Renowned as a destination for backpackers and honeymooners, Thailand’s beautiful islands have something to offer all kinds of holidaymakers, says Vicky Smith
Thailand is a country of contrast – from hidden beaches to dramatic cliffs, picture-perfect coves and idyllic islands, its geographical diversity leaves visitors agog. But it’s not just the landscape that varies from one extreme to another. The array of tourists who visit this exotic country vary, from the ‘gap yah’ backpackers seeking hedonism at the now infamous Full Moon parties, to ‘just-marrieds’ who head to secluded luxury resorts for five-star treatment. But for those inbetween, there’s the opportunity to sample the best of both by doing some island hopping of your own…
Thailand’s largest island attracts thousands of visitors every year. Whilst Patong maintains a reputation as something of a party town, the quieter parts of the island have much to offer those in search of a slightly slower-paced experience. Phuket Town itself features some beautiful Portugese architecture to explore, and feels worlds apart from the busier parts of the island. There are museums to explore and it’s a short tuk tuk ride to some very pretty beaches. Phuket is also home to some beautfiul temples, and a trip to the island isn’t complete without exploring at least one.
Stay at the Anantara Phuket Layan, a brand-new five-star hotel that’s truly idyllic. Located on Layan beach, it’s set away from the busier parts of the island, and incredibly calm and peaceful. The beach is sandy and beautiful, and there’s plenty to keep those who need a break from sunbathing occupied too. Learn to cook Thai dishes such as green curry and mango and sticky rice at a Spice Spoons cookery class, or take a trip to the local market to gaze at an exotic array of fruit, vegetables and fish. Pick up a Thai iced coffee whilst you’re there – condensed milk and espresso in a bag with tons of crushed ice. Heaven.
The hotel is set in tropical gardens and accommodation is made up of stylish pool villas and decadent beach-front properties. What really sets the resort apart from others is the food – outstanding international and Thai cuisine. Make sure you take time to dine in both restaurants, and perhaps get the lovely hotel team to arrange a beach dinner too – the food tastes even better under moonlight and with the sound of the waves in the background.
Phuket is an excellent base from which to explore other islands, and we took a boat trip around the Phi Phi archipelago to investigate some ‘must see’ spots. Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, where Hollywood blockbuster The Beach was filmed, is undeniably stunning, but gets incredibly busy, so it’s wise to try and book onto a tour that gets there early or late. There’s also Monkey Beach, and an array of other islands dotted about that feel totally deserted and very special.
Located on the east side of the mainland, this beautiful island is perhaps best known for its Full Moon parties. Don’t let that mar your judgement though – it is a paradise, with powder-soft sandy beaches, chilled out atmosphere and a happy mix of hippy beach bars and smart places to stay.
Our base was the Anantara Rasananda, a truly magical beachfront resort where you’re encouraged to adopt a ‘barefoot’ policy. The restaurant is on the beach, there’s a bar in the pool, and accommodation is also by the sea, so you quickly learn that there is indeed no need for shoes at all. Many rooms lead directly onto the sandy beach, or feature an outdoor private pool, some with an outdoor shower.
Rasananda is also a two- minute walk away from a street of local shops, bars and restaurants, making it really easy to sample some local culture and soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful island.
Where to book
Anantara Phuket Layan offers nightly rates from £159 per room per night, based on two sharing a deluxe pool villa on a B&B basis. anantara.com
Anantara Rasananda (Koh Phangan) offers nightly rates from £175 per room per night on
a B&B basis. anantara.com
Flights to Phuket and Bangkok are from £550 return with Etihad Airways. etihad.com
Organise excursions with tourismthailand.co.uk