The Kingdom of Thailand is dotted with an endless number of postcard perfect destinations which became popular world-wide, starting with the islands of Phuket and Samui, Phi Phi Islands and Krabi Province, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. However there is an almost equally endless number of unknown locations, not yet pestered by mass tourism, where travellers can spend time exploring, relaxing and enjoying the cuisine and the hospitality Thailand became synonymous with.
The village of Khanom, at the border between the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani, in South East Thailand, is one of the places I like most and that can be a valid alternative to the most famous tourist destinations without being challenging or overwhelming for lack of “touristy” vibes.
Khanom is a sleepy village overlooking an 8 km long beach on the South China Sea, home to a community of fishermen and farmers.
The beach is a wide stretch of white sand dunes fringed by coconut palms and bordered by a few four and five stars hotels and some guest houses. The area is popular with Thai tourists and North European veterans who discovered the region a decade ago, but overshadowed by the world known nearby destinations of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao (the Donsak pier from where ferry boats for the islands leave is a less than 20 minute drive from Khanom). The emerald green water of the China Sea isn’t as clear as the Andaman sea, on the West coast, but the ocean is almost always flat in Khanom, the sea bottom shallow and sandy, making it an ideal destination for families with young kids or weak swimmers.
More over, Khanom has a lazy, dream-like vibe, lots of space to be isolated, reduced traffic, and plenty of attractions nearby if you are not satisfied with basking in the sun all day.
One of the tour I recommend is going on a boat trip looking for pink dolphins. These smart, fascinating mammals, who like to hang out near Khanom beach and the nearby islands, are born grey and become pink once they reach 10 years old. On my day trip I spotted two, a mother and her baby, less than 20 minutes after leaving the pier. They played hide and seek around the boat, giving time to our very knowledgable guide to explain about their life and habits. Dugongs also live in the area together with three more dolphin species, explained the passionate environmentalist, Mr Deng, who took me out for the boat trip. He speaks fluent English and after being a ranger in a few National Parks around Thailand, decided to move to Khanom and work with the locals, teaching them how to protect the fragile eco-system of the region.
A typical half-day boat trip in the area includes looking for the pink dolphins, but also the sightseeing of a unique stratified rock formation that can be seen in Khanom and in very few other places around the world: stratified rocks that go by the name of “pancake rocks” for their resemblance with the popular dessert.
Another stop is at a miniature island that houses a sanctuary: the small Buddhist yellow flags that signal the temple are a curious sight when seen from afar, making the island look like a pirate ship. The sanctuary is dedicated to a revered monk called Luang Poo Tuad who was believed to perform miracles and magic. The tiny island is covered in lush vegetation, and the panoramic view from the top of the sanctuary is vey beautiful.
After returning to Khanom, you can choose to end the tour or continue with a relaxing fish massage at the local fish-spa. I’m not a fan of this tickle torture, however I enjoyed the Spa location in the jungle, and its natural pools surrounded by Durian and palm tree plantations. Even the locals like to hang out here.
Other activities you can arrange in Khanom are tours to waterfalls and caves, hikes in the tropical forest, cooking classes, kayak expeditions, water sports and a walk to the local view point, from where you get a nice panorama of the area. Or you can go on exploring other regions and islands: the bordering provinces of Phatthalung and Surat Thani offer lots to see and do, while Samui, Phangan e Tao don’t even need an introduction.
Where to sleep:
During my two trips to Khanom I had the pleasure to sleep at Khanom Beach Resort and The Aava Resort & Spa, both facing the Beach, both beautiful and extremely comfortable. Several guest houses and three star hotels are available in the area.
How to reach Khanom:
From Bangkok it is easy to reach Nakhon Si Thammarat or Surat Thani airport, train or bus station, from where it is around 1-1.5 hours to Khanom.
From Koh Samui, it is a 45-minute ride by speedboat or 1.5-hour ferry ride to arrive at DonSak Pier, then 20 minutes by car to Khanom.
-Travel West until you reach Khao Sok National Park, one of the most spectacular in all Thailand, to sleep on a floating hotel in Chaw Lan Lake, kayak and swim, go hiking and bird watching. Then continue west towards Krabi and Trang, with their hundreds amazing islands.
-Travel north to Surat Thani province, hop on a ferry to Samui, Koh Tao and Phangan.
-Travel inland in Nakhon Si Thammarat to visit the rest of the province: explore the most important temple in the city centre (Wat Phra Mahathat W….., well, the name is too long to remember!), eat some local delicious food, visit a fish market, explore idyllic Kiriwong Village which got an award as “the best ozone area” in Thailand.
– In the bordering province of Phatthalung be stunned by a sea of lotus flowers: it’s the Thale Noi, a bird sanctuary and one of the most picturesque lakes in the country, the northernmost part of Lake Songkhla. In Lotus season, from February to May, the water surface is covered by million of waterlilies and lotuses. Renting a boat costs around 500 Bath per hour.