Saturday, June 12, 2010


LAEM SON NATIONAL PARK อุทยานแห่งชาติแหลมสน

Covering 315 sq km of land shared by Ranong and Phang-Nga Provinces, the park also includes around 100km of Andaman Sea coastline – the longest protected shore in the country – as well as over 20 idyllic islets. Much of the coast here is covered with mangrove swamps, home to various species of birds, fish, deer and monkeys (including crab-eating macaques), often seen while you’re driving along the road to the park headquarters.

The most accessible beach is Hat Bang Ben, just down the street from the park’s rusty gates. This long, sandy beach, backed by shady casuarinas, is a great place to get wet. From Hat Bang Ben you can see several of the park’s protected islands, including the nearby Ko Kam Yai, Ko Kam Noi, Mu Ko Yipun, Ko Khang Khao and, to the north, Ko Phayam. The park staff can arrange boat trips out to any of these islands for 1,500B per boat per day, although private tours can be scouted for a much cheaper rate.

Getting There & Away

The turn-off for Laem Son National Park is about 58km from Ranong down Hwy 4 (Phetkasem Hwy), between the 657km and 658km markers. Buses heading south from Ranong can drop you off here (ask for Hat Bang Ben). Once you’re off the highway, however, you’ll have to flag down a pick-up truck going towards the park. If you can’t get a ride all the way, it’s a 10km walk from Hwy 4 to the park entrance. At the police box at the junction you may be able to hire a motorcycle taxi for 50B; the road is paved, so if you’re driving it’s a breeze. Private car is undoubtedly the best way to get around these parts – local renters charge 1,000B.

KO PHAYAM เกาะพยาม

While technically part of Laem Son National Park, little Ko Phayam swims in the sea amid other verdant flecks of sand and limestone. It’s a welcoming place, whose small population is a friendly mix of Thais and Burmese, expats and a few dozen ethnic chow lair (also spelt chao leh; sea gypsies) who earn a living baiting prawns or plucking savoury cashew nuts. Everyone gathers along the two main bays, flanked by strands of flaxen sand, where the soundtrack is a delightful blend of lapping waves and hooting hornbills.

The island has one ‘village’, where you will find the main pier, a couple of simple eateries, small grocery stalls and a bar. From the pier area, motorcycle taxis scoot you to your basic bungalow along the motorcycle ‘highway’, running down the middle of the island.

Getting There & Around

There are daily boats from Saphan Plaa to Ko Phayam’s pier at around 9am and 2pm (150B, 1½ to two hours). From Ko Phayam back to Ranong the boats run at 8am and 1pm. During the high season there may be three runs daily. Long-tail boat charters to the island cost 1500B to 2000B. A charter too Chang is around 1,250B.

Motorcycle taxis provide the transport around Ko Phayam; there are no cars or trucks (yet), and roads are pleasantly motorcyclesized. A ride to your bungalow will cost 50B to 100B. Walking is possible but distances are long – it’s about 45 minutes from the pier to Ao Khao Fai, the nearest bay.

Motorcycle rentals are available at Oscar’s, the only bar in Ko Phayam’s village – you can’t miss it. Some of the bigger guesthouses might be able to arrange rentals, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010


The first piece in the Andaman’s puzzle of curvy coastal provinces is Thailand’s least populated region and also its most rainy, logging in with up to eight months of showers per year. As a result, Ranong’s forests are lush and green (although it’s swampy near the coastline and mainland beaches are almost nonexistent).

Most people only visit Ranong during their visa run to Victoria Point; those who stick around seek out the relaxing vibe on Ko Chang and Ko Phayam.


On the eastern bank of the Sompaen River’s turbid, tea-brown estuary, the frontier town of Ranong is no more than a short boat ride or a filthy swim – from Myanmar. This border town par excellence (shabby, frenetic, ever so slightly seedy) has a thriving Burmese population (keep an eye out for men wearing traditional longyi; Burmese sarong), a clutch of mildly interesting (and stinky) hot springs, and a handful of tumbledown historic buildings.

An increasing number of travellers are showing up specifically to dive the spectacular
Burma Banks (in the Mergui Archipelago), 60km north of the Surin Islands. A number of dive operators have established themselves in Ranong (which does lend the city a pinch of an expat feel), using it as a jumping-off point for live-aboard trips.

Sights & Activities

Ranong is rural Thailand’s version of a spa town – stinky and charmless. You can sample the waters at Wat Tapotaram, where Ranong Mineral Hot Springs offers pools hot enough to boil an egg (65°C). Like the three bears of Goldilocks fame, the names of the three springs translate as Father Spring, Mother Spring and Baby Spring, and each has its own distinct smell (all horrid). The spring water is thought to be sacred, as well as having miraculous healing powers.


Live-aboard diving trips run from Ranong to world-class bubble-blowing destinations including the Burma Banks (Mergui Archipelago) and the Surin and Similan islands.
Prices start at around 16,000B for a four-day package. Several operators in Khao Lak ( p641 ) are starting up live-aboard services to the stunning Burma Banks.

Eating & Drinking

On Th Kamlangsap, not far from Hwy 4, is a night market with several food stalls selling great Thai dishes at low prices; across the street is a modest noodle stand. The day market, on Th Ruangrat towards the southern end of town, offers inexpensive Thai and Burmese meals, as well as fresh produce, fish and meats. A cluster of decent eateries can also be found at the northern end of Th Ruangrat.

Getting There & Away


Ranong airport is 20km south of town, off Hwy 4. Air Asia ( has three or four flights to Bangkok (one way around 1900B) per week.


The bus terminal is on Th Phetkasem towards the southern end of town, though some buses stop in town before proceeding to the terminal. Sŏrng·tăa·ou (also spelt săwngthăew; pick-up truck) 2 (blue) passes the terminal. Bus services include Bangkok (220B to 700B, 10 hours), Chumphon (120B to 150B, three hours), Hat Yai (410B to 430B, five hours), Krabi (190B to 220B, six hours), Phuket (180B to 250B, 5½ hours) and Surat Thani (100B to 200B, 4½ hours).

Getting Around

Motorcycle taxis will take you almost anywhere in town for 20B, to the hotels along Th Phetkasem for 25B and to the pier for boats to Ko Chang, Ko Phayam and Myanmar for 50B. Pon’s Place can assist with motorcycle and car rentals.

KO CHANG เกาะช้าง

If you’re looking for the big Ko Chang, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if your suitcase is overflowing with novels and you’re seeking a silent stretch of sand on which to read them, then welcome! Unlike most of the Andaman’s islands, Ko Chang enjoys its back-to basics kinda lifestyle – there are no ATMs, no internet and no rush to acquire them.

When you’re done with your book, spend your time exploring the island’s tiny village ‘capital’ (and we use that word lightly), or wind your way around on one of the dirt trails. Sea eagles, Andaman kites and hornbills all nest here, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of them floating above the mangroves.

Bungalow operators can arrange boat trips to Ko Phayam and other nearby islands for around 200B per person (including lunch) in a group of six or more. Dive trips are also possible. Aladdin Dive Cruise, on Ko Chang, runs PADI courses and offers a range of live-aboard dive safaris.

Friday, May 7, 2010



Some call Patong a city, we call it a sight. You say you love Patong’s frenzy of neon lights? Great! You hate it? We’re not surprised – Phuket’s capital of hedonism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You see, we measure globalisation in Patong by Starbucks rather than 7-Elevens, so that perfect slice of sandy paradise you saw on a poster on your travel agent’s wall is somewhere else on the island. But don’t get us wrong, even though this beachside wonderland is a testament to unchecked tourism instead of paradise with a capital ‘P’, it is definitely a must see. Besides the much-talked-about unsavoury tourism, Patong promises smiles with colourful cabarets , endless shopping, boisterous boxing rings, watersports, see-and-beseen resorts and amazing dining options from hot tin shacks to schmancy high-end eats.

เมืองภูเก็ต, ภูเก็ต

Long before boardshorts or flip-flops, Phuket was an island of rubber trees, tin mines and cash-hungry merchants. Attracting entrepreneurs from as far away as the Arabian Peninsula, China, India and Portugal, Phuket Town was a colourful blend of cultural influences, cobbled together by tentative compromise and cooperation. After a visit to Phuket Town you can put a tick in the culture category of your Phuket checklist. If you’re interested in staying longer, there are plenty of quality places to spend the night, not to mention a heap of great eating options if you’re spending the day.

Phuket’s historic
Sino-Portuguese architecture is the town’s most evocative sight:
stroll along Ths Thalang, Dibuk, Yaowarat, Ranong, Phang-Nga, Rasada and Krabi for a glimpse of some of the best buildings on offer. The most magnificent examples in town are the
Standard Chartered Bank, Thailand’s oldest foreign bank; the THAI office; and the old post office building, which now houses the Phuket Philatelic Museum, a first stop for stamp boffins. The best-restored residential properties are found along Th Dibuk and Th Thalang.

Phuket Philatelic Museum

Phuket’s main
day market is worth a wander and is the spot to invest in the requisite Thai and Malay sarongs, as well as baggy Shan fishermen’s pants.

The new
Phuket Thai Hua Museum, set in an old Sino-Portuguese home, celebrates the town’s Chinese heritage. It consists mostly of old and new black-and-white photographs and runs on donations.

A handful of Chinese temples inject some added colour into the area. Most are standard issue, but the Shrine of the Serene Light tucked away at the end of a 50m alley near the Bangkok Bank of Commerce on Th Phang-Nga, is a cut above the rest. You’ll see Taoist etchings on the walls, the vaulted ceiling stained from incense plumes, and the altar is always alive with fresh flowers and burning candles. The shrine, which has been restored, is said to have been built by a local family in the mid-1880s, and the sense of history is tangible.

The namesake of the Phra Phitak Chyn Pracha Mansion used to own a number of tin mines in the early 20th century. Today the ochre-tinged house sits forlorn, in need of a Thai Scarlett O’Hara (it certainly has the grounds for it). The iron gates are open, so proceed at your own risk. If you do breach the threshold, and dogs bark, don’t worry as they’re probably just growling at the ghosts.


Phuket has many centres for Buddhist worship; just remember to ditch your beach clothes before stepping on temple grounds. Donations are warmly accepted at all wát.

One of our favourite wát on Phuket,
Wat Chalong is a bustling, tiered temple with 36 Buddhas that are seated, reclining or meditating on the first two floors. Concrete serpents line the banisters and the lotus pond outside. It’s not an antique, but it does have a heady spiritual vibe, especially when worshippers come to pay their respects.

Located near Thalang Town,
Wat Phra Thong is known as the ‘Temple of the Gold Buddha’. The image is half-buried so that only the head and shoulders are visible above ground. According to local legend, those who have tried to excavate the image have become gravely ill soon after. The temple is particularly revered by Thai Chinese, many of whom believe the image hails from China. During Chinese New Year the temple is an important focus for Phang-Nga and Krabi provinces. In addition to Phra Thong, there are several other Buddhas, including seven representing the different days of the week, plus a Phra Praket (an unusual pose in which the Buddha is touching his own head).

Although the architecture is rather uninspiring,
Wat Nai Han is a working monastery, so if you show up at dawn you can watch, or even join in, as the monks chant scripture. Just make sure to ask permission from a monk the day before.

Set back from the road,
Wat Karon is a relatively new temple complex with a small shine occupied by a seated, black-stone Buddha. Behind it is the striking crematorium with its tiered roof – which only opens on ceremonial days. The grounds are lush with banana, palm and mango trees.


The reigning granddaddy of Thailand beach vacations, Phuket Province features one giant island – the Andaman’s drop zone of quintessential tropical fun.


The island of Phuket has long been misunderstood. First of all, the ‘h’ is silent. Ahem. And second, Phuket doesn’t feel like an island at all. It’s so huge (it’s the biggest in the country) that you never really get the sense that you’re surrounded by water, which is probably the reason why the ‘Ko’ (meaning ‘island’) was dropped from its name. Dubbed the ‘pearl of the Andaman’ by savvy marketing execs, this is Thailand’s original flavour of tailor-made fun in the sun.

Phuket’s beating heart can be found in Patong. Located halfway down the western
coast, Thailand’s ‘sin city’ is the ultimate gong show where podgy beach-aholics sizzle like rotisserie chickens and gogo girls play ping-pong…without paddles…

These days, however, Phuket’s affinity to luxury far outshines any of the island’s other stereotypes; jet-setters come through in droves, getting pummelled during swanky spa sessions and swigging sundowners at one of the many fashion-forward nightspots. But you don’t have to be an heiress or an Oscar-winner to tap into Phuket’s trendy to-do list. There’s deep-sea diving, high-end dining, soda-white beaches that beckon your book and blanket – whatever your heart desires. Visitors never say phuket to Phuket.


Phuket has always had a reputation for welcoming foreigners. After all, Indian merchants founded Phuket Town in the 1st century BC. Ptolemy, a Greek geographer who visited in the 3rd century AD, tabbed it ‘Jang Si Lang’, which later became ‘Jung Ceylon’, the name you’ll find on ancient maps of Thailand (it’s also the name of the unavoidably massive shopping complex in Patong, )

Among Phuket’s original locals were nowextinct primitive tribes similar to Malaysia’s surviving Semang pygmies. They lived in triple-canopy virgin rainforest and survived by hunting and eating jungle fruits and roots.Meanwhile, the nomadic chow lair populated the coastal areas of Phuket, living off the sea’s spoils.

In the 16th century, copious lodes of tin inspired Portuguese, French and British traders to set up makeshift colonies. A century later the British contemplated using Phuket as a base in order to control the vital Strait of Malacca. They sent Captain Francis Light to scout it out, where he was swept up in Phuket’s most important historical event.

The year was 1785, and Burma and Thailand were locked in a series of wars for regional supremacy. Thai soldiers had repelled Burmese forces from Phuket a year earlier, but now the Burmese were returning in an enormous fleet. Captain Light spotted them and alerted the governor’s office. But the governor had recently passed away, so his wife, Kunying Jan, took charge. She and her sister, Mook, assembled the forces, and, according to legend, disguised the local women as male soldiers, which made Phuket’s military manpower seem invincible to the Burmese scouts. They attacked anyway, but quickly lost heart and left after a short siege. King Rama I awarded Kunying Jan with the royal title of ‘Thao Thep Kasattri’, and she and her sister are honoured with the
Heroines Monument at the Thalang roundabout.

Heroines Monument

In the early 19th century the tin-mining boom took Phuket by storm and attracted thousands of Chinese labourers. The Chinese brought their culinary and spiritual traditions with them, and when they intermarried among the Thai, a new culture was born. The first and future generations of the ethnic Thai-Chinese are also known as the Baba people.Although their roots were in the mines, many Baba descendents became merchants. They built up Phuket Town, erecting enormous homes with Portuguese and Chinese accents. Tin, along with rubber, remained the dominant industry in Phuket until the 1970s, when the beachcombers began arriving en masse after Club Med invested in Hat Kata and Thai Airways began offering daily flights from Bangkok.

Tourism remained strong until the tsunami hit on 26 December 2004. On Phuket, 250 people died as Patong, Kamala, Kata, Karon, Nai Thon and Nai Yang all suffered major damage. As a result, Phuket’s economy briefly suffered, but in 2006 resort development skyrocketed
once more.


Phuket’s stunning west coast, scalloped by its trademark sandy bays, faces the crystal Andaman Sea. The island’s quieter east coast features gnarled mangroves rather than silky sand. Patong, about halfway down the west coast, is the eye of the tourist storm, while Phuket
Town, in the southeast part of the Phuket, is the provincial capital. Phuket International Airport is in the northern part of the island, while most longdistance buses arrive and depart in Phuket Town. For information on getting around the island. We have organised Phuket’s sleeping section to follow the island’s natural geography. Listings start with the northern beaches (from south of Hat Nai Thon down to Hat Kamala), moving south to Patong, then the
southern beaches (Karon, Kata, Nai Han and Rawai), and finally the inland Phuket Town. The island’s eating section is organised in a similar manner.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Wounds take a long time to heal, but Phang-Nga is finally on the mend. It’s been five years since the tsunami and, although the tales are still being told here, there’s a palpable sense of progress as hot spots like Khao Lak return to the well-trodden backpacker route. From November to April the water is very clear, the sun shines and soda-white beaches beckon. In the rainy season, however, many places shut down and the area can feel a bit haunted. Offshore, the Surin and Similan island marine national parks harbour some of the world’s top diving destinations.


Welcome to Jurassic Park – you can almost hear the theme song playing in surround sound while you pass between the soaring karst formations. Add a prancing T Rex and Thailand’s first protected preserve would

be a dead ringer for Crichton’s prehistoric Disneyland. This dripping juicy jungle is part of the oldest rainforest in the world, where snakes, monkeys and tigers mingle within the tangle of lazy vines.

Although technically part of Surat Thani Province, Khao Sok National Park (0 7739 5025;; admission 400B) is much closer to the Andaman Sea, and possesses the classic Andaman topography: signature ferny cliffs that shoot straight up into the air like crocodile teeth.

Sights & Activities

Khao Sok’s vast terrain makes it one of the last viable habitats for
large mammals requiring large areas in order to subsist. During the wetter months you may happen upon bears, boars, gaurs, tapirs, gibbons, deer, wild elephants and perhaps even a tiger. There are also over 180 species of bird, as well as the world’s largest flower, the rare Rafflesia kerrii. Found only in Khao Sok, these giant flowers can reach 80cm in diameter. It has no roots or leaves of its own; instead it lives parasitically inside the roots of the liana, a jungle vine.

The stunning
Chiaw Lan Lake sits about an hour’s drive east of the visitor centre. The lake was created in 1982 by an enormous shale-clay dam called Ratchaprapha (Kheuan Ratchaprapha or Kheuan Chiaw Lan). The limestone outcrops protruding from the lake reach a height of 960m, over three times higher than the formations in the Phang-Nga area.

A cave known as Tham Nam Thalu contains striking limestone formations and subterranean streams, while Tham Si Ru features four converging passageways used as a hideout by communist insurgents between 1975 and 1982. The caves can be reached on foot from the southwestern shore of the lake. You can rent boats from local fishermen to explore the coves, canals, caves and cul-de-sacs along the lakeshore. Elephant trekking, kayaking and rafting are popular park activities. The hiking is also excellent, and you can arrange park tours from any guesthouse – just be sure you get a certified guide (they wear an official badge). Various hiking trails from the visitors centre lead to the waterfalls of
Sip-Et Chan (4km), Than Sawan (9km) and Than Kloy (9km), among other destinations.

Getting There & Around

Khao Sok is about 100km from Surat Thani. Transport to the park by minivan from Surat Thani (80B, one hour, at least twice daily) can be arranged through most travel agents in Surat, but be aware that some minivan companies work with specific bungalow outfitters and will try to convince you to stay at that place. Otherwise, from the Surat Thani area you can catch a bus going towards Takua Pa –you’ll be getting off well before hitting this destination (tell the bus driver ‘Khao Sok’). You can also come from the west coast by bus, but you’ll have to go to Takua Pa first. Buses from Takua Pa to the park (25B, one hour, nine daily) drop you off on the highway,1.8km from the visitor centre. If guesthouse touts don’t meet you, you’ll have to walk to
your chosen guesthouse (from 50m to 2km). The roads within the main parts of the park are well paved, so personal vehicles will have no problems getting around.

To arrive at Chiaw Lan Lake, go east on Rte 401 from the visitor centre and take the turnoff between the Km52 and Km53 markers, at Ban Takum. It’s another 14km to the lake. If you don’t have your own wheels, you’ll have to bus it to Ban Takum, then hope to hitch a ride to the lake. The best option without private transport would be to join a tour, which any guesthouse can arrange for 1,000B (2,000B to 2,500B with an overnight stay).

เขาหลัก /บางเนียง / นางทอง

Khao Lak is a one-horse town. And that lone horse is a one-trick pony. Diving drives the
economy here, and beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot to do – sure, the beach is nice, but the reefs are nicer. These days, the big draw is live-aboard diving trips, which explore the stunning Similan and Surin Archipelagos. The air in Khao Lak is thick with anticipation as visitors gear up to swim with the fishes.

เมืองพังงา /อ่าวพังงา

In Phang-Nga, it’s extremely easy to tell the difference between a tourist and a local – tourists are looking up. Jaw-dropping limestone rock towers stretch towards the afternoon clouds, leaving visitors almost as awestruck as when they see a local going about their business completely unfazed by the region’s ethereal gifts. It’s hard not to stop dead in one’s tracks and gaze at these crags for hours – the blend of soda-white sand and jagged stone is intoxicating.

A cameo in The Man with the Golden Gun has lured loads of James Bond fanatics and spy wannabes out to this serene realm, which has prompted the government to step
in and protect the land under a national park mandate. The area is lacking in quality
accommodation, so it may be best to visit on a day trip – there are heaps of tours out of Phuket and Khao Lak; ask at any of the local travel agencies. Most trips are advertised
on chalkboards and posters as ‘trips to James Bond Island’. Tours start at around 550B depending on season and demand.

Sa Nang Manora Forest Park วนอุธยาน สระนางมโนราห์

The fairyland setting at this beautiful and little-visited park (admission free) is nothing short
of fantastic. Moss-encrusted roots and rocks,dense rainforest and rattan vines provide a
delicious backdrop for swimming in pools beneath multilevel waterfalls. The park’s name comes from a local folk belief that the mythical Princess Manora bathes in the pools when no one else is around.

Primitive trails meander along (and at times through) the falls, climbing level after level, and seem to go on forever – you could easily get a full day’s hiking in without walking along the same path twice. Bring plenty of drinking water – although the
shade and the falls moderate the temperature, the humidity in the park is quite high. Facilities include some picnic tables, plus a small restaurant.

To get here, catch a motorcycle taxi from Phang-Nga (50B). If you have your own wheels, head north out of town on Hwy 4, go 3.2km past the Shell petrol station, then turn left and go down a curvy road another 4km.


When travellers talk about the amazing Andaman, they are probably talking about Krabi, with its trademark karst formations curving along the coast like a giant limestone fortress. Rock climbers will find their nirvana in Railay, while castaway wannabes should head to Ko Lanta, Ko Phi-Phi or any of the other 150 islands swimming off the bleach-blonde shores.

KRABI TOWN (กระบี่)

Most travellers just breeze through Krabi’s gridiron of travel agencies, optical shops and knickknack shacks, using the provincial capital as a jumping-off point for wonderful surrounding destinations – Ko Lanta to the south, Ko Phi-Phi to the southwest and Railay to the west. The town sits on the western bank of Mae Nam Krabi, about 1,000 km from Bangkok and 180 km from Phuket. The eastern bank of the river is covered in dense mangroves and north of town are the twin limestone massifs of Khao Khanap Nam, which emerge from the water like breaching whales. The population is mainly Taoist-Confucian and Muslim, and Krabi is an important transport hub for ferries to the islands along the coast.

Orientation & Information

Th Utarakit is the main road into and out of Krabi and most places of interest are on the soi that branch off it. Ferries to Ko Phi-Phi and Ko Lanta leave from a passenger jetty at Khlong Chilat, about 5 km north of town. Krabi’s bus terminal is north of the centre at Talat Kao, near the junction of Th Utarakit. The airport is 17km south. Many of Krabi’s guesthouses and restaurants offer internet access for 40B to 60B per hour. There are numerous banks and ATMs.

Sights & Activities

Thailand has a lot of wát, but Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Cave Temple), in the forest 8 km northeast of Krabi, is unique. The main hall is built

into a long, shallow limestone cave. On either side of the cave, dozens of gùđì (monks’ cells) are built into various cliffs and caves. The large cave features portraits of Ajahn Jamnien Silasettho (the wát’s abbot, who had quite a cult following) and close-up pictures of human entrails and internal organs, which are meant to remind guests of the impermanence of the body. Skulls and skeletons scattered around the grounds are meant to serve the same educational purpose. Troops of hungry monkeys liven the awkward silences. Private taxis to the wát from Krabi cost 250B each way; túk-túks charge about 200B.