floating Resort (www.500rai.com), where you can indulge in world-class meals and cosy, well-appointed cabins (choose air-con or fan) kitted out with private docks and free kayaks. The friendly Thai owner and staff can take you out to explore the area (from scuba diving to bird-watching to waterfall hikes) or you can just grab a beer and a floatie and soak in the tranquility.
Koh Samui is famous for a reason, its beauty gobbled up by hordes of tourists that come from all over the globe to experience the dramatic shorelines, warm blue waters, chilled Thai beach culture and hedonistic international party scene that gave birth to neighbouring island Koh Phangan’s Full Moon affairs (indeed, old timers claim that the famous parties actually began on Samui’s Chaweng Beach).
But despite the masses of foreign-owned bucket bars and pushy tailors that characterise downtown Samui, there are still plenty of pockets of peace left to find. One of these is the lovely Al’s Resort (www.alsresortsamui.com), located on Chaweng Beach. It’s just steps away from the debauchery of downtown but secluded enough to make you forget all about that, if you want to. Located directly on the beach with an infinity pool that blurs the lines between natural and architectural beauty, Al’s can arrange a fabulous seafood feast on the beach or a tour of the nearby islands, with lovely rooms and abundant breakfast buffets to boot.
On Samui’s south coast, don’t miss Hin Ta Hin Yai (Grandpa and Grandma) rock, where you’ll find a stunning viewpoint and surprisingly anatomically correct rock formations that look like, well, male and female genitalia.
For those with money to spend and the desire to leave the crowds behind completely, there are still a few islands in the area left virtually untouched. One of these is Koh Madsum, a long and narrow tropical refuge just south of Koh Samui. The only establishment on the island is an eco-resort called The Treasure (www.thetreasureresort.com), where leafy green paths give way to beachfront luxury villas fit for royalty. Snorkle with a kaleidoscopic array of fish amongst the island’s coral reef, try an oceanfront massage at the spa, or indulge in a freshly caught feast beside the waterfront infinity pool.a spectacular destination on its own.