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The most scenic roadtrip in southern Thailand

The story of this road trip begins rather spontaneously from an earlier one-day business trip. After seeing a Facebook post about a road journey from the westernmost province of Ranong to the southern coastal province of Phang Nga, the idea of river bamboo rafting and driving along this beautiful road, entered my imagination.

Phuket was my base destination, where a luxurious beach holiday never fails, but this time the addition of reconnecting with nature in the neighboring provinces was even more invigorating and soul-fulfilling. After brief research, I decided on key destinations within three provinces, but the best parts of the trip were the unplanned discoveries and awe-inspiring scenery in their purest natural setting. These will leave you fully recharged when you return to your normal, busy life.


Panoramic Landscape and Mountainous Terrain

The idea was to arrive before noon, rent a car in Phuket, and head directly to Ranong, with a stop for lunch at Takua Pa, Phang Nga. I suggest you drive on route 4090, and not through Khao Lak as Google Map suggests. The sprawling vista of mountainous terrain will be visible throughout your entire drive to Ranong.

Ranong is situated in the embrace of mountains, and that is its wonderful attraction. There is a panoramic vista at Kuan Pak Viewpoint where the roadside is covered with beautifully curved tree branches. The land is covered with all sorts of agricultural plantations, mostly pineapple, rubber, and palm oil. The greenery can be seen along the drive, conveying a gentle, calm atmosphere.

Takua Pa is well-preserved and has a long history which you can learn from conversations with locals. I explored the place for an hour and a half, and just as I sat down for lunch, a lady stopped by and smiled, and asked me ‘When did you get here?’, to which I replied with an even bigger smile. Then, another lady gave me some of her farm-grown pineapples in return for a second visit to her batik sarong shop. Southern sincerity and genuine friendliness like this are truly why Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’.

I continued my drive to Ranong through the rain, and just as it stopped, I arrived at my homestay accommodation – Baan Rai I Arun Resort. The sun was setting and the sky turning pink, while the droplets of rain glistened on the grass, palm trees, ferns, and many other kinds of plants. It was a beautiful and refreshing experience.

At Baan Rai I Arun Resort you can eat in an organically ‘farm-to-table’ style. There are no plastics or Wi-Fi, just people and bamboo trees. The place was built with love and attention to detail, and there are many visitors during the day due to its growing popularity.


Morning Magic Run and a Day Trip to Surin Islands

I woke up at 6am to run at sunrise in the early morning light. There were few houses around, and in the foreground was a vast open sky with a silhouette of mountains on the wide and distant horizon. I ran on the flat road with gradual slopes. How I wish I had a camera because the view was magical! A thick mist of clouds emerged just below the peaks of the mountains as the sunlight began seeping through the clouds. When I ran back to the homestay, I saw the same scene but in panorama. Rising early is worth the effort.

Ranong is just one hour from Kuraburi Pier where I took a one-hour speedboat trip to Surin Islands – a group of islands known for its beauty and equal to the Similan Islands, but less touristy.

The tour takes you to about five snorkeling sites, with a stop at Morgan Village whose residents are indigenous islanders. The village’s history dates back over a hundred years. Crowds of people can sometimes be overwhelming, but the moment you plunge into the emerald waters, you enter a serene and beautiful world.

If I compare my snorkeling experience there with that of the Phi Phi Islands (where I went a few months ago) this was certainly better. The corals were wellpreserved and the fish beautiful. If you are lucky, you might get to brush shoulders with marine varieties such as Empress Angle and Parrot Fish.

We returned in the evening after enjoying a suntan (at least for me), and then embarked on a 2-hour drive to Khao Sok, Suratthani where we stayed at Our Jungle Eco Resort in a plain and simple bamboo hut without air-conditioning. It was such a perfect place to disconnect and immerse yourself in nature.

Day 3 – Surathani (khao sok national park)

A Morning on the Bamboo Raft to Breathtaking Scenery at Chiew Lan Lake

I woke up early for another morning run, in proximity to majestic limestone mountains. The resort booked me a song taew (a pick-up-truck-cum-shuttle bus) which collected me at 7.45am for bamboo rafting. It was one of the best decisions on my trip as the scenery in the morning was incredible.

We drove up and down and over the Khao Sok mountain range, which was covered in mist, some thin and some thick, with the mountain peaks appearing partially against the blue sky (the average mountain height is 600 meters above sea level – so we were in high terrain). The sights I saw while driving along the road were almost like a scene from the Avatar movie. The bamboo raft trip started at a point right at the foot of a group of limestone mountains.

The next destination was Cheow Lan Lake – a thirtyminute drive through Khao Sok National Park’s rainforest. Picture a total area of 739 sq. km. rainforest – the largest in Southern Thailand and about 200 sq. km. greater than the entire area of Phuket Island province. The lake (dam reservoir) itself is incredibly large, and simply put, feels like being in an ocean surrounded by dramatic limestone mountain scenery at various elevations. I hired a private long-tail boat for a tour so I could stop anywhere I wanted and alighted at one of the floating resorts for lunch, snacks, and a nap.

I had a pleasant conversation with my guide, Nid, and learned a little about the place, and discovered that Hollywood has used the location to film several movies, including Avatar. Clearly, this was the inspiration for some of Avatar’s scenes. Nid was eager to take me to the final landmark, known as the ‘Guilin’ of Thailand – not to be confused with the Chinese place of the same name. I thought what I had already seen was impressive enough but did not deny myself the opportunity to take a few more photographs as memories of my trip.

As we headed back, I sat on the tip of the boat, breathing in the fresh air, and looked out over the open waters with a sense of freedom. The entire, natural landscape was stunning and a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience, leaving me to wonder why it is not a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pictures do not do justice to what you see, and this place can be summed up as an ultimate road trip escape to stunning nature. As for the route itself, naming it ‘The Most Beautiful Road Trip Destination in Southern Thailand’ is no exaggeration either.


-Rent a car online prior to your arrival at the airport, to save time and the hassle of car rental procedures.

-From May to October is the rainy season. Traveling around the coast is not recommended.