It’s only been three months into the year but office burnout is starting to become a very real thing. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been eyeing your calendar since January 1st to slowly—but strategically—submit your OOO requests. But where is there to go other than everyone’s usual rotation of Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui?
Here’s my own list of three less commercialized beachside destinations that are worth a visit. Not only do these places offer soft sandy beaches and clear waters, but they also do so without the crowds. That’s right—these hideaways mean you won’t have to fight the rest of the resort for that one sun lounger in the perfect spot under the sun.
NAKHON SI THAMMARAT
Known as one of the most ancient cities in Thailand and the second largest province in the South, Nakhon Si Thammarat has always attracted a fair share of locals, though quite rarely visited by foreigners. Due to its size, Nakhon Si Thammarat features a variety of activities and landscapes: from the sea to the mountains, forests and waterfalls. Now, with small developments popping up in the city center and along the beaches, the province is an exciting balance of old and new.
WHAT TO DO
- Those hoping to do nothing during their holiday: Win some, lose some. Though the ocean here may not be as picturesque as those you’ll find in Phuket or Koh Samui, you’ll probably end up with the entire beach to yourself—and maybe one or two more locals. Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Khanom Beach offers silence and solitude, two things you won’t find in the bigger towns. Bring a book, order a drink and doze off.
- Those looking for land activities: Add Khao Luang National Park to your itinerary. The highlight of the national park is Krung Ching Waterfall, a majestic, seven-tiered waterfall you can swim in with viewing platforms for those who’d rather stay dry. On the trail, keep your eyes out for wild orchids; the park is also well-known for being home to more than 300 species of the flower.
- Those curious about ancient Thai culture: Stop by Baan Tan Khun Rattawutvijarn and Baan Nang Talung Suchart Subsin for a glimpse of old Thai architecture and culture. The former is a historic home that was built more than 170 years ago during the reign of King Rama VI. The award-winning site has been maintained to preserve its original condition and visitors can also enjoy the permanent exhibition of Thai historic home goods. Meanwhile, Baan Nang Talung Suchart Subsin features works by Uncle Subchart, an internationally recognized Nang Talung (shadow puppetry) artist, as well as demonstrates how the puppets are made.
- Those up for exploration: Stroll along Ratchadamnoen Road, the city’s main street, where you’ll find the Old City Wall (built in the 13th century when the province became an important outpost of the Srivijaya Empire), City Pillar, Salahuddin Mosque, and Wat Phra Mahatat, all worthy of a quick stop.
- Those looking for a midday coffee break: If you’re looking for cute coffee shops to chill at during the day, try Ashram Suk, Yongkang Café, In Dribs ‘n Drabs, Urban Koffee, Blue Surf Café and Mitr Café.
WHERE TO STAY
Located in Khanom Beach, an hour drive from the airport, Chula Beach Khanom is one of the many (relatively) new boutique beachfront hotels to pop up in this area of Nakhon Si Thammarat. In addition to the private beach out front, the hotel only has six rooms, guaranteeing tranquility during your stay.
KOH YAO NOI
Sandwiched between two rowdier tourist traps—Phuket and Phang Nga—Yao Noi is an unobtrusive presence in the Andaman Sea, reachable via a 30-minute boat ride from the two bigger cities. Though its gained more traction in the last three years, it still remains a quiet, sleepy town with minimal nightlife (perhaps because of the Muslim population on the island too). First-time visitors tend to choose Koh Yao Noi for its understated beauty that includes sandy shores, sharp cliffs, mangrove forests, rubber plantations and diving sites.
WHAT TO DO
- Those looking for a day out at sea: Hire a longtail boat and go island hopping. One of the selling points of Koh Yao Noi is its close proximity to all the islands, while still remaining a quiet haven you can return to. Nearby Koh Hong, Koh Kudu, Koh Yao Yai, Koh Pak Bia, Koh Lao La and Koh Nok all offer something different for you to experience—be it sandy shores, enclosed pools, unique rock formations or snorkeling sites.
- Those interested in learning more about marine life: A visit to Bung Need’s fishing nursery where you’ll get to learn more about how marine life is being conserved. Bung Need started his career catching and farming lobsters for luxury hotels in the area but now spends most of his time on conservation and education. On any given day, he can be found out at sea, welcoming guests from near and far to his fishing nursery, with a lobster in one hand — or a blue swimmer crab, a puffer fish, or a horseshoe crab — and a bucket of sardines in the other.
- Those craving fresh local seafood: A trip to Yao Noi is incomplete without a meal at Tha Tondo Seafood. Run by longstanding local fishermen couple, Ma and Pa, the kitchen whips up unpretentious Southern Thai fare that sits perfectly somewhere between ‘home-cooked comfort food’ and ‘the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had.’ Whether it’s sour curry (Kaang Som) or stir-fried octopus and Pa’s catch of the day, the secret to the two’s fantastic food lies in their ingredients.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re looking to splurge, do so at Six Senses Yao Noi where the view from the infinity pool alone helps to somewhat justify the damage you’ve done on your credit card. Cape Kudu Hotel remains one of our favorites despite its aging structure. The hotel offers friendly service and can help connect you to locals for personalized day trips and expeditions. 9 Hornbills Tented Camp is a newer option with a unique accommodation setup: high-end luxury safari tented villas on a hillside property overlooking the sea.
A small island 40 km from the mainland, Koh Mak still remains a well-kept secret. It is located in the national marine park in Eastern Thailand off the Trat coast near Cambodia. Here, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in all the beauty the island has to offer: 10,000 palm trees, crystal clear water, golden shores and winding bicycle paths.
WHAT TO DO
- Those excited about underwater adventure: As one of the 52 islands protected by the national marine park in Trat, Koh Mak boasts beautiful diving and snorkeling spots teeming with marine life. There are two dive schools on the island that can arrange diving trips and/or help inexperienced students get certified.
- Those looking to get to know the island: At only 16 km2 in size, it’s easy to travel around Koh Mak by bike. In between lounging at the beach, rent a bike and take in the island in all of its entirety—while getting in some cardio on your holiday. There are two traditional villages you can visit: Baan Ao Nid, located on the southeast of the island and Baan Laem Son, on the northeast near Laem Son Beach.
- Those just looking to catch some Z’s over the weekend: Most of the beaches you’ll find on the island are quiet or completely empty. Even Ao Kao, the most popular beach in Koh Mak that’s lined with restaurants and cafés is nowhere near as busy as what you would find in Pattaya or Phuket. Ao Suan Yai, Ao Phra and Laem Son should be on your list as well.
WHERE TO STAY
Most of the accommodations found here are run by locals and small in scale. However, there are a few resorts whose services and amenities rival those in bigger beach towns. Mira Montra Resort features a private beach, villas with fantastic sea views and total seclusion as you’ll need transportation to get to the bustle of the island. Just a little over a kilometer north is Seavana Beach Resort, another luxury hotel with comfortable beach bungalows and a nice beachside swimming pool.
Writer: Uracha Chaiyapinunt (@urachac)
After graduating from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism, Uracha Chaiyapinunt moved home and started working full-time at one of Thailand’s leading luxury furniture retailers. Her time in Asia and America has instilled in her a love for road trips, national parks, unique travel experiences and the Dodgers. She has been featured in Eater LA, Travel + Leisure Asia, Cape + Kantary Magazine and more. When not at her 9-to-6, you can find her googling conspiracy theories late into the night.