Southern Thailand has plenty of beautiful islands and beaches for a tropical getaway – Phuket and Koh Samui are home to some favourite Singaporean getaway spots, but they tend to be overcrowded these days so for a really relaxing holiday, take the time to check out nearby Khanom instead – I’ve put together a short guide on things to do in Khanom and what I loved about this truly serene beach paradise without the tourist crowds.
Thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand who introduced me to Khanom and Krabi.
Where is Khanom?
The Khanom district is a part of Nakhon Si Thammarat, next to Surat Thani along the Gulf of Thailand. It’s actually really close to Koh Samui, and but we found our way to Khanom by taking a 1 hour 45-minute flight from Singapore to Krabi, and then taking a 3-hour bus ride to get to Khanom.
For Singaporeans looking to fly direct to Thailand, the airport at Krabi is probably your best and cheapest option even if it does seem like half a day’s worth of travel.
- Krabi (KBV) flights from Singapore are around S$150-S$200 as of 2018 as they are served by many budget airlines. The bus ride up may be a bit lengthy at about 3 hours but this is the most economical and fastest way with the least amount of transfers required.
- Koh Samui (UST) may be closer in terms of actual distance, but flights to Koh Samui are pricier – as of 2018, only Silkair and Bangkok Air fly direct from Singapore to Koh Samui with prices averaging about S$400+, and that’s not taking in the additional airport to ferry transfer, the actual ferry ride and subsequent taxi to your hotel in Khanom which will take at least 3 hours all in.
- Surat Thani (URT) and Nakhon Si Thammarat (NST) airports are nearer by land (1 hour and 2 hours respectively), but you will need to take a connecting flight most likely from Bangkok, which lengthens your flight time significantly to around 6 hours instead of under 2 hours.
Things to do in Khanom
Come to Khanom if you want to chill out. It’s not got much of a nightlife – a far cry from the pulsing lights and buzz of Phuket’s Bangla Road after dark, and during the day it’s pretty quiet too, especially on weekdays where there are few foreign tourists around.
Enjoy the white sand beaches
Khanom’s biggest draw are its long stretches of white sand beaches. We stayed at the Khanom Golden Beach Hotel (more below) which had a pool right along Nadan beachfront. It’s east facing and a perfect sunrise spot if you can get up early enough, but otherwise it was pretty quiet on weekdays, though it apparently gets more crowded on weekends, I doubt it’d be as busy as Krabi.
I didn’t have much beach time, to be honest, but this guy has a pretty detailed list of beaches in Khanom which is useful if you are trying to find a particular spot.
We had dinner one evening at Summer Beach further down Nadan Beach, which is a pretty nice beachfront property to wind down in the evening.
Find rare pink dolphins
The pink dolphins are one of Khanom’s main attractions and can usually be found not far from the shoreline. They have lived in harmony with the local fishermen for years – the presence of dolphins indicates where the fish are exactly and is seen also a marker for water cleanliness and how polluted the waters might be.
Pink dolphins aren’t actually a breed or species of their own – they are more properly known as the Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins, and are mostly grey until they get old and start to lighten and turn pink. So seeing lots of pink dolphins is another sign that the waters are healthy and that the dolphins there have lived a long life.
My group took a traditional long-tailed boat out from Nang Kam Beach to Taled Bay to try our luck spotting dolphins in the morning – Morning is the best time to go dolphin spotting as the water is calmer (great for those who get motion sickness) and it is easier to spot the dolphins in less choppy waters.
Dolphin sightings are frequent but not a guarantee, and we spent a while without seeing any fins, watching as the local fishermen went about their business hauling in nets, but finally… success! A dark grey fin popped out of the water in a graceful arc, and our little boat zipped over towards it, our boatmen careful not to get too close. Boat propellers have been known to injure the dolphins, and getting too close drives them further away from land.
Dolphins usually swim in schools, so soon enough we spotted another few grey fins and noses poking out of the water around our boat. And then, a flash of pink – we spotted our first pink dolphin! In total, we spotted about 20 dolphins over the entire morning in different spots. Our guide told us that the population in Khanom is estimated to be about 60, so all in all we had a pretty good day.
Discover million-year old rock formations
As we passed by Lak Sor Bay and Tham Island en route to the dolphins, we passed by several cliff faces with impressive horizontal striations on their sides like giant layered rock cakes. These are known locally as the Pancake Rocks, ancient geological formations found to be created more than 2 million years ago according to fossils that scientists have found in those layers.
Drink from a freshwater spring in the middle of the sea
After an exciting morning of dolphin spotting, our long tailed boat headed towards the tiny island of Nui Nok on the way back. The tide was receding and we jumped into knee-high water to walk to the island. Devotees come here to pay their respects to the shrine dedicated to Luang Po Taud on top of the island, and also to check out the rather unusual spring on the island that is only exposed during low tide.
Legend goes that the Luang Po Taud’s ship had stopped on the island and the crew had run out of water. The devout monk prayed for help and stuck his foot into the water, and the water that flowed out from his footprint was freshwater even though it was right in the middle of the sea.
If you didn’t know any better, it really just looks like a random waterhole in the ground. I took a sip using my hands to scoop out the water, trying to ignore the insects on the edges of the hole, and the water indeed was sweet if slightly funky tasting.
Enjoy a natural fish spa
You might have seen fish spas in malls where you stick your feet into a tank and hundreds of fish descend upon your soles and start chomping away at the dead skin, leaving your feet (hopefully) baby smooth at the end of it, but what’s unique about the Suan Ta San fish spa in Khanom is that it all takes place right in the midst of nature, along the natural stream of Cho Waterfall.
Mats are laid out on boardwalks and you can just stick your feet in the pool and wait for the fish to come to you. This was my first time doing this, and by golly it was itchy as hell at first and quite ticklish. There is a lot of squealing as you feel many tiny mouths munching away at your skin, not necessarily painful but really uncomfortable.
I did like that we were in a natural place under the shady trees, and further away there were places where people could go swimming, though I’m not sure I want to swim where hungry fish might nibble at my body, but it’s a pretty fun experience.
Explore a limestone cave
One of the last things we did before leaving Khanom was head to the Khao Wang Thong Cave. It starts off with a bit of a tiring climb up a very long flight of stairs where you can enjoy a nice view of the Kan Thong district.
The entrance is a literal hole in the wall that you can climb into, and the actual cave itself is quite easy to walk – I was in slippers and quite comfortable. This limestone cave has many stalactites and stalagmites, and a good guide will point out all these unusual formations for you, and keep your eyes peeled for bats flitting around the cave!
Open 830am – 5pm
Where to stay in Khanom
We were hosted at the Khanom Golden Beach Hotel [booking.com affiliate link] which has an awesome location right on the shoreline. The hotel is clean but the designs and furnishing are quite dated, but if you don’t mind that it’s a decent place and quite affordable.
Thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand for sponsoring this trip to Krabi and Khanom.