Searching for the best beaches in Thailand

We delayed our visit to Thailand after realising the weather looked appalling and the monsoon season was lingering, causing flooding, landslides and a state of emergency…yet a month later the forecast was still predicting days of heavy rain. We didn’t want to wait any longer so we risked it and flew to Phuket. Less than an hour before we landed the pilot announced that we would be arriving to sunny weather which we were absolutely shocked to hear but our doubts were confirmed as rain splashed across our windows when the plane cruised above a beach towards the landing strip. It felt good to be back though, just hearing the locals speak put a smile on our faces. Thai is a tonal language and they make all sorts of delightful sounds like they’re singing a song through their nose and throat. We ran across the road in the pouring rain and waded through the flooded carpark to get onto our bus. It ran hourly and cost just 100 baht which is about £2.50. The journey to Kata Beach took three hours which is much longer than a taxi, but at such a cheap price we certainly weren’t complaining. We managed to get a good deal on a room which was spotlessly clean, spacious and comfortable with air conditioning and a balcony for £14 a night. Oh how our room quality has gone up since we first arrived in Bangkok back in 2009, staying in grim hostels. No matter which cheap place we stayed in it always seemed to have a drunk tourist that outstayed their visa and terrified everyone during the night with violent threats.

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It’s our 5th visit to Thailand but we didn’t have much of a plan this time, our main goal was to eat lots of delicious Thai food, visit some islands and beaches, plan our next travel destination and hopefully keep our budget down after spending so much in Africa. Our hotel was based up a quiet street, strategically positioned between Kata and Karon beaches. I’d read to avoid Patong beach further north as it’s extremely tacky and has a big party vibe. It was busy all over the island though and everyone seemed to be Russian…literally like everyone in Russia had come to Phuket island. I hate it when one nationality dominates the tourist numbers, it’s much nicer when there’s a mix of many nationalities. A bit like all the British people that have taken over Benidorm…not my cup of tea at all. We went to both Kata and Karon beaches and neither impressed us, to be fair we’ve had that opinion for most beaches in Thailand though. They tend to have beige sand instead of white and the sea is rarely clear and Phuket was no exception. In the end we decided to spend most of our days relaxing at our hotel pool which had crystal clear water, comfy beds and best of all almost no other people. Except for a few heavy down pours and thunderstorms where lightning flashed like a strobe light and the rumble of thunder shook our hotel room, we had have mostly sunny weather.

We enjoyed lots of our favourite Thai meals, particularly the curries which were all delicious but varied drastically in spice level from medium to off the fucking charts. Some were so spicy that I had to carefully take each mouthful so I didn’t let the deadly liquid touch my lips. I was starting to understand why Thai people use the Bum-Gun (a b-day style hose) instead of toilet paper, it’s literally to extinguish the flames that come out your arse the following morning. The only sightseeing we did was a walk up to the Big Buddha through the jungle. It was unbearably hot and sweaty as we climbed up a steep muddy track, pulling ourselves up with ropes whilst getting swarmed by mosquitos. At the top we were greeted by a humongous, white, Buddha statue with steps leading up. Women had to cover their knees and shoulders so I wore my sarong as a skirt and could barely make it up the stairs as my legs were so sticky with sweat that the fabric just stuck to me.

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After a week on Phuket we made a plan to go to Phi Phi island. We were torn about visiting this island, it’s very touristy and we usually prefer quieter spots so we had considered going to Koh Lanta instead but I read that the beaches weren’t as nice as Phi Phi and nor was the scenery so in the end we opted to see the best of the best and suck up how busy it would be. The boat we caught took us around Phi Phi Lei island for a bit of sightseeing before we docked on the main Phi Phi Don island but the weather wasn’t great with dark overcast skies, drizzly rain and rough sea which occasionally splashed right over the deck and soaked everyone onboard.

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Phi Phi island is quite small and the village is nestled on a tiny patch of flat land between two curved bays and the rest of the island rises up in jagged limestone cliffs with jungle clinging to it. The village was absolutely destroyed during the tsunami, the giant wave came over one beach, took out the whole village and continued with the wave onto the next bay. You really couldn’t of been in a worse place, it must’ve been absolutely terrifying.

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The accomadation options were pretty appalling on the island with high prices for low quality but we managed to get a very old fashion room with a fan for £20 which was the absolout cheapest thing we could find. On the plus side the island was as beautiful as we’d been promised and what I loved about it was there was no traffic. Little lanes were packed with eateries, bars and hotels and it was only people walking along them, they didn’t even have scooters and locals used carts on wheels to transfer luggage and goods. Hooray for no honking!

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The bay to the north was quite popular with day trippers and at low tide the sea almost vanished. But we spent one afternoon there and I ended up getting into a big argument with a Spanish couple. I saw them leaving the beach and the guy put his glass bottle in a bush behind the beach. I was furious and said “you can’t just leave your rubbish there!” I was expecting him to realise he was busted, put his tail between his legs, take the bottle and apologise but this guy had the audacity to say “it’s private property and there’s loads of rubbish there anyway”. I was shocked and became absolutely enraged and said “that’s such a disgraceful attitude to have!!! It doesn’t matter if it’s private or public land or how much rubbish is already there! You have to take your own rubbish and dispose of it in a bin!”. The guy then had the cheek to say “you take it then”. I think actual steam came out my ears at that point, Craig stormed off to grab the bottle to give to him but the girlfriend ended up taking it off Craig and they walked off while I continued to shout at them saying how disgusting their behaviour was. The boyfriend ‘shhhed’ me and his girlfriend shouted back “shut the fuck up we’ve taken the bottle”. I was so angry. They shouldn’t be allowed to visit places like this if they can’t respect it. Sure there’s areas around the island which have been neglected and have a lot of rubbish on the floor but just because there’s already rubbish doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to add to it. Believe it or not, a few days later we bumped into the arseholes and the guy actually stopped us and wanted to apologise for his behaviour and thanked me for telling him off!!!! I was shocked. But he also said “it’s not like me to do that and I won’t do it again” and I didn’t really know whether to believe him because if that’s not in your nature then what made you do it and why did you act like such a prick when I told you to right your wrong. Anywaaaaay, let’s get back to island life.

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The southern bay is where the jetty is for all the ferries and the beach is lined with wooden longtail boats which just scream Thailand when you see them on a beach with their bow adorned in ribbons and flowers. We found these two beaches a bit too busy and noisy so we enjoyed walking down to the more remote beaches which only had a handful of people on them. The weather forecast was looking pretty poor for our 5 nights on the island and we were unsure when to do a boat trip to the famous Phi Phi Lei island. It’s where the movie The Beach was filmed, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and it’s one of my favourite movies and books as it’s the perfect mix of backpacker adventure and thriller. The ‘beach’ is actually called Maya Bay and due to it becoming so busy with tourists it actually closed for a few years to help the area recover. In 2022 it reopened but with new rules like a limit of 300 people at a time on the beach and no one is allowed to swim in the sea. To avoid sharing the beach with 300 other people we wanted to hire our own longtail boat for a three hour trip at the cost of 1500 baht, about £37. This way we could start the trip early and avoid the crowds…we just had to pick a good day when it wasn’t pouring with rain. The first morning we woke up at 6am and the sun was just poking out between clouds…but there was no rain so we decided to just go for it! We stopped at 7/11 to buy some snacks for breakfast and headed straight for the beach lined with the longtail boats. Sure enough a captain offered us a ride and off we went, starting the trip at 6:45am.

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There’s a big tourist boat with 40 people onboard which departs each day at 6 so we weren’t going to beat that one and to be honest I didn’t want to start that early as the sun wouldn’t be high enough to make the water look nice and blue so we were happy with our decision. Phi Phi Lei had sheer walls rising straight up from the sea. To reach Maya Bay we needed to access it from the back which is also where Lo Samah Bay is. Our captain explained that we’d go to Maya first but I asked if we could do Samah Bay while no one was there. He tried to dissuade us as he knew Maya Bay would get really busy and we could do this spot afterwards but I figured there were already people at Maya Bay while Samah was deserted so we got him to pull into the cove for a view of the white sandy beach surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs and turquoise water.

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Then it was time for Maya Bay where we pulled up to a floating pontoon and captain Lid as he was called told us to photograph the boat name, when we come back in an hour we show the photo to a man working on the pontoon who megaphones the name and our captain will come and collect us. So off we went, along a trail that gets so busy they have a separator in middle so one is for entry and one is for the exit. After a short walk we arrived at the beach where there were around 40 people spread out, but it wasn’t too bad and the location was incredible! We ran down and sank our feet into the soft white sand and the beach was encircled by fabulous limestone cliffs.

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We had an hour to take in the beautiful scenery and were very grateful when the sun came out which really made the blue water pop. There were lots of reef sharks swimming close to the shore which was lovely to see, hopefully keeping people out the water will help the ecosystem continue to recover. Afterwards we were taken back to Samah Bay as apparently it’s a good spot to snorkel but it was absolutely pants with bleached coral so we swam back to the boat as we wanted to spend more time at the final stop on the island, Pileh Bay.

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Pileh Bay was a gorgeous lagoon with more dramatic cliff scenery. Captain Lid stopped the boat in the middle of the lagoon where we had about thirty minutes to cannonball into the sea. It was great fun but on one jump I stood on the plastic rim of the boat, instead of the wood and my wet foot slid down the boat deck just as I was about to launch off which meant I basically slipped off the bow and fell backwards into the sea. It was quite a spectacular fall and it was even witnessed by other people on the nearby boats who joined in with our laughter. After Pileh it was time to head back to the main island which is also extremely spectacular with very similar scenery but lacking the big lagoons and isolation.

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Sadly the next day Craig came down with food poisoning from a green curry. He was feeling absolutely rotten for days which was such a shame. Luckily we found an area on a beach where we could relax and there was a toilet nearby if he needed it. We also managed to explore some other beaches on the island like Nui Beach which is only accessible by foot or boat/kayak. It involved a walk at low tide along the rocky shoreline which was riddled with washed up rubbish. Then we followed a jungle track with ravenous mosquitos until we arrived at Loh Lana Bay. Locals lived a very simple life here in basic bamboo and wooden huts built on the shoreline where they fished and searched for shellfish at low tide. There was one more section through the jungle which was very steep and involved ropes to help us get down. The beach wasn’t quite as dreamy as I’d hoped. It would look much nicer in the morning sun but we didn’t have a choice with the tide times. There was also a shocking amount of rubbish piled up so it wasn’t quite paradise but it was still a nice spot with white sand, high cliffs and islands. Swimming was a little challenging as the sea floor with covered in rocks and dead coral so I’m not quite sure how it’s got such a good name for itself but it was a fun little adventure to get to.

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Another beach we visited which was much easier to get to was Long Beach. We arrived as a storm was brewing and we watched big black clouds move across the sky with rain spouts hitting the sea. The sun was shining on us so the water was electric blue whilst a dark mist was ahead of us…and of course it eventually came our way too. I liked Long Beach, it wasn’t too busy, the water was lovely and calm, crystal clear and a nice depth to just stand in and we could snorkel to the nearby Shark Point too which is a rock in the sea where reef sharks are regularly seen. It was a little too far out for me to swim to so I stuck to the shallows, witnessing plenty of fish including multicoloured parrot fish. Craig did manage to spot a huge reef shark though but it vanished in a matter of seconds.

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After 5 days on Phi Phi we caught a ferry back to the mainland to a town called Ao Nang. We visited nearby Krabi town back in 2009 but we were too cheap to pay for a boat trip to the nearby beaches so this time we had to see them. Craig still hadn’t recovered from his food poisoning four days ago and I woke up feeling absolutely shit with identical symptoms to him. I haven’t felt that ill since I ate a dodgy vegetarian lasagna in India. I kept feeling like I was going to throw up but the weather was fabulous with clear blue skies which is such a rarity these days so I felt like I had to push through and just go on a boat trip to the beaches. The walk to the taxi boat stand was a slow one, stopping to get bananas and plain rice and sitting down during waves of nausea.

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We eventually made it to the longtail boat and headed for Railey Beach. Due to our delay and Craig having to stop to use the toilet we didn’t arrive as early as I’d of liked but luckily it was still peaceful at 9:30am. The boat moored up on Raileys west beach which was beautiful but it was only going to get better. So we walked along a lane to Railey east beach which wasn’t much of a beach as the tide goes out really far and it’s a bit of an ugly mud-flat area at times but it was encircled by fabulous karst cliffs. But there was one more beach to go, Phra Nang Cave Beach which was absolute paradise. To access it we had to walk through a sort of open sided cave with stalactites hanging above us. Right at the entrance to the beach was a cave filled with wooden penises. It was a rather bizarre sight but locals come here to pray for fertility.

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The beach was pretty damn perfect, the sand was white, the water was clear and the limestone cliffs and islands made it look so dramatic. There was one island quite close to the shore which would of been really fun to paddleboard around but I was still fighting back the urge to throw up. But it’s safe to say we’ve achieved our goal of finding some of the best beaches in Thailand on this trip.

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Sadly we didn’t end up doing anything else in Ao Nang as I was bed-bound and Craig still wasn’t feeling good. We cancelled our plans to visit Khao Sok national park and decided to make our way back to Bangkok and fly to Taiwan, a place we’ve wanted to visit for a while now. The cooler climate sounded delightful to be honest, Thailand has been unbearably hot for us and it’s making us lazy because walking in the heat is so uncomfortable…plus after getting sick we’re both playing it safe with food so we can’t even eat our favourite thai curries.

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So we travelled to Suratthani and caught a 2nd class AC sleeper train for about £17 per person and it was so much nicer than I expected. We were both in the top bunks which are narrower than the bottom ones but I had enough space and the beds had padding!! Kind of like a mattress topper and it had a clean white sheet, pillow and a blanket, fresh from the dry cleaners. We also had curtains for privacy and the whole carriage was silent from 8pm when the beds were put up. No one even snored, which is unheard of…excuse the pun. I was dreading using the loos but even they weren’t bad. Normally they stink and the floors wet with piss and water but these were dry and smell-free. What a contrast to the trains we caught in India! I actually got some sleep which is very rare and the bed was comfier than the last hotel we stayed in where the bed felt like a slab of slate designed for the Flintstones. I was enjoying snoozing so much that the train attendant had to tell me to get up so he could pack the beds away. For the final two hours we sat in nice comfy chairs, enjoying views of the countryside.

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As soon as we arrived we hopped in a tuktuk where the driver seemed to be having a race with his friend. He was driving so fast that I thought we were going to tip over as we screeched around a tight bend. We couldn’t help but laugh though, it felt like a funfair ride and the driver was laughing too. We’ve been to Bangkok quite a few times so we weren’t planning on doing any sightseeing. It all felt quite different to our previous visits pre-covid, the famous Khao San Road, aka party street was extremely quiet during the day time, it also looked like it had been revamped and was a bit smarter, and the lanes leading around the back only had half the stalls and sellers that used to be there so I think covid really affected the area. Although things did look a little different at night and suddenly Khao San was so busy that we could barely walk down the street. The music was unbearably loud, with bars competing with each others sound systems. Locals were selling scorpions on sticks, plastic buckets with cocktails in them and balloons filled with laughing gas. It was my idea of hell to be honest. You couldn’t even have a conversation with anyone. So I guess things have gone back to normal, at least at night time. We also visited Chatuchak weekend market which is an old favourite of mine. It’s the sort of place where you can just get lost, shopping in tiny alleys and taking breaks at little food stalls. We made our way back to our hotel in a tuktuk who drove like a madman once again, plowing into a pothole at full speed. I thought we were going to crash but the driver managed to get control of the three wheeler and weirdly came to a stop. He quickly hopped out the tuktuk and said “we had an accident”. He got his torch out and showed some liquid leaking out the back of the wheel area so one of the pipes had clearly smashed as we hit the pothole. We were still a couple of kilometres from our hotel but the driver just pointed up the road, showing us the way to walk back. Now it’s time for a change of scenery and temperature as we make our way to Taiwan!

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