You see pictures of best Thailand islands. And you 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 oil slick. Not all islands are the same and if you have just few days in hand then it is best to pick the right place to visit and make 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 the answers of which you need to decide upon which will help you to narrow down the destination.
1. What do you want to do?
Do you want to party or do you want to just relax in the beach or do you want to go 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.
2. How much time do you have in hand?
This is important because some of the islands are far off and you need to spend time in commute. Some of the islands need time to explore them. There are different kind of travelers. Some spend 5 days in Thailand while some spend 5 days exploring just in an island. So think about how much time you want to spend on a island.
3. How touristy you want it to be?
Why is this question needed when everyone wants to go off the beaten track? The islands which are not so touristy also means you are not going to have luxurious stays and party. The island will quiet down by 7pm. On the other hand if it is touristy there is going to be shopping and party and good restaurants and well maintained beach.
4. What kind of beach you want?
You are going to be surprised by the many kind of beaches that you come across. Not all are blue. Not all have corals. Not all have soft sand.
5. What time of the year are you going?
Very very important. 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 important.
Now that you have decided on what you want, 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 and this 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 hang around the beach yet enjoy the greenery. The island has lot of waterfalls and it itself is a part of Mu Ko Chang national park.
How to go to Ko Chang: From Bangkok buses are there to Ko Chang or else from Pattaya you can take minivans. Minivans pick you up from hotel, get into the ferry and drop you at your hotel in Ko Chang, so easy! 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 are going to find most of the crowd here. It also has music, drinks and fire shows being performed. From Ko Chang you can go on one day trip to Ko Kood/ Ko Kut island. Read that the beaches of Ko Kood are amazing. However ferries were not plying to this island in July and will remain so most of the monsoon.
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.
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 phi. But its natural beauty is too good that you should not miss it too in spite of 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 quiet 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.
How to go to Phi Phi:Phi Phi can be reached in like 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 long beach if you want to avoid the crowd, noise and party. A taxi boat for 100 bhat will take you from pier to long beach. There is also a small trek route about 30min from Tonsai pier however this is not to be done with luggage. To go into city you can use this, it has half paved path and half through 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 view point. On the long beach is also a rock place called shark point which is 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 to Phi Phi Leh. With huge 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 small stretch of beach with lot of people. The Maya bay has good snorkeling spots. Bamboo island is also known for snorkeling and clear waters. Phi Phi and the islands around it are the places to look for clear blue water.
The most popular 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 in the beach. You can hire a motorcycle or go around in Tuk Tuk. There is plenty of cuisine to explore from around the globe as so many restaurants are present to cater tourists from across the world.
How to go to Phuket: 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 party, pubs, massage, strip shows, etc. However in July the place did not look as jazzy as what I had read. 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 in this beach and it is quite a big stretch. Stop at Karon view point to see Patong, karon and Kata beach. Visit the Big Buddha atop the hill, beautiful Buddha statue, view point to see the whole city and interesting wishes of people written all over the temple. Watch a cultural show like Fantasea or Siam Niramit or Simon Cabaret. Catch sunset at Promthep Cape, you can walk up to the end of the cape and watch sun sink into the endless sea. Head to the old town to see a totally different contrast quiet town 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 tiger kingdom, bird show, snake show, elephant show, etc and I strongly do not support such places.
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 through 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. Lot of islands which 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 what is called ice cream cave of the Ko Phanak isalnd. The cave 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, restaurant, shops, school 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 overnight stay option. Nevertheless this place was more touristy than James bond island. We stopped in one more island with clear water for snorkeling, swimming and relaxing on the beach. Forgot the name though.
Koh Tao is 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, padi courses 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 chose to stay in the busy narrow streets leading to Sairee beach or shell out money and book a villa with infinity pool overlooking the sea high up in the mountain. Options are plenty. Surprisingly July/ August is supposed to be season in Koh Tao which you can see the moment 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
How to go to Koh Tao: 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. In case you booked from Bangkok, they also arrange the bus to Chumphon and from there catamaran to Koh Tao. You can also arrive from Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. If you are coming from south Thailand then 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 popular beach is the Chalok baan kaok bay. With hills and resorts surrounding this small bay, the water is pretty shallow and it is a good place to relax. There are lot of hiking places from here which provide view points. I walked from one end of the bay to another and the resort at the end of the bay had some good 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 to here is steep and after a point needs a small walk to the bay. Taking a bike is the cheapest option however the roads are super steep and hair pin bends are aplenty here. So take care while driving. Take a half day trip to Koh Nang Yuan. The water is very clear and too good for snorkeling. There is also a view point that you can hike to and please carry mosquito repellent, they literally ate me up. Reach Koh Nang Yuan by 10am (that is when island opens for visitors) because there is going to be a swell of travelers after that.
The island in the Chumphon archipelago with an airport. So if your plan is to visit Koh tao, koh samui or ko phangan then you can fly into Koh Samui. Koh Samui is a relatively bigger island with interesting 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.
How to go to Koh Samui: 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 interesting place to hang out and also the place to shop. With one side full of interesting 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 chose from big boat to 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 lot of 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 amazing. An emerald lake with limestone karsts around! And then the island Ko Wua Talap which has the park headquarters has an amazing view point plus snorkeling options. The view point needs a lot of effort to climb but the view from 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.
I did not visit this island. This island is for the party goers. This is where full moon party, black moon party, half moon party, waterfall party, basically all parties happen. Since am not a party person I decided to skip this. However from fellow travelers am getting to know that like phi phi even though this island is known for parties there are quiet beaches for the nature lover. Am also reading a lot about the trash left behind by party goers. Handling trash in islands seem very tricky hence please be mindful of the eco system.
Ko Lanta is a totally different experience from other islands. It is more like a small town with no obvious signs of tourists when you enter the island. The island is pretty 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 Muslim community and hence you get to see a different lifestyle after watching lot of Buddhist Wats. It does not have blue beaches. Beaches of Ko Lanta are more of dashing waves but lengthy ones that you can watch sunrise and sunset by. There are also lot of diving spots nearby. Tourists seem to swarm phi phi and Krabi, however this island in the mid of them seems 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 7pm and most of the diving sites are also closed.
How to go to Ko Lanta: Boats by private operators run from Phi Phi. During the low season normal boats run and not big ferries. The same from Krabi. Only the car ferries run, meaning you can hire a minivan or so and the car gets on the ferry along with you. There are also ferries from Phuket.
Things to do in Ko Lanta: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 resorts were open and serving dinner so by 7pm 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 small 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 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 low season. We stopped by to watch colorful fishes and jelly fishes. Ko Lanta is one of the first places where the box jelly fishes appear and hence few diving sites close down. Got to see those thin plastic cover like jelly fish which apparently can kill human in just 2 min.
AO NANG / KRABI
Krabi is also one of the most sought after tourist destination. I stayed at Ao Nang and the airport is in Ao Nang and most of the time Ao Nang is referred 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.
Things to do in Ao Nang: 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 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 is going to get dirty as well. Hong lagoon which is on the other side of the island is an amazing 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.
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 and also some of them were closed due to rain. And have not mentioned the names of 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.
So which is the island you are planning to visit? Do leave your thoughts in the comment section.
A short video on the beaches and islands you just visited,