Millions flock to Thailand each year and with its reputation for having such idyllic beauty who can blame them? A downside is that the steady flow of tourists over the last decade has ensured it’s become increasingly harder to find an unspoilt Thai island. From my time spent in Thailand and from feedback gathered from our travel network here is our choice for the most beautiful islands in Thailand – an eclectic mix of peaceful, up-and-coming island resorts with a few old favourites thrown in…
Koh Lipe: Best up-and-coming
This is an increasingly popular island in the Andaman Sea located 70 km off the southwest coast of Thailand (near the Malaysian border). It has some excellent beaches, snorkelling spots and a flourishing party scene. Although it’s a very small island (you can walk around it in half a day) it offers a good range of budget to mid-range bungalows. You will probably need to go before it gets too developed – the island is sadly already facing environmental problems.
Koh Tup: Best for day trips
Koh Tup or Tup island is one of four local offshore islands located in Krabi provence. Easily one of the best places to visit in Thailand, Krabi is famous for its towering rugged limestone cliffs, turquoise water and powder white sand and this island is very popular with day trippers. It’s a tiny island where, at peak times, you’ll probably notice the crowds but it offers excellent snorkelling, swimming and scenery.
Racha Islands: Best alternative to Phuket
A more peaceful and far less developed alternative to Phuket are the Racha (or Raya) islands. The islands can be found around 12 km south of Phuket and although are mostly used for diving daytrips it is possible to stay overnight. Racha island is known for its beautiful beach – a strip of fine white sand tucked deep into a long, U-shaped bay and Racha Noi is an uninhabited diving destination with no services or accommodation available.
Koh Chang: Best alternative to Koh Samui
With vacationers looking for alternatives to the now over-developed Koh Samui, Koh Chang is often hailed as the “next big thing.” Although this is not always a positive – it’s still a quieter destination than the holiday favourites such as Phuket or Koh Samui but it’s probably better to go now before the development gets too out of control. Head here for mostly deserted white sandy beaches, waterfalls, jungle hiking, diving and an abundance of natural wildlife.
Koh Pha Ngan: Best for full moon parties
Every backpacker on the planet has probably have heard of Koh Pha Ngan – the pretty East coast island plays host to many world-famous full moon parties. The island is known for its palm tree lined white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters and laid-back attitude. It’s not as developed Koh Samui and is mostly aimed at backpackers with plenty of bohemian style bars and cafes to choose from. ‘Mushroom’ shakes are a speciality here.
Koh Tao: Best for learning to dive
The East coast island of Koh Tao can be accessed via a two hour boat ride from Koh Pha Ngan or Koh Samui. It’s a peaceful place and much less touristy due to its more isolated location. The rocky island offers world-class snorkelling and diving and there are a huge number of dive operators on the island. Ideal for people looking to train for their PADI certificate in a paradise-like environment.
Koh Nang Yuan: Best for extraordinary beauty
Koh Nang Yuan is a tiny island very close to Koh Tao (a cheap boat ride away). It’s popular with day trippers, divers and snorkellers. It’s easily one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand with extraordinary beaches and a dreamy traffic-free tranquillity. The only accommodation on the island is the Nang Yuan Diving Resort so if you want to stay make sure you book as far in advance as possible.
Koh Mak: Best low key destination
Koh Mak is a small very flat island perfect for just relaxing and soaking up the rays. It’s a low key destination and would suit anyone looking to escape the crowds. Accommodation consists of bungalow resorts, mostly in the budget price range. Island activities include cycling through coconut plantations along the coastline, learning to cook the Thai way at one of the cookery schools or snorkelling in the calm clear waters.
Koh Tarutao: Best for camping
Ko Tarutao is one of the 51 islands that belongs to the Tarutao National Marine Park archipelago at the Southern Andaman Coast of Southern Thailand. It has a national park status which means it hasn’t suffered from over-development. There aren’t many facilities on the island so it would suit nature lovers, campers (tents can be hired from the National Park Office on the island for 150B per night) and more self-sufficient travellers.
Koh Phi Phi: Best for sunsets and Partying
This is a controversial choice as this tiny West Coast island seems to divide the opinion of its visitors. Seen by some as the ultimate island paradise and an ugly overdeveloped resort by others. Sadly the island has suffered from uncontrolled development especially since the release of the film ‘The Beach’. Although crowded at times, it arguably keeps a relaxed vibe which seems to keep most of the backpackers and vacationers happy. It’s also a fantastic place to watch the day ending: island attractions include climbing a steep viewpoint to watch the sunset (although don’t expect to have a romantic moment, as you’ll be joined by hundreds of others).
Koh Lanta: Best for traditional culture
Koh Lanta is an island located in the beautiful Krabi Province of Southern Thailand. It’s known for its diving and long white beaches. Definitely an island to escape the modern life and busy tourist areas – it offers complete peace with a few home comforts thrown in. Low-key development and unspoiled nature are Lanta’s main attractions. Expect mountainous landscapes, green forested hills, sandy beaches, pretty coral reefs and a traditional culture.
Koh Ngai: Best for wildlife
Situated between Krabi and Trang provinces this very small mountainous island is covered by a dense tropical forest. The island has a white beach, clear water and beautiful surrounding corals. Accommodation is available although it’s mostly mid range to luxury – there’s not many budget offerings available. Wildlife fans will probably have a field day here; the Western and Northern parts of the island are uninhabited and offer excellent opportunities for watching migrating birds. Koh Ngai is also home to wild crab-eating monkeys and monitor lizards.
Koh Phayam: Best for recently discovered
Koh Phayam is the second largest island in the Andaman sea in Ranong province (after Koh Chang). Koh Phayam is thought to be one of the most beautiful of Thailand’s islands but until recently it has been surprisingly undiscovered by tourists. The island has all the things you’d expect from a tropical Thai island paradise – long white sandy beaches, clear blue sea, jungle forests and a coral reef, but without the crowds. It’s often said to be what Koh Samui was like thirty years ago.
Koh Mook: Best for finding peace & quiet
Also known as Pearl Island, Koh Mook is a very small and very tranquil island located on the South West of Thailand (to the south of Phuket). Aside from relaxing, visitors can indulge in snorkelling, swimming, kayaking or day trips to other islands. Head to Farang Beach on the West of Koh Mook for unforgettable sunsets or take a boat to the Emerald Cave – one of the natural wonders of Thailand. Beyond the cave is a completely enclosed beach formed by a sinkhole.
Koh Phra Thong: Best for off the beaten track
Many dream of finding a tropical paradise undiscovered by the tourist masses. While not quite Robinson Crusoe’s Island, Koh Phra Thong is one of Thailand’s last unspoiled coastal locations with over 15km of largely uninhabited white sandy beaches. It’s part of the Koh Phra Thong National Park, located in the South of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. It’s also the close to Richelieu Rock (a world top ten dive site) and the Surin Islands which hosts the broadest diversity of hard corals in Thailand.