Oh, out of office.
There’s nothing quite like the moment you bid goodbye to the daily grind and jet off to warmer climes. But for those without the leisure of time, planning your travel itinerary can be difficult, particularly as for most two weeks off is the maximum we can wangle. With that in mind, here’s a suggested itinerary for those looking to explore Thailand’s Andaman coast in just two weeks – it might seem like a lot, but a change of scenery every few nights will make those hard-earned holiday days feel that little bit longer.
First Stop: Phuket (2 nights)
The Hush: Having flown into Phuket airport (possibly via Bangkok), you’ll be travel-weary and searching for somewhere sumptuous to rest your head. Just 15-minutes drive from the airport, Sala Phuket is the ideal first stop. Set across a swathe of sand on Phuket’s sleepy northwestern coast, it consists of dreamy pool villas with al-fresco roll-top baths and their own private pools. The setting, food and service are all top-notch and really reasonably priced.
The How: Sala will arrange for you to be picked up from the airport, as it’s such a short drive. The airline even lost our luggage which the staff chased up and ensured was delivered safely to our room on the second day.
The Hurt: Rooms at Sala Phuket start from £150 per night, transfers and a ludicrously delicious breakfast included, cocktails and spicy Thai scallops extra, but highly recommended.
Koh Lak and the Similan Islands (1 night)
The Hush: A smattering of sand-fringed specks in the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands are a diver’s dream. As day-tripping snorkellers from Phuket arrive in the middle of the day, the very best way to experience the crystal clear waters of this beautiful island archipelago is to stay the night on a live-a-board dive boat. That way you can enjoy a sunrise snorkel, leave the first footprints in deserted icing-sugar sand and lie out on deck under a sky full of stars.
The How: From Sala, it’s about an hour’s drive north of Phuket along the West coast to the fishing village of Khao Lak. From here, it’s a choppy 90-minute speedboat journey out to the islands where you’ll transfer to the bigger dive boat. If you aren’t staying on a live-aboard, the only place to stay overnight is in tents or bungalows provided by the Similan National Marine Park on land- not for the faint of heart, with ravenous mosquitos and the creepiest of crawlies. After umming and ahhing over reviews we went with Khao Lak Explorer. Our trip was organised brilliantly by Sylvain who even arranged for my partner to do his PADI referral course. We met them at the pier but if you’re staying in Khao Lak they’ll arrange to pick you up from your hotel.
The Hurt: We paid 14500THB (£290) per person for 2 days 1 night in the master cabin, including 6 amazing dives, all food, transfers, equipment rental and an individual dive guide. The transfer from Sala to Khao Lak was around £30.
Krabi (3 nights)
The Hush: If you’re dreaming of traditional Thai scenery – lofty limestone plinths astride a sweep of silver sand, Railay Beach is what you’re thinking of. But beautiful as it may be, this is not the place you want to stay. If you want to see the best of Krabi’s scenery away from the crowds, your best bet is Nakamanda, a beachfront hotel about 20 minutes taxi from Ao Nang – the hectic long-boat drop-off point for Railay. While you’re in the area – venture inland for an elephant experience. Having researched extensively we booked the bathing tour here – a small camp with just 4 or so elephants, who seemed to be very well treated.
The How: We took a taxi from Khao Lak to Nakamanda across the Thailand’s lofty jungle interior – which took around 3 hours. Ok, so we didn’t research this one too well – but the scenery along the drive was worth it. You could also head back to Phuket (1 hour) and take the ferry from Phuket to Ao Nang, but it works out at about the same time in total. For Railay beach, head to Ao Nang by Taxi from Nakamanda, and catch a longtail boat over for a few baht. Be sure to catch one back before the dusk rush!
The Hurt: Elephant trekking is 900Baht for an adult- bring a few extra baht for bananas! They picked us up from our hotel in the back of an open-top 4×4 and drove us the hour or so into the jungle. The Taxi from Khao Lak to Nakamanda cost £80 after some bartering.
Koh Lanta (4 nights)
The Hush: If it’s the Thailand of twenty years ago you’re looking for – Koh Lanta is not to be missed. A secluded slice of paradise that’s remained relatively unscathed by the growth that’s consumed its more westerly and easily-reachable cousins, this is barefoot bohemian beauty with a relaxed, rustic vibe that’s just the right amount of fun.
The How: In the north of the island, stay at Lazy Days Bungalows or the Layana if you’re looking for something adults-only and a bit more upmarket. To the South, Phra Nang Lanta – a lovely little hotel within stumbling distance of Why Not Bar and right on the beach, with seriously seductive views from our balcony. If you’re looking to do some diving – go find Sunny at the wonderful ScubaFish in Kiantiang Bay.
The Hurt: We got the Ferry from Ao Nang Pier in Krabi (departing 10.30, arriving 12.45) for 500 baht which was pretty pleasant. Definitely preferable to the glacially slow car journey we took on the way back. You can buy tickets online here or on the same day from the ticket office – but this only runs November to April so be sure to check the schedule.We stayed at Lazy Days Beach Bungalows in a beachfront bungalow for around £50 a night, and you can rent a scooter from pretty much any hotel or hostel for $150 baht a day. You won’t need a drivers licence but you may have to pay a deposit.
Koh Yao Noi (3 nights)
The Hush: With just a handful of restaurants and one or two high-end hotels, the island of Koh Yao Noi is where laid-back island life meets understated luxury. We stayed at the Koyao Island Resort – serene wooden bungalows with retractable walls opening out onto a stretch of silken sand, backed by the perfectly placed limestone plinths of Phang Nga Bay. Don’t miss drinks next door at the Six Senses Hilltop Bar.
The How: We took the ferry from Koh Lanta back to Ao Nang (2 hours) and from there, a 40-minute speedboat to Koh Yao Noi. Depending on the time of year and timetable, you may have to move the schedule around a bit, and it is possible to go directly from Lanta to Phuket and then Phuket to Yao Noi, which is only a little longer but much more expensive.
The Hurt: The ferry from Koh Lanta to Ao Nang is 580 Baht, while from Ao Nang to Yao Noi is around 700 Baht. Rooms at Koyao Island Resort start from around £140 per night, including breakfast. Drinks at Six Senses are on the expensive side, but the view – priceless.
Back to Phuket (1 night)
The Hush: See off your final night in style at Anantara – a splurge-worthy luxury hotel on Phuket’s tranquil northwestern coast, just 20 minutes from the airport. Indulge in your own private walled villa with glass sided al-fresco bath tub, soaring curtain-draped mahogany bed and huge private pool, before returning to normality.
The How: Take a speedboat from Koh Yao Noi to Phuket – request that someone from Anantara picks you up at the pier as you’ll have to drive across to the other side of Phuket island.
The Hurt: Rooms at Anantara start at a not unreasonable £290 per night, particularly given the incredible standard. The ferry from Yao Noi costs around 700 baht, and transfers were included.
Hope this guide was useful in planning your trip to Thailand’s Andaman Coast! Would love to hear your suggestions too.