Not many tourists who move through Donsak Pier on the southern Gulf of Thailand have a clue what lies just south. Most are en route to the archipelago of the paradise islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao or Koh Samui. But travel just 35 km south of Donsak and you will reach the sleepy seaside village of Khanom. There are myriad reasons you should visit Khanom. It’s a nature lover’s paradise with stretches of deserted beaches flanked by mountains and inland meandering dirt tracks that lead to coconut and rubber tree plantations, caves and waterfalls. The roads are wide, the expansive views spectacular and the locals are sincere. Its beauty and charm remain totally unspoiled by tourism.
My boyfriend and I have been living in Khanom for 3 months, by chance, a friend of ours from Koh Samui asked if we would like to stay in his dilapidated home in Khanom. We agreed on a discounted rent rate until we could help him fix the old dame up. WiFi was the only essential we needed to work. As luck would have it is the one thing in the house that is amazing so we jumped at the opportunity.
It feels like we have jumped into a time machine and landed somewhere in the mid 70’s. There are grazing cows across the road, and roosters act as our alarm clock. Locals lead their bulls down the main road to the beach for baths or grazing in open land. I love the daily routine of admiring sunrises, sunsets, and locals living simply through agriculture and fishing. The full moons illuminating the beach are magical, the new moon milky way skies are mesmerizing.
The locals welcome tourists but there aren’t any. The population of Khanom is approximately 28,000 people. There is a small community of expats, mainly retired Europeans. During the week a car may pass the main beach road every 10 minutes or so. Fisherman or locals walking their dogs are the only other souls you see on the deserted beaches. The picturesque bike rides in and around town make my day, there always seems to be a different shortcut. The distances between the town, the beaches and places to explore are always at least a few kilometers apart. You need to rent a bicycle or a scooter to get around Khanom. There is activity on weekends. Locals start arriving on Friday afternoons from Surat Thani & Nakhon Si Thammarat to enjoy family downtime. Cyclist and runners take advantage of the quiet roads and 6 am cooler temperatures.
Until you actually visit Khanom, you won’t get the true quality of the vibes I’m describing. Most foreigners (or farang as we are referred to in Thailand) that we have met here seem to have found their way via the grapevine and we all wholeheartedly agree that Khanom is special!
When you visit Khanom, there are the 3 main beaches in the district that you should know about…
- Haad Nadan is the popular 10 km stretch of deserted beach dotted with restaurants, resorts, bungalows and open land for rent or sale. The sand is white and powdery soft; grab a picnic and chill out anywhere under the pine or coconut trees.
- Haad Nai Phlao is the start of a couple of kilometers of stunning coved beaches hugging the rugged rocky coast. Drive south out of Khanom’s main beach road, turn left at the T-junction and follow the winding road. There are some great restaurants and accommodation options along this road. It leads to a deserted beach call Ao Thong Yee also known as ‘the end of the road’. I have spotted the elusive pink dolphins twice here in the morning at around 7 am, maybe you will get lucky here as well. If not, the sunrise is just as worthy.
- Ao Thong Ching is around a 10 km bike ride heading north out of Khanom town. It’s a pristine secluded beach overlooking Koh Samui. If you really want to get away from it all this is a great option for a few nights stay. It has a few Thai restaurants and bungalows available for rent. There are many dirt tracks to explore around Ao Thong Ching that lead to small beach coves.
Things To Do When You Visit Khanom
While many travelers and expats visit Khanom to slow down and experience a different pace of life, there are still plenty of beautiful things to do and see in this secret gem of a place.
Search For Pink Dolphins
The main tourist attraction of Khanom is its colony of pink dolphins. You can arrange a long tail boat from Laem Prathap Pier. A long tail boat coasts around 1000 Baht (about $30 USD) for up to 6 people. Dolphins are best viewed in the early morning; try to arrive by 6:30 am. You can also contact Khanom Tour Group for the speedboat version complete with an English speaking guide.
We did see the dolphins for a few short minutes on the tour and they are indeed pink! Unfortunately, we did not manage to get photos. The whole 2-hour trip weaving amongst the towering cliffs hugging the coast was breathtaking. In the first couple of weeks, I got up early for long beach walks in the hopes of spotting dolphins in the surf.
After your long tail boat tour, you may fancy some brunch in the village. There is a fabulous German restaurant on the opposite end of the pier, called Zum Gruenen Baum (look out for the signs). The restaurant is run by Dieter and his Thai wife serving traditional German cuisine and fresh homemade bread with beautiful views over the mangroves.
Visit The Markets
The market every Saturday night is an event, the real deal for foodies. An array of homemade traditional dishes are proudly showcased including spicy stuffed sausage, oysters, freshly grilled fish, sweet sticky BBQ duck and a range of strange super hot Thai dishes I will never be able to pronounce or spell. Tantalizing taste buds for the daring, all at a bargain and served by genuinely friendly and kind local Thai’s. You can also pick up anything from clothes, shoes, leather handmade goods to organic makeup and body spa products. You will be one of the few farang milling about. It’s easy to spot on the North end of the main town road starting from around 5 pm.
Every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 7-10 am there is an organic food market in town on the South side of the main road. It’s basically the local supermarket. Pick up your fresh fruit, salad & vegetables. They also offer fresh fish, prawns, crab, and meat if you are planning a BBQ. We never arrived before 9 am and the raging flies — even with the ingenious mechanical plastic bag fly swatter — put me off buying and cooking any fresh fish or meat. There are also vendors selling traditional Thai snacks of all sorts straight out of the pot or off the coals.
Visit The Viewpoint
Imagine a spectacular 360-degree vista over the coconut groves and rice paddy bowl stretching towards the distant mountains, long white beaches and the Gulf of Thailand’s waters meet the horizon. Drive towards HaadNai Phlao, look out for the Nirvana sign and turn right. The viewpoint is at the top of the road.
Check Out Khao Wang Thong Cave
Khao Wang Thong cave is the largest cave in the area definitely worth visiting. We were hugely impressed by its vast chambers, networks of caverns, snoozing miniature bats and ancient stalagmites. I read up online that you needed to collect a key and take a torch along. That is no longer case. You pay a small fee at the entrance hut, huff, puff and climb up more than a few flights of stairs and there is a friendly guide waiting at the entrance of the cave to take you through with hard hats and torches. It is well signposted on the main road 4014 heading out from Khanom towards Donsak.
I won’t lie, there is not much going on in the evenings in Khanom. But if you happen to visit Khanom on the weekend you are in luck…
There is an influx of local English teacher crews that arrive most weekends from Surat Thani to relax. At Jambay, you can mingle with an eclectic bunch of licorice all-sorts travelers for a night of great jam sessions, mostly rocksteady reggae and some impromptu serious talent taking the stage.
Thai Rock Bar (Not its name! And it’s not on a rock)
Every Friday and Saturday night there is live alternative rock bar in town. This funky Thai bar and gallery feel like an anomaly on the main town road. It’s an old-school bar on the bridge overlooking the moored fisherman’s boats blaring classic 90’s alternative rock tracks starting from 9 pm. A Thai guy with a pink mohawk often mans the entrance. It’s situated around 200 m from Tesco on the same side of the road just before the bridge.
If you’re up for meeting local expats, Coco Loco is where you will most likely find them. Run by Pon, an awesome dynamic Thai lady, it’s a small and sweet beach bar featuring friendly local beach dog bums. Look out for the Coco Loco sign just before LeeLoo Cabins heading north on the main beach road.
Where To Eat When You Visit Khanom
There are many local restaurants along the main town road in Khanom as well as the beach road. It can be a hit and miss scenario, knowing some basic Thai goes a long way. Here are few of my favorites.
Note: it is impossible to find any kitchen open after 8 pm.
The chef at Sandy’s Bar is outstanding. Offering up some of the best Thai dishes I have tasted, with fantastic service. After your meal, enjoy the sea breeze and a sala nap. Sandy’s is located on the beach next to LeeLoo Cabins on your left when facing the sea.
The first beach bar to take root in Khanom. CC Bar has an extensive menu full of options that all sound so good, it may take a while to decide. They offer a range of Western dishes and traditional Thai food, in an ambient atmosphere on the beach.
The Dusty Gecko offers fine fusion cuisine, so expect to be wowed! It’s completely unassuming and situated on Khanom’s main road. It is run by Miki from Finland and his beautiful Thai wife. While a little bit pricey, if you are craving a Filet mignon you won’t be disappointed. They serve a variety of Western and Thai dishes.
Racha Kiri Resort & Spa
Racha Kiri is the perfect spot for a lazy lunch. Relax by the pool and take in the splendid views over the bay. The service is not always the best but the food is delicious and worth the price tag. The spa is open to day visitors if you want to spend some time in serene surroundings and spoil yourself.
Nadan Beach Restaurants
There are 3 separate Thai restaurants with bamboo tables and benches on the beach. Depending on where you sit, the relevant owner will serve you. This is a fun place to practice your Thai and hand signaling. They mainly serve fresh seafood at great prices but don’t expect to get what you think you ordered, expect the locals to have a hearty laugh at your expense.
Where To Stay When You Visit Khanom
Khanom is set up for tourism — here, you can find accommodation for any budget from beach bungalows owned by locals to 5-star hotels. The following are the few I have visited or stayed at. However, if you are an impulsive traveler you could easily arrive and drive around until you find a spot that appeals to you. Most properties have boards with local numbers you could call and they will arrive immediately to meet you, your business is valued here in Khanom.
- Happy Resort is run by Supachai — Just an all around great guy! He went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable. He offers his guest’s insider tailored tours. He has private bungalows ranging from for 500–900 Baht (about $15-$30 USD) with air conditioning. The WiFi is only good in the first house, it is situated on the main road across the beach in lush tropical gardens.
- Jambay is a chilled rustic art space for like-minded people and backpackers. It sits on the beach framed by coconut trees and is run by Joe and his crew. There is live music on weekends, a pool table, and volleyball nets. A basic bungalow costs 400 Baht (about $12 USD) and for a bungalow with air conditioning, you can expect to pay up to 800 Baht (about $24 USD).
Mid Range Guest Houses And Resorts
- The Sea Breeze offers 6 spacious and comfortable rooms — some with excellent views over the bay. Set on the ridge of Nai Phlao beach, run by friendly staff and managed by the lovely Joy. Guests are welcome to use the kayak to explore the coastline. Standard double rooms start from 1,000 Baht (about $30 USD).
- Alongkot is a peaceful quiet resort on Nadan beach. The bungalows look simple but stylish. It’s a fairly large resort but every time I’ve been it seems empty. I mention it because it features one of the finest pools on the beach I have come across in Khanom. I am a pool hunter and this one trumps them all. They do not welcome non-guests unfortunately. The rates start from 1,200 Baht (about $36 USD) and include breakfast.
- HaloVilla is set inland surrounded by coconut trees in a lush tropical garden setting with epic views of the jungle and distant mountains. They have private treehouse style bungalows scattered on their property. The restaurant and bar offers delicious wholesome meals and also features a saltwater swimming pool for cooling down. If you are not a beach person, this is a great option. Rates starting from 1,500 Baht (about $45 USD).
I hope you visit Khanom sooner rather than later. I will always cherish my time spent in this little oasis. If you are in this neck of the woods, stay a while and soak it in.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Women’s Sarong Beach Cover-Up: When traveling in tropical destinations, you really can’t go wrong with a sarong. It can be worn as a beach cover-up, a cute dress, or even used as a beach towel.
Bear Butt Double Hammock: There is nothing quite as relaxing as an afternoon nap in a swinging hammock. Easy to set up anywhere, my portable travel hammock has brought me immense joy over the last few months.
Travel Laundry Clothesline Kit: When you’re living without the modern conveniences we’ve grown so accustomed to, it can be challenging to do simple tasks. This travel clothesline kit makes it easy for me to dry my laundry no matter where I am.