Many tourists point to their limited time in Thailand as a reason to take internal flights.
But jetting about the kingdom just to get from A to B faster often means missing out on all the good things in between.
For example – many visitors fly straight from Bangkok to Samui or Phuket. Ok, that’s great if you only have a week or so but any longer than that and it is worth travelling south overland so as not to miss the great places and experiences to be had on the way.
One of the worthwhile places to visit on the journey south is the charming seaside resort of Hua Hin and its near neighbor Cha-Am about 220 and 200 kilometers from the capital respectively.
So how to go – by bus or train?
While it is certainly true that the train will take longer, train travel is something not to be missed on a trip to Thailand. While the railways in Thailand are in need of upgrades, the State Railway authority are in the process of upgrading their rolling stock.
Journeys are slow but that is advantageous – it is wonderful to watch the scenery go by and enjoy the view from your seat as an endless stream of food and drinks vendors cater to your every need.
A train journey to Hua Hin from Bangkok will take about four hours so leaving reasonably early – maybe even before the morning rush hour hits the capital – is a good option.
An interesting idea is to break the journey around halfway at the station of Petchaburi. Here you can visit the place on the hill though be careful of the monkeys. Then you can continue your journey later in the day.
Hua Hin is full of world class hotels and resorts as well as more budget accommodation. The beaches are clean and though the weather can be inclement during the rainy season it is fine and sunny for most of the year.
Good restaurants abound all over the town and seafood is especially good. Day trips can be organized from the town and my favorite is to go south to the park area of Sam Roi Yort where there is a pavilion erected by King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, in a huge cave.
The cave is accessed by walking over a hill and round a charming bay from the beach. The cave is open to the sky and the light can make for fantastic photography. It’s an all-round memorable trip that many tourists miss out on.
A particular favorite with families is to head west to the area of Black Canyon where there is a very well-run water park. Hiring a car in Hua Hin is a good option though anyone who decides to drive on the Thai roads needs to take great care as driving habits can be a bit erratic.
Cha-Am to the north of Hua Hin is altogether more laid back and quieter. Staying here is possible or it can be a delightful day trip from Hua Hin.
For those tourists who have gone to Pattaya directly after arrival in Bangkok there is now a fledgling service option to go by sea direct from Pattaya to Hua Hin and sidestep returning to the capital. The service by catamaran is in its early stages of operation after starting at New Year and visitors should check the latest status of trips at the Royal Line on Bali Hai pier. At present there is one service each way daily subject to sea conditions with a fare of 1,200 baht likely.
So after a trip to Hua Hin how to continue further south? Again I think it is a good idea to continue by train but this time leave late at night and travel by air-conditioned sleeper car. Leaving after dinner from Hua Hin will mean that you arrive early morning in Surat Thani and from the station there are many options to cross over to Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.
A fast boat service is available from Samui town or you can travel out to Donsak for the car ferry over to the island.
Samui has been on a helter-skelter ride of tourism development since the seventies when it was “discovered” by backpackers. In those days there were just a few bungalows and getting from the road to your accommodation often involved a bumpy ride through coconut plantations.
These days there is much more development and tourists can travel easily to their destinations all over the island. It is really a question of how much quiet or how much action you enjoy.
The east coast resorts of Chaweng and Lamai are the main tourist areas and are full of hotel and dining options. The beaches are legendary. But there are many quieter spots and coves all around the island so the choice is yours.
Inland there are several waterfalls to visit that provide a shady change of pace. Some visitors with time on their hands or who want to see more take a boat trip to the island of Koh Pangan.
Young people in particular flock there to the famed Full Moon Party on Had Rin beach held each month throughout the year.
For those who still have not had enough of the beach a visit to Phuket may be in order. This journey can take a long time by road – there is no train – so even for travelers with time on their hands it may be best to fly. The nonstop flight takes about one hour and there are departures all day.
Phuket has been visited by international tourists for the best part of forty years so it is no wonder that the island – that feels more like the mainland in reality – has everything that a visitor should want.
Some places like Patong have more of a Pattaya like feel with their bars and nightlife while there are quieter resorts and beaches dotted throughout the islands spectacular coastline. Karon and Kata beaches south of Patong are still well developed but more laid back.
The east coast is particularly attractive and tranquil with the same high quality accommodation that can be found everywhere. I would recommend taking a boat trip out to one of the many islands that abound off the east or south east coast of Phuket – take your choice!
On Phuket itself there are waterfalls, parks, wildlife attractions, historical sites and monuments and temples worth visiting. Golf is particularly famous on the island as is organizing instruction in diving. Dive shops of an international standard abound.
The airport is in the north of the island while the main town of Phuket is in the south east. There are a huge amount of travel options on the island so getting about is never a problem.
The road journey back to Bangkok from Phuket is a long one by bus and travelers may decide to fly on this sector to save time though of course overnight bus travel is a viable option.
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