With excellent weather, warm ocean water, and palm-fringed beaches, Thailand is island living at its very best. Pair that with top-notch accommodation and a pleasing exchange rate, and you have the ultimate holiday destination. Thailand is home to an astonishing array of islands offering all manner of diving, swimming, and sunbathing opportunities all year round. The hardest part for any visitor is singling out Thailand’s best islands among the hundreds. With hundreds of islands and islets scattered along its coastlines and several more in rivers and lakes around the nation, Thailand certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to gorgeous islands. Many people have already heard of, and maybe even visited, larger islands, like Phuket and Koh Samui. But how about trying somewhere different on your next vacation to the Land of Smiles? A visit to Thailand’s best islands can be the highlight of any trip to the kingdom. It’s an excellent way to unwind, with stunning beaches, nodding palms, and accommodation within earshot of gently lapping waves. Thailand has hundreds of islands and it’s true to say there’s something for everyone along the miles of coastline, either in the Andaman Sea to the west or the Gulf of Thailand to the east.
Koh Chang is one of Thailand’s most challenging islands to reach, but that has helped it retain its natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere. The island marks the site of the 1941 Battle of Ko Chang between the Thai and the French when an armada of French warships attacked a larger fleet of Thai naval ships, including two coastal defense vessels. Today, while nothing much remains as a reminder barring an annual memorial ceremony, the island of Ko Chang and its surrounding waters have been declared a Maritime Nature Reserve. Edged with white-sand beaches and backed by jungle-clad hills, Ko Chang is developing fast but still feels green. It’s Thailand’s second-largest island, after Phuket. 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.
Koh Phi Phi
Phi Phi Islands are the very essence of exotic beauty, offering limestone karsts with thick jungle and stunning coves of golden sand. It must be said that Phi Phi Don, the only inhabited island, has seen rampant development in recent years, which does slightly mar the escapist element of the island. The islands that make up the Phi Phi archipelago are pure paradise. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island, the busiest island, and the spot where you’ll most likely find your accommodation. During the day, however, you can check out the other five islands. Whichever island you visit, you’re promised thick jungles, glorious beaches, and crystal-clear water offering a snorkeling and diving paradise. But with great scenery comes plenty of party-seeking crowds; many visit Phi Phi for the day and stay up partying on the sands until sunrise. The biggest highlight is Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, featured in the movie ‘The Beach’. Even if you’ve never been to Thailand, you’ll probably recognize the image of Maya Bay with its iconic limestone cliffs and beautiful beach cove.
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Phuket is an excellent option if you’re looking for an all-round holiday combining picturesque beaches, convenient transport options, and loads of activities. The largest island in Thailand is great for luxury stays and family getaways, with plenty of undiscovered spots, too. With its own international airport, even short visits from other parts of Southeast Asia are worthwhile. Once night descends, there’s clubs, shows, and fancy restaurants to rival many capital cities. Phuket island boasts luxury resort after luxury resort as well as some gorgeous casuarina-dotted tropical beaches. With enchanting coral reefs and fascinating islands offshore, snorkeling and diving here is truly spectacular – in fact, it’s some of the best in Thailand. Back on land, activities include bicycle tours, mini-golfing, and traditional cooking classes.
In the 1990s, Koh Lipe rose to prominence as a far-flung tropical island that has stunning beaches, crystal-clear water, and seafood taken straight from the fishing boats and onto the grill. Located in the southern Thai province of Satun, near the Thailand-Malaysia border, it belongs to the Adang-Rawi Archipelago on the outskirts of the Tarutao National Marine Park. Tucked close to the Malaysian border, Ko Lipe is simply extraordinary. A part of the Adang-Rawi Archipelago, it boasts small islets and coral-abundant waters that encompass Tarutao National Marine Park. There are three main beaches in Ko Lipe: Sunrise Beach, Sunset Beach, and Pattaya Beach, and a host of snorkeling and diving spots are known for their coral-rich waters. Diving hotspots include 8 Mile Rock, Sting Ray City, and Stonehenge.
The Similan Islands, in the south of Thailand, are limited in terms of facilities but, if you’re looking for clean and beautiful beaches, they’re well worth the effort to get there. Protected as a national marine park, the islands are only accessible between October and May. It takes around 1.5 hours by speedboat from Phuket to the Similans. The islands are often touted as one of the finest places for scuba diving and snorkelling in the world. The ban on hotels and commercial fishing in the waters around the Similans has kept the aquatic life virtually pristine. The fastest travel option you can do is taking the night bus to Ranong or Khao Lak from Bangkok and from there arrange a boat to the Similan islands. Most people go there on a day trip tour, but the best way to enjoy the Similan islands is to stay for two days. It’s a little far from Phuket and can be tiring to get there on a speedboat. This way, you’ll have some fabulous beaches almost for yourself in the morning and the evening, and having the beaches for yourself is absolutely priceless.
Ko Pha Ngan
With an overall area of 167sqkm is Thailand’s fifth biggest island. Located 70km from the mainland and just 12km from Koh Samui, Phangan does not have an airport and relies heavily on ferries from the mainland and Koh Samui. For drinking and dancing, Ko Pha Ngan gets a mention thanks to its famous party beach, Hat Rin. It’s now established as the major party venue in Southeast Asia. In peak seasons – August, December, and January – thousands flock here for the infamous Full Moon parties. The atmosphere created by thousands of folk mashing it up on the beautiful, moonlit beach, is a real buzz.