Thailand is famous for being the most visited tourist destination in Asia. With incredible food and luxury accommodations at a very low price being only the icing on the cake, it is no wonder people are drawn to Thailand’s beautiful landscape and captivated by its rich culture. It is hard to imagine that you will be able to do everything the nation has to offer in a single trip. Bangkok alone provides enough activities to pack into a full vacation, but there is so much more to the country than its bustling capital, like its islands.
What are the best islands in Thailand to visit? Thailand has 1,430 islands within its borders, but here are 13 that are worth visiting:
- Koh Yao Islands
- Koh Samui
- Koh Tao
- Koh Lipe
- Koh Phi Phi
- Similan Islands
- Koh Si Chang
- Koh Pha Ngan
- Koh Lanta
- Koh Kradan
- Koh Phayam
- Koh Tarutao
Planning a trip to Thailand and trying to decide which of its thousand-plus islands to visit can be overwhelming. How do you even begin to pick islands you want to visit in the time you will be there? How do you narrow down the options to fit your personal vacation needs and desires? If you want to get the most out of your vacation, the following paragraphs will help you decide which Thai islands will give you the best experience for your trip.
What Islands Should You Visit in Thailand?
How do you go about picking between 1,430 islands? With beautiful beaches, palm trees, and that exquisite turquoise shade in the water, the islands in Thailand are unique. Each one offers its own flavor of experience, and you do not have to settle for just one. Some of the more popular islands like Phuket and Ko Samui even have airports that you can fly into. Others are accessible only by ferry.
With efficient planning and diligent spending, it is possible to visit multiple islands on a single trip for as little as $20 a day! The factors that determine those conditions are best saved for another article. Still, whether you stay on one island the whole time, or hit multiple stops on an island-hopping adventure, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Here is an in-depth look at 13 islands you should visit in Thailand.
Topping off our list is the ever-popular and highly luxurious Phuket. This is a fancy island that offers all of the Western accommodations you know and love, and so much more. It is the biggest and busiest island in Thailand with activities and attractions that include celebrity-chef restaurants, world-class plastic surgery, and not five, but six-star resorts that include private butlers. This is the luxury island for high-end tourists who expect top of the line customer service.
Of all the islands in Thailand, Phuket is the largest one, with about 540 square kilometers of land. The island is home to about a quarter of a million locals. If Phuket is one of your destinations, then you will be one of the 35,000 tourists who visit each day. There is no need to worry, though, because this glitzy island has plenty for you to do. You can easily access it via ferryboat, or you can fly into the Phuket International Airport (HKT).
Phuket is home to dozens of beachfront resorts. Many of them even have private beaches only those with a reservation can enjoy. Do not let this discourage you if you seek adventure on a good value, though, because there are plenty of public beaches that offer breath-taking views and plenty of tourist offerings. Here are some famous beaches on Phuket that you can spend the day on:
- Kata Noi Beach: It may be a small bay, but its stunning views more than make up for it. This is the perfect beach for relaxing walks and leisurely swims.
- Nai Harn Beach: This popular beach is located on the south of the island. The sand is soft, and the water is clear. There are various restaurants available offering delicious Thai cuisine, and numerous souvenir shops with all the local trinkets you can take home.
- Patong Beach: Otherwise known as the heart of Phuket. Tourists love this spot for two main reasons, the beach and the insane nightlife. The beach itself is 2 kilometers long, with activities like jet skiing or parasailing available to enjoy.
Beaches and nightlife are not the only draws to Phuket, though. Here are four other things you should consider experiencing if you visit Phuket:
- Explore Phuket Old Town: Phuket Old Town is a historically rich slice of the island where you will find many temples, shophouses, and even some small printing shops. It is small enough to where you do not need to drive to get around.
- Embrace the Sights at Khao Rang Viewpoint: From the Khao Rang Viewport, you can catch a glimpse of the entire town, and neighboring islands. There are three restaurants here, and several bars as well. You can even get a good workout in at the fitness park found here.
- Visit Phuket Trickeye Museum: This gem is an interactive museum that engages visitor’s creativity and imagination. There are several 3D art pieces to enjoy in the permanent installation or the temporary ones that change as time goes on.
- Experience the Phuket FantaSea Show: You can spend an entire evening in this 140-acre complex. It is stuffed with activities that include a carnival village, a shopping complex, and a 4,000-seat restaurant that serves a buffet featuring Thai and international foods. While you eat, enjoy the incredible Las Vegas-style show retelling myths and mysteries of the Thai people.
2. Koh Yao Islands
The next stop on our tour is actually a pair of twin islands, Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi. They are said to be the most beautiful islands in Thailand. It lacks the oversaturation of tourist-heavy draws like bars and spas, so it is perfect for tourists who want a quiet getaway. With only one 7-11, you will primarily find fishing villages and small resorts dispersed along the coast.
It is home to over 18,000 people. The fastest way to get there is to fly to Phuket International and transfer to the Bang Rong Pier. It is about 20 minutes away from the airport. From there, you can catch a public speedboat straight to the island!
There are scuba diving opportunities you can take advantage of while there. Operators on the island can take you out on a boat, and you can explore some of the best reefs the bay has to offer. You can even get yourself officially scuba certified!
3. Koh Samui
This island is one that has something for every budget and every type of traveler. Value tourists can enjoy beachside bungalows for months at a time, and wealthy guests can splurge at a luxury resort over the weekend. Koh Samui has over 15 beaches that mainly attracts families and honeymooners. Here are a few of the things you should do in Koh Samui:
- Visit Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village: This is a historic part in Bophut Beach, where you will find rustic-style buildings that house trendy restaurants, a small selection of hotels, and boutique stores. Every Friday, the Fisherman’s Village Walking Street market is held, and it is a lively event that you will not want to miss.
- Explore Ang Thong National Marine Park: You are not going to want to miss this one. This stunning archipelago is made up of 42 islands. Its 100 square kilometers of land and sea is made up of thick jungle, fertile mangroves, limestone mountains, white-sand beaches, numerous waterfalls, hidden coves, and lakes. It is also home to exotic wildlife and sea creatures.
- Visit Wat Plai Laem: This interesting temple is located on the north side of the island. With all it is beautiful art and décor, you surely will not miss out on the 18-arm Guanyin statue, or the Chinese Buddha on the lake.
4. Koh Tao
If you are passionate about scuba diving, then Koh Tao is the island for you. Travelers refer to it was the scuba diving mecca because this is where you will find the lowest prices for diving in the world while adhering to top quality standards.
Besides scuba diving, Koh Tao has more than 70 rock climbing routes made of volcanic rock. You can utilize the expertise of The Koh Tao Climbing Project by participating in climbing training and camps, which include tailoring options that accommodate all experience levels. For those who would rather stick close to the ground, you can experience one of the breath-taking hikes Koh Tao offers, like Mango Viewpoint, Two Views, or Fraggle Rock.
If you are on Koh Tao, then you cannot miss its epic pub crawl. Officially running four times a week, everybody starts with a “Thai bucket” filled to the brim. The evening is then spent along the Sairee Beach coast going from bar to bar. Each pub crawler receives excellent discounts on drinks through the night. Just make sure you sign up for the crawl at Choppers Bar and Grill. It happens on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
5. Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is another excellent option for those who wish to get away from crowds. It is Thailand’s southernmost island, and it features turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, and, most importantly, cheap mojitos. This is a laidback island where you can take yoga classes and enjoy stunning sunsets. Here are some stand-out activities you can do while you are there:
- Bioluminescent Plankton Tour: This is a magical experience where you can actually see the water glow with beautiful blue bioluminescent plankton! This very phenomenon was actually featured in the movie “The Beach.” And yes, this is the exact island where the movie was filmed.
- Camp on the Beach: Tents and bungalows are available for rental on the beach. Just make sure you bring snacks and food because there is only one restaurant.
- Go Sea Kayaking: For about 200 baht per hour ($5.50), you can rent a kayak and visit the tiny island of Koh Kra. You can even visit a small secluded beach on the north side of the island.
- Scuba Diving: We have mentioned scuba diving several times already in this article. But the truth is that we will probably bring it up a few more times, because Thailand’s islands offer some of the best scuba diving experiences in the world, and Koh Lipe is no exception.
- Visit Walking Street: It is very hard to miss Walking Street in Koh Lipe, as it is one of the most developed areas of the island. At night, the street comes to life with numerous seafood restaurants offering up their fresh catch of the day.
6. Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi is favored by solo travelers because of its extraordinary nightlife and laid-back vibe. It is a small island with no cars or roads, but that does not stop it from being packed full of things to do. If you find yourself in Koh Phi Phi, then be sure partake in some of the following activities:
- Visit the Beaches: This island is home to some beautiful beaches such as the quiet bay of Loh Moo Dee, the serene Toh Ko, and the vibrant Long Beach.
- Engage in an All-Day Pool Party: Ibiza House is the home of the legendary all-day pool party. With absurdly cheap drinks and a pool that boasts views of the beach, this party is worthy of the hype.
- See the Fights: Get yourself to the Raggae Bar and witness the Muay Thai fights. They actually have a boxing ring right in the middle of the bar where punters are encouraged to throw down for a free Thai bucket and a medal.
7. Similan Islands
The Similan Islands are an archipelago of 11 islands that were established as a national park in 1982. This is a very popular tourist spot, as most of the islands will be crowded during the high seasons. Each island is numbered with its own name:
- #1: Ko Hu Yong
- #2: Ko Payang
- #3: Ko Payan
- #4: Ko Miang
- #5: Ko Ha
- #6: Ko Payu
- #7: Ko Hin Pousar
- #8: Ko Similan
- #9: Ko Bangu
- #10: Ko Bon
- #11: Ko Tachai
Ko Similan and Ko Miang are the two main islands. Nearly all of the most impressive ocean-dwelling creatures in Southeast Asia can be found in the Similan Islands. Some of these include manta rays, blacktip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, leatherback sea turtles, shovelnose guitar fish, ribbon eels, and so much more. Currently, 118 known bird species dwells across the islands.
The various islands contain numerous beaches for you to relax and swim in. Some of them even have trails that you can hike on for exploration and viewpoints that offer lovely sights. For water lovers, snorkeling and scuba diving are massively popular here.
8. Koh Si Chang
If you are staying in Bangkok but still want to visit some islands, then Koh Si Chang is the island for you. Being a two-hour boat ride away, it is one of the closest beach destinations to the city—even Bangkok locals like going here for the weekend.
This beautiful island has clear waters and an array of activities that include biking, kayaking, and snorkeling. There is only one town on this island, and it is at the North East tip. Unlike Bangkok, traffic is not an issue here because only private cars are allowed on the island. Here are a few things that you can do while here:
- Visit the Chao Pho Khao Yai Shrine: In English, the name translates to “Shrine of the Father Spirit of the Great Mountain.” It is located north of the town in a secluded cave, and worth seeing for those with the exploration bug.
- Explore King Chulalongkorn’s Palace: Known as the Summer Palace, this was the Royal Palace that was once home to Thailand’s king. Before it was invaded by the French in 1900, is boasted four mansions, 14 halls, and an incredible pavilion. Today, you can spend hours exploring the palace buildings and enjoying the numerous exhibits.
9. Koh Pha Ngan
There is no denying that Koh Pha Ngan is widely considered to be Thailand’s premier party island. When its Full Moon party is in full swing on Haad Rin beach, it is easy to see why. Taking place just once per month, it attracts over 30,000 people every time! If you miss it, there is no need to worry because the Half Moon Party happens twice a month! Besides partying, here are some other activities you can engage in on the island:
- Experience the Thong Sala Night Market: You simply cannot miss the Thong Sala Night Market! It is full of numerous delicious options that are not exclusively limited to Thai food; you will also encounter pizza, falafels, noodles, and sushi.
- Visit the Herbal Sauna Baan Tai: This is one of the more unique offerings. Founded by monks, this sauna is located right next to the biggest tree on the island. And it is not just a big tree; it is a massive tree that is more than 42 feet in diameter!
- Visit the Waterfalls: There are seven waterfalls on the island, and each one is uniquely breath-taking. Outside of the Full Moon Party, tourists find them to be the best part of the island. Just make sure to go at the right time; these waterfalls are known to dry up after the rainy season ends.
10. Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta is the perfect island for an overall Thai vacation. With a wonderful mix of being developed and uncrowded, this island with tucked within mangroves, rainforests, and coral beaches. It is a part of Mu Ko Lanta National Park, so there is much to explore. You can visit ancient caves, numerous waterfalls, and stunning mountaintops.
If you plan on exploring the national park, then get ready to explore an impressive network of hiking trails that eventually leads to the lighthouse or the beach. Much like Koh Lipe, you can witness bioluminescent plankton in the waters at sundown. Here are some unique offerings you will only find on the island:
- Koh Lanta Old Town: Once the main port of trade in Koh Lanta, you will find this bustling little gem on the island’s east coast. It is a perfect spot to get lost in rich history because it looks and feels it is frozen in time.
- Lanta Animal Welfare: With a primary focus on cats and dogs, Lanta Animal Welfare’s mission is to end the suffering of animals on the island. It is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day, and tours are free. You can even take one of the dogs for a walk! If you are a cat lover, then be sure to check out Kitty City.
- Mangrove Forest: If you are on Koh Lanta, then you simply must visit Mangrove Forest. The best way to see it is through the river. There are options to take a guided tour, but you can also rent a kayak and explore for yourself. Be prepared to see monkeys on the shore and jellyfish in the water!
11. Koh Kradan
Koh Kradan is one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand. It has no villages or proper roads; it is possibly the closest you can get to a deserted island getaway. With only a national park ranger station and limited cell reception, you are truly isolated from the outside world.
It is not entirely void of human influence, though, as there are some accommodation options such as dorm rooms, tents, and bungalows on the beach. For extra money, you can stay in some of the four-star resorts found near the island’s private land. This island attracts couples from all around the world for the underwater wedding festival, held on Valentine’s Day every year.
12. Koh Phayam
Koh Phayam is the second largest island in Thailand. It is another getaway island with limited cell reception and is largely laid back, except for when the island is throwing one of its legendary parties! Just be sure to visit at the right time, as tourists have recently discovered this island, and it can get crowded.
There are only about 500 to 650 locals who call the island home. You will find modest accommodations such as tents and bamboo bungalows on the beach. During the rainy season, half of those accommodations and restaurants close down. Do not let this deter you, though. This island has seen some development in recent years, and resorts like Phayam Lodge and Blue Sky Resort are starting to spring up.
If you are looking to get away in Koh Phayam, here are some of the things you can do:
- Take Surf and Boogie Board Lessons: On Aow Yai Beach, you will find surf and boogie board rentals available through numerous beachfront shops. Even if you have never done it, the waters are beginner-friendly, so feel free to take it for a spin!
- Biking and Hiking: Bike and scooter rentals are very cheap, and you can spend the entire day exploring the trails and narrow roads. It will seem like you are far out in the middle of nowhere, but in truth, you are never more than two kilometers from civilization.
- Scuba Diving: Like all of the other islands on this list, Koh Phayam offers excellent scuba diving opportunities. If you are lucky, you may spot a manta or a whale shark!
13. Koh Tarutao
Protected by the Thai government, Koh Tarutao is one of the most untouched and scenic islands you can visit in Thailand. It was once the home of a political prison, and you can explore the grounds as they were. This island also offers beachfront tent and bungalow accommodations at a very low cost, making it perfect for explorers who appreciate excellent value.
This island is home to many remote beaches. You can also rent a mountain bike and travel from the Ao Talo Phante Malacca campsite to the pristine Ao Son beach. It is a 40-minute trek on a jungle trail. If you like hiking, then be sure to experience the famous trek to the Lu Du Waterfall. Kayaks and paddleboats are also available to rent on the island.
Even if you do not experience the northern heights or the bustling Bangkok, you can still have an incredible Thailand experience by exploring its many islands. From the bustling Phucket to the serene Koh Kradan, there is something for everyone within Thailand’s 1,430 islands. While this list has not even scratched the surface in terms of the scope of variety you can pick from, it certainly narrowed it down to fit all budgets and desired experiences. Whether you are a first-time tourist or a regular visitor to Thailand, there is always a new gem waiting to be discovered. The islands within the Land of Smiles provide something for families, partygoers, and those who simply want to get away from it all.