Emerging Thai beach destination Sichon gets new international airport

by James Wilkinson

Nakhon Si Thammarat, and in particular emerging beach destination Sichon, is set to embark on an exciting new era of tourism with the opening of a brand-new international airport terminal, allowing overseas visitors to fly straight to a coastal destination renowned for its pristine beaches, mountainous areas and cultural authenticity.

The state-of-the-art international passenger terminal, valued THB 1.46 billion (AUD 62.6 million), will celebrate its grand opening next month as test flights continue apace.

Once at full capacity, the modern, 30,600-square metre, eight-gate facility will boost its passenger capacity to four million passengers a year. At present, three airlines – Nok Air, Thai AirAsia and Thai Lion Air – fly to Nakhon Si Thammarat, all from Bangkok.

The opening of the new international terminal will begin a roll out of direct, scheduled flights from Asian markets such as Singapore, China, Taiwan and Malaysia.

“It is a significant moment in the history of one of Thailand’s most compelling destinations,” said Ravi Chandran, former CEO of Laguna Phuket and executive director of Urasaya, a luxury beachfront development in Sichon.

“With the new terminal geared for international travellers offering direct access, it not only reaffirms the existing domestic access from Bangkok, just like better known destinations such as Phuket and Chiang Mai, but a future that will see an increase in tourism investment and higher visitor numbers.”

The project is a central component of Nakhon Si Thammarat’s strategy to attract a new generation of experience-seeking international travellers.

Famed for its unspoiled beaches, forests, soaring mountains and pure, unpolluted air, this province is a paradise for nature lovers.

In the spirit of sustainability, it is appropriate that eco-conscious visitors will fly into a terminal that is highly energy-efficient, with a wide range of initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint.

Ecotourism is a key sector for the province, which is home to 200km of mountain ranges and 200km of beaches.

Adventurous explorers can immerse themselves in the lush landscapes of Khao Luang National Park, which is home to one of Thailand’s highest peaks, the 1,780-metre Khao Luang Mountain, plus the 19-tier Karom Waterfall, 1.7km-long Hong Cave and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The coastal environment is just as vibrant; Sichon, named as one of Thailand’s 10 best beaches by Lonely Planet recently, is home to a powder-soft sandy shore, crystal-clear seas and diverse marine wildlife – including pods of pink dolphins – and has active conservation programmes in place to ensure the marine-biosphere continues to flourish.

For heritage lovers, Nakhon Si Thammarat is one of Thailand’s oldest cities with a history that dates back over 1,200 years, and the province is home to Thailand’s most ancient Buddhist temple, Wat Phra Mahathat, which dates from the early 13th Century.

The province also celebrates artistic traditions where craftsmen use generations-old techniques for silversmithing and batik making.

“I’m very excited about the opening of the airport,” said Sichon-native Benjapop Benjathammatorn, owner of Sichon Cabana Resort.

“It will provide greatly improved access and an opportunity for international travellers to explore the active, healthy lifestyle we are focused providing across the destination.”

The launch of Nakhon Si Thammarat International Airport forms part of the Thai government’s Southern Economic Corridor (SEC) project, which aims to transform Thailand’s southern provinces into a major economic hub.

The new airport could soon be complemented by a road bridge to the popular island of Koh Samui, which is just a short distance offshore.

Guests should not expect Nakhon Si Thammarat to become a mass tourism destination, however; authorities are focused on promoting authentic local and sustainable experiences.

Private developments such as Urasaya, a new residential and hospitality project in Sichon, will deliver luxurious yet eco-conscious and locally-inspired travel.