Things to Do in Gulf of Thailand
The 42 karst islets of Ang Thong National Marine Park (Mu Koh Ang Thong) in southern Thailand comprise a picturesque seascape spanning more than 95 square miles (246 square kilometers). These limestone pinnacles harbor secluded powdery beaches, sheer cliffs, and caves, and are home to myriad birds, monkeys, dolphins, and other wildlife.
In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen, Ko Taen, and Ko Tan) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago. Koh Tan also has a thriving population of monitor lizards, a boardwalk through a mangrove forest, a quaint local temple, a handful of local restaurants and a cluster of bungalow-style accommodations.
With crystal clear water, plentiful coral reefs, and beautiful stretches of fine white sand, Thailand’s Coral Island (Koh Larn) is a veritable paradise. Take a day trip to this popular spot—about 4.5 miles (7 km) off the coast of Pattaya—to enjoy beaches and a variety of water sports, including scuba diving and snorkeling.
With its golden sands and clear water, Nang Yuan Island (Koh Nang Yuan) is the poster child of southern Thailand. Hike the rocky, forested landscape; swim and snorkel in crystalline water; or just relax in relative quiet. Nang Yuan sees only a fraction of the crowds that flock to its neighbors.
Koh Samui is known for its incredible beaches, turquoise waters and sandy shores. But hidden away from the coastal wonder lies one of the most unique temples in the nation—Wat Khunaram.
While this gilded red and white temple may look typical to travelers who climb the dozen or so stairs that lead to its entryway, once inside, visitors will find a site unlike anywhere else. That’s because a vertical glass casket holds the mummified body of Loung Pordaeng—a famous monk—in his most meditative state. Locals say his meditation techniques, which required less oxygen than his peers—are responsible for his still well-preserved state. Visitors can come tour the site, learn about the life of this religious icon, and bear witness to local Buddhists praying at wat shrines.
Nestled among Koh Samui’s central mountains, the Na Muang Waterfall has two tiers: a lower stretch that’s easily reachable and falls into a lovely natural pool, and a higher tier that requires a 30-minute hike. The falls are set among lush jungle surroundings, and access to the site is free.
Koh Samui’s Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks (also known as Hin Yai and Hin Ta are rocky outcrops located on Lamai Beach. The often-photographed, commented-upon, and giggled-about rock formations bear an uncanny resemblance to male and female genitalia, making them a must-see attraction for many tourists. Plus the rocks are set on a lovely stretch of beach and create tranquil tide pools.
The 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) stretch of sand known as Pattaya Beach ranks among the area's liveliest beaches. The crescent-shaped coast remains lively day and night, with the party atmosphere of the bars and restaurants of Beach Road to one side and a host of water sports—wind surfing, jet skiing, parasailing, or banana boating—to the other. The popular beach also serves as a departure point for diving expeditions to Pattaya's offshore coral islands.
Apart from the beaches, Koh Samui’s most distinctive attraction is the golden Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai) visible above the red-tiled rooftops on the island’s north coast. The 40-foot (12-meter) Buddha statue can be seen from several miles away—even from a plane—and the site is an active place of worship.
Deep in Koh Samui’s jungle-clad hills is the Secret Buddha Garden (Magic Garden), where a waterfall tumbles past stone sculptures of the Buddha. The oasis was created by local durian farmer Nim Thongsuk, whose tomb sits among the carvings of Buddhist spirits, musicians, and animals.
More Things to Do in Gulf of Thailand
Thailand’s answer to Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família cathedral, the Sanctuary of Truth (Prasat Sut Ja-Tum) was begun in 1981 and is scheduled for completion around 2050. The wooden structure is a whopping 345 feet tall (105 meters tall), hand-carved by artisans using traditional techniques, and full of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.
At the Pattaya Floating Market, traditional thatched huts perched on stilts over the water house vendors selling handicrafts, Thai street food, and souvenirs from around the country. The market’s four areas represent the culture and architecture of Thailand’s four main regions: north, northeast, central, and south.
The 10-acres (40,000-square-meter Black Mountain Water Park is one of the most popular regional attractions. Large, clean, and staffed with lifeguards, this waterpark has all the crowd-pleasers, including Thailand’s biggest wave pool, lazy river, zero-entry pool, children’s pool, and a 56-foot (17-meter tall tower with nine water slides.
One of several Talu Islands in Thailand, the Koh Talu Island Resort is a private island off Bang Saphan in the Gulf of Thailand with a dramatic natural stone arch. The white sand beach offers gorgeous sunset views, while activities run from snorkeling and diving to kayaking, sailing, hiking, massage, and cooking classes.
In keeping with Ko Pha Ngan’s party spirit, Slip N Fly is more than just a water park. It’s a daytime pool party, with two 130-foot (40-meter) slides, a couple of smaller slides, a large freshwater pool, plus dancers, musicians, and DJs. As you’d expect, the island’s notorious “bucket” drink options flow throughout the day.
Home to miniature replicas of both top Thailand sights and global landmarks, Mini Siam is a family-friendly Pattaya attraction. Travel through Thai history on the Mini Siam side, where you’ll see to-scale versions of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Bridge on the River Kwai, and then admire the Eiffel Tower in Mini Europe.
Khao Sam Roi Yot, which roughly translates to “the mountain with three hundred peaks,” protects the largest wetlands area in Thailand. The park’s most popular feature is Phraya Nakhon Cave—arguably one of the most spectacular caves in all of Southeast Asia, and home to a stunning gold and green pavilion.
Covering 8 acres (3 hectares) of downtown Hua Hin, Vana Nava Water Jungle is one of Thailand’s largest water parks. In addition to around 20 slides and rides, some of which will thrill even adults, the park has a kids’ zone, food options, massage stations, and retail outlets. The adventure area features a ropes course, surf simulator, and climbing wall.
The tropical landscaped hillside grounds at Butterfly Hill in Koh Samui are home to hundreds of colorful butterflies, as well as insects, moths, and bees. Tropical flowers add to the exotic Garden of Eden-like setting, and picturesque views from its hilltop position showcase the island and the sea. Plus you can take a walk to a nearby waterfall to cool off.
Take a walk beneath the water as sharks and rays glide overhead at Underwater World Pattaya. This walk-through aquarium highlights the diverse range of marine creatures found in Thai waters, from shallow rock-pool dwellers to colorful coral and deep-ocean fish. More than 2,500 critters are on display, representing some 200 species.
Seclusion and solitude might be hard to find on Koh Tao, one of Thailand’s most popular islands, but on its southeastern side, between Sai Daeng Beach to the north and Tanote Beach to the south, lies the 65-foot-long (20-meter Aow Leuk Beach. This stretch of sand is slightly more remote so the large crowds stay away.
Head to the beachside Pattaya Water Park to cool off from the hot Thai sun. The classic water park features everything you need for a day of fun in the sun, including a lazy river, wading pool for toddlers, water slides, a whirlpool, and private beach access for swimming in the Gulf of Thailand.
Sometimes known as Ripley’s World, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Pattaya combines seven distinct attractions. The classic Ripley’s “Odditorium,” with 10 galleries of bizarre exhibits, is the star of the show. But you can also enjoy waxworks, two spectacular mazes, a haunted house, a shooting ride, and a “9D” multisensory moving cinema.
Home to a collection of more than 2,000 teddy bears spread across 13 different themed zones, the Pattaya Teddy Bear Museum (also known as Teddy Island) is exactly what it sounds like. Unlike at traditional toy museums, though, where exhibits are kept behind glass, here visitors are free to pose with the bears. There’s a well-equipped gift store, too.