The Bluffer's Guide to Thailand's Islands
Love the idea of an island adventure in Thailand, but not sure where to start? Here’s all you need to know about Thailand’s 10 best isles – for beach lovers, solitude seekers, party animals and more...
BEST FOR: Beach resorts, golf courses and nightlife
AVOID IT IF: You’re searching for solitude
YOU'LL FIND IT... Midway down Thailand’s west coast, a 1hr 25 min flight from Bangkok. It is connected to the mainland by Sarasin Bridge.
NEED TO KNOW: The largest and most-visited island in Thailand, Phuket is the country’s most famous beach destination – with more annual visitors than every other region except Bangkok. As you might imagine, it’s not the most secluded spot, but it’s great for family holidays and group trips – with enough beaches, nightlife, entertainment and resorts to keep everyone happy.
BEST FOR: A weekend break from Bangkok
AVOID IT IF: You’ve got time to venture further
YOU'LL FIND IT... 136 miles to the east of Bangkok – approximately three hours away by bus or taxi, plus a short ferry journey from the mainland.
NEED TO KNOW: If you’re short on time, Koh Samet is close enough to Bangkok for a (long) day trip or rejuvenative weekend break. Other beaches are closer, but Samet’s coves are almost everything you dreamed of – with soft white sands, turquoise lagoons, and shade from coconut palms. The downside? On weekends and public holidays, it can feel like the whole of Bangkok has de-camped here.
Koh Phi Phi
BEST FOR: Visiting ‘The Beach’
AVOID IT IF: If you’re expecting it to look like it did in the film
YOU'LL FIND IT... Roughly halfway between Phuket and the mainland, on the east coast. Accessible only by ferry or speedboat from Phuket, Krabi, or Koh Lanta.
NEED TO KNOW: This little archipelago is best-known for its starring role in the 2000 movie ‘The Beach’: the pristine sands and emerald waters of Maya Bay (on Koh Phi Phi Leh island) nicked the limelight effortlessly from Leo (DiCaprio) and pals. But don’t expect to find a similar crowd-free idyll: the archipelago is buzzing with resorts, restaurants, and tourists galore. Indeed, Maya Bay itself has closed until October 2018 in a bid to reverse damage to its ailing coral reef.
BEST FOR: Great resorts and beautiful beaches
AVOID IT IF: You want peace and quiet
YOU'LL FIND IT... In the Gulf of Thailand (the west coast), a 1hr 10 min flight from Bangkok.
NEED TO KNOW: Whether you’re looking for a simple-yet-spectacular beach bungalow or a five-star spa resort, Samui island has the perfect hotel for you. Throw in a vibrant year-round festival calendar, picture-perfect beaches, and lots of fun day trips (snorkelling, kayaking, or beach BBQs – to name but three), and you’ll see that it’s is a great all-rounder. The island of Koh Pha Ngan lies just next door, home of Thailand’s (in)famous Full Moon Parties.
BEST FOR:Exploring beyond the beach
AVOID IT IF: You prefer big resorts
YOU'LL FIND IT... In the north-east of the Gulf of Thailand, closer to Cambodia than it is to Bangkok.
NEED TO KNOW: While lacking the crowds of the Gulf’s most famous islands, Koh Chang is just as pretty – with plenty of pristine sands (including the aptly-named White Sand Beach) and coves the colour of swimming pools. The interior is covered in jungle, with hiking trails winding between waterfalls and remote villages, while the coast boasts everything from backpacker party beaches to secluded bays.
BEST FOR: Scuba diving and hiking
AVOID IT IF: You want to do nothing, without feeling guilty
YOU'LL FIND IT... North of Koh Samui, off the east coast. Accessible by boat from the mainland or Koh Samui.
NEED TO KNOW: While Thailand has lots of magnificent dive sites, Sail Rock (just off Koh Tao) is definitely one of its best. The rock peeks above the surface of the Gulf of Thailand, but beneath the waves it plummets to over 40 metres – attracting colourful marine life, abundant corals, and lots of scuba divers. On dry land, Koh Tao is an adventurer’s paradise, with hiking trails, rock climbing and mountain biking routes.
BEST FOR: Unspoilt island bliss