After living in Koh Samui, Thailand for nearly a year, we ferried to quite a few tropical islands off the both the East and West coasts for weekends, our honeymoon and holidays. And the beauty of Thailand is that there are so many isles to choose from depending on what you’re keen to do. We’ve put together a list of islands we feel you can’t miss out on and those you can happily skip.
Islands you can’t miss:
1. Koh Lanta
This glorious, laid back island is just an hour ferry ride from its rowdy neighbour, Phi Phi. The party animals looking to get drunk daily disembarked at Phi Phi, whilst those looking to relax in peaceful, exquisite surroundings continued onward. It’s an island where locals seem to forget about tourists and go about without constantly hustling for your money. Scooting around the island we found empty beaches such as Bamboo Bay without a soul in sight, beach bars where we lounged for hours enjoying a local band and hammocks beckoning you beneath the palms. For more- Koh Lanta.
2. Koh Nangyuan
This tiny island is literally a slice of heaven situated in the Gulf of Thailand only 10 minutes by longtail boat from Koh Tao. It’s the tiniest enclave I’ve ever stepped foot on and a slither of beach is all that connects two mountain peaks. There is only one resort on the island, so most people just go for day trips and pay an entrance fee which goes towards preserving the island. I relaxed on a one of the many bright beach chairs lining the sand, hiked up through the muggy forest to the viewpoint and had the most magical snorkeling experience in the turquoise waters. For more- Koh Nangyuan.
3. Koh Tao
This is a place you want to reserve some time for. Getting around is a bit tough as it’s extremely hilly, but once you’ve braved the steep inclines and winding downhill’s on a scooter ( or more expensive option of a quad bike) you’ll land up in blissful coves of palm trees, boulders to jump off and clear ocean to snorkel and dive in. It’s most popular for its underwater treasures and you’ll see many a diving boat anchored just off the shore. I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean feel of Hin Wong Bay, picture pefect Tanote Bay and the transparent waters of Aow Leuk Bay. For more- Koh Tao.
If you have the time:
1. Koh Phangan
Aside from the one night a month when the moon is full, this island is still pretty rural and unspoilt. We could drive on a scooter for ages before spotting another soul in the tropical forests. If you’re there for the full moon party, you’ll probably stay in Haad Rin, the dirty little town that exists purely to supply alcohol and accommodate party goers in basic accommodation. If you go at any other time, leave Haad Rin immediately and stay elsewhere. There are some places only reachable by 4×4 and others with their own beaches far from the bustle. For more- Koh Phangan.
2. Koh Samui
This was our home for 10 months and as a result I’ve got a lot of love for it. There are lots of elements I didn’t enjoy such as a burgeoning Russian population starting to outweigh the local residents, really expensive shops/restaurants and a high accident rate. This island is fast becoming one a giant in the luxury market and as a result all local vendors imagine all foreigners are loaded. We struggled to find decent prices at restaurants, resorts or clothing stores and still got charged high prices after living there for a while. Like so many foreigners before us, we came short on a scooter but likely got away mildly with only skin missing. It’s a stunning place with so many beaches to choose from, waterfalls to see and lots for families to do. But it’s a bit more challenging to find peace and quiet here. For more- Koh Samui.
3. Angthong National Marine Park.
This archipelago consists of over 42 islands dotting the warm ocean. Sailing past countless amounts of rocky limestone outcrops is one of the most breathtaking sights to behold. We kayaked, snorkeled and jumped off off our moored boat. You won’t be able to go out in a small group as only certain boats and tours are authorized to visit this protected region. Be prepared for crowds and a small piece of sand on the beach to call your own. There are a few bungalows and tents on the main island where you can overnight and be collected in the morning. This is a great option should you wish to wave goodbye to the tons of day visitors. For more- Angthong National Marine Park.
Watch a short clip of our highlights- Angthong.
You can happily skip:
1. Koh Phi Phi
I stayed on this popular island in 2007 and fell for its narrow little pathways where no cars or scooters were permitted and I could dance the night away at a Reggae Bar whilst the ocean lapped at my feet. Stopping in front of Phi Phi recently was quite a shock as all the tropical palms once lining Tonsai Bay have been replaced with tall hotels and resorts to accommodate the increasing amounts of drunk backpackers who now lay claim to the island. If you’re keen on a party, people doing the nasty on every beach and lounging on the sand with those nursing hangovers, do pop in. Sadly, most people say it’s a shadow of the island it once was.
There is nothing in Phuket that you cannot find on any other island. Most visitors to Thailand feel that they have to go there as most flights land there and many special packages involve hotel stays here. If you’re curious, do the walk down Bangla if you must. It’s not the only dodgy street of ping pong shows, strippers and animal slavery you’ll encounter in Thailand at all. Shops and restaurants anywhere near the beach front are highly overpriced and if you don’t speak Thai, it’s likely that you’ll severely ripped off. Out of all the islands, you’re most likely to encounter crime and petty theft here. By all means use it as a springboard to visit nearby islands, but there’s no need to linger.
If you do decide to visit Phuket and rent a car to get around (which is one of the most popular means of transport), make sure you’re insured
Which islands in Thailand do you love and which ones could you have skipped?
Samuel Jeffery says
I completely agree with your list. I think Phuket and Phi Phi are the two most over-rated beach destinations in all of SE Asia along with Sihanoukville in Cambodia. Skip, skip, and skip!
hehe, ok great so when I go to Cambodia, will be sure not to rush to Sihanoukville 😉
Otres beach in Sihanoukville is actually a really cool and relaxed place, a 10 minute ride with motorcykle from Serendipity. Or thats’s what I thought anyways 😀
Great post! I’ve been writing about Phi Phi and people don’t seem to believe me: http://bbqboy.net/phi-phi-thailand-paradise-ruined/. Used to be the most gorgeous place though.
Thanks for the list, I haven’t been back to Thailand in 5 years and am due back for a visit. Will check them out.
Thanks Frank! We are missing the Islands so when you do head back, take lots of pics and share 🙂
Came back from Thailand a week ago and we did koh samui, koh phangan and angthong marine park while we were there! Heard great things from fellow travelers about koh Tao, some who only planned to stay there for a few days but ended up staying for weeks. Also have friends in koh lanta at the moment and they love it, so will definitely be adding those places to the bucket list for my next trip to thailand.
Hi Jade, lucky gal…we miss those islands alot! Yes there’s always a next time so be sure to visit Koh Lanta and Koh Tao when you go. Cheers for reading 🙂
Zara @ Backpack ME says
Everyone seems to hate Ko Phi Phi now but I went there earlier this year and it wasn’t really that bad. Maybe it was because it was low season.. I guess that makes all the difference. It’s probably too busy during high season and therefore the “tropical” feeling goes away… I agree though that there are many other islands in Thailand (and the rest of SEA) that are as good or better though.. but I guess Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t shoot movies in any of those so they didn’t become as famous!
Thanks for reading Zara! I don’t know about hate, but I would definitely say its one of the islands most tarnished by mass tourism. From what many of told me its days of peaceful prettiness are over, but I’m sure its still got a lot to offer. And yes low season in Thailand is a gem of a time 😉
In Thailand I’ve only been to Koh Samed and Koh Chang. I liked them both but wouldn’t say they’re a must visit!
Thanks for your input Rianne, we’ll definitely keep them on the radar for our next trip there 🙂
Great List! Koh Lanta is definitely one of my favourite islands too, earlier this year we discovered Koh Lipe which is an absolute gem close to Thailand’s border with Malaysia. Phuket was awful even four years ago but I think Phi Phi is worth a visit so that you can camp on ‘The Beach’ at Maya Bay. Koh Tao has been on my radar a while, hopefully I’ll visit next time I’m in Thailand. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Have heard great things about Koh Lipe Vicky, and since we are now based in Malaysia, this is on our list. I didn’t know people could camp on the beach at Maya Bay, do you know what the website is for the camp site? Koh Tao is a gem, but take extra money to rent the quad bikes ( way more than scooters) and be prepared for hectic hills 🙂
I have to disagree about Phi Phi and Phuket. I lived 5 months in Phuket and like you learned to love Koh Samui, that’s what happened to me with Phuket! There’s so much to explore on this island beyond the touristy beaches and Bangla road, so many beautiful viewpoints, less crowded beaches, night markets and restaurants etc + you have amazing connections to a bunch of beautiful small islands. I also spent “some” late nights out on Bangla and haven’t found anything to compare to that yet(FUN). Phi Phi is not the kind of paradise island people might look for to relax on but there is also good night life on the beach and great areas to see. The Phi Phi view point is worth the climb and I recommend a boat trip in the area! I even spotted a shark when snorkeling there. Maya bay is always crowded but entering the island from the back, climbing a rope ladder from the cliffs and walking through the island to the bay makes it more exciting than simply being dropped of on the beach by a long tail boat.
But the fact is everybody has different tastes! Koh Tao I loved, Phangan I visited during Full moon so didn’t see much and Koh Lanta still remains on the bucket list! I also would love to visit Koh Lipe, Koh Kood and Koh Samet.
Lauren Manuel McShane says
Too True Julia. I guess as tourists visiting for a short time you really get bustled to the hotspots which are overcrowded with nothing great to see. What would you suggest doing off the beaten trail in Phuket? When we visit again will definitely try these out 🙂 Ah yes, Koh Lipe was on our list too as it’s quite close from Malaysia but we ended up living on the opposite coast and ran out of time. Next time we hope.
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If you want Maya Bay and Phi Phi Leh to yourself, try going as early as possible, like 7 AM. My late dad once took me there in ’98, e.g., before tourism and Leonardo DiCaprio, it was pure heaven. If the tide is low, you can even chase after little sharks out for jogging. This Jan I took my friends there at 8 AM, there were about 10 – 15 people there already, but it was way better than we expected already. By 9 AM, speed boats from Phuket arrived and by 9.30, thousands of people shared the beach. AWFUL! Apart from backing Julia up about #Where to go, I also have to add #When. I bet Vaughan and Lauren, like most visitors to Phi Phi, never get to my side of the island. #Fact From all 6 islands in its group, Phi Phi has 2 villages; the one where everybody goes and the other village on the other side of the mountain where my resorts are. It’s wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy less crowded and a lot quieter. Come check it out next time na.
Olga Rabo says
Planning my trip to Thailand now, and FINALLY decided to skip Phuket 😀 Thanks for giving me the confirmation i needed!
Vaughan @ The Travel Manuel says
Excellent Olga, thanks so much for writing in and telling us that! There is SO much out there to explore so have an absolute blast and please PLEASE get back to us and tell us how your experience was 🙂
Nayel Mohsen Sadek says
Great post! Pretty helpful.
May I ask you what you think about Krabi?
Vaughan @ The Travel Manuel says
We havent actually been. eeeek.
Great guide! I have been to Thailand two years in a row and both times I liked Koh Tao.
In 2015 I liked Koh Phi Phi and did not like Koh Lanta, but I was travelling alone and I think that is why I felt like that…..I think if I was travelling with my boyfriend that Koh Lanta or Koh Samuiwould be more appropriate than Phi Phi LOL. 🙂