Surat Thani Province
Surrounded by lush forest, Wát Suan Mokkhaphalaram, whose name means ‘Garden of Liberation’, charges 2000B for a 10-day program that includes food, lodging and instruction (although technically the ‘teaching’ is free). English retreats, run by the International Dhamma Hermitage, begin on the first day of every month and registration takes place the afternoon before.
Songkhla & Around
‘The great city on two seas’ lends itself perfectly to the click of a visitor’s camera; however, slow-paced Songkhla doesn’t see much in the way of foreign tourist traffic. Although the town hasn’t experienced any of the Muslim separatist violence plaguing the provinces further south, it’s still catching the same bad press.
Nakhon Si Thammarat Province
If you’re searching for less-trodden paths and fewer faràng, then this relatively non-touristy province might be the gem you’re looking for. Much of it is covered with rugged mountains and forests, its verdant jungles teem with lush vegetation and it was once the last refuge of Thailand’s communist insurgents.
Welcome to the urban hub of southern Thailand where Western-style shopping malls mingle with wafts of curry from the incredible range of busy street food stalls. Teenagers text each other between shopping and coffee shops and old Chinese men sit and watch the world go by on rickety chairs outside their junk shops – it's a lively mix of busy city and laid-back tropics.
Sitting on the banks of the Bang Nara River, Narathiwat is probably the most Muslim city in Thailand, with many mosques scattered around town. There are still a few old Sino-Portuguese buildings lining the riverfront (although blink and you'll miss them), and there are some excellent beaches just outside town. But few tourists pass through, due to the security situation.
Lovely Ao Khanom, halfway between Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat, quietly sits along the blue gulf waters. Overlooked by tourists who flock to the jungle islands nearby, this pristine region, simply called Khanom, is a worthy choice for those seeking a serene beach setting unmarred by enterprising corporations.
Once the heart of a large Muslim principality that included the neighbouring provinces of Yala and Narathiwat, Pattani Province has never adjusted to Thai rule. Although today’s political situation has stunted the area’s development, Pattani Town has a 500-year history of trading with the world’s most notorious imperial powerhouses.
Ang Thong Marine National Park
The 40-some jagged jungle islands of Ang Thong Marine National Park stretch across the cerulean sea like a shattered emerald necklace – each piece a virgin realm featuring sheer limestone cliffs, hidden lagoons and perfect peach-coloured sands. These dream-inducing islets inspired Alex Garland’s cult classic The Beach, about dope-dabbling backpackers.