The South of Thailand, the Deep South that is, is shamefully overlooked as a tourist destination. Beaches are yet to be spoilt, islands are as pretty as any further up the coast, there is a rich culture, lush and plush nature and fabulous food, and the people are genuinely welcoming and friendly.
From Chiang Mai, it can be daunting travelling the full length of the country just to get to some beaches, but now with direct flights to Had Yai and simple minibus links to all the major destinations, the journey has suddenly become a lot easier. Wake up just before dawn in Chiang Mai and by lunchtime you can be enjoying a coconut shake on the beach of many an island, soaking and sipping it all in. The Tourism Authority of Thailand recently invited Citylife for a whirlwind trip to the south to show us how easy it is to enjoy the best of both Thailand and Malaysia with island destinations just a boat’s ride away. Beach lovers had best wait for the monsoon season to pass though, as the weather can be unpredictable. The speed boat ride to Koh Lipe is no fun with ten foot waves, but if you are lucky and get smooth seas then the 90 minute trip is a breeze, with Tarutao and Langkawi hovering like a mirage on the horizon. For those who have yet to visit Koh Lipe but know how clear the Andaman Sea is, then expect the best of the best. Despite being quite crowded during high seasons, the sea still remains as clear as liquid crystal, tiny near-invisible fish shoaling around the surf and jutting coral structures with small communities of nemos, dorys and hermit crabs leave shadows on the water’s surface. Koh Lipe itself is charming. Though developing fast, as are most popular island destinations, it still retains some of the feel of a local fishing village (but with bakeries, bars and 7-Elevens) and is a great destination for anyone who enjoys diving or snorkelling.
From Koh Lipe there are two options for those wanting to venture across the border and see what Lankawi has to offer. In high season just jump on a boat that takes you from beach to beach, missing out the mainland completely. In low season, pop back to the mainland and it’s a short drive to the Port of Tammalang and only 600 baht return on a comfy ferry to Langkawi. This far south, it’s not unreasonable to wake up in Satun, have breakfast in Thailand and be enjoying a Malay lunch in Langkawi a few hours later. Many now simply go for the day, as the last ferry will have you back at a sensible 5.30pm. Langkawi is no Koh Lipe, being a massive island with its own international airport and well developed infrastructure, but it is spectacular nonetheless.
There for a short time, we were taken up the Langkawi Cable Car to the peak of Gunung Machinchang where 360 degree views of the Andaman and its islands made many jaws drop. A terrifying sky walk between peaks is a highlight of this heady experience. Langkawi itself it is a lush and beautiful island, home to great nature walks where you can see wild boar and flying squirrels at night and soaring eagles, swimming otters and – yikes! – flying snakes by day. The island is enjoying a great boom following the lifting of what is believed to have been seven generations of curses in 2000. Legend says that an 18th century prince fell in love with a common lady who was falsely accused of adultery and later killed. Before her death she cursed the island for seven generations. Her 7th generation descendant, today living in Phuket, returned to the island to officially lift the curse at the turn of the millennium, and that was when Langkawi turned from a backwater island to the tax-free haven and tourist magnet that it is today. Duty free shopping is also pretty splendid in Langkawi, so make sure you go to some of the very Thai-friendly outlets and get your shopping on! So, if you are looking to get away from our mountains for a few days, then hop onto an AirAsia flight to Had Yai and get your island fix in both Thailand and Malaysia. Thank you the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Satun for your generous invitation.