Thailand claims 2,000 miles of coastline and hundreds of islands, so whether you want to dance the night away on beautiful beaches, practice yoga and meditate in a serene retreat, or go scuba diving at one of the world’s best dive sites, you’ll find the experience you’re looking for. Thailand also caters to an array of budgets, so travelers of all means can have the holiday of their dreams. But with so many choices, how do you decide which islands and beaches to visit? Use this handy guide that narrows it down to 10 of the most alluring islands in Thailand.
Thailand’s largest island, Phuket has it all: glittering beaches, thumping nightlife, an elephant sanctuary, a charming Old Town, an international airport, and luxurious resorts where you can escape. Want to be in the center of the action? Head to the town of Patong, where a lot of the clubs (both beach and night) are concentrated. Prefer to avoid that scene? Check into Trisara, an all-villa resort with a tranquil spa, private beach, and the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, Pru. You can borrow one of the resort’s kayaks and row over to Banana Beach, a pristine cove. Don’t skip a visit to Phuket’s Old Town, where Sino-Portuguese shophouses contain cute cafés, restaurants, and boutiques.
2. Koh Yao Noi
A 20-minute speedboat ride away from Phuket, Koh Yao Noi is smaller and has a more local vibe. There are just two luxury resorts on the island and no bars or clubs. Check into the beachy chic Cape Kudu Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels. Most of the staff is local, so they can point you to the best no-frills restaurants where you can taste homestyle Thai food (or learn to make some by booking a private cooking lesson). Other activities they can arrange include a bicycle tour of the island, during which you can visit rice terraces, a coconut farm, a local market, and a tranquil pier that’s perfect for watching the sunset. Or try an island-hopping excursion on a longtail boat to go snorkeling and to explore smaller nearby islands like Koh Pak Bia and Koh Lao Lading.
3. Koh Chang
This island is among the 52 islands that are part of Mu Koh Chang Marine National Park. It is harder to get to since it doesn’t have its own airport (travelers can ride a six-hour bus from Bangkok to Laem Ngop or fly from Bangkok to Trat, which is also near Laem Ngop, and then ferry from there). Those who make the journey will be rewarded with white-sand beaches, clear blue water, and low tides. Koh Chang’s interior is a great place for jungle trekking, making this an ideal destination for active travelers. Looking for the best beach on the island? Long Beach is a secluded paradise fringed by coconut trees, while Lonely Beach attracts backpackers who want to party. Value lodging options abound, such as the beachfront Santhiya Tree Koh Chang Resort, with its tropical setting, traditional Thai architecture, and seaside eateries and bars.
4. Koh Samui
Thailand’s third-largest island is also among its most popular, thanks to the myriad things to do, including scuba diving, kayaking, yoga, and watching (or learning) Muay Thai, a form of boxing. Along with Phuket, Koh Samui is one of the nation’s most developed islands (also with its own international airport), and if your idea of a perfect vacation includes staying in a five-star resort, you’ll find plenty here, including Four Seasons Koh Samui, Banyan Tree Samui, and W Koh Samui.
5. Koh Lanta
Part of an archipelago of 52 islands in the Andaman Sea, off of Thailand’s west coast, Koh Lanta is reachable by boat from Phuket, Krabi, or Koh Phi Phi. Visitors can expect to find plenty of places to soak up the sun and swim, with nine beaches along 15 miles of shoreline. The island is less touristy than nearby Phuket, so it’s great for families looking for something more low-key or couples who want a romantic getaway. Check into the Pimalai Resort and Spa, set on a large stretch of sandy beach, where you can savor food made with ingredients from the property’s on-site organic farm.
6. Koh Tao
This small island in the Gulf of Thailand, accessible solely by boat, is a pilgrimage spot for both experienced divers and those who want to learn, with around 70 dive schools on Koh Tao that issue Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certifications. Little wonder, given that the water is brimming with fish, turtles, coral, and other marine life. (Accordingly, inexpensive dive-specialized resorts abound, like the well-reviewed Ban’s Diving Resort.) Nondivers can enjoy the beautiful beaches, too; go hiking; practice yoga at a studio like Shambhala Yoga Centre; or while away the time by reading a good book in a hammock.
7. Koh Phangan
Serious partiers, hippies, and backpackers migrate to this ferry-accessible island (plans for an airport have been stalled) notorious for its wild full moon parties on Rin Beach. Held every month on the night of the full moon, the festivities feature DJs, fire dancers, and more. Thousands of people come from all over the world, adorn themselves with neon paint, and dance all night long. Half moon parties can be a slightly tamer but still fun experience. Hippie culture is still deeply rooted in the island, so you can expect to find places to practice yoga, study meditation, and engage in Ayurveda and other holistic practices. Travelers who want to enjoy all that, with the comforts of a luxury resort, can do so at the top-rate Anantara Rasananda.
8. Koh Phra Thong
A secluded island—reachable by boat only—with large expanses of flat savannah bordered by sandy beaches, this is a great choice for travelers who want to escape the grind and stay at a small eco-resort. Villages with thatched-roof homes lend the island a humble vibe, and visitors may feel like they’ve arrived in a place frozen in time. Nature lovers can go bird-watching and spot over 100 species of birds, including endangered storks, or visit the local turtle sanctuary. (Try a value-minded eco-resort like the Moken Eco Village for a bungalow stay and full immersion in the great outdoors.) It’s even possible to board a squid-fishing boat to see how the local fishermen catch squid by night.
9. Koh Phi Phi
You might be familiar with this island group made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, but Koh Phi Phi is actually an archipelago of six islands, with picturesque beaches, set in Thailand’s Krabi province. Only Phi Phi Don is inhabited, while the others are protected as part of Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park. Although the uninhabited Phi Phi Leh’s main attraction, Maya Bay, is temporarily closed after suffering damage due to overtourism, you can still explore the island’s other bays and nearby islands, which can be reached exclusively by boat. Base your stay at the eco-luxe Zeavola Resort or the seafront Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort for a pampered base for further island exploration.
10. Similan Islands
In addition to Koh Tao, the Similan Islands are known for some of the world’s best diving. The archipelago contains 11 islands, often simply referred to by the numbers 1–11, which the Thai Department of National Parks assigned according to their positioning from south to north. The Similan Islands Marine National Park is fringed by coral reefs—though coral bleaching has destroyed some of the hard coral—and depending on the time of year, divers and snorkelers can see hawksbill turtles, rays, reef fish, barracuda, and even sharks. Visitors can stay in basic bungalows operated by the national park, get a cabin on a dive boat, or take a day trip from Khao Lak on the mainland. There’s no airport on the islands, so you have to get a boat transfer from Phuket or Khao Lak.
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