Thailand is a beach lover’s absolute dream, but as the nation welcomes increasing numbers of visitors each year, going off the entrenched tourist track can reveal some incredible places untouched by the masses – and with minimal adjustment to your itinerary.
Ao Khao Kwai
Dubbed by CNN Travel as the “Koh Samui of the ’70s,” this 10-kilometer long island is unblemished from development indicators nationwide: you’ll find no 7-11s, McDonalds, or even ATMs.
With several beaches spanning the coastline, the south end of Ao Khao Kwai, or Buffalo Bay, is among the most serene. The expansive cove spills out into incredible mangroves, best explored by renting a kayak off the beach, and during low tide you can venture along the coast towards a stunning private beach facing the silhouetted islands of the Burmese-Andaman archipelago.
Koh Kood is the country’s fourth largest island, yet retains its tropical charm through slow and managed tourism development. Kluai Beach emerges from gently cascading shallow waters that elicit stunning shades of blue, framed by rocky outcropping and dense jungle canopy.
From the beach it’s not hard to get to one of the island’s main attractions, the stunning Klong Chao Waterfall. It’s accessible by bike, taxi, or foot, but the best way to see it is by paddling up along the Klong Jao River – just rent a kayak from any of the accommodations along the riverfront.
Pha Daeng Beach
You don’t even need to board a ferry to find some of Thailand’s most beautiful coastlines. Pha Daeng is unique in particular for its red rock formations and red beach naturally made by cliff erosion over the years.
Just a short boat ride from Krabi lies the Hong Islands, centered around its uninhabited namesake, Koh Hong.
Dominated by an ecosystem of gibbons, exotic birds, and monitor lizards, Koh Hong boasts dramatic cliffs that enclose a lagoon in the interior, named the “chamber,” from which it gets its Thai name “Hong.” During low tide the water is only a few inches deep at most, while during mid or higher tide the lagoon is only accessible by boat or kayak.
While Koh Phangan has forged its reputation through its monthly Full Moon Party, once off the main Haad Rin drag, the island actually boasts a number of beautiful, quiet beaches.
Malibu Beach is in the northern fishing village of Chaloklum, and offers stunning vistas of Phangan’s mountainous interior and shallow, calm waters that lap its fine white sand. The beach is famous locally for the flawlessly pruned mushroom-shaped trees that offer the perfect refuge from the strong Thai sun.
Phra Thong Bay
Separated from the mainland by a seven-meter-deep canal, “Golden Buddha Island” is characterized best by its incredible landscape – dense mangrove forests give way to white sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings, while the interior is dominated by an African-like savannah, but with the lush vegetation segmented by a capillary-like system of canals.
Phra Thong Bay on the northwestern shore arcs gently, facing the nearby islands of Ko Rang Nok and Ko Pho Ta – both accessible to explore by kayak from the shore – and offers up incredible sunset views.
Emerald Cave and Sabai Beach
Accessible by swimming through a small passageway, this sheltered beach is enclosed by jagged rock outcroppings covered in lush vegetation and emerald-coloured water.
The hidden beach was once a hideaway for pirates in the region, and local legends say that pirate treasure may still be buried within the adjoining Had Chao Mai National Park. Avoid the big boat tours by checking out this natural wonder in the early morning or late afternoon.
Located between the more well-known destinations of Ao Nang and Koh Lanta, Ko Pu is the mountainous northern region of Koh Jum, with expansive stretches of beaches framed by the staggering Mount Pu in the backdrop.
Luboa Beach is in the northwest corner of the island, secluded along the coastline by large rock outcroppings, but during low and mid-tide it’s possible to walk the full eight kilometers south towards Ting Rai beach.
Ta Yai Beach
You don’t have to travel very far from Bangkok to find some of the country’s best coastlines. This small island is just a few minutes journey off the coast of Pattaya, and offers six main beaches around the five-squared-kilometer island, each offering its own unique personality and varying levels of activities.
The most secluded of these is Ta Yai Beach, a quiet, sandy bay tucked away in the islands’ northeastern cape. Turquoise waters are enclosed by rocky outcrops, with views of nearby Pattaya dominating the panorama. The island itself offers a variety of great hikes as well, including a gorgeous view from its single central windmill.
This tiny spit of land near Taratao National Park is completely stuck in time – there is almost no development competing with the natural beauty of the island’s diverse landscape, from ancient pine forests in the interior to cascading beaches framing the perimeter.
Expansive School Beach – named for the schoolteachers that manage the coastal bungalows – is among the most stunning, but considering the island only takes about 20 minutes to navigate on foot, nearly Panka Noi Bay and Panka Yai Bay are certainly worth checking out.