Parts of the west coast of Thailand were hit hard by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, but all infrastructure has long since been repaired and it takes a careful eye to spot any remaining damage.
There are international airports in Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai and on the island Ko Samui, although you are more likely to reach the region by flying to Bangkok and taking a connecting flight.
The final leg of journeys to most of the islands as well as some of the more isolated coastal spots will be by boat. Long distance boats from near Bangkok are also available.
It is now possible to travel by ferries in hi season (Nov-May) from Phuket and island hop your way down the coast all the way to Malaysia Indonesia.
This can now be done without ever touching the mainland, Phuket (Thailand) to Padang (Indonesia).
Islands en route:
Thai portion could be done in a day, although chances are you'd want to stop on some of the islands.
Another possibility for island hopping is by sailing boat. You will find some companies in Phuket offering this kind of tours. Island Hopping with a sailing yacht is more expensive, than by ferry. If you are traveling in a group, you will be able to share the costs and charter a sailing yacht with skipper. Phuket-Yacht-Charter
The region's major cities are served by frequent long distance buses run by both the government and tour operators.
Trains from the north pass through the region en-route to Malaysia.
The reefs around Ko Lipe are largely intact; they have been protected by being within Thailand's oldest National Marine Parks.
Sailing / Island Hopping
The islands in the southern Gulf of Thailand including the Ang Thong National Marine Park which provides a beautiful sailing ground. Island hopping is great way to explore from the gateway of Chumphon to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui. High speed catamaran and ferries leave the Chumphon ports throughout the day.
On the west coast you also will be able to find many beautiful sailing areas, like Phang Nga Bay, Similan islands, Phi Phi islands,... Some charter companies offering day trips and overnight tours from Phuket to Phang Nga and other islands around Phuket. There are hundreds of islands just at Phang Nga Bay and you will need more then just a day trip to explore them all. A great way to explore this sailing ground is to charter a sailing boat for several weeks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a coastal region, seafood features prominently on the menu. Traditional southern Thai food includes milder coconut-milk based curries popularly associated with Thailand: the dry, Malaysian-influenced Panaeng curry and Indian-influenced Massaman (Muslim) curry with potatoes and nuts.
A wide variety of international cuisines is available in the many resort towns, visited by millions of overseas tourists every year and home to many expats. Tourism has also brought migrants from other parts of Thailand, and their food with them.
In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. All are off the beaten tourist trail, although the eastern rail line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok (gateway to Malaysia's east coast) passes through the area and has been disrupted several times by attacks.
Hat Yai (Thailand's largest city after Bangkok and its Nonthaburi suburbs) in Songkhla has also been hit by a series of related bombings, however the main cross-border rail line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth (on the west coast) has not been affected, and none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, westerners have not been singled out for attacks.