The Best Islands in Thailand
Ask any Westerner for their idea of paradise, and they would probably describe a Thailand destination: white sand beaches, rustic huts overlooking blue-green waters, and a hammock tied between palm trees.
Indeed, aside from its delicious cuisine and rich history and culture, Thailand is best known for its islands, divided geographically into three: east of Bangkok between the capital and Cambodia; those in the Gulf of Thailand; and those in the west coast of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea.
Tourists who are visiting Thailand for the first time might get confused which island to visit first. It’s understandable; after all, the country has hundreds, ranging in size, character, and the type of people who go there.
Don’t ask what the best island is, because the answer would be “it depends.” It depends on your personality, it depends on your budget, and most important of all, it depends on what you’re after for your tropical island vacation.
Travelers on gap year, backpackers, and majority of tourists who visit Thailand have heard about the wild parties in the islands, specifically the Full Moon Party in Koh Pha Ngan. With thousands of hardcore partygoers attending the gathering every month, it is easily the biggest alcohol-fueled party in the country, with lots of music, dancing, and some say, even debauchery.
Aside from these, Koh Pha Ngan is also attractive to backpackers for other reasons. There are a lot of beaches there, and guesthouses come cheap, along with delicious food and soothing massages.
If Koh Pha Ngan is too wild for you, but you still want a happening place because you’re traveling solo or with similar-minded friends, choose the archipelago of Koh Phi Phi, also in the south. It had been the location of the Leonardo de Caprio movie The Beach, and it’s as beautiful in real life as it was in the movie. You will certainly find a good time there, as well as lots of activities like diving, snorkeling, or cliff-jumping.
Koh Phi Phi was hit hard by the tsunami in 2004, but it has fully recovered. The largest island in the archipelago, Ko Phi Phi Don, is where the tourists usually stay, going on tours only in other islands like Ko Phi Phi Leh whose Pileh Lagoon was seen in The Beach.
Solitude and Relaxation Galore
For those who are after solitude—admittedly hard to come by in Thailand, which was visited by over 26 million people last year—there are some islands that would fit the bill.
Koh Tarutao, for example, is largely undeveloped and would fit travelers who would rather camp out than stay in hotels. If you don’t have a tent, no worries, the island does have campsites and bungalows for rent.
As the largest in the Koh Turatao National Park archipelago, the island offers a variety of natural attractions, from rugged mountain scenery, to limestone cliffs, caves, and mangrove swamps. The white sand beaches are perfect for lounging around as well.
Koh Turatao had been the site of Survivor Thailand, which says a lot about its development and natural beauty.
If you don’t want to go all the way to Koh Tarutao, remember that even in highly touristy islands you can still find a secluded beach somewhere. Hire a motorbike, ask the locals, and go exploring. It will be worth it if you can enjoy a beach party one day and have solitude the next.
A Variety of Activities
If you don’t fit these two extremes—wild parties and complete seclusion—there are other islands that offer a mix of attractions. Koh Samui, for example, definitely on the beaten track together with two other most popular islands in Thailand—Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao—is best not only for adults but for kids as well.
There are so many things you can do in Koh Samui, from diving and snorkeling, to spending time in lavish resorts and indulging in expensive spa sessions. Kids can enjoy playing on the sand, too, or driving go karts and playing mini-golf. The Ang Thong Marine National Park is also just a day trip away from Koh Samui, a wonderful place with 42 islets, limestone cliffs, and untouched lakes.
You can also visit Koh Lanta, less than an hour from Krabi. It offers a range of attractions and accommodation options that make it the best for families. There are nature reserves and secluded white sand beaches, as well as both luxurious and budget accommodation. From swimming to kayaking, delicious Thai food, and friendly locals, Koh Lanta has it all.
Indeed, Thailand seems to have everything to offer visitors; whether you want party beaches or secluded ones, budget destinations or luxurious resorts—you can find whatever you want in the Land of Smiles.