129km (80 miles) SE of Krabi

Trang Province, south of Krabi, is where it’s at if you’re looking for a real Thai-style beach holiday in the south. Popular with Thai tourists, the large province is spectacularly placed, with unspoiled national parks and 46 islands. The jumping-off point for the islands is at Pak Meng Beach, about 40km (25 miles) west of the small town of Trang. Day tours for snorkelers are affordable and the scenery is much like nearby Krabi, but cheaper and without as many tourists. Bear in mind that during the monsoon season (May–Oct), there are no day tours and many resorts close down.

For mainland nature, visit wildlife sanctuaries such as Namtok Khao Chong and Khlong Lamchan Park, which boast waterfalls, trails, and caves. The Southern Thailand Botanical Garden (Thung Khai), on the Trang-Palian Road (Hwy. 404), offers stunning nature trails through lowland jungle and tropical gardens. For keen adventurers, there are some remote islands—one such island is Tarutao Marine National Park, which lies close to the Malaysian border, in Satun province. This region is great for kayaking and pristine diving. For more adventure tour info, see www.paddleasia.com.

Just like in Phuket, Trang celebrates the nine-day vegetarian festival in the first two weeks of October. It’s a foodie fest without the gore and mutilation that goes on in Phuket.

Trang Province is also top for light adventure activities such as sea kayaking and diving. Had Chao Mai National Park, which consists of several islands, including the ones listed below, has some secluded islands with upscale bungalows, fresh seafood shacks, fantastic snorkeling, and very little nightlife.

Ko Kradan, is one of the Andaman’s real gems, with healthy coral reefs, azure seas, and powder-soft sands. The pin-head size island is mostly visited on snorkeling day trips but it does have a few places to sleep, the nicest of the handful of options is Seven Seas Resort (www.sevenseasresorts.com; tel. 0752033-8990) with rates around 6,000B a night. While Ko Kardan’s beaches are divine, the island is famous for hosting underwater weddings on Valentine’s Day where brides and grooms get hitched in scuba gear underwater.

Ko Mook (Muk), famous for the Emerald Cave, a hidden lagoon (it is accessible only at low tide), is growing in popularity every year and has some good budget beach accommodation. Check out Koh Mook Hostel (tel. 089724-4456) for simple but clean dooms from 400B. Sivalai (www.komooksivalai.com; tel. 089723-3355) has wooden bungalows that—quite literally—just four steps from the water.

The most convenient island for a base is Ko Ngai, a short boat ride from Pak Meng Beach, and it has a few dive shops that offer lessons and snorkel gear, hotels, and a spot to book snorkeling boat tours. There are two nice spots to stay on the island: Thanya Resort (www.kohngaithanyaresort.com; tel. 094583-2888) has teak bungalows, a pool overlooking the ocean, and a dive center with rooms from 3,800B. Another recommendation is Coco Cottage (www.coco-cottage.com; tel. 07522-4387), which is the most romantic choice on the island. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling ocean views with walls made of coconut shells and there’s an outdoor spa; rates from 3,300B.