The best and the worst beaches in Thailand

After three weeks travelling along the south west coast of Thailand, we have been dazzled by endless days of sunshine, miles upon miles of golden beaches and warm aquamarine water. We started in Koh Lanta and worked our way north, visiting enough beaches along the way to form our opinion of which ones we liked the best and which we thought were the worst.

We know our friends and family back home in Canada are suffering through a fierce winter this year with temperatures often below -20C and with plenty of snow to contend with as well so we’ll try not to go on too much about how idyllic conditions have been for us. Besides, it hasn’t all been a bed of roses during these past three weeks. Immediately upon arrival in Koh Lanta, I came down with a cold which in itself wasn’t too bad, but coupled with a pinched nerve in my neck that was triggered a week previously in Chiang Mai, I was not in very good shape during our first week on the coast. All I could do was relax, read, and take it easy. I know, I know, it’s a tough life we’re living right now.

By the time we had reached Phuket, I was feeling much better, but we were both quickly sidelined again with a horrific sunburn after lying on the beach under an umbrella for just a few hours. It was so bad, we couldn’t venture outdoors for a couple of days. Almost two weeks later we’re still peeling like snakes. Oh well, more relaxing and reading as we let our bodies heal.

These minor setbacks meant pushing out our diving so we ended up spending three weeks on the coast instead of two – I’m sure I’ve solicited all our reader’s sympathies by now. This past week, we spent 4 days diving split evenly between the Similan and Surin Islands. I’ll write about that separately.

In Thailand, there is a beach for every taste – from the noisy and crowded that cater to the party set, to the remote and quiet getaways that are havens for nature lovers. We prefer the isolated beaches away from the crowds where you can walk for miles along the shoreline. So keep that in mind as I share with you the best and worst beaches we visited in Thailand.

Our Favourite Beaches:

Khao Lak South Beach:

Poseidon Bungalows, located about 5 km south of Khao Lak, came highly recommended by a couple we met in our guest house in Chiang Mai. These rustic bungalows are situated amidst a jungle like setting, on a hill overlooking the Andaman Sea; miles of beautiful, uncrowded beach was just a few moments walk from our doorstep. There are no other resorts nearby.  At night, the sound of the surf lulled us to sleep. In total we spent four nights at the bungalows, two nights on each end of a diving trip to the Similan Islands.

These affordable bungalows offered basic but adequate accommodation, each with private bath.Each cabin had a cottagey feel and were anything but luxurious.  They didn’t have air conditioning, or wi-fi, or TV, or anything else for that matter.   I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call this place a resort as they did not offer much in terms of amenities.  Other than an onsite restaurant where you could get wifi, and an office that arranged local tours, there wasn’t much else on offer.  If you wanted a beach chair, you could rent one from a handful of enterprising Thais who set up shop along the beach, offering beach chairs, umbrellas, food and drink and massages of course  – everything you needed for an enjoyable day at the beach.   If you like privacy, seclusion, peace and quiet surrounded by nature, then this is the place for you.

Massage anybody?

The beach stretched out for miles in both directions and was quite deserted. At the opposite end of the beach, there was a cluster of more luxurious resorts, one of which served up a delicious buffet breakfast.  What better way to start each morning than with a lovely stroll along the beach followed by a sumptuous meal that held us till late in the day.

Banana Beach, Phuket

Phuket is probably the most visited island in Thailand hosting millions of visitors each year so we felt we should at least spend a few days here even though we knew it would be touristy and busy especially given that we are in high season. Sure enough, the beaches of Phuket were ridiculously crowded and overrun with mainly Russian tourists who are so common here that many business signs and menus are written in that language!

We hired a scooter for a couple of days to explore the many beaches along the coast of this island and we were delighted to discover Banana Beach, a tiny little bay that was accessible from a steep pathway from the highway. It was located just south of Naithon Beach which was another beautiful beach we enjoyed. In fact, most of the beaches north of Surin were lovely, long stretches of undeveloped sandy shoreline that reminded us what the southern beaches of Phuket probably looked like 20 or 30 years ago.

Banana Beach is about as close as you’ll get to a hidden beach in Phuket – I doubt it’s on a map, and we didn’t find any mention of it on the internet either, so hopefully it will remain a hidden gem for others to discover like we did. If you’re planning to go, take the coastal road north towards Naithon Beach. You’ll see a handmade sign and a dozen or so scooters parked along the left side of the road just a couple of kilometers before Naithon Beach. There’s a fairly steep path down to the beach so if you have mobility issues, you’ll probably want to avoid this beach.

Long Beach, Koh Lanta

It took us 22 hours to travel from Chiang Mai to Koh Lanta via overnight bus to Bangkok, a flight from Bangkok to Trang, a mini bus to the pier, and then a 2.5 hour ferry to Koh Lanta. A long journey that was well worth the hassle to land in paradise.

Koh Lanta is a quiet, laid back island that attracts an older crowd who prefer to walk along the beach and watch sunsets rather than to party, just our style.

Again we stayed at a place recommended by our friends Sue and Andy who we met and hung out with in Chaing Mai. They are seasoned travellers on a 6 month trip in South East Asia. Sue is very thorough in her research and was happy to share with us the details of where they have stayed and places they have visited thus far in their adventure. Based on their recommendation, we stayed at Freedom Estate, a set of 6 bungalows on the hillside overlooking the Andaman Sea. The beach and a small village were just a five minute walk away. Each unit is a self contained studio-size apartment, with a balcony from which we enjoyed spectacular sunsets each night. At just under 1400 Baht per night, it was a bargain compared to the resort on the beach which was charging 5,000 Baht per night. Sure, we weren’t right on the beach, but we had the million dollar view and easy access to the beach.

Every night we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the Andaman Sea.

View from our balcony at night – we puzzled over those green lights in the distance until
someone explained they were fishing boats. 

Breakfast in Koh Lanta.

The island is small enough to explore by scooter in a day. It was sobering to see all the Tsunami warning and evacuation route signs that have been posted in low lying regions, sombre reminders of the tragedy that occurred here in 2004 when a tsunami hit this coast.

This is how gasoline is sold on the islands – in litre sized
bottles for 40-50 Baht each.

A rubber tree being tapped.  Rubber tree plantations grew
in abundance along the coastal regions.   It’s hard to believe
that much of the world’s rubber is harvested manually. 

The worst beaches

As for our least favourite beaches, Patong takes the prize because it was so overcrowded with tourists and very much a party town. The entire length of the beach is lined with multiple rows of beach chairs, sometimes up to nine rows thick. We spent three days in a small, comfortable and spotlessly clean guest house in Patong called Minotel. It was well situated just a few blocks from the beach.  The town of Patong was much larger than we expected, and noisier, smellier and dirtier too.

Patong Beach in the early morning before the crowds.

Kamala Beach, located between Patong and Surin beaches.

It didn’t take us long to decide this was not the place for us, so we headed just a few kilometres north to Surin beach, a much smaller and quieter beach town still on the island of Phuket.  We stayed at a place called “Be My Guest” hotel, a rather modern building tucked away on a side street about a 10 minute walk from the beach.  We loved it – the high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, high end finishes and the most comfortable bed we have had in Thailand – all for a bargain price of 1,000 Baht per night.   Just down the street, we discovered another little gem – a restaurant called “Flavours” .  Here we enjoyed delicious breakfasts each morning and we had one fabulous seafood dinner, cooked to perfection.

The most comfortable bed in Thailand was at Be My Guest Hotel.

Laundry service on the beach, right next to the massage service.

Our final destination was a little town called Khuraburi whose fishing port serves as a popular launch for diving excursions to the Surin Islands.  From here, it’s about two hours north to Ranong, another popular diving centre. I look forward to exploring this area more fully when we return to Thailand in the future.

Travel Tips:

  1. If you prefer quiet, secluded beaches, avoid Phuket and Phi Phi at all costs. In fact, most of the beaches in the south are very crowded and noisy and quite overrun with Russian tourists. It seems the further north you go, beyond Khao Lak, the quieter and less touristy it gets. And it’s cheaper too!
  2. If you’re island hopping, avoid the public ferry, especially between Koh Lanta and Phuket.  The ferry from Koh Lanta to Phi Phi was quite comfortable, but the one from Phi Phi to Phuket was an accident just waiting to happen.  Slow, dirty and terribly overcrowded, we were lucky to find a corner of a box to sit on for the 2 hour voyage.  We really wished we had opted for one of the high speed boats that are readily available and don’t cost all that much more.
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6 Responses
  1. Lindy says:

    Great to see you are having a fantastic time on the islands and beaches in such perfect weather. It was -24 in Kemptville last night and lots of snow coming the next two days. Have fun in paradise.

    • christina says:

      Hi Lindy,
      We’re now in Laos and the weather is still hot, hot, hot. It rained yesterday evening for about 30 minutes which caught everyone, even the locals off guard, as this is the dry season and it never rains at this time of year. We couldn’t remember the last time we saw rain! I just hope it warms up by the time we get to your place in April.

  2. Annemarie says:

    I have only recently started to follow your travels and got caught up on all your posts… And I am enjoying it immensely. Thanks for sharing! What an adventure … in so many different ways … so totally worth it. Hope we run into each other again when you’re back in Canada.

    • christina says:

      Hi Annemarie
      Nice to hear from you. We’ll definitely get together when I get back to Canada to catch up on the past couple of years.

  3. Angus says:

    Nice to see you guys on line again. I need these pics to get me through this cold winter. We’re off to Winterlude this afternoon to check out the ice sculptures and the new brew competition on sparks street.

    • christina says:

      Hi Angus
      We’ve been pretty negligent on the blog lately – too busy lying around on the beach under perpetually sunny skies I guess. Our brains have all gone to mush. Don’t envy the cold and snowy winter you guys are having – certainly making up for last year I suppose. I just hope it’s all over by April when we head home – all our winter clothes are packed deep in our storage unit, and we’ve only got summer clothes in our packs (most of which will be dumped before we come home). Currently in Laos which is far more touristy than we expected, much to our dismay. Might try to squeeze in a trip to Myanmar before we head home (after Cambodia and Vietnam) – there’s still so much of the world to see!