While the scenery of the Southern Gulf may not be as dramatic as that of the Andaman coast, its vistas of coconut groves alongside azure seas evoke images of a tropical paradise in the classic sense. Composed of the provinces of Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thamarat, Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, it forms the eastern coast of Thailand's portion of the Malay peninsula. As with the provinces of the Andaman coast, there are large populations of Thai Muslims in the countryside, while ethnic Chinese dominate the cities. The former are, for the most part, fisherfolk and tillers of the soil, the latter merchants and professionals.
Except for landlocked Yala, the provinces of the Southern Gulf have an abundance of inviting beaches. Of course, the Southern Gulf isn't just about beaches. Inland you'll find protected areas that are home to endangered species inhabiting pockets of the primeval jungle that once covered much of Southeast Asia. But if you're coming for the beach of for water water sports such as diving, it's important to get your timing right. Mid-September through to the end of November is the rainiest time along the Southern Gulf. The seas are choppy and hence visibility is poorest at this time of year. If somehow you find yourself on a rain soaked beach, don't despair: The weather on the Andaman coast might be bright and sunny – and it's a relatively short trip across the peninsula to find out.
Surat Thani Province, there is little of historical interest in Surat Thani, a busy commercial centre and port dealing in rubber and coconut, but the town's waterfront lends some character nonetheless. It's 651km from Bangkok and the first point in a southbound journey towards Malaysia that really feels and looks like southern Thailand. For most people Surat Thani (often known simply as 'Surat') is only a stop on the way to Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao, scenic islands 32km off the coast. If you find yourself with sometime to kill in Surat, you can do a one- or two-hour tour of Bang Ban Mai, across Mae Nam Tapi from town. This easygoing village has changed remarkably little over the years, affording glimpses of the coconut plantation lifestyle as it once was on Ko Samui.
Getting to Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is most easily accessed via Koh Samui Airport though it is slightly cheaper to fly to the regional transport hub of Suratthani. From Koh Samui a fast boat takes only 25 minutes whereas the journey from the mainland takes around eight times longer. If you come overland, the overnight train is the best option with a first class sleeper carriage ideal for families. Buses are the most economic choice with a trip from Bangkok costing only around 650 Baht, all the way to Koh Phangan. Ferry services are more or less hourly throughout the day from Koh Samui and every couple of hours from the mainland; several boats also go regularly from Koh Tao.
About Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is located in Suratthani province in the Southern Gulf of Thailand and is part of the group of islands that make up the Samui Archipelago; a group of over 40 islands fashioned in granite from age old igneous formations. The provincial capital is also called Suaratthani and acts as the main overland transport hub for the islands. Koh Phangan is 70kms from the mainland and approximately 12km away from Koh Samui which acts as the main airlink to Koh Phangan.
Koh Tao - Tao Island
So your first tentative steps on Koh Tao - Thailand are through the wonders of the internet. But what is Koh Tao really like when you get here? My site will give you a feeling for what is really quite a special place. It's no wonder so many people come for a holiday and end up staying! If you are interested to learn more about the way of life on the Turtle, speak to one of the expats on the island, after a couple of beers as incentive, they will be happy to entertain you with funny and weird stories, as well as share essential culture shock knowledge.
Koh Samui is one of Thailand's most popular islands and its third-largest. It's also part of an archipelago that includes 80 smaller islands, of which only six – Pha-Ngan, Ta Loy, Tao, Taen, Ma Ko and Ta Pao – are also inhabited. Samui's first settlers were islanders from Hainan Island (now part of the People's Republic of China) who took up coconut farming here around 150 years ago. You can still see a map of Hainan on the saan jao (Chinese spirit shrine) near Siam City Bank in Na Thon, the oldest town on the island.
Surat Thani Province
The area of Surat Thani was already inhabited in prehistoric times by Semang and Malayan tribes. Founded in the 3rd century, until the 13th century the Srivijaya kingdom dominated the Malay Peninsula. The city Chaiya contains several ruins from Srivijaya times, and was probably a regional capital of the kingdom. Some Thai historians even claim that it was the capital of the kingdom itself for some time, but this is generally disputed. Wiang Sa was another main settlement of that time.