Looking for paradise in Thailand
August 15, 2007 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Traveling to Thailand, but we don't want to relive "The Beach."

My husband and I would like to spend a week or so in Thailand but we have no idea where to go. A friend recommended Ko Samui, but internet searches reveal terms like "full moon parties", "plenty of nightlife" "a row of bars near the Pizza Hut." With respect, the last thing we want to do on vacation is be surrounded by a bunch of drunken expats fulfilling their Hollywood backpacker fantasies. Here's what we *would* like to do, in order of importance:

— Scuba diving. This is the number one reason we're going.
— Laying on the beach/a balcony/porch/deck. That's it. Just relaxing. Maybe with a book in hand.
— Hiking through the jungle. Bonus points if there is wildlife or waterfalls.
— I'd like to see a native dance performance.
— I'd also like to see and maybe ride on some elephants, but I want to be sure the animals are well treated.
— Tasty cuisine and other cultural goodies (temples, etc.)
— Maybe go to a spa

Our accommodation budget is around $100 a night but that's very flexible. I've searched the "Thailand" tag but most of the questions involve teaching in Thailand or travel to Bangkok. I've tried Google but it's annoying trying to wade through all the advertising just to get to decent reviews.
posted by Brittanie to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (17 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Ko Tao for diving and relaxation, then Ko Samui if it starts to feel too provincial.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 6:49 AM on August 15, 2007

I second the Ko Tao suggestion. With $100 a night to spend, you can stay in one of the lux places with all the mod cons, away from the basic diving accomodation. But the island is small enough that you can get to the dive shop for early morning starts without any problems, just rent a moped for the week. Don't know if there are any elephants there though, they seem to be mostly in the north.
I'd avoid Ko Samui. Too package-touristy. If Ko Tao isn't doing it for you, you could always head to one of the smaller beaches on Phangnan. Don't worry, you'll only get hit by the Full Moon Party if you are on the beach that it takes place on. Try Haad Salaad or Bottle Beach for more peace and quiet.
There's also the Similans on the Indian Ocean side. Amazing diving. Or further south, there's Koh Lanta and the Krabi area. Railay beach is beautiful. But not too much diving there. Or you could go east and stay on Koh Chang near the border with Cambodia. I hear it's been developed a lot recently, but it used to be paradisiacal.
There's also a ton of little islands sprinkled about...you're spoiled for choice, really.
But a week? Can't you go for longer?
posted by conifer at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2007

We spent several days in Ko Samui, and it was very laid back. The full moon parties are on Ko Pha Ngan.

We stayed on Bo Phut beach which was pretty quiet. As you said, bungalow and sand.

Ko Samui also has the jungle and waterfalls covered. Not sure about the scuba diving since we didn't go.

Almost all the elephant camps in Thailand are pretty appalling. And really, elephants are gorgeous creatures that deserve to be respected in their natural environment. If you care about elephant welfare, consider visiting Elephant Nature Foundation sanctuary outside Chiang Mai. It's extremely well regarded and worth every penny.
posted by wayward vagabond at 7:20 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I wish. This is just a quick hop away from work for my husband before his current project starts to really heat up.
posted by Brittanie at 7:21 AM on August 15, 2007

Seconding Bo Phut on Samui. You can hit pretty much all of the items that you list on Samui, although I never tried the scuba. The friends who went for scuba went to Ko Tao, but there ain't much else there. Might be worth bracketing a scuba trip to Ko Tao with a day or two in Samui at either end.
posted by Jakey at 7:35 AM on August 15, 2007

My wife & I are also researching places to go in Thailand when we visit in December.

We're looking at Hua Hin, maybe Krabi (both places recommended by our former exchange student who's from Bangkok).

I have more notes at home so I'll post more thoughts this evening.

wayward vagabond - thanks for the tip on the elephant sanctuary!
posted by altcountryman at 7:52 AM on August 15, 2007

Another vote for Ko Tao, especially if you go diving; maybe even Ko Nangyuan, off the coast of Ko Tao? It's a very beautiful island, but there is not much more to do there than diving. When I was there with my girlfriend last year, we left for Ko Tao again after three days - but for a short stay, it was lovely.
And Ko Samui is not far and very touristy indeed, so if you are lacking anything, it's just a matter of hopping over by catamaran.
posted by insouciant at 8:00 AM on August 15, 2007

Thirding Ko Tao. I spent a week there and did my Open Water and Advanced Open Water, stayed in an adorable bungalow for an extra five bucks a night. I used Planet Scuba and was very happy with the education and accommodations.
posted by letahl at 8:02 AM on August 15, 2007

Oh, and stop in Patchaburi on your way down (an hour or so from Bangkok on the train to where you take the boat), if you want to see monkeys and visit a wat and get a lot of local, not touristic flavor.
posted by letahl at 8:05 AM on August 15, 2007

You definitely want to stay on Koh Tao for diving. There's a BEAUTIFUL spa high up on the island called Jamahkiri. I took one of the combo packages, and spent a wonderful afternoon enjoying the sauna, body wrap, and massage. The spa even offers free shuttle service!

Koh Samui is close to Koh Tao, and it's a big island so there's a lot of variety between the little towns and beaches. I stayed on Mae Nam beach in June, and it was very quiet and relaxed. We stayed at Lolita Bungalows, right on the beach. The sunrise from the location was amazing!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 8:08 AM on August 15, 2007

How about a liveaboard dive boat? I love DiveAsia - I spent a month doing my divemaster training with them and I can tell you the staff there are very professional and safety-conscious. Take one of their liveaboards to the Similan Islands and you will be in heaven. Ok, they are based out of Phuket, but you don't have to spend your time there - just get there (maybe on an AirAsia flight - cheap and good service), board the boat, and go someplace else when your diving trip is done.
posted by hazyjane at 8:23 AM on August 15, 2007

altcountryman mentioned Hua Hin. For some reason, Thais always recommend this town, but I find it to be dirty and depressing, and the beaches aren't that nice. It's flanked by giant western hotels, so I suppose that if that's the experience you're looking for it would be fine, but apart from that, there are many better places to go.
posted by conifer at 8:44 AM on August 15, 2007

Oh, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this spa on Ko Tao. They are a bit expensive for Thai standards, but the package deals for two and a half hours are great and they pick you up from anywhere on the island as part of their service.
Hua Hin seemed a bit dreary to me as well. The Thai royal family has a vacation residence there, which might explain its appael to Thais.
posted by insouciant at 9:05 AM on August 15, 2007

(and on non-preview, exquisite_deluxe recommended the very same spa. It really is excellent).
posted by insouciant at 9:08 AM on August 15, 2007

Yikes! Maybe we should rethink Hua Hin. Thanks, conifer, for the heads-up. We're not looking for dirty, depressing, & westernized, I've seen plenty of that here in the actual west.
posted by altcountryman at 9:17 AM on August 15, 2007

I'd actually recommend venturing slightly further afield and looking at thePerhentian Islands, which are just (perhaps an hour in a car and then a 40 minute boat ride) south of Thailand in Malaysia. I found them amazing and I really-really-really-really wish that I'd been dive certified when I was there. The variety of sealife was unparalleled (and I've snorkeled a lot in Hawaii, and Thailand, and a bit in the Caribbean). There are whale sharks. Giant sea turtles. Eels. Plenty of fish. I did a week there, and it was just right.

In Thailand, I've been to Krabi twice (for a week or more each time). The diving is great and the local vibe is awesome. It's a $69 flight from BKK. Then a cabride to the shore, then a boat ride to the peninsula. Some of the best weeks of my life. But the diving is only *amazing* and not *life changing*. Krabi is a great jumping off point for all of the adaman coast islands.
posted by zpousman at 11:04 AM on August 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

The Perhentians do have amazing sea life, but I find the people to be nowhere near as friendly as the Thais. Look out for the GIANT lizards on the islands, eating the garbage.
Seriously, if you want an out of the way place, I would take a look on the web and choose an island that's not one of the following:
Ko Tao, Ko Phangnan, Ko Samui, Ko Chang, Ko Pipi, Ko Samet or Ko Lanta. And of course, Phuket.
All the other islands are going to be very laid back, probably with minimal services and few other tourists. Beach, some palm trees, some good food and that's about it. Heaven!
posted by conifer at 11:30 AM on August 15, 2007

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