The Andaman Coast encourages you to design your own adventure, with choices as endless as the sparkling sea. Surf Thailand’s best breaks in Kata, Phuket, which dazzles with fine resorts, fine cuisine and fine beaches. Check out the otherworldly, underwater marine life on a live-aboard dive trip around the Similan Islands. Or really get off the beaten path and go to Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, where you can camp on wild, pristine beaches. For lazy beach days there’s dramatic Ko Phi Phi or laid-back backpacker sweetheart Ko Lanta. And if you want to test your limits on some of the best rocks in the world, head to our favourite beach in Thailand, beautiful Railay. (Think water sparkling like an emerald brooch, specked with bits of sapphire and swirls of turquoise.)
Reminders of the tsunami linger. On Patong’s streets one passes as many evacuation route signs as vendors toting fake Chanel. But while the clatter of construction is a constant, sadly, tourists are not. Which is a shame, because there is no reason not to visit. Residents are thinking forward, not back, and so should you.
Getting to the Andaman coast is straightforward. From Bangkok, the islands on the lower southern gulf and numerous other Thai destinations (as well as neighbouring Malaysia), it’s easy to hop on a bus or train and then catch a ferry to the islands. Aeroplanes also ply the skies between Bangkok, Phuket and Krabi. Bus and train travel from Bangkok is generally cheap, relatively efficient and mostly takes place overnight. Almost any travel agency can sell you a combination bus or train and boat ticket to Ko Phi Phi or Ko Lanta, which should get you to your destination with little effort. Beware of the cheapest tickets as they often prove to be scams. Pay a few more baht, however, and you’ll likely arrive with few hassles.
Ranong airport is 20km south of town, off Hwy 4. Air Asia (www.airasia.com) has three or four flights to Bangkok (one way around 1900B) per week.
The bus terminal is on Th Phetkasern towards the southern end of town, though some buses stop in town before proceeding to the ter-minal. Sorng-taa-ou (also spelt sawngthaew pick-up truck) 2 (blue) passes the terminal Bus services include Bangkok (220B to 700B, 10 hours), Chumphon (120B to 150B, three hours), Hat Yai (410B to 430B, five hours), Krabi (190B to 220B, six hours), Phuket (180B to 250B, 5'/2 hours) and Surat Thani (100B to 200B,4'/2hours).
Motorcycle taxis will take you almost anywhere in town for 20B, to the hotels along Th Phetkasern for 25B and to the pier for boats to Ko Chang, Ko Phayam and Myanmar for SOB. Ron's Place can assist with motorcycle and car rentals.
I'roni central Ranong Town, take a somg-taa-ov (15B) or taxi (5OB) to Saphan Plaa. Two boats (150B) leave every morning 'rom mid-October to May; turn up around 'Jam to see when they're going, as they don't usually leave before this hour. Duiapg the high season (November to April) there's a daily noon departure. Boats return to Ranong at Sam the next day. Long-tails can be chartered from Ko Phavam for around 1000B to 1200B.
There are daily boats from Saphan Plaa to Ko Phayam's pier at around 9am and 2pm.From Ko Phaya'm back to Ranong the boats run at Sam and 1pm. During the high season there may. be three runs daily. Long-tail boat charters to the island cost J500B to 2000B. A charter to Ko Chang is around 1250B.
Motorcycle taxis provide the transport around Ko Phayam; there are no cars or trucks (yet), and roads are pleasantly motorcycle-sized. A ride to your bungalow will cost 5OB to 100B. Walking is possible but distances are long - it's about 45 minutes from the pier to Ao Khao Fai, the nearest bay.
Motorcycle rentals are available at Oscar's, the only bar in Ko Phayam's village - you can't miss it. Some of the bigger guesthouses might be able to arrange rentals, too.
LAEM SON NATIONAL PARK
The turn off for Laem Son National Park is about 58km from Ranong down Hwy 4 (Phetkasem Hwy), between the 657km and 658km markers. Buses heading south from Ranong can drop" you oft here (ask for Hat Bang Ben). Once you're off the highway, however, you'll have to flag down a pick-up truck going towards the park. If you can't get a ride all the way, it's a 1 Okm walk from Hwy 4 to the park entrance. At the police box at the junction you may be able to hire a motorcycle taxi for SOB; the road is paved, so if you're driving it's a breeze. Private car is undoubtedly the best way to gel around these parts - local renters charge 1000B.
For detailed information about getting around the mainland portion of the park, check out the wvav.vwvagabonds.com/Bike/ CycleTouringRouteBangkokl'huket.html website. Boats out to the various islands can be chartered from the park's visitor centre; the general cost is 1500B per day.
Khao Sok is about 100km from Surat Thani. Transport to the park by minivan trom Surat Thani (80B, one hour, at least twice daily) can be arranged through most travel agents in Surat, but be aware that some minivan com panies work with specific bungalow outfitters and will try to convince you lo stay at that place. Otherwise, from the Surat (ham area you can catch a bus going towards Takua Pa -you'll be getting off well before hilling this destination (tell the bus drivet 'Khao Sok'). You can also come Irom the west coast by bus, but you'll have to go to Takua Pa first. Iiuses from Takua I'a to the park (25B, one hour, nine daily) drop you olf on the highway, 1.8km Irom the visitor centre. It guesthouse touts don't meet you, you'll have to walk to your chosen guesthouse (from 50m to 2km). The roads within the main parts of the park are well paved, so personal vehicles will have no problems gelling around.
To arrive al Chiaw Lan Lake, go east on Rte -101 from the visitor centre and take the turn-off between the Km52 and Km53 markers, at Ban Takum. It's another 14km to the take. If you don't have your own wheels, you'll have lo bus it to Kan Takum, then hope to hitch a ride to the lake. The best option without private transport would be to join a lour, which any guesthouse can arrange for 1000B( 2000B to 2.500B with an overnight slay).
Phuket International Airport is situated at the northwest end of the island, 30km from Phuket Town. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to reach the southern beaches from here, and you could wait over an hour for the mythic metered taxis, which supposedly exist but are quite rare. The best bet is to hire a private car; alternatively, pay 120B and hop in a minivan destined for Phuket's Old Town, or 180B if you're headed to Patong, Karon or Kata. The miuivans only leave when they have 10 passengers, so you may have to wait.
Thai Airways International : operates about a dozen daily flights to Bangkok (one way from 2800B); it also! has regular flights to/from 11 other cities in Thailand and international destinations in celuding Penang, Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur, j Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo.
Bangkok Airways : has daily flights to Ko Samui (one way 2600B), Bangkok (one way 2800B) and Utapau for Pattaya (one way 3100B).
NokAir: links Phuket with Bangkok, as do One-Two-Co (JB 1141, ext 1126; www.fly12go.com; Phuket International Airport) and web-based Air Asia (www .airasia.com), from 2000B one way. Air Asia also flies to Kuala Lumpur (one way from 25,0006) and Singapore (one way 2500B).
Other international airlines with offices in : Phuket's Old Town:
Ferries link Phuket Town to Ko Phi-Phi three times per day at 8.30am, 1.30pm and 2.30pm (400B). Boats depart in the opposite direction at 9am, 2.30pm and 3pm. Ask at the airport about cheap buses linking Phuket International Airport to the ferry pier.
Minivan services (plus a ferry connection) 1 link Phuket to Ko Samui, Ko'Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao on the gulf coast. Air-con minivans' J to Krabi, Ranong and Trang are also available. Departure locations vary - see the TAT office in Phuket Town for more info. Prices are slightly higher than the buses (see below).
Phuket is quite large and public transport leaves a lot to be desired, so most tourists opt to hire cars (per day 1200B to 1500B) or motorbikes (per day 250B to 500B). Both are reasonably priced and easy to find. All you need is a current driving license from your home country. Remember to keep it with you at all times, because checkpoints pop up - especially in Patong. Helmets are also required, and if you don't wear one (which is monumentally stupid considering the prevalence of motorbike accidents on Phuket), you'll pay a fine.
There are regular sorng-taa-ou (also spelt sawngthdew), the Thai version of local buses, which run between resort areas and Phuket Town. They're cheap, but can be packed and are very slow. A trip from Kata to Phuket's Old Town takes nearly two hours. With private transport you can get there in 20 minutes.
Taxis and tulc-tuks are good alternatives, but they are surprisingly expensive. They don't have meters, so you should negotiate a fare before you leave. Most rides between resort areas cost at least 300B, and sometimes UP to 500B one way. There's virtually no price ' weak for choosing a tuk-tuk over a much faster and safer automobile, so unless you crave the novelty ride (and you will...once), get in a car.
Long-tail boats are easily hired on the sand for temote beach locations. There are also daily Public boats to Ko Yao from Bang Rong and Phuket Town harbours.
Driving around Phuket looks complicated wien you're bleary-eyed from a long flight,but it's a snap. The main roads are wide, the roundabouts are easy to manoeuvre and traffic snarls only occasionally. There are cheap car-hire agencies on Thai Rasada in Phuket's Old Town near Pure Car Rent. Suzuki jeeps and Toyota sedans go for anywhere from 1000B to 1500B per day (including insurance), though in the low season the rates can come down to 750B. If you hire for a week or more, you'll pay near the low end of the range.
Some car-hire agencies sport international names like Budget, but if you book through an agent (rather than directly through the company) you must pay cash up front to receive the car, and it will usually bring the car to you. No matter which you choose, it's always a good idea to reserve in advance. Andaman Car Rent , Budget . Also a branch in Patong, Phuket New Car Rent .
Pure Car Rent , Via Rent-A-Car , Also a branch in Kamala.
There are many petrol stations around the island, but only one in Patong (and it's always very busy).
SORNCi-TAA-OU & TUK-TUK
In Phuket Town, large sorng-taa-ou run regularly from Th Ranong near the day market to the various Phuket beaches for 40B to 70B per person. They operate from 7am to 5pm; out-side these times you have to charter a tiik-tuk to the beaches, which will set you back 250B to Patong, 280B to Karon and Kata, and 340B for Nai Han and Kamala. For a ride around Phuket's Old Town, tuk-tuk drivers should charge 30B for an hour. In Patong, a quick ride shouldn't set you back more than 25B. You can also charter tuk-tuk between beach resorts. Rides cost 300B to 500B.
If only Phuket had a fleet of metered taxis with published fares. Instead they have private cars, whose drivers can charge more for a 10-minute ride to Rawai from Kata than a 20-minute ride from Rawai to Phuket Town.
Don't try to make sense of it, just negotiate the fare before you leave. Rides generally cost 300B to 500B one way. Motorcycle taxis are much cheaper, and can cost as little as 30B per ride, but most work exclusively in Phuket's Old Town.
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