Our eye-opening journey South through the incredible scenery of Southern Thailand including: Prachuap Khiti Khan, Chumporn, Ranon, Koh Lak, Khao Sak, Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi and everything in between!
This trip to Southern Thailand was slightly postponed due to several situations and we did find ourselves experiencing some, not so perfect weather with an early onset of the rainy season.
However, we packed our limited luggage into the car and took off. To get to the West side of Thailand from our location (Jomtien) we have to pass through Bangkok. Whilst the GPS generated route is on the Toll Roads it remains a tedious part of such a journey. The roads remained full of traffic until we passed Hua Hin, then the every changing Thai scenery and normal traffic acquired it’s rhythm.
Our first overnight stop was at Prachuap Khiri Khan where we stayed at the delightful Ruenpurska Resort. Their ‘rooms’ are cottages, beautifully furnished in tradition Thai style. The extra large swimming pool was most welcome after a long drive. Prachuap Khiri Khan is quite an interesting beach town with surprises that we were to discover the next day.
It is located on a large bay and we chose to explore left of the bay first. You drive and drive along the beach first passing the imposing Wat Khao Chong Krachok, but with 396 steps to the top we decided to save this for another day! Continue around the bay and you will come to the very lovely Khao Ta Mong Lai Forest Park. Very small and almost intimate the park has a well cleared trail to a viewpoint over the bay and fishing fleet. It also has an excellent coffee shop!
Returning to the town we then explored to the south and discovered that this is the Wing 5 Military Airbase. As a foreigner you just need to register, and you can enter. Military establishments in Thailand appear to have some of the beast beaches in the country and Wing 5 was no exception! The exit road does cross the airstrip but it appears not often used anymore!
We then realised that we were at the narrowest part of Western Thailand with a road going up to the Singkhon border with Myanmar. Once a thriving border crossing the area is currently quite desolate as the border currently remains closed.
We stayed one night in Chumphon which is a rather strange place with kilometres of un-reachable beaches, two large bays and it appears, very few visitors. This was one of our first encounters with the new railway line to the South of Thailand. Whilst it runs beside the existing line, tremendous infrastructure is being constructed for this project with bridges, crossings and new stations.
Chumphon did not have a great deal to offer with the exception of the massive Nong Yao Tang public park to the South. Incredible facilities that appear to be deserted with the exception of the rather charming Nong Yai Wooden Bridge.
We were now in Southern Thailand and on the Isthmus of Kra at the rather extravagantly named Andaman Gateway at Kor Kod Kra looking over the river Kra Buri to Myanmar. This marks the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula with just 53 kms separating the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean) and the Gulf of Thailand. The signs are crumbling, and it does not look as though anyone has visited this viewpoint for a long time. It is interesting to note that the idea of a Canal through the Kra Isthmus has been in a ‘feasibility study’ phase for several decades. Whilst incredible costs would be involved it would save shipping lines thousands of kilometres of travel around Malaysia/Singapore.
Due to so many stops on this day we overnighted near to Ranong, not an over impressive place and our resort was so overgrown it was like being in a jungle, that was until the cement plant next door started at 06:00!
We had expected more spectacular scenery from the mountainous route 4, but one rarely sees the Andaman until after Tukua Pa and then the beaches of the Khao Lak area.
Khao Lak is a very laid-back area of Southern Thailand with spectacular beaches, substantial hotels/resorts and virtually everything in between. Quite a challenge to get one’s bearings and find out where to go but we explored the beaches and small main town. It’s a very spread-out area and one imagines that most visitors remain in their resorts and venture out only on the beaches.
Naturally the name Khao Lak is synonymous with the 2004 Tsunami. This area was well populated with tourists over Christmas in 2004 and the phenome of the Tsunami well documented on harrowing videos showing the size of the wave and destruction. Much of the charm of the area at this time were the wooden shacks that would be completely swept away. Whilst most of the concrete resorts survived and the roofs provided save haven for some, the destruction and terror are unimaginable.
A famous picture of the Thai Naval Ship 813 which was on Royal protection duty shows it facing the wall of water. All lives on board were lost and the ship was swept 2 kms inland. This ship now forms part of a rather sad memorial to the more than 4,000 death count though many feel that it was much higher due to the number of un-registered Myanmar migrant workers. I personally feel that the ‘Memorial’ is a poor reminder of the fate and horror that befell so many on that terrible day.
Khao Lak appears to be recovering very slowly from Covid, the beaches are spectacular and currently, mostly deserted. The beaches include Bang Niang, Nang Thong (popular with surfers), Coconut Beach/Pal Weep Beach, Sunset Beach, Khuk Khak Beach, and our personal favourite White Sand Beach which at the time of our visit(May 2022) had one of the very few beach restaurants fully open.
We choose to stay at smaller locally run establishments and were delighted to find the Oasis Khao Lak Resort. A relatively small resort consisting of 20 modern chalets located around a swimming pool. The chalets are very well equipped with good bathrooms, very comfortable beds and a quiet air-conditioner. Highly recommended.
Leaving Khao Lak we choose to take the southern route 4240, 4 and 4118 through the spectacular towering karsts towards Khao Mak and the Rajjabrapha Dam. Driving in rural Thailand is always a pleasure with unexpected sights and viewpoints.
I had tried to research this area and found that reliable information is not easy to find. The Rachabrapha Dam complex is spectacular and well landscaped and organised, as are all facilities from EGAT the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. The dam was completed in 1988 is a rockfill dam with a clay core, 95 meters high and 761 meters long with a capacity of 5,639 million cubic meters of water in the Cheow Lan Lake.
Leaving the EGAT area follow the road to the rather grandly named ‘Ratchaphrapha Marina’. This is a rather small and quite chaotic terminal for people who have reservations and for those looking for information and details on boat trips and stays on the lake. Information in English is lacking and even the information given in Thai does little to explain the standards, rather all the superlative visits that are included. I was not able to obtain any clarification and as the weather was worsening, we sadly made the decision to postpone until a later trip. The sights look amazing but when looking through comments, there were too many horror stories, mainly due to lack of information.
It was getting late in the day and where to stay was the next priority. Whilst a few properties are listed relatively close to the lake the majority were some distance away. There is also great confusion with Khao Sok being the National Park and covering a vast area. We ended up in the very charming Khao Sok Paradise Resort, quite a distance from the dam but along the beautiful route 401. The Khao Sok Paradise Resort must be a real paradise when it is dry weather but late on a very rainy night it was quite a shock.
The property consists of amazing tree houses and some jungle houses. We had booked the ‘Romance Bamboo Thai House’. Whilst initially it felt as if we had walked into a nightmare, once settled we started to appreciate the charm and comforts. It is a small stilt house made entirely of bamboo, there is AC, a TV, balcony and dreamlike partially open-air bathroom. The weather was appalling but we enjoyed our jungle hut! The mosquito net kept the little devils out and the A/C worked efficiently, we just had to guess what animals crossed our roof or were heard rustling through the undergrowth beneath.
A simple breakfast was served on the balcony in the morning and we then discovered that there is quite a built up community with many places to stay, bars and restaurants on the short road up to the entrance to the Khao Sok National Park (no vehicle access). Definitely recommend the Khao Sok Paradise Resort and would love to return when the weather is better!
With inclement weather forecast we decided to head for Phuket! Our report on this amazing Southern Thailand Road Trip is continued in the article Southern Thailand Road Trip Part II
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand. Any questions or comments on this post? Please do feel free to contact me through our ‘Contact Form’ or directly [email protected]