What are the best islands in Thailand?

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Spread across the seas surrounding Thailand are more than 500 paradisiacal islands. Some are famous for their party atmosphere, others for their dreamy beaches and others for the nature that surrounds them. All the islands of Thailand also have a wide range of activities for you to enjoy your vacation to the fullest. Can you already see yourself diving in the crystal-clear waters, or enjoying a coconut milk drink in a hammock? Not yet? Well, read on as we tell you which are the best islands in Thailand and what to do on them.

Best islands in the Gulf of Thailand

Thailand’s most famous islands are located in the southeast of the country, in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam. In fact, it is one of the most frequented destinations for its paradisiacal landscapes and unparalleled beauty. The best thing is that many of Thailand’s islands are still untouched and undeveloped, which means you will be completely surrounded by nature.

Did you know that Koh in Thai means island? There are four main islands in the Gulf of Thailand: Koh Samet, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao. They are all magnificent, but also very different. The gulf is also home to Ang Thong National Park, a collection of 42 unspoiled islands.

1. Koh Samui

It is an archipelago of 80 islands. The main island is the second largest among the islands of Thailand after Phuket, and one of the most developed touristically. It is a very popular destination, so there is an international airport on the island, although it is mainly used for domestic flights. There is also a large hotel offer.

The island has many beaches with crystal clear waters and the most beautiful by far is Chaweng. In the south we can also visit the Kunaram Temple, from where the views are breathtaking. And another highly recommended excursion is to visit by boat the National Marine Park of Ang Thong, where we can enjoy its pristine beaches and good snorkeling.

2. Koh Samet

This island is just 3h from Bangkok by bus, so it is not surprising that it is one of the most touristy islands. Also known as the Jewel Island for its white sand and blue water, it is the perfect destination to disconnect from the bustle of the city. Although it was once a pirate base for pirates who docked ships in route between China and Siam. The island is part of the Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park, and there are many trekking areas.

3. Koh Phangan, the most party-loving island

Koh Phangan is one of the best islands in Thailand for family sightseeing or partying. Does Full Moon Party ring a bell? It is a party which takes place on Haad Rincada beach once a month when there is a full moon. The tradition began in 1987 and has continued to this day. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself on the island when the moon is full, be prepared to dance and drink until the sun comes up.

There are other areas of the island that are quieter, ideal for family tourism. There is also a large meditation and yoga community. The only way to get to the island is by boat from Koh Samui, which takes half an hour and costs between 200 and 300 baht.

4. Koh Tao, the island of turtles

Koh Tao, 21 square kilometers, is the smallest island in the Gulf of Thailand, and one of the most magical corners of the archipelago. The main attraction of the island lies in the beauty of its beaches, especially Sairee beach, one of the most frequented by tourists. Other famous corners of the island are the islet of Koh Nang Yuan and the sandy strip of Haad Saal Chao, whose landscapes are worthy of a postcard. And in case you were wondering, people gave it the name Turtle Island because in the old days turtles from the area came to lay eggs on the beaches of Koh Tao.

Beyond the parties and paradise beaches, Koh Tao is really famous for diving. Every year more than 7,000 people get their diving qualification on this island, and many more come to enjoy its coral reefs. The island can be reached by boat from Koh Samui, which is two hours away.

Travel to the Thai Islands Koh Tao
Travel to the Thailand Islands: Koh Tao @pixabay

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Best Thailand islands in the Andaman Sea

The Andaman Sea is a sector of the Indian Ocean located in the Bay of Bengal. There are many, many more islands there than in the Gulf of Thailand, but that doesn’t mean they are better to visit. They are also an ideal place to rest, relax on white sandy beaches, dive and hike. Here are the islands to see in the Adaman Sea.

1. Phuket, Thailand’s largest island

Phuket, with an area of 575 square kilometers, is positioned as the largest island of Thailand and also as the most touristy. Thousands of tourists arrive at its airport each year and in fact, many of them stay to live on the island, where there are more than 100,000 foreigners residing.

Mass tourism has caused the island to lose some of its charm, however, it still has amazing beaches such as Kamala, Kata Noi or Karon Beach. These islands are known as the James Bond Islands, since a film of the saga was shot there in 1974. There are also temples and several viewpoints scattered around the island to visit. But probably the best thing about the island is its good atmosphere and parties.

What to see in Thailand Phuket
What to see on the Thailand Islands: Phuket @pixabay

2. Koh Phi Phi Phi

The Phi Phi islands are a group of small islands very close to Phuket. Phi Phi Don is the largest and the only one with permanent residents. There is a very good backpacker scene in general, resorts and companies that organize diving excursions.

But the most spectacular is Phi Phi Leh. Are you familiar with the movie The Beach? It was filmed on this island, on the beach of Maya Bay, one of the most beautiful places of the small archipelago. It is not possible to stay on this island, but that is precisely one of its advantages.

The other islands that make up the archipelago are Koh Pai or Bamboo Island and Koh Yung. You can reach all of them by daily ferries from Phuket.

3. Koh Lipe

The island Koh Lipe is a very quiet place, ideal for families and couples looking to unwind. It is one of the smallest beaches in Thailand and you can walk from one place to another. On the island there are only a couple of hotels and a few bars to have a good time at night.

Koh Lipe is part of the Tarutao Marine National Park, one of the best diving spots in the world for its crystal clear waters and abundant marine life. The most spectacular beaches on the island are Pattaya Beach, Sunrise Beach, Sunset Beach and Karma beach.

4. Koh Lanta

They are two islands side by side; Koh Lanta Yai (big) and Noi (small). The first is one of the largest islands in Thailand, but fortunately, it has not been as exploited as you would expect. It is an island with a lot of local life and the best way to get around is by motorcycle. From Phuket and Phi Phi there are regular ferries to the island.

On the island you can dive the coral reefs, enjoy the sun on the beaches and even hike inland, where there is a small tropical forest.

5. Koh Tarutao

Koh Tarutao is one of Thailand’s most important islands, which is why it gives its name to the Tarutao National Marine Park, the largest in the country. If you like diving, welcome to paradise. Crystal clear waters, fish of a thousand colors, coral reefs and movie beaches. You can’t miss it. A curiosity of this island is that it was initially used as a prison for political prisoners in 1930.

The island is a little far from the rest, but it’s worth the four-hour ferry ride to see its beaches between limestone cliffs and especially the jungle where you can see monkeys, deer and many other animals.

10-day itinerary through the Islands of Thailand

The islands of Thailand are distributed in two areas, the Gulf of Thailand and the Adaman Sea, so you have to organize your trip taking into account that you will have to take a plane to go from one island to the other. We start the trip flying from Bangkok to Samui, which will be the center of operations for the next five days. You can also stay on one of the other islands, but there is a better connection with Samui. From there you can visit the islands of Koh Phangan (better if there is a full moon), Koh Tao and Koh Samet on consecutive days. The order doesn’t matter, it will depend on whether you hire any diving or snorkeling excursions.

On the fifth day we flew from Kho Samui to Phuket and on the remaining days visited the islands of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe. Koh Tarutao is also highly recommended, but if you go it is best to book a hotel night on the island, as it is a 4 hour ferry ride away.

Best restaurants on the islands of Thailand

On the Thai islands you will enjoy dishes based on fresh fish and seafood of very good quality, as well as tropical fruits and coconut-based drinks. Except for alcohol, eating and drinking in Thailand is cheap, so you can indulge in culinary feasts. Here are some of our favorite places to eat on the islands.

  • Beach Resort: a restaurant on Mae Nam Beach, Samui, serving both Thai and international food for around €7.
  • Wild tribe café: a vegan café on Samui. The menu is more international and costs around €10, but the food is good quality.
  • Garlic 1992: is a Thai restaurant on the island of Phi Phi. It is very cheap and their curries are delicious. But be careful with the spiciness.
  • Phuket Street Food Market: is located in the west of the island and is open every day until 10:00 pm. It specialises in authentic Thai food and you can eat very well for less than €5.

Accommodation on the islands of Thailand

Luckily, not all of Thailand’s islands are built up, only on the more touristy ones will you find accommodation. Many people choose to visit Thailand as backpackers, but the truth is that there is also tourism resorts and hotels more comfortable and very good price as we tell you below.

  • Samui Green Hotel: is a wonderful three-star hotel on Chaweng beach in Koh Samui. It is 15km from the airport and 100m from the beach. The night is around 20€.
  • The jungle Club: is a more luxurious hotel on Cha Am beach, on a hill from which the views are breathtaking. It offers massage and beauty salon services. The night costs 48€.
  • Hostels in Samui: on the island there are many backpacker hostels for about 10€ a night (or less) as P & T Hostel, Monkey Samui Hostel or Top Hostel Samui. They are simple, clean and well connected places.
  • Kamala Resotel: located 350m from Kamala beach on the island of Phuket. For 55€ per night it includes bar, restaurant, swimming pool and free parking.
  • Hostels in Phuket: also with basic facilities and at very affordable prices are hostels in Phuket as Aekkeko hostel, Ai Phuket Hostel or Ok Chic Phuket.
Boats in Thailand
Boats on the islands of Thailand @unsplash

How to get to and around the islands of Thailand

Today the islands have become a very touristy place and for that very reason it is very easy to get to them. If traveling from Bangkok it is best to take a plane to Phuket or Kho Samui airports. The flight takes about 1.5 hours and costs between €50 and €80.

It can also be reached by boat from the mainland. To get to Kho Samui you need to take the ferry from  Surat Thani or Chumphon. It takes between 45 and 90 minutes (depending on the type of boat), and the price ranges from 150 to 450 baht.

To get to Phuket from the mainland it is best to take a ferry from Krabi Town or the bus from the station. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The bus ride takes two hours. You can also fly from Kho Samui airport to Phuket and the other way around for about €50.

Once on the islands the best way to move between them is by ferry or boat. Regular ferries depart from all of them, more frequently from the main and most touristic islands (Phuket, Phi Phi, Samui…). On the smaller islands you can get around on foot, and on the larger ones it is recommended to rent a motorcycle.

Travel tips for the islands of Thailand

  • The currency in Thailand is Thai Baht.
  • Have your money exchanged in advance, currency exchanges at airports are very expensive.
  • Have cover for possible medical emergencies: travel insured.
  • The best time to visit the islands is from November to April, when it is not the rainy season.
  • Best to drink only bottled water, as tap water is not always safe to drink.
  • Beware of unlabeled street products.
  • The islands are safe, but as with any tourist spot, you’d better be careful with your belongings.
  • Some restaurants allow only cash.
  • You can backpack without hotel reservations, but beware of areas with visitor limits.
  • Many tours can be booked and transportation tickets purchased online before starting the trip.
  • They speak good English in the tourist areas and make sure they understand you. The locals are generally very friendly.

How to organize a trip to the islands of Thailand

Register or download the Passporter App and discover all its possibilities.

  • Get inspired by the experiences of other travelers.
  • Create your own itinerary and add to it the suggestions of the app.
  • Add the stops that interest you most, as well as the restaurants and bars where you want to eat (you can use the points of interest that we indicate in this post as a reference).
  • Organize your itinerary by days of route according to its location on the map (you can be inspired by the routes we present in the post)
  • Check the travel budget that the app calculates according to your travel stops, restaurants, and leisure activities.
  • Make the modifications you need and everything will be ready for your trip.
  • Share your experience. Upload photos of each of the places you have visited on your trip to the app and recommend to other travelers what to do in the islands of Thailand.

If you have doubts about how to do it, you can check our post: How to create a travel itinerary in Passporter.

Island Phi Phi Thailand
Phi Phi Phi Island Thailand @pixabay

Frequently asked questions for travel to islands of Thailand

How many days does it take to visit the islands of Thailand?

Although there are many islands, much of it is unvisitable or uninteresting. The good thing is that the most interesting ones are well connected and relatively close. It is recommended to spend a minimum of 8 days, but it also depends on the activities you want to do there, such as diving or snorkeling.

Do I need a visa to travel to the islands of Thailand?

From Spain you do not need a visa, but you must have an updated passport.

Is it very expensive to move around the islands of Thailand?

The truth is that Thailand is a fairly cheap destination if you travel from Europe. As backpackers you spend an average of 20/30€ per day. The most expensive is the flight and alcohol.

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