From gorgeous palm-lined beaches and the ideal snorkelling and diving areas of Krabi, Phuket and Ko Samui to mountains, lush nature and golden cultural treasures in Chiang Mai. In this blog post, travel journalist Claudia Jörg-Brosche takes us with her to the most beautiful regions of Thailand. Welcome to the "Land of Smiles"!
#Pure nature on Krabi
Our colourful long-tail boat skips happily across the water, its bow rising and falling in sync with the rolling waves. Choppy seas prevent us from going to the tiny island of Ko Hong like we’d planned, so we’re headed for the Ko Poda island group. "It’s just as beautiful there", says Ukrit as he guides our boat.
That’s fine by us – all we want is a secluded beach and beautiful coral reefs for snorkelling, which Krabi has in abundance: the surrounding area boasts four national parks with scads of picture-perfect uninhabited islands.
We first move along the Andaman Sea coast, itself a grandiose backdrop: vertical and overhanging limestone cliffs – frighteningly undercut by the water here and there – tower above the shimmering, deep-blue sea and sport bizarrely eroded rock formations. Ukrit tells us: "The cliffs at Railay Beach are famous among rock climbers. There are 700 marked climbing routes, and some of them go up 300-metre stalactites to the roofs of gigantic caves."
What interests us, however, is what’s underwater. And looming up ahead is our destination: Ko Kai. Its name means "Chicken Island" – which evokes a smile. Without a second thought, we put on our flippers and masks and swing ourselves over the boat’s gunwales and into the warm water.
Relaxed and weightless, we move through colourful schools of fish, all but forgetting space and time. Meanwhile, Ukrit and his team prepare a picnic on the beach. And we wonder: Is the hilly, tropical Chicken Island named for the delicious chicken satay or for its silhouette – which really is a bit reminiscent of a chicken’s head?
Insider's tip: Krabi and its environs beckon with opportunities to engage in countless outdoor sports. Diving, snorkeling, climbing – it’s all possible here.
#Party Island Phuket
The building’s narrow facade hardly lets on to it, nor does the first room with its tiny shop – but follow the narrow corridor farther into the building, and you’ll soon see: there was money here, once. During the late 19th century, the Hongyok family relocated from China to Phuket Town and rose to become well-regarded merchants. Today, great- grandson Roengkiat runs the tastefully furnished café i46 Old Town in this exquisite early 20th-century commercial building. Room follows room here for a full 70 metres. Cleverly integrated inner courtyards provide light and running water. And one floor up, the generous sequence of rooms continues.
Once upon a time, Phuket – Thailand’s largest island – grew rich from the spice trade and tin mining, and the immigration of working-class families resulted in a colourful mix of ethnicities and religions: Thais, sea nomads, Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. European colonial powers arrived later on. Their legacy survives in Old Phuket Town, most prominently along Thalang Road with its charming Sino-Portuguese-style buildings. These have recently been restored and now glow like so much ornate pink confectionary. Hip cafés and bars alongside shops with arts and crafts and souvenirs beckon to visitors.
Phuket is also Thailand’s No. 1 party destination, with endless options for going out – and the nightlife here pulls out all the stops for party-hungry tourists. The areas behind the numerous dream-beaches pulsate with vibrant energy: the main hotspot is Patong in the island’s west, with its notorious Soi Bangla Street.
Insider's tip: For culture enthusiasts Phuket also offers more authentic impressions of Thailand – like the temple of Wat Chalong and Laem Promthep ("Cape of the Gods") with its Brahma statue encircled by a giant herd of elephant figures.
#Paradisiacal Ko Samui
Chaweng Beach must be the prototype of all tropical dream-beaches: an elegantly curved bay several kilometres long with fine, white, powdered sugar-like sand. Here the gently deepening, turquoise-blue Gulf of Thailand, there a whispering sea of palm trees. It was around 40 years ago that tourism arrived in the east of Ko Samui, Thailand’s third-largest island off its eastern coast – at first spawning humble huts and attracting social dropouts and backpackers. What followed, however, was a national success story. Chaweng Beach is as beautiful as ever, and the palm trees are also still there – but behind them, all manner of hotels, restaurants, wellness centres and yoga retreats line the bay.
Coconut farming and fishing used to be what people lived from on this island, but tourism has since come to dominate. Even so, Ko Samui has managed a good compromise. The new development has taken place well back from the beach beneath the swaying coconut palms, and large parts of the city’s ring road are likewise set back a bit. Thanks to this, most hotels have direct access to the island’s bathing paradise. And the offerings here are diverse, with something for everyone. This mountainous island with still-extensive coconut groves in its interior has around 25 developed beaches, the most beautiful of which are on its eastern side. In the island’s north, small and fairly quiet sandy bays with golden-yellow beaches – like Choeng Mon Beach – dot the rocky coast.
Insider's tip: On its southern coast, the ocean serves up an amusing geological curiosity: the two granite formations Hin Ta ("Grandpa Rock") and Hin Yai ("Grandma Rock"). It doesn’t take long to figure out which one is associated with which gender. Legend has it that at this spot, two lovers drowned when a storm blew them into the sea. These rocks stand in their eternal memory.
#Temples, mountains, art: Chiang Mai
Gold, gold, gold, it’s all gold: golden chedis, Buddhas, nagas. Wat Doi Suthep, backed by green tropical mountains, glistens in the sunlight. This opulent temple complex sits at 1,050 metres above sea level in the Doi-Suthep-Pui National Park, around 15 kilometres west of Chiang Mai (population: 135,000). From the parking area, pilgrims and tourists can reach this popular site either by climbing a 304-step stairway with balustrades made to look like snakes or by riding a comfortable cable car. This inner courtyard of this complex, which was built in the 14th century and expanded 200 years later, is pure magnificence.
With numerous statues of Buddha and various devas (lesser deities), filigree ceremonial umbrellas, a complete chedi (including a relic of Buddha) and reliefs showing mythological elephants and Siamese lions. Everything here is covered in gold leaf. And even the many visitors can’t diminish the mystical, peaceful atmosphere of this place.
The next beach is around 800 kilometres away – but Thailand’s far north lures us with altogether different attractions: from the 12th to the 18th century, this mountainous region was the core realm of the legendary and famously art-loving Lanna kings, who left behind an extremely rich cultural heritage.
Insider's tip: Likewise alive and well are this region’s arts and crafts: in the little village of Bo Sang, for instance, everything revolves around the production of traditional umbrellas, lacquer objects, silver jewellery, and carved teak. It’s a great place to shop!
Do you also want to enjoy the beautiful nature of Thailand, the endless beaches, extraordinary hospitality and excellent cuisine? Then off to the land of smiles! You can find suitable flights with Austrian Airlines here: