One of the most beautiful destinations on the planet, Thailand has often and accurately been described as paradise on Earth. With beautiful beaches, crystal clear turquoise water, and lush junglescapes the islands of Thailand are the ultimate escape for anyone looking to get away from the stress of everyday life. Whether you are there to party hard, indulge your adventurous side or to simply rest and relax Thailand offers something for every type of traveler.
Thailand is a large country and the sheer number of places to visit can be pretty overwhelming for a first time visitor. After a couple of days of Bangkok’s chaos tourists will be ready for an escape to somewhere a little lower key. A small percentage will head north to the cooler climes of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but most vacationers will flock to Thailand’s exquisite beaches. The choices for an island vacation are seemingly endless, but we’ve compiled a list to help narrow it down for you a little. Here are our picks for the best islands to visit in Thailand.
While most of Thailand’s islands are far to the south, Ko Chang (Elephant Island) is just a 5 hour bus ride away from Bangkok. It is the second biggest island in all of Thailand and the largest in Eastern Thailand. It is a great spot for wildlife lovers who don’t want to venture up to Northern Thailand. As you can imagine there are elephants here, along with a wide array of birds, and (sorry ophidiophobes) some snakes.
The island of Ko Chang features numerous beaches divided between its east and west side. Some of Ko Chang’s best eastern beaches include Long Beach, Wai Chek Beach and Salakkok Bay. On the west visitors can relax on Lonely Beach (busier than its name implies), Kai Bae Beach or the gorgeous White Sand Beach.
One of Thailand’s busiest islands, Ko Samui doesn’t have that peaceful, laid back vibe that other islands on this list can boast. However, if you are in Thailand to party, socialize and meet people then this is one of the best places to be. If you don’t mind crowds then head to Chaweng Beach. The party never stops there, and you can cram in enough fun in a week to last a lifetime.
Though seclusion is a rare commodity here, it can be found. If you want a quiet beach where you can relax under a tree, read a book and while away the day then head south to Taling Ngam Beach. If you want to soak up some local culture then time your visit to arrive during one of Ko Samui’s numerous festivals, though you might want to avoid Songkran (Thai New Year) as crowds and prices both swell at that time.
Another island conveniently close to Bangkok, visitors to Ko Samet can enjoy some of that chilled, laid back vibe we mentioned above. While it might not have the pristine beauty of southern Thailand’s prettiest islands its close proximity to Bangkok makes it a nice compromise when it comes to maximizing your relaxation time.
Partiers will want to head to either Ao Phai or Haad Sai Kaew. As the weekend approaches visitors flock in to these popular spots and you can party on the beach till the wee hours listening to live music and watching the fire spinning demonstrations.
If you are looking for a romantic getaway or time with the family away from the party crowd then Ao Wong Duen. The area has a variety of resorts in a wide range of budgets, along with plenty of restaurants and shops to keep everyone happy.
One drawback to Ko Samet is the 200 baht entry fee, a result of Ko Samet falling under the jurisdiction of the Khao Laem Ya Ko Samet National Park. The entry fee comes as a surprise to many visitors, so we wanted to make you aware of it, so you don’t start off a visit to Ko Samet with a bad taste in your mouth.
Ko Pha Ngan
Every visitor to Thailand should take the opportunity to experience one of the nation’s famous Full Moon Parties, and there is no better place to experience one than the island of Ko Pha Ngan. As each full moon approaches backpackers descend on the island in droves to take part in the festival. If you plan to join in the festivities make sure you have a reservation or arrive early as accommodations fill up quickly.
Though the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach is its main draw, Ko Pha Ngan has plenty to offer visitors arriving during other parts of the month as well. The diving in the area is quite good, there are some spectacular jungle hikes or you can just chill out at one of the island’s many spectacular beaches.
For those who want to experience a party without the full-on craziness of the Full Moon Party, consider arriving for either the Half Moon or Dark Moon Party.
Want to go diving when you are in Thailand? This is arguably the best place to do so. PADI certification is dirt cheap here compared to many other popular diving centers around the globe. The area features more than 35 dive sites and over 60 scuba schools, so you will have no shortage of choices for both your certification and your underwater exploration. Arrive at the right time and you can even see whale sharks, a rare opportunity for divers.
If you prefer to stay out of the water then there are plenty of other fun activities to tempt visitors. Try rock climbing, participate in a jam session, enjoy the scrumptious fare at a beach barbecue, or even take trapeze lessons!
Once a quiet island getaway for Scandinavian backpackers in the 1980s, Ko Lanta has since been discovered and its once deserted white sand beaches have slowly filled up. Don’t be dismayed that you missed out on its “undiscovered gem” faze. It is still relatively sleepy compared to such places as Phuket and Ko Samui. While hanging in a hammock and chilling on those beautiful beaches is a worthwhile pursuit we recommend you climb out of the hammock (for a little while at least) to explore some of the island’s spectacular mountainous region. Take a jeep ride from Old Town to the Ko Lanta National Marine Park and make the trek up to its lighthouse. It isn’t a challenging hike, but it is a neat little day trip and provides some stunning photo opportunities.
Though Ko Lanta has been “discovered” for quite some time the tiny island of Ko Lipe is still emerging, just barely showing up on the radar of Thailand’s best island destinations. Though not quite on par with Ko Tao, Ko Lipe holds its own as one of Thailand’s best dive locations, boasting over 20 dive sites in the surrounding area. Weekends get pretty busy as locals and tourists flock in for a couple of days to party, but during the weekdays you can enjoy relative quiet, at least for a few more years.
Thailand’s biggest island and, in fact, a province, Phuket is certainly not a location for those wanting to avoid crowds of tourists and get away from it all. However, like most immensely popular vacation destinations around the world, the reason the place is so busy is because it is so beautiful.
There is no shortage of things to do in Phuket. Take a kayak tour through the incredible Phang Nga Bay and paddle your way through sea arches, around spectacular rock formations and through gorgeous lagoons.
Other popular activities include spending a day shopping and wandering around Old Phuket Town, watching the sunset at Promthep Cape Viewpoint, visiting the Big Buddha or the Wat Chalong Temple, or taking a day trip to the beautiful island of Ko Phi Phi.