Islands are part of what makes Thailand such a beloved touristic destination. Get to know Lookeast’s picks for the best islands in the country.
New and Upcoming Islands
- Koh Phayam: If you’re seeking a peaceful island away from human interaction, Koh Phayam is the one. The island with long, white sandy beaches boasts an abundance of natural wildlife, trails, and jungles. Travelers can also enjoy surfing and kitesurfing on this undiscovered island. There are resorts and bungalows to stay at. Budget flights are available to Ranong and, departing from Phayam Pier, speedboats are available in high season.
- Koh Ngai: A tiny island ideal for those who seek tranquility. Despite its small size, it offers plenty of activities, and it is a good spot for snorkeling and diving as reefs are nearby. Less development means there are plenty of hiking trails, which are a great way to explore the island’s beauty. Taking a boat from either Trang or Pakmeng is a common mode of transportation. Most of the resorts are located by the beach, on the eastern coast.
- Koh Kham: A small island in Sattahip protected by the Royal Navy to preserve its purity and marine ecosystem. Despite being relatively unknown, Koh Kham is famed for underwater ecotourism, white sand beaches, and clear water to snorkel in. To get there, use the marine ship that departs from Thai Island and the Sea and Natural History Museum.
Best Islands for Couples
- Phuket – Panwa Beach: Phuket is widely known as a honeymoon destination, and Panwa Beach is a relatively remote part of the island that contains a myriad of luxury resorts and villas. Although it is not the best beach for swimming, it is ideal for couples who seek a peaceful vacation in an upscale setting. Panwa Beach is perfect for romantic walks. During the day, it’s easy to get around using the songthaew shared buses.
- Koh Samui – Bophut: Located on the northern side of Koh Samui, Bophut is a beach village with luxury hotels and resorts nearby. Nothing can get more romantic than the exceptional sunset at the beach. There are many activities and places to check out, such as the Fisherman’s Village and the night market, and even go-karting. It takes about 15 minutes by taxi or bus to get to Bophut from the airport.
Best Secret Islands
- Koh Tarutao: Once the ”set” for the reality show “Survivor Thailand,” Koh Tarutao offers exciting activities. Travelers can take a stroll through the jungle, although they had better watch out for the impudent monkeys. The national park elevates any adventurous experience to the next level by offering campsites, tents, and bungalows. Using the speedboat at Pakbara is a good way to get around.
- Koh Sukorn: Koh Sukorn is a small island that preserves a pristine environment and traditional lifestyle. It is located off the coast of Trang province, where tourism hasn’t interfered. There are clean villages and natural bungalows where travelers can rest their eyes. Although many travelers book transfers from Trang to Ko Sukorn, public songthaew is a good option to get to Tasae, where longtail ferries are available.
- Koh Adang: Situated near Koh Lipe, Koh Adang offers more quiet than neighboring islands’ packed beaches. Snorkeling and diving aside, Koh Adang offers nature-oriented activities and sites such as Ratana waterfall and the Pirate’s Fall. Although accommodation is available, it is recommended to stay at Koh Lipe, where there are more options. Koh Adang can be reached by ferry from Koh Lipe.
Best Islands to Party
- Koh Samui – Chaweng: Renowned as the preferred island destination for both locals and foreigners, mostly because of its legendary nightlife, Chaweng swarms with partiers from all over the world. Entertaining nightclubs, beach parties, and tons of places to explore make the island one of the busiest destinations during the holidays. The most common choice of transportation is the plane, although a 12-hour train ride is another popular option from Bangkok.
- Koh Phangan: If you are planning to have a night to remember (or not), Koh Phangan is the place to be in. Haad Rin beach is globally recognized for hosting one of the biggest outdoor bashes on Earth, the Full Moon party, as well as many other themed parties. Bars open up all night to keep the ravers going, and cheap booze sold in buckets and thrilling fire shows keep them coming back. Book in advance if you’re planning on being there for a full month, although boats with a fixed schedule will take you back to and from neighboring Koh Samui and Koh Tao.
Best Islands to Shop
- Phuket – Patong: Patong Beach is somewhat an unexpected area for shopping due to its infamous nightlife. However, Patong houses street shops that sell inexpensive clothes, souvenirs, and more, while Jungceylon mall is also the biggest in Phuket. Other places such as OTOP Market, Banna Walk, and Banzaan Market are all worth a visit.
- Koh Samui – Lamai: Koh Samui has many things to offer other than the scenery, being shopping one of them. Lamai is a popular area among avid shoppers who seek unique and inexpensive goods. Lamai Night Plaza offers a wide range of products, including handmade bags, clothes, paintings, electronics, and many more. Lamai Walking Street is similar to the night plaza when it comes to shopping, but travelers can also enjoy delicious street food there.
Best Islands for Families
- Koh Phra Thong: In need of family bonding? Koh Phra Thong offers fun activities that are perfect for families. Travelers can get themselves covered in healthy mud from the mangroves and go trekking and kayaking to many interesting places. Visitors can arrive at this paradise of nature via a boat ride from Saphan Pla pier, or from Bang Det. There are resorts and inexpensive places to stay on the island.
- Koh Tao: Famous for being a place scuba divers flock to, the island offers much more than diving. Koh Tao has hiking trails with beautiful landscapes, and it offers kayaking, the famous flying trapeze adventures and a leisure park, which is especially popular among kids. Koh Tao offers hotels and resorts at all price ranges. Get to the island on the plane to Koh Samui, and take a ferry to Koh Tao, or just take the ferry directly from the mainland.
Islands With the Clearest Water
- Koh Phi Phi Leh: The neighboring island to Koh Phi Phi Don, Koh Phi Phi Leh is known for preserving a pristine environment with azure water that is complemented by mind-blowing scenery of cliffs and rocks. If there’s a Paradise on Earth, this is it. Most visitors take the scheduled boat tour, but you can also rent a longtail boat for yourself. Visitors often stay at hotels and resorts on Phi Phi island.
- Koh Samet – Haad Sai Kaew: Commonly known as Diamond Beach, Haad Sai Kaew is one of the most popular beaches in Koh Samet for all the right reasons: the greenish-blue water glistening under the sunlight is nothing but a pleasure to the eyes. Along with a beautiful landscape, the beach offers comfortable resorts and various activities on the sea.
- Koh Kood: Located in Trat province, near the border with Cambodia, Koh Kood is a remote island that is relatively unheard of. Being remote doesn’t always mean it is isolated or lonely, but rather peaceful and free of unwanted interactions with others. The water is warm and calm and, most important, crystal clear. Many travelers rate this island as the best paradise in Thailand. A trip to this unspoiled place requires a flight to Trat and about an hour’s ferry ride. There are luxurious resorts by the water to make your stay even more enjoyable.
Best Islands for Outdoor Activities
- Ko Phi Phi Don: Islands aren’t all about the water. When you’ve had enough of water activities, climb the vast cliffs at Koh Phi Phi Don. Spider Monkey climbing has been so popular among travelers eager to try something other than diving. There are forests where visitors can take peaceful walks. Many use the ferry to get to Phi Phi from either Phuket or Krabi. There are a plenty of accommodation options on the island, from luxury to budget.
- Koh Lao Liang: This paradisiacal twin island offers various outdoor activities. Scuba diving aside, visitors can climb the limestone cliffs that are sloped to perfection; its cave is perfect for bouldering as well. Travelers may also enjoy fishing, as the island is an abundant source of marine species. Koh Lao Liang is remote and offers limited accommodation. The best option is to fly, drive, or take a train to Trang province, where you can take a boat to the island.
- Krabi – Railay: Krabi Island offers more than a beautiful scenery. Railay beach, located on the south of Ao Nang, is on the wish list of rock climbing fanatics from around the world. There are other sites for curious adventurers, such as the hidden lagoon and Phra Nang Cave. Krabi town houses an airport, and travelers can make their way to the piers to reach Railay. Hotels and resorts are available at Railay in all price ranges.
Best Islands for Diving
- Koh Tachai: Explore the unspoiled beauty of Koh Tachai, where the sand is white and water is crystal clear. As a part of the famous diving site the Similan Islands, Koh Tachai has become a new home for dive gurus in recent years. The bay of the island is warm and shallow, a perfect place for snorkelers to launch their careers.
- Koh Bon: Similar to Koh Tachai, Koh Bon is a remote island from the Similans. It’s tailor-made for experienced divers, as it boasts great visibility and frequent appearances of manta rays. The island is an ideal place for a night dive, as a small cove makes the night adventure even more thrilling.
- Koh Haa: Located in the south Andaman Sea, Koh Ha has become a favored destination for dive masters. Koh Haa, translated as “five islands” in Thai, offers excellent diving sites such as the famous Lagoon, Cathedral, and Chimney. The underwater paradise is suitable for divers of all levels.
- Richelieu Rock: While many divers are blinded by the obsession of spotting big creatures, they do not realize the true excitement that macro diving at Richelieu Rock has to offer. Richelieu Rock houses healthy corals and multicolored marine creatures, making it a faultless site for underwater photography. Fluctuating currents also bring diversity to the spot, offering a vast selection of marine life for divers to explore and admire.
- Koh Chang: Have fresh seafood for lunch at Bang Bao pier, on the Elephant Island’s southernmost point. Cruise on your scooter through the winding road through the forest from Bang Bao to Bai Lan, and take a dip in the sea at Lonely Beach. Continue north and watch the sunset from Kai Bae or Klong Prao Beach, and grab dinner at White San Beach. Along the way you will see monkeys, elephants, lively bars, and quiet spots. Continuing toward the eastern side of the island, visit the mangroves and disconnect from the world in this less populated area. Koh Chang is Thailand’s second largest island, and it has around 50 offshore isles to discover.
Let’s Save the Islands!
Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment issued an announcement to protect the environment of 52 islands in the Koh Samui and Koh Phangan areas, Surat Thani province, after encroachment deteriorated their conditions.
Noppadol Thiyajai, deputy secretary-general of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) under the ministry, said that expanding tourism affected the environment of many islands in both island groups and had a severe impact on catchment areas, swamp forests, mangrove forests, beaches, and cliffs.
He added that the urbanization law could not be enforced effectively to protect the environment in the affected areas.
However, the ministerial regulation issued on May 31, which protects 52 islands, including Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, will be imposed for five years and is expected to improve conditions.
Let’s take back memories and leave only footprints when we visit the Thai islands!
Where to Stay
- Soneva Kiri (082 208 8888; www.soneva.com)
- Beach Republic (077 458 100; www.beachrepublic.com)
- ShaSa Resort & Residences (077 913 888; www.shasahotels.com)
- Silavadee Pool Spa Resort (077 960 555; www.silavadeeresort.com)
- Rayavadee Krabi (075 620 740; www.rayavadee.com)
- Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (075 628 111; www.phulay-bay.com)