The water's warm, and you can see your toes. Southern Thailand's beaches are a great place to chill and recharge your batteries.
But if you're looking to avoid the touristy Phuket, try Krabi, said Patricia Serrano, Thailand native and sustainable travel expert. Krabi is a good jumping off point for some of the prettiest islands in the world.
"One of my favorite beaches is called Tubkaek Beach, and that's where...I don't know if you've ever watched the infamous Hangover 2 there's that wedding scene where the speed boat crashes into the hotel--well that's the Ritz Carlton Phulay Bay, which is in Krabi. I tend to recommend people to stay on that beach--not necessarily the Ritz Carlton--but there are other hotels on that beach. But the reason I recommend that isn't because it was on Hangover 2, it's more because vendors aren't allowed to sell things on that beach, so it's very peaceful, so you can walk around and not be accosted by people trying to sell you massages or bracelets--it's not legal there--so it's a more peaceful vacation."
"The hotel that I would recommend is a place called Tubkaek Beach, it's nearby the Ritz Carlton, but you can walk to the Ritz Carlton, have a drink, I tend to recommend people do that, just go by, have a drink, pay cash, and leave," she laughed. "Also it's a different style resort, it's more like villa style where you're so far away and isolated from the town, so Tubkaek Beach is more like on the beach, so you can stay in this cute, Thai-style little cabin, and they have yoga there, it's near the beach, and then you can also take a taxi over to Krabi Town if you want to explore the town, but I would say just hang out on the beach," she said.
Or head into Krabi Town at night for dinner.
For a first timer, Serrano, who started the blog Fresh Traveler, recommended:
"Railay and Ao Nang, it is really beautiful, there are parts that are touristy. If you like to go rock climbing, Railay Bay is a great place to do that. There's also a lot of beach bars. It has become very touristy in certain parts, but there are islands off Railay Bay that are really wonderful...you can do a day trip with the boats it's really really beautiful. Just don't expect to be alone," she laughs.
"But the water's really beautiful. It really depends what you're looking for. Honestly, for me, I would go to Koh Yao Noi, but that's because I don't want to be around all you."
Phi Phi is known as the party island. Serrano's not a fan.
"I think Phi Phi is overrated; I don't like the island itself, it's so touristy. So if you're going to go anywhere, there's the James Bond Island, you must have seen the picture, there's a little island that looks like a nail--it's like an inverted limestone cliff...so James Bond Island as a day-trip. Phi Phi I think is way too touristy. I really love Koh Yao Noi...but that's really away from everybody. It's a little island that has organic rice farms, organic coconut groves, there's hardly any tourists. I think there's one bar, maybe, plastic bags are banned on the island. This is my favorite island...it's about an hour away from Phuket, and you can just bike around, it's a very cute little island.
I took my mom there, and at that time, there were no paved roads, and she's like 'Where are you taking me?' And she's getting nauseous because the van we're in is like shaking and she's like: 'Oh my God I want to throw up,' and I'm like--'It's worth it mom! And it was. It's just a really, really beautiful island if you really want to get away from everywhere."
Koh Lanta is a little more chill and off the beaten path. But if you want to island hop, Serrano, who's also a travel agent, said go the extra mile for your wallet and for your sanity and do some advanced planning.
"I really really recommend either booking in advance or I don't know taking a private boat because, the thing is, the guides who have their boats...it's really hard to negotiate with them, so I find it very stressful, every single time that I've gone and like tried to negotiate a boat ride on the spot, they know you haven't booked anything, so it's hard to price compare, and then it's a really stressful situation, at least for me. Or they're like 'OK, we'll give you that price, but you have to share with other people,' and then you have to wait for more people to join, so I would recommend either doing a private boat or booking in advance, that way you skip that whole part. I just find it really annoying, especially because they don't really speak English that well, and why do you want to be haggling on your vacation? And they're also really, they're not pleasant to negotiate with. I guess they feel like there's loads of tourists, so they just feel like they can get a better deal, especially in high-season. At least in my experience, it's always been better to negotiate things in advance."
And thinking about changing your plans once you've made them? Bad idea, warned Serrano.
"Once I went on a boat, a friend of mine had booked the boat trip and decided to change the boat itinerary and they were just like no, and she got into an argument with them. I was like oh God this is not the forte of Thailand. I notice if there's an itinerary, it's really hard to change it unless it's a private boat that you 100 percent said to them in advance, "This is a private boat ,we're chartering." Because usually the captain will be like "we're going to this island, this island, and this island,' and that's all that they can do because they have permits to dock...but its' really hard to change it for some reason.
"I had a friend go recently to Phi Phi and Maya Bay and she had such a hard time negotiating with the boat people--they were really stubborn--and I was like 'What did I tell you? You need to do it in advance, or I could do it for you.' She didn't listen, of course, and then she said to me that was stressful, and also there were lots of people, so I warned her."
Planning on going to Maya Bay? Think again. The gorgeous area that became popular after The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed there, will remain closed after environmental officials said a spike in tourism damaged the area.
Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation decided on Wednesday to extend the closure of world-famous tourist attraction for another two years, according to the Bangkok Post. It is now due to reopen in the middle of 2021.