Exploring Thailand’s Islands: 11 of the Best

Known as the land of smiles, the beautiful islands of Thailand welcome you with a friendly “Sawasdee”. Choosing which of Thailand’s islands to explore can be overwhelming as each island offers something unique and special. Whether you want to learn to dive or escape on a romantic, private break, you’ll find the perfect island to suit your mood.

We reveal 11 of the best islands in Thailand – what to do, how to get there, and where you can stay.

11. Ko Mak

Ideal for: a quiet and faraway escape

coast of ko mak thailand islands
Photo credit: @priyabhalotia via Instagram

One of the lesser-known of Thailand’s islands, Ko Mak is an undeveloped, hidden treasure. This coconut-scented island is located in the National Marine Park in eastern Thailand, filled with coconut and rubber plantations. Spend your days relaxing on the beach, kayaking along the crystal-clear waters, windsurfing, snorkelling, jungle trekking, topping it all off with traditional Thai massages.

Nightlife on Ko Mak consists of reclining in your hammock, refreshment in hand, watching sunsets disappear from your bungalow.

How to get there: You can reach Ko Mak by speedboat from the Laem Ngop pier in Trat. There is a selection of accommodation, from simple beach huts to 4-star beach resorts right on the water.

thailand islands koh mak2
Photo credit: @tj_rai via Instagram

10. Ko Samet

Ideal for: a quick city break

thailand islands ko samet
Photo credit: @veronika_brazdilova via Instagram

With its silky, clean, white beaches bordered by coconut palms, it is no surprise that Ko Samet is one of the best of Thailand’s islands. Just a stone’s throw from Bangkok, this 6-kilometre-long island is a firm favourite with locals, tourists and expats escaping here for a weekend break from Bangkok. Here you can swim, snorkel, windsurf and suntan to your heart’s content – with 14 beaches to choose from! Take a slow walk around the centre of town, browsing through the souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Haad Sai Kaew, Ao Hin Khok, and Ao Phai form the island’s most popular beaches with lively lounge and restaurants dotting the coastline. For a romantic trip or quiet beach break, head to the secluded bay of Ao Phrao.

Baan Ploy Sea comes highly recommended for a luxury stay, or you can find plenty of alternatives along the main beach of Haad Sai Kaew.

How to get there: Take a taxi or a bus from Ekkamai bus terminal to Ban Phe pier, where you can ferry across to Ko Samet within 30-40 minutes.

9. Similan Islands

Ideal for: island-hopping and scuba diving

Photo credit: @piupiupiiiiu via Instagram

Hidden away from the other popular and busier of Thailand’s islands, the Similan Islands are unknown to most travellers island-hopping through Thailand – and that’s what makes them special. These 11 sandy locations together form Mu Ko Similan National Park. These islands are a diver’s paradise with visibility up to 30 metres deep. The waters are packed with tuna, manta rays, turtles, reef sharks, barracuda, red grouper, moray eels and whale sharks.

Accommodation on the islands is limited so you will need to book ahead of time if you’re visiting during peak diving season. Only three of the islands have accommodation – Ko Meang, Ko Similan and Ko Tachai. Your options are basic bungalows and tented campsites. If hotels and resorts are what you are more interested in, you are better off staying on the Khao Lak mainland and going on day trips to the islands instead.

Alternatively, you can book liveaboard boat tours for 4-5 days, giving you the opportunity to wake up between the islands, surrounded by incredible scenery and wildlife.

How to get there: This diving hotspot is just two hours by boat from Khao Lak. Note that the islands are closed to tourists between May and October.

8. Ko Pha Ngan

Ideal for: party atmosphere

Often referred to as Thailand’s liveliest location, Ko Pha Ngan is where party lovers and solo travellers go to unwind. Located between Ko Samui and Ko Tao, island hopping between these three islands is a popular choice. Ko Pha Ngan is synonymous with full moon parties and the best ones can be found on Haad Rin’s Sunrise Beach during August, December and January. Expect action-packed beaches and lounges every night of the week. By day you can rent a scooter or tour guide and explore the Buddhist temples, scenery and viewpoints around the island. Phaeng Waterfall, the hidden Chaloklum Beach and the herbal sauna at Wat Pho are a few highlights not to be missed. There is no shortage of much-needed luxury spas and meditation retreats around one of the most popular of Thailand’s islands.

chaloklum beach thailand islands
Photo credit: @try.thai via Instagram

Le Divine Comedie is a stunning beach resort with all the right features 15 minutes away from the action. If you want to stay in the heart of full moon party atmosphere, Suncliff Resort offers dorms and private rooms overlooking the beach.

How to get there: You can easily reach Ko Pha Ngan via a short one-hour ferry ride from Ko Samui.

7. Ko Lipe

Ideal for: a couple’s getaway

ko lipe thailand islands
Photo credit: @inspiredbynature.design via Instagram

Calling all romantics and honeymooners alike. With its apricot sunsets, lively lounges and unspoilt beaches, Ko Lipe sets the tone for romance. This is one of Thailand’s islands that is free of large beach resorts, giving you long stretches of unspoilt beaches all to yourself.

Ko Lipe is home to three main beaches – Sunrise, Sunset and Pattaya beaches – all within a 15 -minute walk from each other. Pattaya Beach hums with restaurants and late-night lounges, while Sunrise Beach is perfect for snorkelling, long romantic walks, catching a tan, and luxuriating in mostly high-end resorts.

Visit any of the restaurants along ‘Walking Street’ before heading off on an island-hopping tour or kayaking to a few private beaches, ending off at Ko Adang for sunset.

You’ll find a variety of accommodation on Ko Lipe. Popular options include Salisa Resort and Bloom Café and Hostel.

How to get there: The quickest way is to fly into Hat Yai, and take a shuttle down to Bak Para pier where a ferry will transport you to Ko Lipe for around 699-700 Baht (around AED 83). The entire island is walkable, and you won’t find many motor vehicles apart from a few motorbikes and motorbike taxis (with sidecars).

6. Ko Chang

Ideal for: families and adventure seekers

mangrove hideaway ko chang
Photo credit: @sebhav via Instagram

The second-largest of Thailand’s islands, Ko Chang is all about the simple life. Touching borders with Cambodia, the island is home to dense forests, waterfalls, rivers, and plenty of hiking trails. Kayak through the mangrove swamps and stop to admire the local fishing traditions in Salakkok Bay. Don’t leave Ko Chang without taking a cooking class – there are lots to choose from in Klong Prao village!

Escape to Had Sai Noi Beach for a refreshment at one of the relaxing beach lounges. Try some fresh crab at White Sands Beach night market, and end off your night watching the flame-throwers and dancers along Lonely Beach.

Rejuvenate yourself with yoga classes at The Mangrove Hideaway or enjoy the family villas at Serenity Resort.

How to get there: You can reach Ko Chang by flying to Trat Airport, catching a shuttle to the pier and taking a ferry straight to the island.

5. Phuket

Ideal for: living it up

Photo credit: @juliane.drift via Instagram

Beach yoga? Check. Water parks? Check. Thrilling nightlife? Check. Celebrity-chefs and private butlers? Check. Yip, Phuket has it all. There is no wish or fantasy that Phuket can’t make true. One of the most famous of Thailand’s islands, it caters to every traveller, whether you’re after a relaxing stay or plan to live it up in style.

Just a short 90-minute flight from Bangkok, Phuket is home to an array of designer boutiques, world-class cuisine, golf courses, museums, aquariums and water parks, and endless beach resorts ranging from the basic to the luxurious.

Phuket is especially busy between November and February, so if you’re after a quieter crowd, consider going between March and May just before the rainy season sets in. Kata Noi and Mai Khao beaches are perfect for a more relaxed atmosphere; while Patong is notorious for its bustling nightlife and night markets. The drive to Patong beach alone boasts phenomenal views of the karst islands dotted around Phang Nga Bay.

Bang Tao Beach is a firm favourite with its big, swaying coconut palms and reggae beach lounges. COMO Point Yamu is an idyllic honeymoon stay just 20 minutes away from the beach.

For a pampering retreat, Impiana Resort Patong comes highly recommended, while the modern Hugger Hostel in Phuket Old Town is a stylish alternative.

thailand islands phuket
Photo credit: @maruska88888 via Instagram

4. Ko Lanta

Ideal for: a little bit of everything

ko lanta thailand islands
Photo credit: @travelaurre via Instagram

Ko Lanta is one of the rarest of Thailand’s islands, where you can experience a bit of everything. Less than an hour’s boat ride from Krabi, Ko Lanta is all about serenity, nature and fantastic seafood. The island is over 30 kilometres long and is navigable by scooter.

By day you can explore the local fishing communities and sit down to a cold refreshment and seafood spread with the locals. Kayak through the mangrove swamps, explore the caves on Ghost Island, hike between the jungle teahouses, indulge in a mandatory beach massage, take a cooking class and perfect your golden tan – Ko Lanta is where you come to get away from it all and relax.

Backpacker lodges have recently given way to upscale, luxury resorts, but you can still find affordable bungalows and guest houses throughout the island. Klong Nin is a peaceful alternative to the tourist bustle of Long Beach, and Baan Pakgasri Hideaway offers a rustic beach break. For something more upscale, Twin Lotus Resort and Spa is an adults-only oasis.

How to get there: Ko Lanta is easily reachable via ferry or speedboat from the surrounding islands. If you’re coming from Krabi, travelling by shuttle and transporting your car by ferry are among the best options.

3. Ko Samui

Ideal for: families, honeymooners, first-timers and yogis

thailand islands ko samui2
Photo credit: @_michelleju_ via Instagram

Ko Samui needs little introduction. There is plenty to see and do on the island and there is something for everyone. Ko Samui best suits families and those looking to unwind and absorb island life. It is a firm favourite among Thailand’s islands, for relaxing retreats and yoga sanctuaries – you can find classes almost anywhere.

If you’re in search of a party scene, make your way to Chaweng. Home to more of a young crowd, Chaweng is packed with busy beaches, lounges and restaurants. Further north of the island lies Bophut – the perfect location for those looking for a relaxing atmosphere. Fisherman’s Village is a great day or evening tour, featuring street food, night markets, cute boutiques and the long beaches all to yourself. Ko Samui is home to some spectacular waterfall treks and mountain bike trails for a day off the beach.

koh samui thailand islands
Photo credit: @sowon_atelierso1 via Instagram

To get around you can hire a scooter and easily make your way around the entire island in a day. There are also plenty of taxis available to transport you to and from the port. From cosy beach bungalows to luxurious private villas, Ko Samui has endless accommodation options. New Hut Bungalows offer simple beach huts, while Sea Dance Resort is great for couples.

How to get there: If you’re limited for time, you can fly straight to Ko Samui Airport. A cheaper option is to fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani and take a ferry to the island. You can add around three hours to your trip from Surat Thani Airport to Ko Samui.

thailand islands ko samui
Photo credit: Nadia Marth

2. Ko Tao (Turtle Island)

Ideal for: scuba divers and adventure seekers

coast of ko tao thailand islands
Photo credit: @eloisetardif via Instagram

You could describe Ko Tao as a blend of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. What’s great is that you can visit all three of these islands within a week and have a very different experience on each of them. 

Ko Tao is perfect for adventure-seeking travellers, so if rock climbing, hiking, cycling, wakeboarding, kitesurfing and scuba diving is your thing, Ko Tao is your island! You can also pick up some Muay Thai classes to test your fitness. Ko Tao is recognised as one of the best diving places in the world, and you can easily do your open water course or more advanced diving courses at any of the PADI centres on the island.

The longest and busiest beach on Ko Tao, Sairee Beach is a great spot to catch a tan, play volleyball and watch the sunset. By night, the beach lounges come alive with reggae beats and fire dancers.

You’ll find plenty of family-friendly accommodation in Ko Tao. Some favourites include Haadtien Beach Resort near Mae Haad Bay and Beach Club by Haadtien.

How to get there: Ko Tao is a two-hour ferry ride from Ko Samui.

marine life ko tao
Photo credit: @perryverheijen via Instagram

1. Phi Phi Islands

Ideal for: solo travellers and adventure seekers

As any traveller to Phi Phi will tell you, the Phi Phi Islands are the poster-child for Thailand’s beaches. With its dramatic limestone cliffs, turquoise bays and silky-soft sands, it’s no wonder this popular island group is on every traveller’s list.

Unlike its wild sister island, Ko Pha Ngan, Phi Phi attracts more of a high-class young crowd looking to have a good time. The absence of frantic scooters lends to the slow, relaxed pace of Phi Phi’s atmosphere, and you can settle into quieter surroundings to the north of the island.

Phi Phi Islands Thailand Islands
Photo credit: @travelnocturnal via Instagram

Phi Phi’s claim to fame is Maya Bay (along the smaller island of Ko Phi Phi Leh) where the film, The Beach, was filmed. Access to the beach is currently closed to allow the ecosystem and coral reefs to recover but you can take a sleep-aboard boat and tour the bay and surrounding islands. Tonsai and Loh Dalum beaches boast lively beach lounges and fire dancing where you can party under the stars all night long.

Phi Phi Don is the bigger of the two islands that make up Phi Phi, and is home to some of the best beach resorts. For an extravagant spending experience, spoil yourself at the 5-star Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort, featuring a dive centre, spa, infinity pool and private beach. Solo travellers might enjoy staying at Ibiza House Phi Phi, with its selection of dormitories, private rooms and villas, as well as live DJ sets and pool parties.

From rock climbing and snorkelling to pool parties, beach days and Muay Thai fights, you definitely won’t be bored on Phi Phi Island.

How to get there: A short one-hour ferry ride from Phuket, or 90-minute ride from Krabi or Ko Lanta will get you to the Phi Phi Islands.

longtail boats at maya bay phi phi islands thailand islands
Photo credit: @bxsightseer via Instagram

Tips to remember on the islands:

  1. Do not ride elephants or take photos with strange animals – this fuels animal abuse.
  2. Respect the beaches and sea animals.
  3. Do not touch or walk on the corals.
  4. Keep enough cash on hand – not all islands have foreign exchange bureaus.
  5. Always wear a life jacket when taking a ferry or boat trip – you never know when you may need to swim ashore.
  6. Try all the local dishes.

The dry season runs from November to April. Peak season on Thailand’s islands falls between November and February, especially over weekends, so book your accommodation in advance.

Ready to explore Thailand’s islands with all their beauty, sunsoaked beaches and exciting activities? Whether it’s thrilling nightlife you’re after, or a more calm holiday relaxing under towering palm trees, you’ll find it difficult to return home once you’re living the island life.

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Tell us which of these islands in Thailand is your favourite in the comments below.

Featured image courtesy of @friendsandmuses via Instagram

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