Beach, sun, sea and sand. A lot of people come to Southeast Asia and at the end of their trip they want a few days, or a week, or even more on a great beach or a great island. But even though choosing a beach hotel is easy, choosing one that is going to make you happy and satisfy all your needs is something completely different. There’s a lot more to consider.
What are the most important things to consider when you’re planning your beach vacation?
There are many factors in planning a beach vacation. First, ask yourself “what do I really want out of this vacation?” Is it important to you to be completely away from other people and not see other tourists? Do you want to stroll and shop in the night market or eat at a mom and pop shop? Do you want to go to a nightclub? Do you want active sports like rock climbing and paddling? Or, do you want to sit in your resort, never leave the beach and read a book?
Identify the three or four most important things that you need. Also identify a couple of things that you’re willing to give up. If you know what you truly want, it makes planning much easier.
Be realistic. One important factor is time and logistics, to and from your beach resort. Too often, people go on vacation and try to do too much. Location is important; every time you move anywhere, you can lose half a day.
Koh Phi Phi, for example, is a beautiful island in the southwest Gulf of Thailand. It’s gorgeous, but you’re looking at a lot of travel, from getting to the pier and a couple of hours in the boat getting there. It’s a full day. The boat ride is beautiful, but it eats up your valuable beach time. So if you’ve got only three nights for your beach vacation, stick to somewhere closer and easy to access.
Allow sufficient time for getting to and from your beach location. Taking taxis or checking out of your hotel in the city is tiring. Traveling to the beach from a major city means checking in at the airport, going through security all before you get on a one-hour flight. So consider the travel time and be realistic with yourself.
Although Southeast Asia has many world-class beaches, Thailand offers unique beach vacation options that are easily accessible. There are many islands across Southeast Asia that you reach after spending twelve hours on a slow boat and no one else will be there. But in Thailand you can be in Phuket, Koh Samui or Koh Samet in a couple hours, leaving Bangkok in the morning and relaxing in a tropical paradise by early afternoon.
What are the primary differences between Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Samet?
Koh Samet is small and sleepy. There are no high-rise buildings. It’s the driest island in Thailand. It’s kind of funky, Bohemian, a lot of little family run hotels and resorts. Koh Samet is also very close to Bangkok and can be reached in about three and a half hours by private car and boat from Bangkok. Samet is very family friendly.
Koh Samui is a world-class beach destination right in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a quick flight from Bangkok, under an hour. Airlines like Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways fly there, and there are some direct flights from Hong Kong, Singapore and maybe as far as Europe.
Samui started to hit the map maybe 20 years ago and now you have everything from little backpacker bungalows that are $5 – $10 a night to world class brands like the Four Seasons, Sala (which is an original brand) and Six Senses and W just opened a resort.
A lot of people want to be in Koh Samui but are afraid of being overrun by tourists. The reality, though, is there are many superb resorts on Samui, which are far away from the crowds. If you do want to be close to the action, you can do that at Samui as well since it’s an island with variety.
Phuket is Thailand’s biggest and most famous island. It’s best known for its beaches and is quite a big place with a variety of places to stay, things to do and abundant nightlife with fine restaurants and everything in between.
What are the best times of year to visit these islands?
It’s important to consider the weather. In Southern Thailand, there’s a narrow strip of land that runs North to South; on the East side is the Gulf of Thailand, where the weather is much different than the West side, in the Andaman Sea. So in places like Phuket or Krabi in the far Southwest, the weather can be totally different to a place like Koh Samui, which has is a nice dry season in July and August.
Most people arrive for beach vacations in December and January, when the weather in Thailand is phenomenal. Yet, we host many family trips in June, July and August, and honeymooners travel with us in April and May.
Although Thai rainy season runs through July and August, there are a couple of islands in the Gulf, like Samui and Samet that have fantastic weather. Samui is ideal around October and November when the rest of the country is drying out. Samet is the driest island in Thailand and the weather is consistent year round.
What should you consider when choosing a resort?
The guest mix of a resort can make or break a vacation. If you’re a couple seeking a quite, romantic vacation, you probably don’t want to be around a bunch of families. Conversely, families probably don’t want to be next to couples kissing and cuddling all day at the beach.
Research the particular tastes and clientele that resorts cater to. Families? Honeymooners? Gay travelers? Figure out the demographic of that hotel.
On a final note, choose hotels based on how much time you’ll actually spend at the hotel. In Thailand and in other areas in Southeast Asia, there are many ultra luxury resorts. But, unless you’ve got money to burn, why spend all that money if you don’t plan on enjoying the actual room and the resort amenities?