A small Thai island off the coast of Ranong and close to the Burmese border, Koh Phayam offers a slow and enticing pace of life that takes you back to the Thailand of old. Enjoy simple living on an island where electricity may still be limited to the evenings, only a few roads are paved, and Wi-Fi connection is hit and miss. Explore the quiet beaches around the island’s perimeter, hike (or motorbike) along rugged paths through rubber plantations and forests, look out for hornbills and other interesting creatures, or simply laze on a hammock in the sunshine. The waters may not be the clearest around this island, but the relaxed way of life, lack of major development, and natural feeling make it beautifully different.
Located in the Andaman Sea, Koh Similan is the largest island in the Similan Islands group. It boasts white sandy beaches lapped by striking blue waters, and interesting rock formations. The clear, deep waters around the island are also renowned for offering some of the best diving and snorkelling in Thailand, if not the world. The island is home to a fascinating array of bird life too, and the sunset vistas are incredible.
Located between Krabi and Phuket in the marvelously scenic Phang Nga Bay, Koh Yao Yai is the larger, yet quieter, of two sister islands. It is developed enough so as to be comfortable, yet underdeveloped enough to still have rustic charm. Sublime sandy beaches ring the island, with dense patches of mangroves that are perfect for exploring by kayak. Villages are largely comprised of traditional wooden homes on stilts, and the island’s interior has many coconut groves and rubber plantations.
The little sister of Koh Yao Yai, Koh Yao Noi appeals to honeymooners and other people seeking an idyllic setting with stunning views. Many accommodations cater towards people willing to spend more for luxury. The resorts are spectacular in their own right, with gorgeous pools and opulent rooms. Away from the flashy resorts, however, you’ll find a laid-back way of life and a farming community that still lives according to old traditions. Golden sands sit next to the shallow rocky bays, and the island is a great launch pad for snorkelling, rock climbing, and kayaking adventures.
Koh Phi Phi Don is a major tourist destination. It may be hard to fully appreciate the beauty through the crowds nowadays, but hike up to the viewpoint, and you’ll quickly see why Koh Phi Phi shot to popularity. A narrow isthmus connects the island’s two main parts, with two curved sandy bays sitting between verdant craggy mountains. Limestone karsts covered with greenery rise spectacularly from the sparkling waters.
The smaller of the Phi Phi Islands, Koh Phi Phi Le is not inhabited, and there is no accommodation. That doesn’t mean it’s quiet, though. Droves of day-trippers make their way here every day, drawn by the seductive beauty of Maya Bay, a tropical beach that was made famous in the hit movie, The Beach. With jungle and jagged rocks behind you and karsts almost enclosing the pristine waters in front, the soft white sands offer striking views in all directions. Traditional long-tail boats add to the sublime scenes.
A small and lesser-visited island off the coast of Krabi, the charming Koh Jum offers a rare sense of peace and tranquility when compared with its more popular neighbours. There are several places to stay on the island, meaning that you can enjoy the scenery and relaxed lifestyle for longer than a quick day trip. The tree-lined beaches have fine coral-coloured sands that meet clear waters. Long-tail boats may be seen bobbing on the waves in the distance. Take time to explore the mangroves and traditional villages too, and you’re sure to fall in love with this island gem.
One of Krabi’s major islands, Koh Lanta has a much sexier and sultrier appeal than the stunning Koh Phi Phi. It may not have the impressive limestone formations of its neighbours, but it makes up for that with silky stretches of sands and an overall more grown-up air. The rugged forested hills and mangroves offer great views and adventures away from the seductive sands. Take time to learn about the local Moken community. Also referred to as chao lair, or “sea gypsies,” the group is especially known for its awesome free-diving abilities.
One of the Trang Islands, Koh Muk is fairly peaceful. Tourism has been fairly slow to reach the gorgeous Trang Islands in general, which is both a blessing and a shame. The craggy island has picturesque swimming beaches and forests as well as quaint fishing villages, but the main appeal for many is the sublime Emerald Cave. Known in Thai as Tham Morakot, it can only be accessed from the ocean and during low tide. Enter the cave and swim through the darkness, while the crashing sounds of waves fill the air, until you eventually see light. On exiting the cave, you’ll find yourself faced with a beautiful sandy beach that’s surrounded on three sides by towering rocks and water gently caressing the fourth side.
Another of the Trang Islands in the crystalline waters of the Andaman Sea, Koh Kradan is one of Thailand’s most picture-perfect islands. Boasting soft coral-coloured sandy beaches, lush foliage, tall palms that offer enticing shade, and stretching sand banks that let you walk out far into the sea, Koh Kradan is an island lover’s dream. Wade out far enough and you can snorkel right from the beach. Laze in a hammock, relax on the sands, soak up some rays, lap up the views of nearby islands and limestone karst formations, sip on fresh coconut juice, and enjoy the good life.
Part of Saturn’s Tarutao National Marine Park, Koh Adang is a fairly small island. Hike up the challenging paths to the viewpoints, and be dazzled by splendid views of nearby islands and the glistening ocean stretching for as far as the eye can see. There are several waterfalls to admire too, and the island is home to diverse wildlife. When it comes to beaches, it’s highly likely that there will be just a few people on the white sands; enjoy the peace and tranquility. Somewhat unusually for a Thai island, Koh Adang also has a fine black sandy beach as well.
Part of the Tarutao Islands off the coast of Satun Province in Thailand’s deep south, Koh Khai takes its name from its shape; the English name is Egg Island! A remote island that sees relatively few visitors, the pale sands and blue waters are made even more striking by a natural stone arch that connects the craggy rocks to the sea. There are no accommodations on the islands, and it is usually visited en route to Koh Lipe. The postcard-worthy views, however, make the effort of getting here well worth it.
Word of Koh Lipe’s splendour has spread fast, and the island is now seeing reasonably large numbers of tourists who are seeking somewhere a bit different from Thailand’s headline islands. Part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, it’s a good starting point for awesome diving and snorkelling adventures. The island has a good selection of accommodations, restaurants, and bars, and it goes without saying that it also has splendid beaches.
A former place of detention for criminals, Koh Tarutao is one of Thailand’s biggest islands. Steeped in legends and home to ruins, it has never drawn large crowds of tourists or settlers like other islands in Thailand. Indeed, the name in Malay means “old, primitive, and mysterious.” Explore the jungles, and you’ll come across ruined prison buildings and sacred shrines. Numerous creatures call the island home, including several species of snake—be sure to keep your eyes open! The beaches are somewhat sub-par when compared with other islands; the real joy lies in the jungles. The sunset views are also gorgeous.
On the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Phangan is known for being Thailand’s main party island. That doesn’t mean it’s not also an eye-catching island with plenty of natural wonder. Move away from the beach bars and party hot spots, and you’ll find pristine beaches, photogenic coastal rocks, waterfalls, forests, and terrific lookout points.
While the beaches on Koh Tao are great for sunbathing and swimming, the island’s true beauty lies in its surrounding waters. One of the most popular diving and snorkelling locations in Thailand, explorers can expect to see a colourful array of marine life. Aquatic creatures include barracuda, grouper, scorpionfish, clownfish, eels, coral, and even sea turtles and whale sharks. On dry land, the jungle is also home to interesting wildlife. Although Koh Tao has gained a rather dark reputation over recent years, it’s still a visual beauty.
Easy to access from Pattaya and one of the closest islands to Bangkok, Koh Khram Yai is often overlooked by tourists heading down the eastern Thai Gulf. This means if you visit on a day trip, you’re likely to have the place almost to yourself. Nobody lives here, and there are no resorts. It’s a sea turtle breeding site, and it offers excellent swimming, diving, and sunbathing.
Located off the coast of Rayong along the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samet is surrounded by coral reefs that are in good condition and attract diverse marine life. The clear waters make snorkelling and diving a joy, but if you prefer to spend your time on dry land, there are lovely beaches too. There are plenty of bars and restaurants for a lively time after hours, and the evening fire shows on the beaches add another magical dimension to your trip.
A private Thai island off the coast of Rayong, Koh Munnork is the place to go if you want a truly exclusive ambience. There is just one resort on the small island, and the only way of getting to and from the island is by the resort’s private boat. Virgin forest and bright white sands surround the luxury resort, the atmosphere is serene, and the views are incredible.
Situated close to the Cambodian border, Koh Chang is beautiful for both its beaches and rugged mountainous areas in the middle of the island. Thick jungle covers the mountains, with parts that are challenging, if not impossible, to pass, and there are several picturesque waterfalls. Whether you prefer active adventures or seaside life, Koh Chang offers something attractive for everyone. There’s a wide range of accommodations and entertainment options to enjoy after dark, letting you prepare for the next incredible day of island life.
A neighbour of Koh Chang, smaller Koh Mak is covered with tropical fauna and edged with white beaches. The families that own the land work hard to keep it in great condition, encouraging sustainable tourism that is beneficial for the community, without harming the island. Rubber and coconut trees can be found outside the accommodations, and there are plenty of opportunities for adventures, exploring, and relaxation. Cycling is a great way to appreciate the island’s abundant beauty, both along its coasts and inland.
There are so many beautiful islands in Thailand; which one will you visit next?