Why we chose a Southern Thailand road trip
It was unfortunately monsoon season when we decided to take a month long road motorbike tour of Thailand. So we had to weigh up the pros and cons of a Northern vs Southern Thailand road trip.
Although we were keen to explore the North, the weather in this region looked treacherous. Instead we opted for ‘a little less rain’ and a Southern Thailand road trip it was!
Here’s our motorbike route
Places we visited
View and download our entire route here on Google Maps. It took us just over 5 weeks to complete, spending between 1 and 7 days in each location. The exact route shown may differ slightly from the one we took, this is because we sometimes opted to take longer coastal roads instead of the more direct option.
Renting a motorbike or scooter?
We rented our bike from Emma’s Motorbikes and Scooter Rental in Lat Phrao, close to Don Mueang airport. Emma’s offer the best service, quality, insurance options and selection of bikes and scooters in Bangkok.
We opted for a 155cc Yamaha NMAX which handles the road well. It has larger than an average wheels for a scooter, ABS breaks, a roomy boot and is incredibly comfortable – perfect for long journeys.
In Thailand you drive on the left, the same as in the UK. The roads are known to be some of the deadliest in the world so it is imperative to wear a helmet. Not only is it for your own safety, but it is also the law in Thailand. As a tourist the police will find any reason to pull you over, don’t let this be one of them!
We invested in our own helmets (that we travel with all over SE Asia) and recommend a full face style. These offer better protection, fit and comfort. Gloves are also a good idea for both the driver and passenger.
Preparing for our road trip
Before setting off on our Southern Thailand road trip, there were a few basic things we needed to get sorted, one of which was a Sat Nav set-up. On our previous adventures by bike in Bali, I’d been the designated navigator (phone in one hand, clinging on for dear life with the other!) as I am sure most couples will concur, this is like taking a trip to Ikea…
We bought a Thai SIM card with ample data and would rely on google maps to find our way. There are a number of operators to choose from, but AIS offered us the best coverage vs price for our impending locations.
Managing our luggage
After 10 months of backpacking its surprising how much junk you accumulate. We’d been lugging around mouldy old clothes since Raja Ampat. It was time for a clear out! We minimised our belongings for the next 5 weeks and fit everything required into one large backpack which I would be wearing. Everything else was stowed away at Bangkok Self Storage.
Packing tips and essential items
We packed our bag methodically, ensuring all valuables were safe and watertight. The boot of our bike was reserved for laptops and cameras. There are a number essentials that we highly recommend keeping to hand on a road trip. As we soon found out, it is best to pack these items somewhere you can easily access:
Rain jackets or ponchos – Essential during monsoon season!
International driving licence – Being pulled over by the police is highly likely in Thailand as a tourist
Passports – Always good to keep these to hand
Cash – For coffee breaks, toll roads, ferry crossings etc
Waterproof phone case – To keep your phone dry if you set it up as a Sat Nav on your bike
Powerpack & charger – In case your phone dies, very important if you’re using it for directions!
Microfibre towel – Handy for drying off after getting caught in the rain
Drinking water – Travelling long distances in humid weather is thirsty work
Pain killers – Nothing worse than a bumpy headache!
Sunglasses – To stop you from squinting and protection from glare
Phone – For Google Maps, to book hotels, to document your journey!
Camera – To take pictures of all the epic scenery you’re guaranteed to see along the way!
Tips for booking hotels in Thailand
Rather than pre-booking our accommodation, it made sense to do this on a day by day basis in case of any unforeseen circumstances. We may really like a place and want to stay longer, or the weather might take a turn for the worst.
We gave ourselves the fun challenge of spending no more than £10 per night. The room requirements were a fan, WiFi and a score of 7.5 or more on Agoda! If we ended up with AC, hot water or even a free breakfast then we would be absolutely delighted.
Agoda is our preferred method of booking our accommodation in SE Asia. The app is super easy to use while on the go. It takes no more than a few minutes to book and receive confirmation. They offer the best rates and reward you with discounts and points for your loyalty, which goes a long way when you are a backpacker on a budget! We also find their reviews to be mostly accurate.
We had around 5 weeks to play with. Our plan was to follow the Southern coastline, stopping for a week in Tha Sala, then crossing over to Krabi, down to Koh Lanta, and finally back up to Bangkok before our visa ran out.
There were a couple of places we hoped to visit along the way such as Sam Roi Yot and Khao Sok National Park meaning we could take a slightly different route back up North.
With this rough outline we would take coastal and scenic roads where possible. Nick calculated that we’d need to be on the move for approximately 2-3 hours per day. If this included pit stops, it would take around 3-4 hours to reach each destination.
Our starting point was Pathum Thani, an hour or so North of the centre of Bangkok. I was not looking forward to this part of the journey as navigating through the crazy city is an adventure in itself. While Nick gave his sole attention to the road, I winced as we played ‘the smallest gap’ between busy lanes of traffic in the baking sun.
Where we stayed in Bangkok
Prior to our Southern Thailand road trip, we spent two months renting a quiet little Air BnB cottage in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani, on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Bangkok to Samut Songkhram
Our first stop outside the capital took us to the small town of Amphawa in the province of Samut Songkhram on the Mae Khlong River. Amphawa is mostly famous for the Maeklong Railway Market. Walking along its busy tracks in a cramped, dimly lit alleyway we admired the fresh produce. It seemed impossible for a train to run through here 4 times a day!
But it wasn’t long before we heard the whistle and market stall sellers sprang into action, pulling back their awning, while grumpy Grandmas directed tourists, telling them to stand back. The train passed just centimetres from our noses. Despite the hoards, it was quite the spectacle and definitely worthy of a stop over!
Where we stayed in Samut Songkhram
Good accommodation within our budget was hard to come by in Amphawa. We opted for the Royal Land Mae Khlong Hotel which is quite possibly one of the worst places we’ve ever laid our heads!
Samut Songkhram to Cha’ Am
The route to Cha’ Am involved a lot of long motorway driving. The traffic was fast and unnerving as giant trucks passed us by. We hugged the hard shoulder most of the way.
The small seaside town of Cha’ Am resembled somewhere retired British expats would settle on the Costa Del Sol. Shops selling buckets & spades, flip flops and inflatable flamingos were empty, while the odd bar pumped out music. Token Western guys were lapping up the cheap beer and attention of young Thai’s. Despite this, we enjoyed a sunset stroll along the beach lined with sunbeds. It was hard to imagine them ever being used.
Where we stayed in Cha’ Am
Our hotel The Beach Cha’ Am Residence was very modern, comfortable and a significant upgrade from the previous night!
Cha’ Am to Sam Rio Yot National Park
After passing through Hua Hin, the scenery became more beautiful and the roads more rural. With gentle seas lapping and swaying palms on our left, vast mountains and farmlands to our right, it finally felt like we were on a Southern Thailand road trip.
Sam Roi Yot National Park offers visitors plenty to see and do, but the first thing on our agenda was a visit to the incredible Phraya Nakhon Cave. After a scenic hike we made our way down through the cave and into a huge main chamber which houses the most beautiful sacred temple.
Where we stayed in Sam Roi Yot
We stayed for two nights at the hippy little Blue Beach Resort and loved it. Although our room was a bit tired, we had AC, WiFi, free breakfast and even a swimming pool. For less than a tenner a night, who’s complaining?
Sam Rio Yot to Bangsaphan in Southern Thailand
After leaving behind the scenery of Sam Roi Yot National Park, we passed very little on the way to Bangsaphan. Typical Thai houses were dotted between long stretches of rubber and Coconut plantations. Our road trip was revealing how vastly untouched Thailand really is.
Where we stayed in Bangsaphan
We arrived starving and sweaty at the Sananwan Beach B&B. Feeling too tired and achey to find the nearest food stall, we ordered from the in-house menu. After what felt like eternity, a strange tasting noodle dish arrived. We got the feeling that they hadn’t had any guests for a while…
After a nap, a shower (and a brief scare thanks to an enormous spider) we ventured out see the only ‘tourist attraction’ we could find on the map. The Red Cliffs!
Bangsaphan to Chumphon
This busy port town is the mainland jumping point to the island of Koh Tao. Our first impressions were very much food-related, as we hit the buzzing night market. The dish of the day was Pad Thai, but it wasn’t any old Pad Thai, this was the original! Our mouths watered as huge woks of noodles and juicy shrimp were cooked up by the locals like street performers.
Where we stayed in Chumphon
We imaged the Go Green Resort to be some kind of eco-warrior, but the only thing ‘green’ about it was its insipid lime facade. It reminded me of a cheap American motel, but the owner was kind and provided free coffee, biscuits and bananas. The heavens opened and we stayed for two nights, but used our time wisely to work on the blog.
Chumphon to Tha Chana
We made a quick dash once the clouds cleared in Chumphon. I wrapped our backpack in a spare poncho in an attempt to keep it dry, but we barely made it onto the main road before I caught a glimpse of it flying off in the wind behind us.
The journey to Tha Chana was long and miserable, as we had to keep stopping due to torrential rain. But we finally arrived safe (and soaked) thanks to Nicks determination and concentration on the road!
Where we stayed in Tha Chana
Spirits were low when we arrived at the Boryhee Resort where an elderly man checked us in. Shivering and exhausted, we couldn’t wait to get to our room to change out of our wet clothes. When eventually acquainted, we were greeted with two small single beds for the night, each consisting of brown fitted sheets and a towel placed on each. The man explained that these were to be used as a blanket…
Venturing out for dinner to a neighbouring restaurant on a stunning beach, we found empty palm shacks with wooden tables and chairs. Our preference is to be where the tourists are not, but seriously, were we the only people on a Southern Thailand road trip?
Tha Chana to Surat Thani City
Another day, another soggy drive to Surat Thani City, monsoon season was in full swing!
Where we stayed in Surat Thani City
We opted for the friendly Amera Resort which was in close proximity to a good night market. The only real downside being the rock hard Thai bed. It didn’t matter how many nights we’d spent in Thailand, there is no getting used to this style of sleeping for me!
Surat Thani City to Nakkhon Si Thammarat
It wouldn’t be long before we’d reach our destination in Tha Sala, but first we had to stop on the outskirts of Nakkhon Si Thammarat to break up the journey.
Surat Thani City to Nakkhon Si Thammarat
We chose the charming Kanta Hill Resort. The ladies running the resort had me picking mangosteens with a bamboo stick and insisting we take their Durians for breakfast. Hospitality at its best 😉
Nakkhon Si Thammarat to Tha Sala
The peaceful area of Tha Sala is vastly off the tourist trail but with plenty of local markets, hikes, waterfalls, view points and temples to explore we were in our element for the next 7 days.
Where we stayed in Tha Sala
Tucked away along a curling beachside road in the tiny village of Tha Khuen, we found the perfect Air BnB. A simple Thai-style house on 2 acres of land, fenced off by typically ornate gates. We had two guard dogs and a private beach in our backyard.
Tha Sala to Thung Song
The city of Thung Song is in a strategic location, slap bang in the middle of the provinces of Krabi and Nakkhon Si Thammarat. While exploring the streets on foot we attracted rather a lot of attention. A couple of old guys sitting on the pavement enjoying a Durian pointed and smiled. They wanted to share their precious fruit with us, which we happily obliged!
Where we stayed in Thung Song
Right opposite the train station is the Sino @ Thung Song Hotel, that comes highly recommended.
Thung Song to Klong Thom, Krabi
One of the things we were most excited about seeing on this trip was Krabi’s signature karst limestone landscape, and the sweeping roads leading to the province did not disappoint.
Where we stayed in Klong Thom
The Vanilla Ville Resort lies on the outskirts of Krabi, and was a quick stop before our final push to Koh Lanta. Surprisingly this was one of the stand-out hotels from our Southern Thailand road trip (finally a bed that didn’t feel like you were sleeping on a dining table!). Aside from its comforts, the highlight was hanging out with the host and his collection of rescue cats and dogs, each with their own unique story.
Klong Thom, Krabi to Koh Lanta
It was a relatively short drive from Klong Thom to the car ferry which would take us to Koh Lanta. It seemed we were the only tourists taking a bike across from the mainland. After a short boat trip, we were on the island!
Where we stayed in Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta is a popular destination, so we chose to stay in quiet Lanta Old Town. From the ferry port it took around 35 minutes to reach our Air BnB. The Old Town community is a base for the local fishermen who live in quaint wooden houses on stilts over the water. We managed to find the perfect pad nestled between them, and stopped here for 1 week.
Koh Lanta to Krabi Town
On our crossing back to the mainland, we were hit with more wind and rain but thankfully our hostel in Krabi Town was only about an hours drive.
Where we stayed in Krabi Town
The Siri Krabi and its quirky decor is a great base for the centre of town. It even came with all inclusive tea, coffee and breakfast.
Krabi Town to Khao Lak
Winding our way through the province of Krabi, enormous limestone cliffs engulfed either side of the road on our way to the Khao Lak. During the 2004 Tsunami this region was the hardest hit, but this beautiful stretch of coastline has made a miraculous recovery.
Where we stayed in Khao Lak
We stayed at Fasai House, a good budget option especially as most accommodation here is tailored towards holidaymakers.
Khao Lak to Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok was one of the highlights of our Southern Thailand road trip. Climbing a rollercoaster of roads through the park, whilst visiting Ratchaprapha Dam every corner turned was a spectacle of vast mountain ranges, deep wilderness and jungles, rivers and waterfalls! It was a shame we didn’t have more than 24 hours here.
Khao Sok is also famous for its Elephants, and there are a number of sanctuaries in the park. However Thailand is well known for its questionable treatment of Asian Elephants and unfortunately they are still exploited for ‘trekking experiences’. At one point we spotted a poor creature chained to the side of the road. Stopping the bike to take a closer look, the elephant swayed miserably, his eyes running with tears. It was a heart breaking sight, which left us feeling just as distressed as he looked.
Where we stayed in Khao Sok
We chose the simple but sweet Khao Sok Homestay Resort. The warm and passionate owner, originally from Bangkok, set up the homestay as her retirement. She has created her own little haven amidst a serene backdrop of the park. Breakfast and blogging in her garden was dreamy!
Khao Sok to Ranong
After leaving Khao Sok we followed the border of Myanmar and our location become noticeably more remote, uncovering wonderful views and empty roads.
Where we stayed in Ranong
Accommodation was slim pickings in Ranong. We spent a night at the really rather grim Montra Guesthouse.
Ranong to Thungwualaen Beach, Chumphon
It was time to cross back over to Chumphon from Ranong via Route 4 and follow the east coast again. We’d been on the road for over a month and our visa was fast-expiring!
Where we stayed in Thungwualaen Beach
We chose to stay a bit closer to the coast this time at the Albatross Guesthouse which was a much more chilled version of Chumphon.
Thungwualaen Beach to Phrachuap Khiri Khan
We loved Phrachuap Khiri Khan the moment we arrived. From the Buddhist monks walking barefoot to the naughty monkeys scavaging on the roadside, soaking up the culture here was magical.
We were up at 5am to hike Kao Lom Muak, a mountain located inside the army barracks. Unfortunately when we got there it was shut, so instead watched the sunrise over Ao Manao Bay. Not a bad compromise.
Where we stayed in Phrachuap Khiri Khan
We rested our heads for the night at the cosy Baan Pak Sukjai.
Phrachuap Khiri Khan to Phetchaburi
With only two nights away from reaching Bangkok, we were back on the fast roads and on a mission. 7-Eleven stops were the main highlight. It is true what they say about their famous toasted sandwiches, they really are a travellers best friend!
Where we stayed in Phetchaburi
Bagging a room at the swanky new Maithong Riverside was quite a treat. It appeared to be the hotel of choice for travelling Thai businessman, grubby backpackers, not so much!
Phetchaburi to Nakhon Pathum
Our final night on the road was spent in the city of Nakhon Pathum. We found ourselves doing laps around the Phra Pathom Chedi temple due to the complicated one-way system before eventually locating an impressive night market. There was no holding back, as we indulged in all our favourite Thai market foods such as fragrant yellow rice and boiled chicken, a steamy bag of Siao Pao, fresh sweet pineapple and coconut milk cups. Yum!
Where we stayed in Nakhon Pathum
Thai hospitality was lost in translation at the Baan Jumpa Residence. They didn’t get my vote, but all in all its really not a bad place to stay!
Finish: Don Mueang, Bangkok
We were so relieved to have made it back to Bangkok in one piece. If one things for sure, the roads in the South were far less dangerous than that of the Capital city. Completing our Southern Thailand road trip felt like such an achievement!
Where we stayed in Bangkok
On our last night in Thailand we stayed at the aptly named Donmuang At Last which was very fitting after sampling a total of 20 hotels on the road.
Reflections on our Southern Thailand road trip
The route we took was relatively straightforward. The roads were enjoyable and notably in great condition. Overall the driving was not challenging, except on motorways where the traffic moves fast so you have to have your wits about you. None of this compares to Bangkok – which is not for the faint hearted!
We loved the convenience of travelling on Thai roads. No matter what, you can always find a petrol station and 7-Elevens are literally everywhere. We were never caught short of fuel, for the bike or ourselves. Garages are readily available if your bike needs maintenance. The same goes for good, cheap accommodation, along with an abundance of markets and great places to eat.
The hardest part for us was travelling during monsoon season. The rain was non-stop at times, making the journey quite difficult and dangerous. But this was all part of the adventure. Next time we’ll definitely aim for the dry season. Watch this space!
Making the decision to explore Southern Thailand by motorbike has easily been one of the best and most rewarding experiences in all our travels. This journey gave us a wonderful overview of Thailand, as we were able to soak up many different aspects of this unique culture and diverse country.
Have you ever been on an epic road trip by motorbike? Have any recommendations or tips for future trips? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below 🙂