Island Hopping around Thailand

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

Fiery sunsets light stunning lengths of white sand beaches adorned with beach huts and dreamy resorts with every imaginable convenience, as traditional long-tail boats bob in the paradise-blue waters just offshore. Thailand, with its 1400+ islands — each with an undeniably unique charm, is an island-hoppers dream escape.

Ko Chang: for barefoot beaches and jungle hiking

As Thailand's second-largest island and with an extended archipelago, a relative backwater in terms of visitor numbers, there’s plenty of opportunity for adventure with jungle hiking, excellent seafood, and idyllic waterfalls uncovered on weekend-long jungle treks. And while the western side of the island has seen a lot of development, one of Ko Chang’s original backpacker beaches, Lonely Beach is still a pleasure for its laid-back ambience that sits somewhere between backpacker haunt and the easy-going. Head there for the bohemian atmosphere but stay for a mix of barefoot adventure and laid-back beach party vibes. Opt for Long Prao Beach if better amenities are a concern and charter a boat over to Ko Kradat private island to see herds of deer via a tour conducted on the back of a tractor. 

Ko Samui: for spa days and modern luxuries

Ko Samui’s extraordinarily white sand beaches, with their impenetrable thickets of leaning palms and world-class spa facilities, make for one of Thailand's best wellness escapes. And despite the one million visitors who flock to Ko Samui each year, its beaches remain heavenly, with attractive sandy coves and dizzyingly pretty azures marked by large boulders at popular Silver Beach, and views of nearby islands like Ko Phangan from Ko Samui's sultry northern fringes. Choose Six Senses on the northern tip of the island for an exemplary retreat with world-class spa facilities, or opt for a wellness sanctuary on the hillsides of the south for romantic seclusion enhanced by swoon-worthy vistas over the Gulf of Thailand.

Ko Phangan: for hedonists and moon parties

While it’s possible to find a good party on almost all of Thailand’s islands, Ko Phangan with the full moon, half moon and black moon parties, remains the best option for those looking for the classic Thailand beach party experience. The Full Moon is the stuff of legend, with DJs spanning the length and breadth of Haad Rin’s Sunrise Beach, and the beach, as full as the moon, boasts every type of musical style with neon lights emanating from every dark corner, illuminating painted bodies and vast installations. But if one prefers a less raucous event, head into the Baan Thai Jungle for parties during the half moon, when the island, while still often teeming, is a little calmer. 

Ko Lipe: for beach lovers and sunset hunters

Just off the southern shores of Thailand, close to the Malay border, its stunning clear waters and legendary beaches provide a haven for everyone from sunset hunters to beach lovers. Both groups should aim to experience the gorgeous colours of a sunset draped over the unspoiled islands of the Tarutao National Park from the paper white crescent of sand at Sunset Beach. But start your day with the rejuvenating glow of a Ko Lipe sunrise at Sunrise beach on the eastern side of the island and, if the tide’s low enough, hike around the northern coast (the entire island is small enough to explore on foot) to Sunset beach in time to see the setting sun.

Phi Phi Islands: for watersports and bioluminescence

The Phi Phi archipelago’s salt white beaches look all the more striking when posed in front of the impressive limestone mountains that characterise islands like Phi Phi Ley. But divers may want to head underwater to see the vibrant coral, freshly rested from a pandemic break. Most travellers still make the journey to see the Di Caprio-approved Maya Bay (The Beach), where the watersports are particularly good, with options for everything from night fishing to jet skiing. Scuba divers and snorkellers should explore the colours of the Garang Heng reefs and the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu marine park, while wreck-divers should explore the King Cruiser shipwreck — an old car ferry that used to link Phi Phi Leh to Phuket.

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