Much as we love a real bells and whistles trip, sometimes simplifying things brings the greatest rewards. This is an uncomplicated journey that contrasts Bangkok’s bustling, frenetic metropolis with a dose of old-school island hopping. We don't often do a simple city and beach, but this route suits our take-it-slow ethos, and the hidden gems are too good to miss.
Fill your senses with the vibrancy of Thailand’s extraordinary capital, then head to the coast to grab an ice cold Chang, feel the sand between your toes and watch the sun set over some of the country’s least-known and most stunning beaches. The trip works both as a standalone, or as a great add on to a wider exploration of Thailand or Cambodia.
Ko Mak and Koh Kood feel like much of Thailand did 30 years ago – laid-back and relatively uncommercial. As it’s much harder to find quiet beaches in Thailand these days, Selective Asia’s Kate was genuinely surprised at how naturally beautiful they still are, and how peaceful and sleepy they felt. For some, they’re perfect places to relive the more remote moments of their backpacking heyday. For others, they’re secret hideaways for escaping the tourist crowds.
Koh Chang - one of Thailand's biggest islands - is a lot more popular, and if this was a ‘city and one beach’ itinerary it probably wouldn’t make the cut. However, it compliments the other, much quieter islands well in this journey, combining the cut-off remoteness of the smaller islands with Koh Chang’s wider range of dining options and accommodation. It’s not for everyone, and you can spend more or less time there, or miss it out altogether, whatever suits your style.
Bangkok works well at the beginning of this journey, to revel in the hecticness of the city before recuperating with some serious RnR on the islands. One of the joys of this route is its flexibility, however, and Bangkok is equally well placed at the end if you just can’t wait to get to the beach! You could also ‘top and tail’ your island time and visit twice, taking in a few more traditional sights after coming back from the beaches.
Recharge after your journey, or hit the ground running and experience the sights, sounds and smells of Bangkok straight away. We can arrange for your guide to remain on hand, so you can pick their brains about a city they know well. Get your bearings, take a walk in the local vicinity, and try a local snack or two to get off to an immersive start. Explore the magic of Bangkok through your tastebuds, enjoying a streetfood tour and getting under the skin of quieter, lesser-known parts of the city. Phraeng Phutan’s small streets are lined with preserved colonial shophouses, where you can sample traditional Thai snacks and visit a local food market, a Taoist Tiger shrine and even a Buddha statuette manufacturer.
Getting to Koh Chang is a breeze. The ferry from Trat takes just 45 minutes, and the island’s jungle-covered peaks are visible from the mainland. Whilst mainstream tourism has definitely hit Koh Chang, it still has a rugged beauty and is home to idyllic waterfalls, vibrant night markets, and calmer fishing villages such as Salakphet on the south east coast. If you can drag yourself away from the wide sandy beaches, you can hike through Mu Ko Chang National Park, home to around 110 bird species as well as the rare Indochinese lutung monkey. Many of the park’s waterfalls are on easily accessible paths, while others need a bit more effort to get to, but the rewards are worth it. Head back to the coast and beyond to dive or snorkel over vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Unlike Ko Chang, there are no shopping centres, supermarkets, banks or even cash machines on Koh Mak, just a handful of bijou bungalows, boutique resorts and miles of stunning coastline. There’s no vehicle ferry to Koh Mak (or Koh Kood) so the roads are very quiet even in high season. Laze on isolated, wild beaches, swim in emerald green seas, eat the freshest possible seafood and, if you are feeling energetic, take a snorkelling trip to nearby Koh Rang (the biggest in an archipelago of 12 uninhabited islands) which is home to spectacular marine life and coral formations. If you’d rather stay above water, go kayaking out on the crystal seas. At night, sit by shoreline and watch the twinkling lights of the fishing boats bobbing out at sea.
Just a short speedboat ride from Koh Mak, Koh Kood makes a great finale to your island hopping experience. At your arrival point, Ao Salad Bay, you are greeted by a giant gold Buddha statue on the pier instead of the usual hawkers, hotel reps and souvenir shops, and the drive to your resort takes you through mangroves and thick jungle. The beaches on Koh Kood are in general a little longer and wider than those on Koh Mak, and it has a few more amenities, but that feels like splitting hairs!
The highlights are uncomplicated which, in this case, is right on the nose: relaxing on the sand, swinging in a hammock and enjoying memorable sunsets. High Seasons Resort has a particularly good view from their beachfront bar, and the Soneva Kiri is a sublime exclusive retreat with a private beach on the north west coast. If you’re keen to explore further, hire resort-operated songthaews for trips to stunning waterfalls and working fishing villages.
The guide price of £1,790US$2,090 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 2 nights in Bangkok, 3 nights on Koh Chang, 3 on Koh Mak and 3 nights on Koh Kood; all in our favourite mid-range hotels and resorts. How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
Whilst the SA team don’t always agree on the merits of a destination or their current favourite experiences, there’s no disagreement when it comes to discussing repeat visits to Thailand. We all agree that ‘you’ve never done Thailand’. This all-rounder journey is a great way to discover it for the first time or become reacquainted with an old friend.