Coming to Thailand is a dream for travelers and holiday goers alike. There’s a reason why almost 16 million people visited the country in 2010. And that number has actually risen by over 12% from last year. The industry is so big that it makes up about 7% of the country’s GDP. Even with the high visitor count, Thailand still offers tons of places to enjoy peace and tranquility. And none more so than its islands. Which begs the question: Which one is right for you?
Of course, Thailand offers much more than islands and beaches. We highly recommend exploring the country first, then concluding your Thai experience with down time in one of these islands. You will be flying in and out of Thailand from Bangkok, its capital. And that is a good place to start. Then, a short one hour flight up north takes you to the mountainous environs of Chiang Mai, with excursions to Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle and the borders of Myanmar and Laos possible. If you are yearning to experience some of the simple living the hilltribes are known for, this is the area you need to be.
After your exposure to Thailand’s central and northern regions, it is then time to enjoy the paradise islands and beaches of the south.
They can range from the party hardy type, to the outright quiet and peaceful one. Some are quite large and may require an extensive stay if you want to really explore it in its entirety while others are small and easy to navigate around. If you are a dive enthusiast, then you’d be happy to know that all present their fair share of nearby dive sites.
Below we have compiled a table of the best islands and its traits.
|Island||Island size||Beach quality||Dive quality||Party grade||Nature|
|Phi Phi Island||2||5||5||2||5|
|Note: 1 is smallest 5 is largest; All numbers are in comparison with other islands on the list|
So, just by glancing at this rating system, there are a wide variety of islands out there. It all depends on what your preference is. Let’s go into more detail about each of them.
- Phuket – Thailand largest island and a province in itself. This is the default place many people go to when in need of an island holiday in Thailand. Why? Its sheer size alone guarantees that there is a little something for everyone. Its jungle interior ensures adventurers are satisfied. Kayakers will also enjoy the limestone karst in and around Phang Nga. The island is also a melting pot of cultures, Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies call it home. Good dive sites are just short transfers away. So, in conclusion, if you have many days to spare and would like to fully explore an island, Phuket is the best one for you. Families are welcome, as well as adventurers looking to soak in the prototypical island atmosphere. The capital’s big city atmosphere also ensures that those missing city life are also catered to.
- Koh Samui – One of the dilemmas clouding the island is this: “Is Samui your ideal tropical beach getaway or an escape for party hardy individuals either looking to go wild ‘warming up’ to the Full Moon Party located nearby in Koh Pha Ngan? The answer is both. The island is fairly big, so there is always a place for you to discover hidden spots away from the commercialized areas. Quiet secluded beaches lined with palms are around, but so are bars playing the latest electronic music. If these elements attract your interest, then perhaps Samui is the island for you.
- Koh Phang Ngan – The Full Moon Party was already mentioned. If that is not enough for you, there are also other monthly themed parties, ranging from the Black Moon, Half Moon and even Jungle parties. There’s always a reason to celebrate here. Most of the parties are centered on a thin stretch of beach at Had Rin. However, there are still magnificent nature spots around the island. This includes beaches, tropical forests and rock formations; great for climbing. If you’re wondering if the party noise will affect your sleep at night the answer is no, if you are not in Had Rin.
- Koh Tao – It is a part of Surat Thani Provice, along with the Koh Samui and Koh Phang Ngan. Of the three, this island is the hardest to get to. You either have to take a six to seven hour drive from Bangkok to Chumphon, then either a 90 minute or five hour boat ride awaits (ferries only depart at 7AM, 1PM, 11PM and midnight). The second option is to fly to Surat Thani and be on your way there via ferry, albeit a three hour trip. If travel hassles are not your thing, then perhaps this island is not for you. However, for some, the travel all cumulates as part of the overall experience, so if you can brave that, then go on ahead. As the saying goes, “good things come to those who wait.”
- Koh Lanta – This is a popular place for visitors looking for some peace and quiet. Wait. Isn’t that a contradicting sentence? Well, yes. The island does offer quiet and secluded (as well as beautiful) beaches, perfect for couples and families. However, in order to cater to the visitors, there are bars scattered throughout (but not that much though). The rule is this; the farther down the island you venture, the less commercialized it is. So, consider Koh Lanta the best of two worlds.
- Koh Jum – The time to come to Kho Jum is now! As with any hidden secrets, it is only time before the word is out. The island is quite small with only 1500 permanent local residents. This also makes a motorcycle (or bicycle) tour around the island quite ideal. In fact, visiting the villages, saying hi to the locals and experiencing their lifestyles could very well be your Koh Jum highlights. Although the dive scene is not as ‘big’ as in the other islands, there are some great sites just off the island. Whether as a couples retreat or a family break, Koh Jum is your peaceful island choice.
- Koh Lipe – Another relatively small island, surrounded by calm waters and breathtaking tropical island scenery. There are many great sites for scuba diving and snorkeling around Koh Lipe and its neighboring islands. In fact, these are some of the best. And if you’re just looking for downtime by the beach? The smooth sands, warm and shallow waters are perfect for that. There are few motorcycles around the island, and practically no cars. This is quiet island getaway defined!
- Similan Island – Perhaps the best place to go for diving. The corals and underwater life are amazing, and above land, interesting arrays of animals call the Similans home. It is also a national park, so not much commercial development here. Most people get here from other destinations, either from Phuket, Khao Lak or even Koh Lanta. The nine islands and surrounding seas are soon to become a UNESCO Heritage Site.
- Phi Phi Island – There are in fact six islands here, but the biggest one, Phi Phi Don, is the only inhabited one. Phi Phi, you may remember is (in)famously portrayed in the film The Beach. There is some controversy there, as the film makers revamped the landscape so it will look more ‘paradise-like’ on film. Sometimes you have to wonder, why. The place is magnificent, all part of Koh Phi Phi National Park. This means you’re sure to find an abundance of beautiful corals and marine life as well as limestone mountains with cliffs, caves and long white sandy beaches. Tourism has boomed recently, but there are still remnants of its quiet past. You can only get there by boat (most leave from Phuket), so consider the travel required before deciding to go here.
So, there you have it, a lowdown of the country’s southern islands. But don’t forget the rest of the Kingdom. Check out our Thailand tours and truly experience this magical
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