A Pocket Guide to the Thai Islands
We all crave an island escape… and your choices on which Thai islands to visit are endless.
This comprehensive condensed pocket guide should help make picking which one to visit a little easier. I haven’t visited every island in Thailand… Those missing from this guide include the Similan Islands, Koh Lipe, and Koh Lanta… time to start planning my next trip!
Here’s a guide to Thailand’s islands:
Koh Chang and Koh Samet:
The Bangkok crowds’ best kept secret, Koh Chang and Koh Samet are favored for their proximity to the city – both under 300km away from BKK, perfect for a weekend getaway. Off the beaten path, they’re less developed but still equally as beautiful as other islands. Think white sandy beaches and luscious tropical jungle… Paradise! Koh Chang is bigger, meaning more hotels and restaurants etc. It’s quickly becoming a tourist favorite. The majority of Koh Samet is a national park; a recent 11pm noise ban sees the music stop before midnight… This isn’t the place for all night parties.
Choose these if you want an undisturbed getaway and only have time for a quick trip – buses run from Bangkok, including Suvarnabuhmi, to the two piers servicing the islands.
Divers flock to Koh Tao, a dream surrounded by aquamarine waters and thriving coral reefs. Busiest around full moon – as backpackers trek over from Koh Phangan – it is hedonism’s ultimate antidote… This doesn’t mean that after a day spent submerged scuba diving, you can’t let loose. Sairee is lined with beach bars, and most hotels/hostels in the island’s smaller villages have their own bar set ups in place…
Choose this if you want to get PADI certificatied at a bargain price with the added reassurance of international dive instructors. It’s also perfect for a post Full Moon Party detox, the local nightlife’s laidback and dissapointment free.
Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s most well known islands. With an airport on the island (budget permitting), ferries can be skipped! A foreign tourist destination, enter the luxury resorts and fast food joints lining Chaweng. If you’re mid gap year/backpacking across South East Asia, stay in Chaweng. Home to ArkBar (and their famous pool parties), and outdoor club Green Mango, it’s the perfect Full Moon Party warm up. Bophut and Lamai are both under ten minutes away by taxi, close enough to the action but more exclusive.
Choose this if you want an island that doubles as a complete holiday; a great base to explore the surrounding islands and Ang Thong National Park. P.S. whilst not Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Wat Plai Laem and Wat Phra Yai – the Big Buddha Temple – are both 10 minutes north of Chaweng and worth stopping at.
No introduction’s necessary… Koh Phangan’s Haad Rin Beach is home to the epic Full Moon Party. Accommodation in Haad Rin itself is generally sub par; one of the only selling points being that they’re in walking distance from the action. Beachside resorts are plentiful but a 30 minute drive from Haad Rin. Sadly, Koh Phangan is known just for the Full Moon Party and not much else…
Choose this if you don’t want to catch a speedboat back to Koh Samui at 5am post party (I wouldn’t recommend this, for safety reasons amongst other things). P.S. if the Full Moon Party leaves you nursing a huge hangover, head to Amsterdam Bar for a lazy day spent poolside with panoramic views, or INFINITY Beach Club, the private cabanas and hammocks a perfect contrast to the hungover hubbub of Haad Rin. Both reachable by taxi.
Koh Phi Phi:
I don’t know if it’s the absence of cars and the fact you can walk everywhere that makes Phi Phi my favorite, or the carefree atmosphere, but something changes every time I arrive. The sheer cliffs of Phi Phi Don (the main island), jut out regally from the azure waters. Ask me to define paradise and I’ll pull out a picture of this place. Yes, it’s succumbed to tourism, but at its heart everything’s the same. It’s easy to see why the islands were chosen as the filming location for The Beach. Side note: Maya Bay really isn’t worth the 200 baht per person entrance fee; avoid tours and rent a long tail boat on Phi Phi, making sure to swim with the monkeys – remember to bring some fruit – on your way to Phi Phi Leh Lagoon – home to some of the bluest waters I’ve yet to come across. No trip’s complete without trekking up to the viewpoint. Walk back through the jungle, following the signs, to the secluded Long Beach.
Choose this if you want to feel like you’ve stumbled across an uninhabited island. Although Phi Phi is no longer untouched, it holds the charm of an era pre mass tourism. P.S. it’s also a major diving hub, and a great place to get PADI certified.
Although not a first choice for a small island escape, Phuket has its perks. The resorts here are larger and more plentiful; you’ll find everything from malls to multiple golf courses, and as of July 2016 even an Elephant Sanctuary, scattered across the island. Patong’s nightlife rivals some of Bangkok’s, hosting everything from bars and clubs to the infamous Ping Pong shows, centred around Bangla Road. Head up the coast to Surin and Kamala or south to Karon and Kata, to escape the hedonism and westernized facade. Multiple day tours are on offer to Phi Phi from Phuket, meaning you don’t have to overnight there.
Choose this if you don’t want to leave behind all the comforts of modern conveniences. Phuket is, like Koh Samui, a great base providing you with plenty of opportunities to get out and explore.
Travel tip shared by NextStepTo