When people think of Thailand, they often envision gorgeous beaches, palm trees, white sand and crystal clear ocean water. And yes, this does exist, but only in the southern part of Thailand. The bulk of Thailand is mostly land locked.
I remember when Thailand was hit by the infamous Tsunami in 2004, many of my concerned friends in the western world sent me emails asking me if I was safe. Actually I live over a 1000 miles away from the area which was affected, and the closest I ever got to it was watching it on TV, just like my American friends.
Geographically Thailand consists of two distinct sections:
1: The central and northern part is mostly landlocked. It is surrounded by several southeast Asian countries like Burma, Laos, and Cambodia.
It looks somewhat similar to how North America is connected to South America by the thin strip of land of Central America.
All the beautiful beaches of Thailand are located on both sides of this thin strip of land. However beaches are not the only attraction there. The western coast of the isthmus is dotted with hundreds of small islands which are often impressive rock formations, rising straight up out of the ocean as if carved by giants.
The majority of these exquisitely scenic islands are located in the Krabi and Trang province of southern Thailand. One of the big attractions are boat trips to several of them. Those excursions include visits to hidden caves, snorkeling among thousands of colorful fish, trips to monkey islands, mangroves, and feeding of birds of prey which snatch the fish out of the water with amazing speed and agility.
There are two main modes of transportation. The first one is the Long Tail Boat. This is a simple boat which can seat around ten passengers on wooden boards. It’s only amenity is a roof to block the intense sun. The boat’s propeller is mounted on a long ‘tail’, a metal rod which is several meters long, and the engine is quite a noisy affair.
The advantage of the Long Tail Boat is that a few people can hire one for a private and customized excursion. Their high speed allows them to cover distances faster than bigger ships. It also feels like a more genuine and adventurous affair.
The second option is a much larger boat which holds over 100 passengers. These boats offer better seating, toilets, and even catered meals. Unlike the Long Tail Boats, which can bop up and down quite violently at higher speeds, the bigger boats are slower but definitely offer a smoother ride and more creature comfort.
The boats stop at several islands and everyone gets off for swimming and snorkeling in the warm tropical water.
I was the only non-Asian on the entire ship, so I had thought that this was going to be a rather silent excursion for me due to language difficulties.
But luckily there was a very friendly Thai family sitting right next to me who spoke good English and kept me good company.
The south of Thailand has a sizeable Muslim population.
Some of them are very traditional with the women covering up most or all of their bodies.
However nowadays there are also many modern Muslim women who abandon the traditional garb and instead dress like their Buddhist counterparts.
From looking at them, you would not know that they are Muslims. This is especially the case with the younger generation.
However on this boat trip I spotted a group of Muslim women in traditional outfits.
I was wondering how they would manage the swimming and the snorkeling. As it turned out, they had no problems at all.
The snorkels went over their head covering, and they jumped into the water fully dressed, having just as much fun as everybody else.
Many of the islands are surrounded by steep rock cliffs. However they presented no obstacle to us since we could just slide off the rear of the boat and find ourselves surrounded by thousands of colorful tropical fish.
The visit to Morakot cave was clearly the most adventurous part of the excursion. The pool and the beach in the picture above are completely invisible from the outside of the island. The only way to reach the pool is to swim through about 50 meters of a pitch black cave. The way how it is done is quite ingenious.
One of the tour guides grabs one end of a long rope, and all the tourists hold onto the length of the rope.Then the guide slowly swims through the cave with the help of a flashlight, while pulling a long line of tourists safely through the cave until they all emerge in the interior grotto. The arrow in the picture shows the entrance to the cave from within the grotto.
But it’s not all rock walls. Some of the islands have lovely white sand beaches and bungalows where you can spend some time in idyllic isolation. On some of the smaller islands you are lucky to have running electricity for a few hours a day, so if you expect airconditioned comfort, you won’t find it here.
But you will be rewarded by the most laid back and scenic environment you can imagine. A couple of the more developed islands have fancier bungalows (and prices). Our tour boat dropped some passengers off on an island with a long, picture perfect, white sand beach and crystal clear water.
Thailand has some of the best beaches in the world, and along with the spectacular scenery along the western coast line makes for a great destination. One thing to be aware of is the rainy season. By May there is occasional rain, and until November there will be more cloudy days and varying intensities of rain.
It rarely rains for many hours at a time. Mostly you will see late afternoon or evening showers. However the rainy season in the south of Thailand is more intense and lasts longer than in the northern part. For the most part this means that skies will be more cloudy throughout the day with sporadic downpours. Here is a more detailed explanation of the climate in Thailand.
One good thing about the rain and clouds is that it keeps the temperature down which can be quite welcome in the tropical heat. A second positive factor about the rainy season is that accommodation prices are generally much lower than during peak season. But if you are looking for clear blue skies every day, your best bet would be December through the end of April.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for over a decade. He has written extensively about many aspects of Thailand.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org