Backpacker Guide to Southern Thailand

In the south of Thailand you will find the popular destinations of Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, and Phuket. These areas are well known among foreign tourists and are convenient destinations to travel given the number of both domestic and international flights to Krabi and Phuket. If you are looking for a relatively developed destination that still offers beautiful scenery, great beaches, and a touch of Thai culture, this may be the region for you.

Boat Trip in the Adaman Sea

I personally think that Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, and Phuket are better suited for families and retirees than backpackers, but that does not necessarily mean that they are not worth a short visit. If you look hard enough, there are some gems hidden amongst the large resorts, hotels, shopping malls, and tourist streets.

Krabi / Ko Lanta / Ko Phi Phi

Although Krabi is a town, most of the best beaches and resorts are found in Krabi province and when people talk about Krabi, they are usually talking about Krabi province or Ao Nang, which is the most popular beach close to Krabi town. Krabi hosts an international airport which makes it an easy destination to get to and since it hosts over 130 islands, there are plenty of areas to explore. Some of the most popular places to head in the Krabi area include Ao Nang, Ko Lanta, and Ko Phi Phi.

Ao Nang is a former backpacker hotspot which is getting more and more commercially developed and westernized. Ao Nang is around 40 minutes from the Krabi airport and thus many tourists will refer to Ao Nang as “Krabi” when talking about the Ao Nang area. Ao Nang makes a good base for accommodation as there are loads of options, from budget to luxury, and it is easy to get out to the cliffs or beaches of Rai Leh and Phi Phi on day trips.

Ko Lanta is less busy than Ko Phi Phi and Ao Nang which makes it a nice destination if you want to get away from the party. Ko Lanta actually consists of a number of islands but Ko Lanta Yai or “Big Lanta” is the main area where tourists stay. Ko Lanta is not as close to Krabi airport as Ao Nang or Ko Phi Phi, but it is a nice place to get away from the crowds and offers a more ‘cultural’ experience than the more Westernized parts of Krabi province. When I was in Ko Lanta, it was possible to find a number of family run accommodations, whereas in Krabi the ownership tends to be more corporate.

Ko Phi Phi is a beautiful Marine National Park that was always popular because of how easy it is to get to from both Phuket and Krabi, but it became even more touristic after its use as a film location in Leonardo DeCaprio’s movie “The Beach”. Ko Phi Phi is actually an archipelago of six islands and hosts wonderful marine life and beaches. Unfortunately, with time, Ko Phi Phi has become increasingly commercialized, but it is still beautiful and absolutely worth a visit if you are in the area.

Activities

In my opinion, the best thing to do in Krabi or Ko Phi Phi is to get out and see the scenery of the Adaman Sea. Whether that involves joining a sailing, snorkeling, or diving boat or signing up for a tour and going rock climbing, kayaking, kiteboarding, or even cliff jumping, the important thing is to get out and see the islands. The views are phenomenal and you will certainly get some screensaver worthy photos to remind you of your travel adventures when you return home.

The Beautiful Thai Coastline

The most memorable experience from my time in the area was a boat trip around the islands of Had Chao Mai National Park. The highlight of the trip for me was when I swam through Morakot Cave (Emerald Cave) into a beautiful secluded beach in the middle of a rock with cliff faces all around us. Amazing!

Phuket

Phuket is the Disney World of Thailand. There are lots of commercial developments in the area including Western style shopping malls, aquariums, crocodile farms, nature safaris, Elephant shows, and of course, world renowned Patong party beach.

Thai Beachside Fire Show

Phuket is slightly more expensive than other places in Thailand due to its popularity among Western tourists, but you should still be able to find all standards of accommodation, restaurants, and bars, including budget dives to 5-star luxury.

Activities

I believe that if you go to Phuket you have to be willing to embrace the commercialized nature of the area and take in the shows and attractions. I only spent a couple of nights in Phuket, but I did splurge on going to the Phuket FantaSea show, which was honestly just like a Las Vegas style theatrical show with dancers, pyrotechnics, and magicians. It was certainly entertaining and probably worth the steep price of admission, but probably not the type of thing I would normally want to travel to Thailand for since the same types of shows are available all over the world.

Phuket FantaSea

Palace of the Elephants Theater

For a more nature-oriented experience, there are numerous opportunities for snorkeling, sailing, and scuba diving off the coast. However, due to the amount of tourism in the area I would strongly encourage you to seek out eco-friendly tour operators to make sure you do your part to avoid any further environmental impact to the region.

Beautiful Adaman Sea Islands

2 Comments on “Backpacker Guide to Southern Thailand

  1. Hello Dave, our daughter Charlene gave me your blog address as Wayne and I are planning a trip to Thiland this winter. Our first stop will be Chiang Mai for 8 days then off to Bangkok for 8 days. From Bangkok we will have 5 weeks to explore the south of Thiland. I am researching places to visit however have not booked any accommodation as yet. Any help you can give us would be most appreciated. Thanks for your insight and any suggestions you may have for us.

    • Hi Lynn, thanks for reading! This post is a bit old and in need of an update as Thailand has continued to develop more and more making some places that used to be potentially worthwhile destinations (Krabi, Phuket, Phi Phi) less than enjoyable now. For the South of Thailand I still really like Koh Tao and Koh Lanta. Even they can be developed and busy but it’s much easier to find that good vibe that Thailand is known for – as well as great beaches!

      Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be but there’s a wide variety of options when it comes to accommodations. If you really want to get away from it all, there are a number of great islands that can be reached from Ko Lanta though infrastructure is not as good as it is around the long beach area.

      I still love Bangkok though it can be a little intimidating at first. One really cool area that I recently discovered thanks to a friend is Soi Nana in China Town (there are a few Soi Nanas so be sure the taxi driver knows). There are exceptional restaurants, bars and cafes along this street and the feel of ‘old Bangkok’ still remains. You can even stay in a room above one of the restaurants which I think would be great for a night or two: https://www.ba-hao.com/

      My favourite memories of Chiang Mai are the blues and jazz bars. I know things have developed since I was there but I’m sure you can still find great live music.

      If you have any specific questions please let me know. Thailand is quite easy to travel and enjoy so I’m sure you’ll have a great trip!

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