It's hard to beat Thailand's beaches. But where to go if you've been to Phuket and Koh Samui, the most popular choice of tourists, and you'd like to try somewhere slightly less crowded? The coastal province of Krabi is your best bet.
Situated in southern Thailand, Krabi is far from the country's conflicted areas (predominantly further down in the Malay Pattani region) and well set up for tourists without being as maddening as hot-spots like Phuket and Koh Samui.
It also has an abundance of postcard-perfect beaches, clear waters, coral reefs, caves and waterfalls, as well as numerous idyllic islands easily reached by long-tail boat.
When to go
If you can, aim to visit Krabi between November and April when the area's climate isn't as searingly hot. During this period the island also gets dry North Easterly winds, which means clear blue skies and starry nights. That said, even if you do end up in Krabi during its "wet" season in June to November, there will still be plenty of dry weather too, and you'll find accommodation prices come down, making for a more economical stay.
How to get there
There are regular direct bus services between Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal and Krabi, but your best bet is to take a VIP bus, which for NZ$20 or so more offers a far more comfortable 10-12 hour ride.
Alternatively, budget airline Air Asia will get you to Krabi from Bangkok and back again for a very reasonable price, depending of course on when you book.
Where to stay
Divided into eight districts, the Krabi region's administrative capital is Krabi town: small, quirky, and majestically placed amongst towering limestone karsts. It's there you'll find the widest choice choice of accommodation and dining choices; however, there are other - perhaps more appealing - options available.
Consider the nearby "cities" of Ao Nang (a long, developed beach from which it's impossibly easy to island hop); Koh Lanta (a sleepier, hippy-ish area for those who want their own space); Rai Leh (great for rock climbers and beach lovers); or Ton Sai (cheap bungalows for backpackers who need some time out).
Couples or small groups willing to fork out a bit of cash will be in utter heaven at Amari Vogue, a charming, moderately sized hotel situated in a garden setting on the shores of gorgeous - and tranquil - Tub Kaak beach. With tasteful, private rooms; helpful, unobtrusive staff; and a beautifully appointed swimming pool, it's a gem of a hotel with a distinctly pleasant atmosphere and complete lack of pretension. Highly recommended.
Families, on the other hand, will appreciate the child-friendly Centara Grand Beach Resort. Nestled in a stunning curve of sky-high limestone formations, the kids will love breakfasting by the little pond, with its resident 'Monitor' lizards popping their scaly heads up to say hello.
It also has a fun swimming pool with a "grotto" and its restaurant Rim Saai offers a novel "instant-ice cream" service for dessert, in which dry ice is used to produce a sweet treat in seconds, like magic.
For more accommodation options, including budget choices, it's worth perusing Travel Advisor's Krabi Province round-up.
Traditional southern Thai food, including the dry, Malaysian-influenced Panaeng curry and Indian-influenced Massaman (Muslim) curry with potatoes and nuts. Like other centres in Thailand, street food is just as good - and often better - than restaurant offerings.
Secluded islands, which are a major part of the Krabi province experience. Particularly beautiful are Bamboo and Hong islands, so make sure they're included in any day tour you embark on. Don't bother with Maya Bay, aka The Beach - the crowds are so thick you can see nothing but impatient tour boats and harassed tourists.
Koh Lanta. If you have any time to spare, spend at least a few days in this quiet, relaxing part of Krabi province. A boat trip away, it's less fast-paced than touristy Ao Nang and Krabi Town, with long stretches of beach dotted sporadically with lovely cafes and bars.