The world is full of beautiful oceans, pristine beaches with aqua-blue water, powdery sand and lots of friendly fish. But I have a special fondness for the Andaman region of Thailand around Krabi and southern Phuket.
I have been there five or six times and every time I am amazed anew at how bright the sunshine is, how clear the water is and how instantly refreshed I feel the first time I jump in it. But while it is tempting to stay close to your deckchair, relaxing with a good book, a foot massage and a cocktail in a coconut, you’ll be missing out, because the best the region has to offer is out at sea. Here are the three water adventures you have to try.
Diving in the Andaman is some of the best in the world. Dive sites tend to be clustered around a small area, so you can visit different sites in the one day. Visibility is generally excellent and currents are mild, perfect for first time divers. Colourful hard and soft corals abound and there’s plenty of marine life including manta rays, turtles, hundreds of species of fish and seahorses. For more advanced divers Shark Point, in between Phuket and Koh Lanta, is one of the best spots in the area. It’s a deep dive, up to 25 metres, and divers often spot harmless leopard sharks resting on the sandy ocean floor.
You can snorkel straight off the beach in many spots around the region and still see plenty of fish, but the best sites are around the base of the limestone karsts that jut dramatically out of the water. There are hundreds of these karsts scattered through Phang Nga Bay and at the base of each you will find a little living reef with coloured corals and fish darting in and out of the rocks. Charter a boat for the day and you can explore lots of these spots at a leisurely pace. Your own boat means you can choose your favourite place to stop off and you can avoid some of the larger, more popular karsts that can be crowded with other daytrippers.
In high season (November to April) the waters of the Andaman are especially calm, which means they are perfect for the sea kayaking novice. Many resorts will have kayaks available or you can rent them cheaply on the beach. There is plenty to see close to the shoreline and lots of secluded coves or tiny beaches to stop off at along the way. For more adventure, take a day trip to Hong Island, seven kilometres off the coast from Krabi. You can paddle all the way around the island (for a person of reasonable fitness the journey takes less than an hour) and on the back side there is the entrance to a sheltered lagoon which you can paddle into to poke among the mangroves that line the edge.
Places to Stay
Andaman White Beach
If you’re after a quiet break then the Andaman White Beach is a great choice. The 52 rooms are spread around a picture-perfect private bay and are surrounded by lush vegetation, so you’ll barely see another room. The white sand of Nai Thorn Noi Beach is set up with stylish cabanas during the day for guests to relax.
Insider tip: The resort can arrange a special dinner on the beach with candles, traditional performances and a delicious selection from the kitchen and wine cellar (including the best steak I have ever had in Asia). It’s perfect for a special group meal or a romantic tête à tête.
Rates: from A$270 per night including breakfast. andamanwhitebeach.com
Angsana Laguna Phuket
If you’re travelling with children who aren’t too keen on the water activities, then this is the resort for you. The Tree House Kids Club is spread over two levels with four separate areas connected by covered walkways, like a mini-resort of its own. There’s a check-in area for children when they arrive as well as a café, arts and craft laboratory and video games. Activities on offer include Thai dance classes, nature walks and tree planting, and the in house baby elephant visits every day.
Insider tip: Stay in one of the Angsana Pool Residence for lots of space and three bedrooms all on one level (unlike the multi-bedroomed loft rooms) – great for little legs or unsteady feet.
Rates: from A$150 per night. angsana.com/en/phuket
This all-villa resort spills down a hillside in the secluded Rawaii area of southern Phuket. Some of the villas have glass walls and are quite close to the main thoroughfare, so be sure to draw your curtains before you get changed – a mistake I made only once. There’s a large grassed area behind the beach where activities are held, like yoga and muay Thai classes, and a substantial kids’ club.
Insider tip: Don’t miss a treatment at the spa – my three-hour signature massage was simply sublime. The spa pavilions are spread at different heights in a circular pattern around a central garden and each has a private Jacuzzi to relax in before or after your pampering.
Rates: from A$224 per night including breakfast. vijittresort.com
Hotel Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort
Half an hour south of the tourist town of Ao Nang, the Sofitel is a large resort in the style of a colonial mansion – think lots of white columns, breezy verandahs and gleaming wooden floors. The resort has a huge swimming pool with countless sunloungers and, because so many visitors are out on excursions, it’s often almost deserted during the day. Don’t miss high tea served on the lawn by an elephant.
Insider tip: The only way to arrive is by the resort’s private boat. Zip through the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay sitting on plush white seats with cold drinks and Evian face mist, and arrive at the beach like James Bond. If you’re a VIP traditional dancers and a tray of champagne will be waiting to greet you.
Rates: from A$136 per night including breakfast. sofitel.com
Thai Airways International flies from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to Phuket via Bangkok daily. Return economy fares start from A$1,182 and business class fares from A$4,285. Total flight time is around 10 hours plus stopover.