Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thailand's islands & beaches - Asia, Travel - The Independent

For laid-back living, white-sand shores and delicious food all at an affordable price you can't do better than these stunning hotspots, says Lucy Ridout

Sun-kissed: the beach at the Indigo Pearl resort on Hat Nai Yang

Why should I fly 6,000 miles to find a beach?

For the whitest sands and the most turquoise of seas, for a Buddhist culture that is both gentle and fun, for a winter-sun break that won't ruin your bank balance. Even the Post Office thinks you should go: in its recent Holiday Costs Barometer survey, Thailand came in ahead of South Africa and Malaysia as the best-value long-haul destination.

Thailand has about 2,000 miles of tropical coastline, so there are hundreds of beaches and islands to choose from. The tourist industry is well developed so transport links are efficient, there is accommodation for every budget bamboo huts for the equivalent of 4, five-star indulgence for 100 and the food is exceptionally delicious, from chilli-laced seafood curries to make your eyes water to juicy fresh mangoes straight from the tree.

The big beach resorts on the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket, in Pattaya, and along the Krabi coastline offer the works. You have a huge choice of restaurants and nightlife, a phenomenal range of shopping, and plenty of chances to ride elephants, trek through the jungle or go fishing. There is spectacular snorkelling and diving too, particularly around the Andaman Coast reefs.

It's not all about spas and golf courses, though: Thailand still offers the chance to get away from it all, on quiet island hideaways like Koh Kood off the Eastern Seaboard, Ang Thong National Marine Park off the Gulf Coast, or the Tarutao Islands in the Andaman Sea.

I'm flying to Bangkok get me to the nearest beach

Just a couple of hours by bus from Suvarnabhumi airport, Pattaya is Bangkok's nearest beach resort and the most visited in Thailand. But its biggest fans are Russian package tourists and single men drawn to the tacky apartment hotels and seedy swarm of hostess bars, go-go clubs and gay massage parlours.

Head half an hour further along the Eastern Seaboard, though, and the island of Koh Samet makes a better introduction to Thailand's stunning coastline. Fringed by white sand so soft that it squeaks underfoot, Samet is a tiny, forested drop in the Gulf of Thailand, partly under the jurisdiction of the National Park authorities. Despite the protection there is a lot of development some would say too much though it's small-scale bungalows and nothing high-rise.

Once a backpackers' favourite, the trend is now "flashpacker" and up, with hip young Bangkokians weekending at the minimalist whitewashed huts of Vongduern Villa (00 66 38 644260; vongduernvilla.com ; doubles from 1,200 baht/£23, excluding breakfast) and the handsome wooden chalets of Tub Tim Resort (00 66 38 644025; tubtimresort.com ; doubles from 1,000 baht/£19, excluding breakfast). At night, everyone dines on barbecued seafood at the candlelit tables set out on the sands: Ploy Talay is the most popular; it stages fire-juggling shows, too.

more info--->>>Traveller's Guide: Thailand's islands & beaches - Asia, Travel - The Independent
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