The irresistable lure of Thai beaches
A trip sampling the diversity of Southeast Asian destinations can take you from the sleek modernity of Singapore to the ancient temples of Cambodia's Angkor Wat.
And then there are the beaches of Thailand: relaxing, beautiful, and for the adventurous holiday-maker, a lot more exotic than Miami.
Thai beaches offer gorgeous stretches of sand, water sports, nearby outdoor activities and cheap food and drink.
Off the Andaman Sea are Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, which rose to international prominence after being featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach.
But there are also the renowned beaches along the Gulf of Thailand - Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Each of these has its own charms and attractions, and regular boat services make it easy to travel to them.
All three also have fantastic party scenes.
This is the main transport centre for the islands, with a fancy airport.
While the island boasts gorgeous beaches all over its coasts, head to Chaweng Beach for a proper holiday vibe.
The beach is dotted with hotels for all budgets, open-air massage parlours, and vendors peddling everything from corns on the cob and pineapple to beachwear and decorative wooden keepsakes.That's by day.
By night, the main drag, a block away from the beach, buzzes with thumping music and busy restaurants.
The laid-back daytime schedule means the venues don't become crowded until about 10pm or 11pm; in the interim, for penny-pinching students, head to Walking Street for cheap bottles of Chang beer, barbecued crocodile or fruit shakes, affordable swimwear and sarongs, and people-watching.
Places like Ark Bar on the beach keep the party going until the early hours, with DJs and fire displays.
This island is home to the legendary Full Moon Party, but locals have realised the potential of such events and every few metres you'll find a sign advertising a Black Moon Party, a Waterfall Party or some other kind of party.
Participants at these beach raves adorn themselves with neon body paint, then dance until they drop as the gentle, cerulean waters lap the shore.
The Full Moon Party, especially, is notorious for drugs, but you'll see signs as soon as you disembark at the ferry port warning that marijuana and mushrooms are illegal.
Be aware that travellers have ended up in Thai jails for violating drug laws.
Sunrise Beach is the cove where the Full Moon event takes place, but it is quiet and stunning during the day.
There is a rickety path of wooden slats to a viewpoint restaurant, and the whole area gives off an end-of-the-world paradise impression.
There are eco-tours available that include elephant trekking (this is often only about 10 minutes atop an elephant), waterfall hiking and visits to temples or scenic beaches such as Bottle Beach and Koh Ma, a deserted island connected to Koh Phangan by a sandbar.
This is the island more renowned for its underwater charms than its beach parties, though it has the latter sewn up as well.
Many resorts on Koh Tao are also dive schools and offer lessons and dives as part of their packages.
Snorkelling excursions can also be easily booked.
The beaches are dotted with iconic wooden long-tail boats and water taxis, which can be hired for tours around the island's different beaches and coves.
Renting motorbikes or scooters on this island is slightly less fraught then on the previous two, as it is quieter with less traffic, and it's a great way to explore the tropical paradise overland.
At night many bars and restaurants along the sand offer fire shows, live music and late DJs.
It's easy to wander safely along the beach from one venue to another. A few blocks inland, where most of the accommodation is located, you can grab a banana and nutella pancake.
IF YOU GO:
KOH SAMUI: www.tourismthailand.org/Where-to-Go/Koh-Samui
KOH PHANGAN: www.tourismthailand.org/Where-to-Go/Koh-Phangan
KOH TAO: www.tourismthailand.org/Where-to-Go/Koh-Tao