You might not believe it but when travelling Thailand’s many islands, it is possible to pick the wrong one to visit. You don’t want to turn up to a party island if you were looking for a quiet, disconnected getaway. Likewise, you don’t want to show up double-fisting alcohol with a neon-green gecko painted across your face to a group of disgusted and/or bemused-looking yoga bunnies in the middle of warrior pose.
Amongst the Thai islands, the problem isn’t finding nirvana, it’s deciding which type of paradise you want. We’ve ranked and sorted the best of Thailand’s islands so you’re never at a loss for which one to catch a longtail boat ride to next.
Phuket is a great base for exploring the other islands and caters to everything a traveller needs. The main areas in Phuket are Patong, Kata and Karon, which are very popular with tourists but definitely not the be all and end all of this island – visit Nai Harn beach, frequented by locals and expats. The longtail boats can take you on plenty of day trips to surrounding, smaller islands, like the James Bond Island (Khao Phing Kan), which appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun, and Koh Hae, which translates to ‘Coral Island’.
How to get there: One hour flight from Bangkok
10. Koh Phi Phi
This island group is widely known particularly for Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, which was used as a filming location for The Beach (starring Leonardo DiCaprio if you’ve not had the pleasure of watching it) and Koh Phi Phi Don, the largest and most populated of the Phi Phi Islands. The others are mainly small and made up of dramatic rock formations jutting out of the ocean with small strips of beach, but that’s where to go for serene swimming in crystal-clear water (we suggest Pileh Lagoon) as opposed to the crowded main islands.
How to get there: Ferries from Phuket (two hours), Krabi or Koh Lanta (90 minutes)
For me Phi Phi Don will always be a favourite. I’ve visited a number of times before and after the tsunami and although it’s busier than it once was, it’s the friendliest of the islands I’ve visited and has a real community feel. Plus it’s absolutely beautiful! Get away from the crowds by catching a longboat to some of the more isolated bays – Viking Beach, Lana Bay and Nui Beach are my faves. Don’t forget your snorkel!
– Amy Baker, Amy Baker Writes
9. Ko Pha Ngan
Best for hippy-types and party seekers due to its infamous Full Moon Party (it also has Half Moon and Black Moon Parties) on Haad Rin Beach. They can get crazy, with crowds of up to 30,000 people in peak season, glow sticks, buckets (literal buckets) of alcohol and fire-twirling. Still, the island is more than that, with Bottle Beach as the secluded treat for those who aren’t sleeping off their hangover.
How to get there: One hour flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui, then by a one hour ferry.
8. Koh Samui
Koh Samui is perfect for first-time travellers, families and those looking for a yoga retreat. Generally, it’s more of a manicured island, brimming with clean stretches of white-sand beaches, spas and luxury resorts, although backpackers still arrive in their throngs here, too. If you want to get really secluded on Koh Samui, head to the south or west of the island.
How to get there: One hour flight from Bangkok, or a short ferry ride from Phuket
Koh Samui is our favorite island in Thailand; a true slice of paradise, and one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
Fine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters come together with nodding coconut trees to one side and the beautiful Gulf of Thailand to the other, and those wanting to dance barefoot under the soft light of the full moon can join one of Koh Samui’s wild nightly beach parties.
There are an abundance of natural wonders and man-made attractions, from mummified monks to thundering waterfalls and spectacular Buddhist temples. It has the kind of tropical coastline and beaches you find featured in ads.
Instead of staying at crowded Chaweng beach, head to more serene Lamai beach. Living in a small bamboo hut with the breathtaking sea view is an incredible way to embrace life’s simplicity.
7. Similan Islands
Similan Islands Marine National Park – you know it’s going to be a beautiful place when you have to book accommodation to stay here through the government. And even then, you can only stay on two of the islands, Koh Miang and Koh Similan, and it fills up quickly! Otherwise, day trips from Khao Lak are your second best option. Diving is a must, as well as viewing the beach-lined edges of the islands. Whale sharks can be spotted at Richelieu Rock in February to April. Last minute booking, anyone?
How to get there: From Bangkok, you can get a 12 to 15-hour bus to Khao Lak, where you can then take a ferry from Tablamu. Note that the only way to get to the Similan islands is through tour company operated speedboats.
6. Koh Tao
Scuba divers, this is your mecca. Koh Tao is well known for great scuba diving and because of the competition between the many scuba diving shops, it’s got some of the cheapest PADI courses for those wanting to further their scuba skills. This is the place to go for vibrant coral and coming face to face with sharks, rays and other magnificent wildlife. Beyond scuba diving, the island has a laid-back but grown-up vibe with a satisfying nightlife and jungle to explore.
How to get there: One hour flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui, then a two-hour ferry.
I’ve been to Koh Tao a couple of times, for very different reasons. The first time I wanted to explore as much of the island as I could. At the time I didn’t want to do diving (which is what Koh Tao is mainly famous for), but I wanted to discover all the different bays and beaches on the island. However, after seeing how much fun everyone was having diving, I decided to come back again and join the crowds! What can I say – there’s a reason why Koh Tao is one of the best places in the world to learn to dive, and I had such an amazing time there!
-Macca from A Brit and A Broad
5. Koh Yao
Most easily accessible from Phuket, the Koh Yao islands are the perfect antithesis to the rowdy, party atmosphere, making it a great vacation combination if you’re looking for two wildly different sides of Thailand. The bigger Koh Yao Yai is the less developed island, consisting of beautiful beaches like Hat Lo Pared and Hat Chonglard. On Koh Yao Noi, be sure to check out Hat Pasai and Hat Paradise.
How to get there: One hour flight from Phuket, then an hour-long ferry or 30-minute speedboat transfer.
4. Koh Lanta
This is one of the best islands for all-around Thai experiences. All travel tastes and budgets are accounted for on Koh Lanta and you won’t get the classic resort mating call of jet skis lapping one another. Lanta Yai is the biggest island (this is another island group, also marine-protected so you know you’ve got some great snorkelling ahead of you) whose majority of households only gained access to electricity in 1996, representing the chilled, relaxed and culturally rich atmosphere missing from other islands in the area.
How to get there: Take a 4-hour ferry from Phuket. Or fly to Krabi airport and take a 2-hour ferry (ferries only operate November to April. Outside of these months, you can get a taxi or minibus service from Krabi Town).
Although I used to live on Koh Tao, which I love, my favourite Thai island is Koh Lanta. It’s a gorgeous mix of Buddhist and Muslim communities which makes for delicious food, as well as a completely different vibe to many of the other islands. It’s super easy to find deserted beaches, and the water is incredible — perfect for diving and snorkelling.
– Lucy, Wanderluce
3. Koh Kut
This is the island where you come to do nothing. People looking for a pulsing nightlife and hate the quiet, hang your head in shame and turn around; Koh Kut is not for you. Hammock living is the way of life on this palm-lined island, but when you need a break from that (is it possible to relax too much?), snorkelling and kayaking are the water activities you can leisurely pour your time over.
How to get there: Take a bus from Bangkok to Laem Sok, then a ferry to Koh Kut.
2. Koh Chang
Less on-the-radar than Phuket and Samui, Koh Chang is still considered built up but has resisted in favour of laid-back charm, thanks to its more remote location. Avoid the west coast beaches where tourism is booming more than the island can handle. Instead, head to Had Sai Noi Beach for the boho beach-bar scene, Salakkok Bay for an all too rare traditional fishing village and Ban Salek Phet for mangrove forests.
How to get there: Fly from Bangkok to Trat Airport, catch a minibus to the pier and take a ferry to Koh Chang.
A more economical way would be to catch the bus from Bangkok to Laem Ngop (which takes between 5 to 6 hours) and then take the ferry.
The diving on Koh Chang is seriously incredible. It’s not as hyped as the other islands like Koh Tao or Koh Phi Phi, which makes it even better because it’s so much quieter! I spent a week there lounging on the beach, hiking through the jungle to amazing waterfalls, and diving through an incredible coral reef network. There’s a night market on each evening and the food is cheap, delicious, and plentiful there. As a bonus, it’s also really close to Bangkok, making it easy and inexpensive to get to.
– Laura, Eternal Expat
1. Koh Lipe
Once just a whisper on the Thai island circuit, tourism to Koh Lipe is exploding and potentially (and slightly worryingly) following in the footsteps of Koh Phi Phi. The reason for this is because Koh Lipe offers an undeniable beauty, many considering its beaches to be among the best in Thailand. Get there before it replicates the more tourist-central islands and experience the chilled-out reggae bars, crowd-free sunsets and incredible snorkelling.
How to get there: From Bangkok, fly to Hat Yai, take a shuttle bus to Pak Bara pier, then a ferry to Koh Lipe.
Koh Lipe is nicknamed “The Maldives of Thailand” and after spending 5 weeks in the Maldives ourselves we see why. No other in Thailand has turquoise waters and white sandy beaches like Koh Lipe. There is something magical about waking up in a beach hut just steps to the ocean. Koh Lipe has the best sunsets, we love grabbing a drink at a beach bar on Sunset Beach and watching the free show. During the day rent a private long tail boat for $45 and explore the nearby islands, which are equally as gorgeous as Koh Lipe. No other island compares to our beloved Koh Lipe.
– Hannah and Adam, Getting Stamped