The southern part of Thailand is a beautiful place, full of splendid beaches, bays, and temples. South Thailand is an especially popular region because it has such a diverse range of attractions to offer visitors. A south Thailand itinerary will include gorgeous tropical islands, lush jungles, stunning lakes, mangroves, hiking trails, and delicious cuisine.
Tourists seeking a great vacation spot will find there is something for everyone in this south Thailand itinerary. Ranging from high-end resort towns to remote islands and adventure to relaxation, it’s no wonder that postcard-perfect southern Thailand is one of the country’s biggest tourist draws.
This south Thailand itinerary is intended to be done as a continuous road trip. To do the whole thing would take at least three weeks; however, if you have less time, you could certainly pick and choose where to go.
- All Americans and most Europeans don’t need a visa to travel to Thailand for up to 30 days.
- Car rental is the best way to get around. The infrastructure is good.
- Currency: Thai Baht
- Weather: tropical climate with a rainy season due to the southwest monsoon. Bring plenty of mosquito repellent and sunscreen!
Phuket, dubbed “the Pearl of the Andaman,” is the largest and most well-known of the islands in the Andaman Sea on Thailand’s southern peninsula. Once undeveloped, Phuket has been transformed into a hub for tourism. Hosting leafy jungles, white sand beaches fringed by swaying palms, breathtaking atolls, and limestone cliffs, this paradise offers myriad activities, or opportunities to just bask in luxury. The idyllic climate of this exotic paradise makes it a popular “bucket list” destination.
Phuket is popular for its 30+ exotic white-sand beaches. From quiet and remote to lively and crowded to famous Instagram spots, there’s a beach for every kind of traveler.
Old Phuket Town is quite colorful and charming. Thalang Road, Phangnga Road, and Soi Romanee are lined with pastel 19th-century shophouses and Sino-Portuguese buildings. Walking is the best way to explore it, stopping for photos, coffee, a trinket or sarong.
Built in 1903 by a wealthy tin merchant, Baan Chinpracha mansion has Italian floor tiles, shuttered windows, and antique furniture. Set in a 1930s manor, the Thai Hua Museum has exhibits on Phuket’s culture and history.
Do not miss Phuket Big Buddha — a large seated Maravija Buddha statue situated atop Nakkerd Hill with panoramic views.
Phuket has great infrastructure and would be the most convenient place to start your south Thailand itinerary.
For more info, read this full article about things to do in Phuket.
2 Similan Islands
The coral reefs surrounding the Similan archipelago in the Andaman Sea are considered to be the best diving spot in all of Thailand.
While the seascape isn’t as dramatically scenic as the limestone karsts of Krabi or Phang Nga Bay, the huge boulders that rise up from the shore are definitely striking to see.
Horseshoe Bay beach is a surreal mix of white sand and bathwater-warm waters perfect for swimming and sunning. If you’re a diver, Fantasy Mound is an adventure playground for divers where you can spot the wonders beneath the shimmering turquoise water, including barracudas, whale sharks, and manta rays underwater, as well as some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world.
3 Phang Nga Bay
The body of water between Krabi and Phuket is called Phang Nga Bay, and it is one of the most breathtaking destinations in all of Thailand. Many compare it to Vietnam’s famous Halong Bay.
Over 100 towering limestone karst “islands” jut precariously out of the jewel-green bay casting a surreal – almost otherworldly – vista. Khao Ping Gan is the most famous of these craggy outcroppings because it provided the backdrop for the James Bond iconic film Man with the Golden Gun.
Most visitors to Phang Nga Bay opt for boat tours so that they can see as many of these formations as possible, but sea kayaking is also a fun way to discover the bay. You’ll want a local guide to escort your canoe through the mysterious waters laden with hongs (sea caves) pristine wildlife mangroves, and unspoiled rivers. Along the way you can stop to take a dip in the warm waters of a deserted lagoon, interact with wild monkeys at the edge of the formations, and weave in and out of the caves and chambers – some of which can only be entered at low tide, and even then you’ll have to lie flat in your kayak inching your through.
Trekking, rafting, rock climbing, snorkeling, and fishing are also attractions of Phang Nga Bay.
4 Koh Phi Phi
Navigating two hours east from Phuket or 90 minutes west from Krabi and you will arrive at the magnificent Phi Phi Islands. The archipelago is made up of six islands offering jaw-dropping beaches, crystal turquoise lagoons, longtail boats, vibrant reefs, sea caves, and monkeys.
Don’t miss Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, the remote cove where the utopia seaside scenes in the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach were filmed. The shimmering turquoise water juxtaposed against the surrounding sentinel cliffs makes it one of the most stunning beaches in the world. Close by is the sister island, Phi Phi Don with a restaurant with a very nice buffet lunch.
Due east of Phuket is the region of Krabi, the highlight of which is Railay Beach. Arguably, not only is this the most majestic beach of Krabi, but of all of Thailand – and that’s saying something because Thailand has a ton of outstanding beaches! In addition to the amazing beaches, Krabi is also home to mangrove forests, limestone cliffs, and natural rock formations.
Reachable only by boat, Railay Beach is the stuff dreams are made of…lush limestone cliffs resting on golden sands and crystal-clear emerald water. This postcard-perfect beach is arguably as gorgeous as Koh Phi Phi but without the hordes of tourists.
Railay Beach is certainly the highlight of Krabi. Our longtail boat landed on Railay West, this is the prettiest and most Instagram-worthy white-sand beach surrounded by jaw-dropping limestone cliffs. A short walk across the peninsula and you’ll reach Railway East – another pretty beach with a floating pier that gets wild when the waves are rough. In the south is Phra Nang Beach which hosts the infamous “fertility” cave filled with donated phallic sculptures of every size.
You can spend a fantastic day on Railay; West Beach is lined with beach bars to grab a bite to eat.
We stayed in the charming Ao Nang beach town and loved the convenient location and the bohemian vibe. The strip is lined with cute restaurants and souvenir shops and is just a five-minute walk to the beach.
A perfect day trip is venturing to the Emerald pool – a shimmering green mineral lagoon spot surrounded by a lush forest with a wooden walking track located in the Khao Phra Bang Khram Nature Reserve. Nearby is the Krabi Hot Springs which consists of all-natural warm mineral salt springs with small cascading waterfalls, rainforests and a gorgeous overlook of the river below. The water originates deep underground in volcanic chambers and creates the thermal springs. Although scientifically unproven, many believed, the mineral salts in the spring water have beneficial effects such as skin disorders, rheumatism, and sciatica. I absolutely loved it here! It was so relaxing and I could have stayed for hours.
On your way back from the hot springs day trip, stop and visit the fascinating ancient Fossil Shell Beach. The Gastropod fossil site in Krabi is apparently the only coastal shell fossil site in the world. The fossilized shells are said to date back somewhere between 40 million years to over 75 million years.
If you feel up to the physical challenge, climb over 1000 steps to the top of the Tiger Cave Temple for spectacular panoramic views. Make sure to bring plenty of water!
Krabi Town is worth a few hours of exploration and lunch at one of the great local restaurants.
Krabi was our favorite place and your south Thailand itinerary should be sure to include it!
6 Koh Samui
Koh Samui has long been a popular destination in Thailand’s tourist industry. Located on the Gulf of Thailand, it is Thailand’s third largest island, offering a variety of attractions such as calm, crystal turquoise beaches, lively party beaches, jaw-dropping serene scenic views of coconut groves, rainforests, mountains with stunning lookout points,
Koh Samui is very developed and offers a wide range of activities and accommodations that range from budget-friendly to uber-high-end. Aside from the beaches, Nathon Town and famous Mu Koh Angthong National Marine Park are must-see highlights.
7 Koh Tao
Ko Tao is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, accessible via boat from Surat Thani and Chumphon. For divers and snorkelers, the island of Ko Tao is a delightful vacation destination. Divers have an opportunity to see extraordinary marine life, including bull sharks, whale sharks, reef sharks, tropical fish the underwater evolutionary sculptures known as Ocean Utopia, sea turtles, parrot fish, and triggerfish among many other marine species. Other popular activities include cycling, snorkeling, and sailing around the beautiful island.
Phattalung is off the radar of most travelers but is worth a visit to get a glimpse of unspoiled Thailand. Unlike the majority of the Thai provinces that attract tourists, Phattalung is landlocked so none of the ubiquitous and luring white-sand beaches.
However, Phattalung does have a fabulous water spot that all those beach destinations do not have. Thale (aka Taylay) Noi is an internationally-recognized yet off-the-beaten-path protected freshwater wetland located in Phatthalung province. Sunrise is a must-do. The amazingly picturesque lake first took us by local fishing platforms known as yok yor. The diversity of nature is surreal. One minute you are cruising through mangrove tunnels and the next floating up next to water buffalo.
Phatthalung province receives far fewer foreign tourists, so embarking on a boat trip surrounded by the gorgeous fuchsia lotus flowers at Thale Noi is a surreal experience and one that will not be forgotten
There’s also delicious cuisine to be had in Phattalung – a delightful fusion of Chinese, Malaysian, and southern-Thai flavors.
Songkhla City is located in one of the southernmost provinces in Thailand, less than two hours away from the Malaysian border. It’s surrounded by three major bodies of water: Songkhla Lake (the largest natural lake in Thailand), Cape Samilia Beach, and the Gulf of Thailand.
We loved wandering around the twisting alleys of the Old Town on foot. The highly-walkable area consists of three roads: Nakhon Nok, Nakhon Nai, and Nang Ngam Roads, which are lined with beautiful Sino-Portuguese-style architecture as well as fascinating Chinese shophouses in various stages of decay and restoration.
Other points of interest in Old Town:
- City Gate
- Hap Ho Hin – an old mill painted red that now houses art exhibits
- Lak Mueang or “City Pillar Shrine”
There is a lot of street art in Songkhla’s old town. Some of it is very good and would be considered trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye) illusionary pieces. One of my favorites is a scene of three men sitting at tables eating and drinking.
The most popular beach is Laem Samila Beach, which contains the golden mermaid sculpture.
Klang Dinul Islam Mosque or Songkhla Central Mosque is one of the most outstanding buildings in the city and is called “the Taj Mahal of Thailand.”
10 Ko Lipe
The tiny island of Ko Lipe is the southernmost island in all of Thailand, just outside the jurisdiction of Tarutao National Park in southwest Thailand, and a perfect beaten-track destination. Ko Lipe is also regarded by many as the most beautiful island in Thailand and is often compared to the Maldives.
The beaches of Ko Lipe are the main attraction, with Pattaya Beach being the most popular and Sunset Beach offering the best views of the sun setting into the ocean.
The island of Ko Lipe is the perfect mix of natural wonders to explore Outdoor activity is a big draw to Ko Lipe, and many visitors go scuba diving at 8 Mile Rock and the Yong Hua Shipwreck where all the rivers converge. Kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling are a few more popular pastimes on Ko Lipe.
All photos ©Kary Kern unless otherwise indicated.
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Phuket Tourism during her stay, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.
She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.
Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.