Gateway to beach resorts and islands

June 3, 2015 by  
Filed under THAINESS

BANGKOK, 3 June 2015: Ironically, Tao Island’s popularity rubbed off on Chumphon and the island is actually in neighbouring Surat Thani province.

But Chumphon port town offers the shortest ferry ride of around 90 minutes to Tao Island, famous for its dive sites and a quieter environment than the more popular island of Samui. The ferry transfer from Samui to Tao takes three hours,

The most popular travel option to Tao is Nok Air’s three-daily service to Chumphon and the ferry transfer to the island packaged in the fare. The convenience of booking it all online is another strong plus point for using the Chumphon gateway.

Chumphon province located around 450 km south of Bangkok, on the west side of the Gulf of Thailand, has been identified in the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Discover Thainess campaign. It identifies 12 secondary destinations that reflect a Thainess experience as opposed to the urban environment of gateway cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

2.1 Chumphon is attracting more attention and this places it on the TAT’s emerging destinations list. The emphasis is on drawing more domestic travellers and that in turn encourages international visitors as facilities develop and improve.

But the province is not new to tourism. On the contrary, travellers who are attracted to charming off-the-beaten-track beaches have been visiting Chumphon provinces for years, long before airlines began serving the province. The only travel options were the late night rail or bus trips south that got you to Chumphon just before dawn.

From the town it was just a short 20 km hop to long coconut fringed beaches where small resorts offered bed and breakfast. They are still there offering bargain accommodation, but they have now been joined by upscale resorts that sprung up after daily flights were introduced from Bangkok.

For those who must journey on to Tao it is interesting to note that the island had a notorious history as an escape-proof prison colony from 1933 to 1947 when it was abandoned. For decades only fishermen visited the island.

In the 1980s it welcomed a few intrepid travellers who rented A-frame shacks on beaches and stayed for a month or more at around USD5 a day.

Today, it has a prospering tourism trade built on scuba diving. There are clusters of dive schools that offer PADI certification for beginners up to advance and instructor levels.

The island forms part of the Chumphon Archipelago on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand, noted for its clear waters and marine life that makes it a fascinating base for scuba diving excursions and live-a-board trips. The main settlement is Ban Mae Hat and without doubt the island’s economy depends almost exclusively on tourism, especially scuba diving.

Tourism has its downsides and one of them was the disruption of turtle breeding grounds on the beaches of Tao. However, since 2004 the Royal Thai Navy and KT-DOC, a coalition of local scuba diving centres, have reintroduced hundreds of juvenile turtles to the island’s ecosystem.

According to historians in 1899, King Chulalongkorn visited the island and inscribed his monogram on a huge boulder at Jor Por Ror Bay next to Sairee Beach. Thai tourists visiting the island pay their respects.

Most visitors to the island stay at Sairee on the west coast, which has a white sandy beach or at Chalok Baan Khao, to the south of the island.

2.2Tao’s premier spot for divers is Chumpon Pinnacle, a site to the west of the island inhabited by whale sharks and a few bull sharks.

Chumphon is without doubt the most convenient gateway to reach Tao island, but it also catches the attention of tourists who drive south to explore mainland resorts and towns, possibly on their way to Malaysia or Phuket.

Chumphon airport is 30 km north of town and has direct daily flights connections from Bangkok’s Don Meueng Airport. The flight time is around 50 minutes.

Nok Air flies three-daily services and the airline also offers a convenient fly-sail option through a ferry company. The transfer package is sold online bundled with the fare.

But two ferry companies, Lomprayah and Songserm also have counters at the airport selling bus-ferry transfers.

Earlier this year, Lomprayah moved its catamaran service to a coastal wharf closer to the airport to reduce the transfer time.

It is also possible to rent a car at the airport and use Chumphon as the starting point to explore South Thailand coastal resorts and towns.

What to see

Chumphon’s National Museum

Established in 1995 at Khao Samkaew, the museum provides a provincial overview ranging from prehistory through to the present.

Prince of Chumphon Shrine,

The shrine is located 20 km from Chumphon town on Highway 4119 and 4098. It has a monument of Admiral Phra Borommawong Thoe Kromluang Chumphon Khet Udomsak facing towards the sea. There is a museum with exhibits about the admiral’s life and a torpedo-ship named the Royal Chumphon decommissioned in 1975.

Pathio Coast and Beaches

Ao Bo Mao Beach (Spring Tree Bay), Pathio district (30 km north of Chumphon and 1 km from Chumphon Airport). The beach has small resorts and seafood restaurants.

Ao Thung Makham, Pathio district. Unspoiled white sand beaches with limestone rock formations separating the curved bays, 5 km from Chumphon Airport.

Thung Wua Laen (Running Bull Beach), Pathio district (15 km north of Chumphon in Pathio, 10 km from Chumphon Airport). This white sand beach is Chumphon’s main beach destination. Activities include diving, snorkelling, kayaking, kite surfing, beach sports, temple visits. The beach has numerous resorts, restaurants and beach bars.

National Park

Mo Ku Chumphon National Park (National Park Visitors Centre), towards Hat Sai Ri where there are boardwalks through the mangrove forests and over creeks.

The national park area is part of the Chumphon Archipelago in Chumphon Province and takes in islands, reefs, beaches, jungle, mountain, creeks, ocean, and mangroves.

There is a camping area and bungalows near the Pong Pang Viewpoint.

Chumphon Town

The bustling early morning market is located on Pracha Uthit Rd through to Poramin Manka Rd. This is a good spot to grab a snack at the curry stalls and there is line of trucks that are packed with fresh fruits for sale.

Night Market on Krom Luang Rd is a short walk from the town’s railway station, past the vintage rail locomotives, and on the other side of a road intersection. Stalls are packed with seasonal fruits and at this time of the year the durian is the top seller.

The town and resort areas at beaches have plenty of restaurants, bars frequented by tourists and resort accommodation from budget to upscale. Most visitors prefer to stay at White Sands beach.

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