Photo by Shutterstock
Photo by Shutterstock
Phra Nang Beach is home to a cave dedicated to the ancient goddess of fertility.
With sugar-soft sand, mind-blowing sunsets, limestone cliffs, and caves dedicated to the gods, Thailand’s top beaches promise outsize adventure.
In Thailand, long-tail boats provide your getaway to picture-perfect beaches. Once there, activities like wandering between palm trees, rock climbing above the shore, and snorkeling through rainbow-colored coral reefs fill the hours before sunset—an event all its own. Between November and March, the weather is dry and warm on both coasts, and the crowds are avoidable if you know where to go.
With more than 1,400 islands rising out of the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, it can be hard for beach-bound travelers to choose just one destination. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong, but here are Thailand’s best stretches of sand for relaxing in the sun, climbing to new heights, or plunging headfirst into adventure.
Phra Nang Beach has vistas worth flying across the world to see. Here, on the Railay Peninsula, two huge limestone cliffs flank the sand, holding court over the Andaman Sea. Staring at them would be sufficient, but Phra Nang offers much else to do: Rent a sea kayak to explore Princess Cave and its offerings to an ancient goddess of fertility; snorkel around colorful coral reefs; walk to the nearby islands of Koh Rang Nok and Nai at low tide; rock climb on the cliff faces; or nab lunch—kebabs, pad thai, burgers, barbecue, fruity drinks, the works—from one of the “floating kitchens” along the shore. Those up for an adventure could also make the difficult hike up to the Railay viewpoint for scenic sights of the peninsula.
To get to Phra Nang, hop on a 20-minute long-tail boat ride from Ao Nang (a little over $3) or walk 15 minutes from nearby Railay Beach.
Thailand’s southernmost island, Koh Lipe has three main beaches: Pattaya, Sunrise, and Sunset. Though Pattaya is the longest and most popular, it’s also known for loud parties and late nights, so skip it in favor of the two smaller beaches, which offer more solitude and deeper connections to Koh Lipe’s landscape.
East-facing Sunrise Beach sits protected by a shallow bay. Snorkel out to the coral reef and the small islet of Koh Kra, or simply spend the morning greeting the sun as it crests the water. A 20-minute walk westward takes you to Sunset Beach, the smallest of Koh Lipe’s shores. The hippie vibe here extends to the hammocks, bungalows, and locals. Snorkel from the beach at high tide (bring water shoes; the shore’s a bit rocky), sip a Singha beer at an outdoor restaurant, or scramble onto the boulders for a front-row seat come sunset.
Koh Tao—also known as Turtle Island—has some of the best snorkeling and diving in Thailand. The surrounding waters are home to around a quarter of the world’s tropical fish. Mae Haad Pier is crowded with outfitters offering access to the island’s top dive sites.
Only accessible via a short hiking path from the pier, Sai Nuan Beach is blissfully undeveloped, with a few bungalows and hammocks hiding in the trees. There’s more action underwater here—you may spot turtles and parrotfish not far from the shore.
Sai Nuan’s sister beach, Sairee—on the opposite side of Mae Haad—is bustling by comparison. Lanterned beach bars, restaurants doling out drink buckets, and fire dancers light up this long, popular stretch of sand come nightfall. During the day, avoid the crowds by renting scuba gear and hanging out underwater with a different kind of beach life.
Despite Koh Phangan’s size and notoriety—maybe you’ve heard of the full-moon parties held on Haad Rin Beach—it’s still only reachable via ferry from the mainland or Koh Samui. Of its sandy shores, Bottle Beach is the hardest to access, but it’s more than worth the trip.
Hire a taxi boat from Chaloklum—or make a difficult, two-hour trek across the island’s jagged, rocky interior—to get to this pristine slice of nature. Either way you come, you’ll be rewarded with clean white sand, cerulean water, and plenty of nodding palm trees for shade. Equally picturesque is the Bottle Beach viewpoint, which is reached via a path behind the row of restaurants on the east end of the beach. The hike up takes 30 minutes and ends with views over the water and all of Koh Phangan.
Lamai Beach is a great spot for families looking for clean sand, calm water, and easy access to amenities. As the island’s second-largest resort area, it’s still got bustle, but it’s quieter and more affordable than its sister beach, Chaweng. The scene gets livelier and the water deeper the farther south you go (things get rather wild at the beach’s famous Grandma and Grandpa rocks), but the two-plus miles of sand are sugar-grade fine the whole way.
With high-end accommodations, watersport outfitters, and exciting dining options, Lamai makes a strong case for never leaving. Between activities (and massages), nab a drink or a snack from select restaurants—like Baobab, Kon-Tiki, or No Stress—and enjoy the scene from a beach chair, complete with umbrella, towel, and even Wi-Fi. Markets abound here, and the Sunday night one is best for sampling great local fare, like the caramel-y, coconutty kalamae (a kind of stick candy).
Flanked by towering limestone cliffs, otherworldly Maya Bay features white sand, crystal-blue water, and an abundance of marine life. Unfortunately, the beach has been closed to visitors since 2018, when overtourism resulted in the need for coral rehabilitation. The local government is set to reconsider the restrictions in June 2021, with hopes of instituting a ticketing system that will likely limit beach visitation to 1,200 people per day (a fraction of the previous 5,000).
While the beach remains roped off, you can still take a boat tour past the shore to snap a picture—minus the oversized boats and flashy tourists that previously crowded the sand.
Rather than palms, the 2.5-mile Long Beach is lined with pine trees, which hide bungalows, bars, restaurants, guesthouses, and resorts. Here, visitors can combine the serene experience of empty shores with the hustle and bustle of a resort town by finding a patch of golden sand all for themselves, then meeting new friends for drinks or to watch one of Koh Lanta’s signature sunsets.
Long Beach is a 10-minute drive from Saladan Village and less than an hour from the caves and waterfalls of Mo Koh Lanta National Park, making it easy to mix a beach day with other kinds of exploration.
>>Next: The Best Islands in Thailand
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