Thailand Islands are a retreat !!
And the cherry on the top would be to picture yourself relaxing in a hammock, sipping from the tender coconut, looking at the clear blue waters and a white beach.
But if you don’t choose the right island to visit, you are going to be among hundreds and hundreds of tourists, and sometimes your beach is going to be mucky with an oil slick. Not all islands are the same, and if you have just a few days in hand, then it is best to pick the right place to visit and make the best use of your vacation.
Having spent nearly 20 days just hopping from one island to another, here is a simple guide on the best Thailand islands that you can pick from
Before deciding on the islands, there are few questions that you need to decide upon, which will help you narrow down the destination.
- What do you want to do?
Do you want to party or do you want to just relax on the beach or enjoy diving or do you want to spend in a luxury resort by the pool, or do you want to go on hiking?
Decide upon the amount of activity you want to do. A nature lover will quite not like a noisy beach.
- How much time do you have in hand?
This is important because some of the islands are far off and need to spend time in commute. Some of the islands need time to explore. There are different kinds of travellers. Some spend five days in Thailand, while some spend five days exploring just an island.
So think about how much time you want to spend on an island.
- How touristy do you want it to be?
Why is this question needed when everyone wants to go off the beaten track? The islands that are not so touristy also mean you will not have luxurious stays and parties.
The island will quiet down by 7 pm. On the other hand, if it is touristy, there will be shopping and parties, good restaurants, and a well-maintained beach.
- What kind of beach do you want?
You are going to be surprised by the many kinds of beaches that you come across.
Not all are blue. Not all have corals. Not all have soft sand.
- What time of the year are you going?
It is essential. October to May or early June is the dry season. I went in July when the monsoon had started. At some of the places, diving had closed, and some of the islands were also closed.
So the time of the year is essential.
Now that you have decided on what, you won’t let us go through some of the best Thailand islands for you to pick from.
KO CHANG – One of the Best Thailand Islands
One of the most beautiful islands that I visited will always remain the best for me. This island is on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand in the Trat province. If you are going till Pattaya, I would say go to Ko Chang as well.
Ko Chang is for nature lovers. With plenty of coconut trees and green cover, the island has sweet spots for the nature lover to just hanging around the beach yet enjoy the greenery. The island has many waterfalls, and it is a part of Mu Ko Chang national park.
From Bangkok, buses are there to Koh Chang or else from Pattaya you can take minivans. Minivans pick you up from the hotel, get on the ferry and drop you at your hotel in Ko Chang, so easy!
The Thammachat pier is buzzing with buses to Bangkok and other places, while Centrepoint pier was a little dry.
Things to do in Ko Chang:
If you are a backpacker looking for a shack and a quiet place, head to the lonely beach. Lonely beach is away from the city, and so hardly anyone comes here.
The Klong Prao Beach has resorts lined up, so the beach is clean and less touristy. The White sand beach is a huge stretch, and you will find most of the crowd here. It also has music, drinks and a fire show being performed. From Koh Chang, you can go on a one-day trip to Ko Kood/ Ko Kut island. However, ferries were not plying on this island in July and will remain so for most monsoons.
Note that the water in Ko Chang is not going to be clear blue. The sea is not so shallow. There are diving options. You can hire a scooter/motorcycle/motorbike and look around the place.
Some of the roads are super steep with hair pin bends, so take care while driving.
Book your stay: Ko Chang has many resorts lined up along the beaches. Even otherwise, most of the resorts and hostels give you free pick up and drop at the beaches.
Or you can always hire bikes to roam around the island.
KO PHI PHI – One of the Best Thailand Islands
The most popular, most touristy, and the smallest island. It got pretty famous after the shooting of the “Beach” movie here. So everybody heads to phi. But its natural beauty is too good that you should not miss it too despite it being crowded.
There are two places, phi phi don, which is what people called phi phi, and the other is phi phi Leh which you can take a boat trip to as it is inhabited. It is pretty weird to see how such a small island like phi phi has been occupied to the brim and people walking up and down the narrow cobbled streets.
No vehicles on the island, just the taxi boats, and ferries that come here. A 20 bhat fee is collected on arrival to keep the island clean.
Phi Phi can be reached in just 30 min or an hour from Phuket, depending on the weather. You can also visit from AoNang Krabi, which would be 2 hrs or from Ko Lanta.
Things to do in Phi Phi:
You can stay on the long beach if you want to avoid the crowd, noise, and party. A taxi boat for 100 bhat will take you from the pier to the long beach. There is also a tiny trek route about 30min from Tonsai pier; however, this is not done with luggage.
You can use this to go into the city, and it has a half paved path and half through a small covered jungle. Long Beach has very few resorts and restaurants. Around the Tonsai pier is where all the action is, and you can find hostels too. There is also a hike to the Phi Phi viewpoint.
On the long beach is also a rock place called shark point, famous for snorkeling to see; of course, the name says that. The most popular thing to do here is to go on a full-day boat tour around the island and Phi Phi Leh. With massive cliffs rising out of the sea, it is a sight to see.
Visit the famous Maya Bay where The Beach movie was shot. It is a slight stretch of beach with a lot of people.
The Maya bay has good snorkeling spots. Bamboo island is also known for snorkelling and clear waters. Phi Phi and the islands around it are the places to look for clear blue water.
Note: As of 2018, Maya Bay has been closed to the public.
Book your stay:
Phi Phi has a couple of resorts lined up along the long beach, far less crowded. The resorts on the island have good options, and all the party happens on the central island part.
Look for interesting accommodation options? – Click here
The most famous island that everyone heads to. Phuket has something to offer to everyone. I loved Phuket for the variety of things it had and the softest sand on the beach. You can hire a motorcycle or go around in Tuk Tuk. There are plenty of cuisines to explore worldwide as so many restaurants are present to cater to tourists from across the world.
Phuket is well connected by air, road, and rail. So no problem from finding flights to VIP buses.
Things to do in Phuket:
The very famous Bangla road for parties, pubs, massage, strip shows, etc. However, in July, the place did not look as jazzy as what I had read. I am not a party person, so it was just right for me. Patong beach close to Bangla road is easily the best beach with its silky soft sand and a dashing sea.
Plenty of water sports also on this beach, and it is quite a big stretch. Stop at Karon viewpoint to see Patong, Karon, and Kata beach. Visit the Big Buddha atop the hill, beautiful Buddha statue, perspective to see the whole city, and exciting wishes of people written all over the temple. Watch a cultural show like Fantasea or Siam Niramit, or Simon Cabaret.
Catch the sunset at Promthep Cape, and you can walk up to the end of the cape and watch the sun sink into the endless sea. Head to the old town to see a different contrast quiet village lined up with colorful historic buildings.
Give alms to the monks in the morning. Head out to the Wats and listen to the chanting. There is just so much to do in Phuket. I loved it a lot. There is also a tiger kingdom, bird show, snake show, elephant show, etc., and I strongly do not support such places.
Book your stay:
Phuket has many resorts lined up along the beaches. Even otherwise, most of the resorts and hostels give you free pick up and drop at the beaches. Or you can always hire bikes to roam around the island.
PHANG NGA BAY
I did this as a day tour from Phuket. This is a bay between Phuket, Phang Nga, and Krabi. You can take this as a day trip from Phuket by boat, or if you want to explore Phang Nga, you can drive up there/ stay there and then take a boat ride to see the different islands.
This place has plenty of limestone krasts jutting out of the water—a lot of islands that are worth sailing past to look at the limestone formations. The famous Ko Tapu, aka James Bond island, is here, which as the name states, James bond movie was shot here.
The island also has a beach for you to relax and plenty of shops selling trinkets and junk jewelry.
With many islands having caves, we also stopped at the ice cream cave of Koh Phanak island. The shelter, though small, was filled with stalactite and stalagmite formations. And then there was a stop to canoe through caves and watch the limestone formation on another island.
Koh Panyee, the Muslim settlement village on the sea, is another attraction. The mosque is the only building built on land, and all the houses, restaurants, shops, and schools are perched on the sea.
However, as a tourist, all you get to see is an array of high-end restaurants serving food and not the village itself. Even if you walk through the restaurants and shops and get in to catch a glimpse of the village life, nothing much you can see after a point. Some trips provide an overnight stay option.
Nevertheless, this place was more touristy than James bond island. We stopped on one more island with clear water for snorkeling, swimming, and relaxing on the beach. Forgot the name, though.
Book your tour: Chose between speedboat tour or tailboat one. Make your booking here – James Bond Island Tour
Koh Tao is a divers’ paradise. It is not for backpackers. It is not cheap either. The most expensive island that I visited. There are plenty of tours to dive in; PADI courses are also conducted here. This is one of those islands where you can hardly see Thai people.
Most of the hotels, hostels, restaurants, and diving workshops are run by westerners. You can choose to stay in the busy narrow streets leading to Sairee beach or shell out money and book a villa with an infinity pool overlooking the sea high up in the mountain. Options are plenty.
Surprisingly July/ August is supposed to be a season in Koh Tao that you can see when you reach the pier. So many people get in and get out of the island.
One of the very few good sunset pic that I could witness during monsoon in Thailand.. Life of many revolves around these boats. Used more popularly for commute, you can see them zip past the waves so effortlessly.. if you are in the south Thailand am sure you will get into it at least once.. . . . . . #thailand_allshots #thailand_ig #landofsmiles #seasia #asia #indianblogger #travel #travelblogger #blogger #charmingthailand #gtgi #femaletraveler #dolcefarniente #travelasia #exploreasia #beachlife #beach #sunset #kohtao #shadow #sun #evening #eveningsky #sea #tailboat #boat #cloudporn #goldenhues #gold
Get a bus to Chumphon, and from there book a ferry to Koh Tao. Lomprayah high-speed catamaran is the best in the region. They are also very professional, and they pick you up from your hotel. If you booked from Bangkok, they also arrange the bus to Chumphon and the catamaran to Koh Tao.
You can also arrive from Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. If you are coming from south Thailand, Surat Thani is a better option to catch a ferry.
Things to do in Koh Tao:
Snorkel, dive or do a diving course. Go beach hopping. Sairee is the longest beach with plenty of restaurants lined up, and you can just chill looking at the long tail boats moving up and down the blue waters. The other famous beach is the Chalok Baan Kao Bay.
With hills and resorts surrounding this small bay, the water is pretty shallow, and it is an excellent place to relax. There are a lot of hiking places from here that provide viewpoints. I walked from one end of the bay to another, and the resort at the end of the bay had some excellent view of this bay. Also on the other side of the island is Tanote bay, known for blue water and snorkeling.
Note that the drive here is steep and needs a short walk to the bay after a point. Taking a bike is the cheapest option; however, the roads are super steep, and hairpin bends are available. So take care while driving. Take a half-day trip to Koh Nang Yuan.
The water is very clear and too suitable for snorkeling. There is also a viewpoint that you can hike to and please carry mosquito repellent, and they ate me up.
Reach Koh Nang Yuan by 10 am (that is when the island opens for visitors) because there will be a swell of travelers after that.
Book your stay:
Koh Tao has many resorts lined up along the beaches. Even otherwise, most of the resorts and hostels give you free pick up and drop at the beaches. Or you can always hire bikes to roam around the island.
The island in the Chumphon archipelago with an airport. So if you plan to visit Koh tao, Koh Samui, or ko Phangan, you can fly into Koh Samui. Koh Samui is a relatively bigger island with exciting places to hang out.
Probably the first island where there was relatively more traffic, and we had to wait on the road could be because of incoming air traffic too. Ko Samui is also relatively dry in July/August.
From Koh Tao, you can take Lomprayah or one such ferry to Koh Samui. The ferry from Chumphon stops at Koh Tao and then proceeds to Koh Samui. Similarly, you can also get in from Surat Thani.
Things to do in Koh Samui:
There are plenty of beaches in Koh Samui. Hire a vehicle, aka motorcycle, and go around the island. Mind the traffic, though. Boput fisherman’s village is an exciting place to hang out and also a place to shop. With one side full of exciting shops to buy souvenirs, the other side is full of beach-facing restaurants with exotic seafood to gorge on.
The other best thing to do is to visit the Ang Thong Marine National Park from here. Many day trips are arranged to the park. You can choose from a big boat to a speed boat to get there. Mu Ko Ang Thong National park is a collection of nearly 40 islands of different shapes and sizes. As the boat approaches the park, you will see many islands jutting out of the sea.
The notable stop is the Emerald Lake in the Ko Mae Ko Island. What surprised me was, this is a seawater lake which can be found up a mountain. Meaning there is a tunnel that links to the sea, and the water has collected, forming a beautiful placid lake in emerald color.
This requires some steep steps to be climbed, but it is very much doable, and the view is fantastic. An emerald lake with limestone karsts around! And then the island Ko Wua Talap which has the park headquarters, has a tremendous viewpoint plus snorkeling options.
The viewpoint needs a lot of effort to climb, but the view from the top looks stunning. I did not do this; after one hike, I decided to chill on the beach. This park is a must-visit in the Chumphon Archipelago.
Book your stay:
Koh Samui has many resorts lined up along the beaches. Even otherwise, most of the resorts and hostels give you free pick up and drop at the beaches. Or you can always hire bikes to roam around the island.
I did not visit this island. This island is for the partygoers. This is where the entire moon party, black moon party, half-moon party, waterfall party, basically all parties happen. Since I am not a party person, I decided to skip this.
However, fellow travelers are getting to know that, like phi, even though this island is known for parties, there are quiet beaches for the nature lover. I am also reading a lot about the trash left behind by party goers. Handling trash in islands seems very tricky hence, and please be mindful of the ecosystem.
KO LANTA – One of the best Thailand Islands
Ko Lanta is a different experience from other islands. It is more like a small town with no apparent signs of tourists when you enter the island. The island is so big that it is called Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai; most of the attractions and the resorts are lined on the Ko Lanta Yai.
Also, the majority of the population is the Muslim community, and hence you get to see a different lifestyle after watching a lot of Buddhist Wats. It does not have blue beaches. Beaches of Ko Lanta are more dashing waves but lengthy ones that you can watch sunrise and sunset by. There are also a lot of diving spots nearby.
Tourists seem to swarm phi and Krabi. However, this island in the mid of them appears to have not caught much attention. Let me tell you, June to September is monsoon and so low season. Even then, most of the other islands I visited seemed crowded.
But Ko Lanta was so deserted that most of the resorts had even shut down the operation. The town had almost died by 7 pm, and most of the diving sites are also closed.
Ko Lanta has hiking trails and beaches. The biggest being the Pra ae aka Long beach. The beach is lined with resorts. Well, during low season, just two alternatives were open and serving dinner, so by 7 pm, when we left, the beach was pitch dark with no soul around. The beach was also not cleaned up.
However, the sunset was pretty from this beach and to have such a huge beach all to yourself was nice. The other beach where I stayed was Kaw Kwang, where the sea was shallow, and it kept retreating in and out of the beach. The beach itself is curved scenic and has a minor road running through with sea on either side.
Go further down the island to see the old Ko Lanta town with raft houses and watch the sunset at Ko Lanta National Park. There are also hiking spots and waterfalls. I also did a four-island tour from the island; passing through mangrove forests and hopping the different limestone karst islands was fun.
Ko Muk emerald cave is also done from here, but this island was also closed during the low season. We stopped by to watch colorful fishes and jellyfishes. Ko Lanta is one of the first places where the box jellyfishes appear and hence few diving sites close down.
Got to see those thin plastic cover like jellyfish, which apparently can kill human in just 2 min.
Book your stay:
Ko Lanta has many resorts lined up along the beaches. Even otherwise, most of the resorts and hostels give you free pick up and drop at the beaches. Or you can always hire bikes to roam around the island.
AO NANG / KRABI
Krabi is also one of the most sought-after tourist destinations. I stayed at Ao Nang, and the airport is in Ao Nang, and most of the time, Ao Nang is referred to as Krabi.
How to go to Ao Nang:
Ferries run from Phuket, Ko Lanta, Phi Phi. Krabi has an airport, so the easiest is to land in. And has buses also running from Bangkok. So Krabi is well connected.
Ao Nang beach itself is a sight to see. With limestone cliffs bordering on one side and sunset happening on another side, it is a beauty to spend time at. However, the sea was shallow and had retreated in, leaving you to walk through snails and crabs scurrying around looking for some water.
Having seen enough limestone karsts, I skipped the famous Railay beach. The Nopparat Thara beach is also a picturesque beach to spend time at. Other things to do within the island are hiking to an emerald lake and hot springs. I went on an island tour from here as well.
The Hong Island was the prettiest, clear blue water that you can see the fishes by just walking through the water; note that you need to be early for this, for once the boats start to come in, it will get dirty.
Hong lagoon, which is on the other side of the island, is a fantastic spot to see the limestone karst rising high above you and emerald-colored water in the middle.
People were snorkeling here as well. It is just a small opening that lets boats in and out of the lagoon, and it was beautiful to see. There were many small islands that we came across and also islands with small beach stretches. Being monsoon, the high tide had eaten up the beach in most of the places.
Book your stay:
Krabi has many resorts lined up along the beaches. Even otherwise, most of the resorts and hostels give you free pick up and drop at the beaches. Or you can always hire bikes to roam around the island.
There are many more islands around Thailand like the Similan Islands, Ko Racha Yai, etc., but I did not visit those due to the commute time being too much, and also some of them were closed due to rain.
I have not mentioned the numerous small islands that we get to visit as part of island hopping.
But each island is unique, and I hope you got an idea about each of them.
A short video on the beaches and islands you just visited,
For your Pinterest Board
This is such as informative guide! I love how you have covered every possible detail about visiting a particular island! Super handy!
Thank you Rahma. Glad you found it useful 🙂
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You have really simplified the choices that one has in Thailand. This is perfect for anyone who has a specific need or type of beach that they enjoy. I loved your tips on the same too. Well done
Thank you Ami. Glad you liked it.. 🙂
really great overview of the islands, but i really appreciated that you set up the whole post with some tips on what to think about to help determine which islands will fit your travel style.
Thanks Bruce. I was surprised with the variety of things available on the islands to do
Bookmarking this for my next island hopping trip to Thailand. Thanks a lot 🙂
Thank you.. Glad it is of help to you 🙂
A very informative guide. Thailand is full of so many amazing islands that it becomes really difficult to decide where to go and where not. Particularly for the first timers. Because of this reason only I have not been able to plan a trip yet. Now, I have the resource I needed to chalk out the destinations and an itinerary 🙂
Cool, hope you get to visit Thailand soon 🙂
Those are really great, amazingly beautiful islands. We are actually planning to visit Thailand to do some rock climbing (Krabi) and scuba diving. Definitely, we’ll visit these islands. They look very similar to our own El Nido in Palawan, Philippines.
Interesting! Should plan a trip to Philippines soon 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Hope you enjoy your trip to Krabi..
Oh wow, some pretty awesome beaches with cool views! Makes me want to chill there with a coconut :).
Tender coconut water, coconut ice cream, coconut smoothie, pina colada, too many options we have 😀