There are dozens of beautiful islands in Thailand, from the heaving (in better times) tourist giants of Phuket and Koh Samui to tiny, peaceful places like Koh Lipe and Koh Tao. It can be hard to settle on your Thai island of choice, so I wrote this post to make it a little easier. Below are 15 of the best islands in Thailand for tourism, and who they are most suited to.
The Big Hitters
These are some of the most popular islands in Thailand for tourism, for better or worse.
Phuket is massive and has areas suited to most people, from quiet (ish) beaches such as Nai Harn to the busy, “city” areas like Patong. It has a little bit of everything, but most parts of Phuket are more expensive than other islands and it’s so big that it can be hard to get around. We went to Phuket for a weekend (flying in from Singapore) and it was good for what it is. If you’re looking for somewhere easy, with an international airport, Phuket is a great choice.
Koh Samui, from the small amount I saw of it, has a similar vibe to Phuket. It’s suited to the mass tourism market (there’s also an airport), with countless resorts, bars and shopping areas. I’m sure there are quiet parts, but if you’re looking for that desert island kinda feel, you might be disappointed in Koh Samui. If, however, you want a nice easy holiday in a “city” kind of environment, with lots of opportunities for island hopping trips and other water-based activities, it’d be a great option (I went in rainy season, hence the bad photo!).
Koh Phi Phi
If you’re into partying in a (sort of) tropical paradise, Koh Phi Phi could be your best bet. Young backpackers flock there for the boat parties, pool parties and buzzing city streets. It’s kind of weird to be in a compact little city on a small island like this, and plenty of people would be very turned off by the vibe, but I reckon it’s unique and good to experience once.
As for the beaches, they are nice to look at but aren’t the best for swimming. It is a beautiful island, and there are some good island-hopping trips nearby, but if you go there expecting a quiet island paradise, you’ll be disappointed.
Best of both worlds
These islands are all popular, and can get crowded at times, but they are little more “off the beaten path” than the three above.
This is one of the closer islands to Bangkok and seems to have something to suit every kind of traveller. We only spent a few days on Koh Chang, and it seemed nice enough (we stayed at Long Beach). We’d recently visited Koh Kood, and the beaches on Koh Chang weren’t quite up to that standard, but I can see the appeal of Koh Chang (big island, lots of things to do, different areas suited to different people) – definitely one I want to return to.
Koh Phangan is famous for its Full Moon Parties, but outside of that it’s a solid Thai island destination. It’s a decent sized island with heaps of different areas, although it’s just big enough to be kinda hard to get around unless you rent a motorbike. I didn’t explore the island much (rainy season!) but it seemed nice enough. It’s close to Koh Samui too, so you could spend a night or two there during your Koh Samui trip.
OK, Krabi isn’t actually an island, but it sure feels like one. You need to catch a boat there, and once there you’re hemmed in by exotic limestone cliffs. It’s a beautiful place, and the perfect spot if you’re looking for a Thai beach destination with a mix of beauty, small size (you can walk pretty much everywhere) and home comforts. There are heaps of resorts, some nice bars and restaurants and the vibe is quite different at each of the different beaches. Highly recommended for most people!
If you want to learn to dive, you’ll likely have heard of Koh Tao. Learning there is cheap and easy, but there’s more to Koh Tao than what’s the below the water. It’s hilly island with plenty of viewpoints and beaches to explore as well as some bustling town areas. Koh Tao is the kind of island that will suit most people, and it’s easily combined with Koh Samui and Koh Phangan if you want some variety.
Romantic Getaway Spots
These next spots are best suited to couples looking for a romantic Thai island getaway, or for anyone else who prefers quiet beaches and relaxation to parties and beach crowds.
Koh Lipe is, in my opinion, the second most beautiful island in Thailand. The beaches are beautiful – they’re honestly a lot nicer than any of the islands I’ve mentioned up until this point. If beach quality is important, don’t miss out on Koh Lipe. It’s a tiny island as well and you can explore it all by foot – I love exploring small islands like this.
There are plenty of nice resorts on Koh Lipe, and it’s known as an upmarket destination, but you can still do it on a budget if you try. The only issue I have with Koh Lipe is that it’s far from everywhere else you’re likely to be going, and the boat ride there can be unpleasant.
Koh Lanta is the perfect island in Thailand to relax for a few days and enjoy the seaside life. I’ve been to Long Beach (one of the most popular beaches on Koh Lanta) a couple of times now and it’s such a laidback place. The beach is nice (and long), the water is perfect for swimming and the sunsets make for a great backdrop for a beer or bite to eat at one of the beachside shacks. This is what I always imagined Thai islands were like. Koh Lanta is a decent size and there’s lots of explore, and you can also do day trips to places like Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Kood is my favourite island in Thailand, mostly because the beaches are so good. With beaches this good you’d expect them to be packed, but we were often the only people on them. It’s such a laidback place – I reckon if you’re planning a honeymoon in Thailand Koh Kood should be at the top of the list. There’s plenty to explore (you can walk between beaches fairly easily) but there isn’t much in the way of nightlife.
Islands You’ll See on Boat Trips
There are heaps of tiny islands in Thailand that you’ll see while doing island hopping trips. These range from tiny bit of rock (James Bond Island) to your typical desert island locations that wouldn’t look out of place in the Maldives or Caribbean.
My favourite island hopping trips in Thailand include Phang Nga Bay (from Phuket), Koh Nang Yuan (from Koh Tao), Koh Phi Phi Leh (from Koh Phi Phi) and Koh Poda (from Koh Lanta). There are so many more though – if you’re spending time on an island in Thailand you should definitely try and set up some kind of island-hopping trip.
So, which islands in Thailand should you choose?
If you’re a backpacker travelling to Thailand for the first time, you can’t go wrong with Krabi – Koh Phi Phi – Koh Lanta. You’ll see amazing scenery, beautiful beaches and you’ll get the chance to do some partying. If you’re a couple looking for somewhere quiet, I’d go with Koh Lipe or Koh Kood. If you want to dive, go for Koh Tao. If you’re flying in and out on a short break, go for Phuket (or Koh Samui). For me, Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe and Koh Kood are the best, so if you trust my opinion you might want to factor that in!
Are you planning a trip to any islands in Thailand? Check out my two-week Thailand itinerary!
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