Khanom is a place that is impossible for me to disentangle from my experience at one of the few places in Thailand that has ever really made me feel at home – Jambay Backpackers Hostel. But before I get into Jambay and the root of my deep affection for this particular stretch of beach town, let’s start with the basics. Khanom is a small town on the Gulf of Thailand located in the Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. It is a place few foreigners visit and one that you won’t find listed in any guidebooks. Acting mainly as a weekend destination for Thais from neighboring cities and foreign teachers, it’s a city that provides a balance of Western friendly infrastructure with a sense of real escape and tranquility. If you’re up for an early morning you’ll find a striking sunrise over the ocean and only local fisherman and their boats to join you for the view. This is not a town for a good party like the islands, but a place where you can experience a real retreat while still being surrounded by caves, waterfalls, and countless scenic drives.
Jambay backpacker hostel has welcomed me to Khanom more weekends than I can count for live music, special charity events, but most frequently for a simple quiet weekend away. The setup of the hostel is several hand-constructed, open-air seating areas next to a central bar and stage. The walls and windows are all covered in hand-painted murals and paintings. From any spot at Jambay you’ll have an ocean view and no more than a 50m walk to the shore. While I can easily describe the layout and structure of the place, I know it can never convey the aspects of the hostel that make it so truly unique. The most special thing about Jambay is that whether it is your first time or your 50th, Thai or farang, you will feel completely comfortable sitting down in these shared spaces to enjoy a beer or a good book. The real prize is Joe who runs the place and has maintained its sincerely welcoming atmosphere.
Khanom for me means waking up at my ocean-side tent or finding my way out of my bungalows as the heat seeps in and it’s time for the first morning swim. It means laying in a hammock as I relish in the ocean breeze and my attempts at reading turn into a leisurely nap. It means painting a new water color as I sit and share a cold cider with newly made friends. It means getting in the ocean one last time for a night swim and a chance at seeing incredible phosphorescence as the moon starts to rise over the horizon. It means jumping on the back of a motorbike to explore yet another beach down the coast. It’s a place of simple consistent beauty that’s made for the enjoyment of the simple things.
- Jambay Backpacking Hostel: A must stay for any traveling backpacker who prioritizes atmosphere over the finer accommodations (i.e. hot showers or flush toilets). There is live music most Wednesdays and Saturday nights with both Thai and Farang acts sharing the stage. Jambay is probably the most happening scene for younger travelers in the area. A fan bungalow is 400 baht while an AC bungalow is 800 baht.
- Tham Khao Wang Thong Cave: This is not only a stunning cave but also a beautiful viewpoint of the surrounding area. On a clear day you can see as far as Koh Samui. The cave is free to enter and full of beautiful stalagmites. One large room is the clear focal point of the cave, but it takes climb and passing through several small and narrow chambers to get there.
- Ao Thong Beach: This beach is a short drive from Khanom that shows just how beautiful the natural area surrounding the city is. The white sand beach extends on two sides with a rock peninsula in the middle that juts out into the water and gives a beautiful view down the whole coast of the town. Likely you’ll be the only ones visiting and it can feel like your own private beach for the afternoon.
Getting In and Out
Khanom is 30 minutes from Donsak Pier, making it an easy next stop after Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, or Koh Tao, especially if the plan is to continue south towards Krabi or Phuket. From any of the islands you can catch a ferry to Donsak Pier and from there you can take a private taxi onwards to Khanom (at least 600 baht). The other cheaper, but more time consuming option would be to catch a ferry from the islands to Surat Thani Pier and transit to Surat Thai town (~1 hour and asked to get dropped off at the minivan station.) From there you can catch a minivan to Khanom (100 baht).
There are three airports located relatively close to Khanom in Koh Samui, Surat Thani, and Nakhon Si Thammarat. From the Surat Thani airport you can take a taxi directly to Khanom (~1500 baht) or a bus to Surat Thani (~100 baht, 1 hour) and from there a minivan to Khanom (~100 baht, 1 hour). The last minivan from Surat Thani to Nakhon is 6pm. From the Nakhon Si Thammarat airport you can take a taxi direct (~1200 baht, 2 hours) or catch a minivan from the airport (leaving every hour until 5pm from city center, ~100 baht). From the Koh Samui airport you will need to take a taxi to the pier (~500-800 baht) and then a ferry to Donsak or Surat Thani.
You can also catch a bus between Khanom and Bangkok that connects daily (~600 baht, ~10 hours). The alternative option from Bangkok is a train to Surat Thani (~600-1300 baht, ~10 hours) followed by a taxi or minivan to Khanom.
Since there are no tuk tuks to be found and the distances between places are far, the best way to get around Khanom is via scooter. Traffic is moderate and relatively easy to navigate as there is only one main intersection in the town. Daily scooter rental will cost you 200-250 baht per day.
Getting into town via minivan it is best to get off at the main intersection (see map). From here you will be able to get your 711 essentials and a motor bike taxi to your lodgings. There are also places near this intersection where you can rent a scooter (just look for signs and scooters on the road).
If you’re looking to stay at JamBay, the best way to book a reservation would be to send a message through facebook. The facebook name is JamBay Khanom Thailand and you can find the page here.
To get to Tham Khao Wang Thong Cave from Nakgon si Thammarat take highway 4014 out of town. When you reach the Kry Wing T-Junction turn left onto highway 4142 for 6km. You will see a crossroads and turn left. There is a sign for the cave at this crossroads. The cave is open from 8:30 – 5:00pm. There are guides around the parking area that will take you up to the cave. You don’t need to pay the guides, but can leave a donation or a tip if you would like. It would be a good idea to bring your own flashlight or headlamp, but it isn’t necessary.
To get to Ao Thong Beach, Khanom you can follow this map where I’ve pinned the location of the beach. Near the beach there is a place to park your bike and a restaurant.