First of all, Thailand is not considered a world class surf destination. It may sit at the top of bucket lists for world travelers, but it’s not exactly Nicaragua, where offshore winds blow almost year round. It’s not like nearby Indo, where you can find draining lefts and quad-burning, peeling, point breaks. It isn’t Costa Rica, where the convenient Central American location makes it a magnet for both northern and southern swells generated in the great Pacific, along with the occasional treats on the Caribbean side. But for locals and visitors here, getting some surf in Thailand is just icing on the cake.
Lists of the “best surf destinations in the world” include many other countries before Thailand is even a consideration. Since our surf season relies heavily on the Southwest monsoon (storms and winds created in the India Ocean), conditions aren’t ideal. So, if you’re a serious surfer looking for clean, consistent waves, then consider traveling elsewhere for surf. However, if you’re a local or one of the nearly 30 million visiting tourists who travel to The Land (& Seas) of Smiles every year and you happen to be near a coastline, then you just might find yourself scoring a few after scarfing down a plateful of Pad Thai or slurping on a big bowl of tasty Tom Yum soup.
So where can I surf in Thailand? Your best chance will be the west-facing beaches of Thailand’s largest island, Phuket. But before you repeat the name out loud and offend someone, remember that the “h” is silent. It’s pronounced, Poo-ket. Thailand’s most popular and most visited island, which is conveniently connected to mainland Thailand by Sarasin Bridge, is only a one-hour flight from bustling Bangkok or a two-hour flight from Chiang Mai. The mainland west coast extending north from Phuket to the Myanmar border also offers hundreds of kilometers of hidden possibilities for surf. From Khao Lak to Koh Phayam there are reefs and beaches with good exposure to Indian Ocean swells. You never know what you may find.
Phuket’s surf season (May to November-ish) also happens to be during our low “green season” when there’s more rain (but not as much as you may think) compared to our high, dry, more expensive, tourist season (late November-April). It can get pretty messy and challenging from the typical onshore winds but a clearing up period following a storm can offer some fun, clean surf under sunny skies for days. We do also get some NW and SW groundswells sneaking through at times and when we’re really lucky, we get a couple during the high, dry, typically flat season.
Ultimately, since Phuket lacks that world class surf designation and doesn’t offer consistent or reliable surf, the answer to the question, “Am I guaranteed waves?” is no, it’s far from a guarantee. However, with some good luck and timing, there is a chance you could score big as we do get our fair share of long period groundswell from time to time.
Unless you’re living in Bangkok or other nearby areas and are hooked on surfing, I wouldn’t recommend packing your favorite stick and jumping on the next plane to Phuket the moment you see three stars on the surf forecast. But if you’re adventurous with an undying wanderlust, willing to explore the best of Thailand’s beautiful culture when prices for hotels, tours, and everything else are heavily discounted, then your chances of scoring some surf in Thailand are much greater.
Note: You can learn more from the author about surfing in Thailand here.