The South’s 14 provinces stretch along the narrow peninsula of Thailand from Chumphon to the Malaysian border, 1,200 Kilometres from Bangkok . Its long coastline of golden beaches and islands, with a rugged hinterland of mountains and forests, is of two characters. The east coast, facing the Gulf of Thailand , is softer with long wide bays and gentle seas; the Andaman Sea coast is more rugged and exciting, with stunning islands, limestone rock formations and cliffs.
The climate differs from the rest of Thailand due to two seasonal monsoons: the southwest monsoon sweeping the west coast and Andaman Sea from May to October, while the northeast monsoon moves across the Gulf of Thailand form November to February. The peninsula acts as a barrier, causing different rainy periods to the two coastlines.
It’s an ancient region that was independent until the 9th century, when the Buddhist Srivijaya empire united the area. Eventually it came under the rule of Ayutthaya and then Bangkok . Throughout its history there has been strong Chinese and Malaysian influence, which has impacted on its culture. The further south you go, the stronger the Malaysian influence, with a predominance of Muslim communities, Islamic mosques and a dialect akin to Malays. Rice fields are replaced by rubber plantations, and Chinese tin mining operations are more evident.
The coastline plays a major role in attracting tourists, with Samui island in the Gulf of Thailand becoming increasingly popular as a laid-back holiday spot, with excellent diving opportunities at nearby Tao and Pha-ngan island. The Andaman Sea coast offers many more exciting travel opportunities, led by the beautiful beaches of Phuket Island, Thailand ’s top vacation resort. However, the fascinating rock formations and offshore islands at Phang-nga, Krabi and Trang are becoming increasing popular with tourists, divers and sailors.
The rugged interior of mountains, rivers and forests in a host of national parks is also gaining in popularity among eco-tourists, with growing numbers of safari expeditions on foot, by elephant and by canoe.