The first time you spot those long stretches of sand in south west Thailand, you'll feel like you've really arrived. This is an area that balances lazy days at bamboo beach bars with jungle-covered trails to waterfalls and glistening emerald rock formations. On the coast, places like Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak have been welcoming families, honeymooners and discerning guests for years; you're in safe hands. Just offshore, the islands of Koh Jum and Koh Yao Noi offer a more peaceful approach to life, with fishing boats and swaying hammocks combining wonderfully well with laid-back beachfront lodgings.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Banana pancakes on the beach are always the best way to start the day in Phuket, before strolling around the old town's Sino-Portuguese district or heading to the forested hillsides. Krabi's coastline is rockier and more natural. This is where you'll be tempted from your hammock by hikes to hilltop temples, or kayaking around green-clad cliffs and overhanging mangroves. Koh Lanta, just offshore, has a laid back, peaceful vibe. Walks to jungle-enshrined waterfalls offer an excuse to explore before returning to a beachside base for an evening of indulgence. Smaller, sleepier, less-developed Koh Jum is still off the mainstream radar. If you're looking for island culture and sublime snorkelling, you might want to keep this Thai island to yourself.
The sunsets over the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay are absolutely ridiculous and there's no better place than Koh Yao Noi for sitting back on a soft sandy beach and soaking it all in. The island's Six Senses Resort, especially, offers an absolutely stunning escape. This really is where you get away from it all and indulge in ultimate luxury, secretly hidden on a rainforest canopied hillside. Elsewhere on the island, you'll stumble upon a more laid back, independently-owned beachfront property that's great for families. This is ideal for former backpackers looking to get all nostalgic, albeit with a tad more comfort than 'back in the day'. If you're looking for seclusion, as well as walking trails, monkeys and barefoot luxury, come to Koh Yao Noi.
Khao Lak's soft white sand and clear shallow bays are ideal for snorkelling. Just offshore, there are even more excuses to explore underwater, with limestone inlets and the Similan Islands providing hot spots for divers. Inland from the coast you can go wild in thickets of bamboo and giant ferns, and seek out hidden waterfalls tumbling down sheer limestone cliffs. If you're looking for luxury in Khao Lak, one particular property stands out. The Sarojin Resort is designed with nature in mind as well as unrivalled relaxation. This is where you lose yourself in tranquil, tropical scenes and have your senses soothed from sunrise to sunset.
A journey through northern Thailand for an eco-focussed exploration of local Lahu traditions and culture in the hills of Chiang Mai.