Tag Archives: visit thailand

Thailand Islands: The Best Islands To Visit

Every article I read about Thailand islands seems to quote a different number of islands.  It is safe to say that Thailand has hundreds of islands you can stay on and/or visit and it is my intention to visit them all! With so many to choose from I often get asked which island is the best to visit. My answer is usually it depends what you’re after, party islands? relaxed and uncrowded? islands for snorkelling or diving? Hopefully this post will help you make the best decision. Even better, you can visit a few of the Thai islands on the same trip as they often have good transport links between them.

Here is a summary of all the ones I’ve been to so far and some brief information to help you decide on which paradise island to check out first including must-do activities and how to get to each island. Read more about how to travel around Thailand on this post.

Thailand Island Hopping

I’ve grouped the islands as to where they are in Thailand which should give you and idea for the best island hopping routes around. The Gulf of Thailand refers to the islands South of Bangkok on the East of the mainland – mainly Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Then we have the Andaman islands on the West with connecting airports such as Krabi and Phuket. Then Southern islands like Koh Lipe and Koh Tarutao and Eastern islands towards the Cambodian border.

Best Thai Islands: The Gulf of Thailand

Koh Tao

Koh Tao Thailand Islands
Learning to dive on Koh Tao

A backpacker island in the Gulf of Thailand. It has beautiful beaches and an obvious party scene but mostly it is known for cheap diving courses, and is often advertised as one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to scuba dive. I took my PADI Open Water Qualification here 4 years ago and the prices are still the same. Your Open Water diving certificate can start from around 9000 baht…try and get your accommodation thrown in too. If you turn up at the pier, you can often negotiate prices with the dive shops. Unfortunately Koh Tao is not without its problems and I suggest being careful here, not to get too drunk and never to cause problems with locals, such as getting into fights etc.

Best Thailand island for: learning to dive. Once you learn to dive, head to some of these places for the best dive sites in Thailand

Things to do on Koh Tao: get PADI certified for your Open Water dive course or advanced. Check out beautiful viewpoints and quiet beaches.

Cheapest way to get to Koh Tao: Sleeper train/night bus to Chumpon and then ferry. You can book tickets here

Fastest way to get to Koh Tao: Fly to Chumpon/Surat thani, bus to pier and take the ferry. Lomprayah have the fastest service. Alternative is to fly to Koh Samui and take a ferry from there.

Book your transport here with this useful website. The more you book the cheaper the tickets become…



Booking.com

Koh Phangan 

bottle beach 2
Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan

Home to the infamous Full Moon Party, this island remains one of my favourites. It’s party in the South and tranquil in the North.  For one of my favourite beaches check out Bottle Beach – a stunning Northern beach only accessible by boat so it’s very quiet.  Diving here can be great although visibility is unpredictable. Sail Rock is one of Koh Phangan’s famous dive sites and whale sharks can be spotted here (just not by me…yet!). I love staying in the North and I discovered  these cute bungalows last time, right on a lovely stretch of beach. Check out Seaboard Bungalow’s reasonable rates here. The restaurant here did great food and there were more food options further down the beach too.  An even cheaper option with basic bungalows that also had a pool but not as a nice a beach was Lucky Resort. Compare their room rates here. The restaurant had great views of the ocean for sunsets too. Read here for Full Moon Party Tips..

Best Thailand island for: Dancing until sunrise. Even if you miss Full Moon there are Half Moon Parties, Jungle Parties, Waterfall parties…

Things to do on Koh Phangan: Party and the chill out on Bottle Beach (one of my favourites). Read more about Thailand’s quiet beaches here

Cheapest way to get to Koh Phangan Sleeper train/night bus to Chumpon and then ferry

Fastest way to get to Koh Phangan: Fly to Chumpon /Surat thani/Koh Samui and take the ferry. Lomprayah have the fastest service.

 

Koh Samui

Koh Samui Thailand Islands
Koh Samui during an island day tour I took to see temples, beaches, monkeys and waterfalls

Boasting one of coolest airports I’ve ever been to, Samui caters to holiday makers on a large scale. In all honesty, Koh Samui is probably my least favourite island as a result of this, it can get very crowded over peak season (December – when I went!) and I don’t think it is as idyllic looking as it’s Gulf counterparts.  That said, if you are on limited time it is one of only two island that you can fly direct to (the other being Phuket). I stayed in upmarket accommodation at Lamai Wanta Beach Resort (courtesy of my generous aunt!) but a friend recently stayed at budget friendly New Hut Bungalows and recommended them to me. They look like a great photo opportunity too!

One thing to be aware of in Koh Samui is that flights are generally expensive because the budget airlines cannot fly to Samui as it is owned by Bangkok Airways. However, the airport looks like the garden of a 5 star hotel and is worth seeing. Occasionally cheap flights with Thai Smile can be found.

Best Thailand Island for: resorts, families and couples

Things to do on Koh Samui: an all round island tour including temples and waterfall visits

Cheapest way to get to Koh Samui: Sleeper train/night bus to Surat thani, bus to pier and then ferry. You can buy all inclusive tickets from this website

Fastest way to get to Koh Samui: Fly direct from Bangkok



Booking.com

 

Best Thai Islands: The Andaman

Phuket

phuket thailand islands
Stunning sunsets while surfing at Kata Beach, Phuket

Phuket is one of Thailand’s largest islands and is attached to the mainland by bridge. It has an ever-growing international airport which can lead to extremely busy beaches and very high prices for taxis, which is why it has a bit of a bad reputation among those of us who live in Thailand. However, I don’t feel this is totally deserved and as it is such a huge island there are many less popular places to explore. The busiest area seems to be Patong beach which I have always been urged to avoid, mainly because of its multitude of gogo bars. I’ve mainly spent time in the South at Kata and Karon beaches for surfing during rainy season (June-October). I loved staying at this hostel, it was about 4 minute walk to the surfing beach, was good value and they had really nice facilities.

Things to do in Phuket:  learning to surf, you can hire an instructor and then you get the board for the rest of the day (rainy season only when the waves are bigger, July-October approx)

Cheapest way to get to Phuket:  Take a night bus to Phuket Town, then songtaew (local trucks) to the beach of your choice. You may need to take two, one from the bus station and then another from Phuket town to the beach. Approx 20 baht.

Fastest way to get to Phuket: Fly to Phuket from Bangkok or international airports and take the local bus further south.

Koh Yao Noi

koh yao noi thailand islands
Stunning Views of Phangna Bay from Koh Nok, a small island I kayaked to from Koh Yao Noi

This island has really chilled out vibes and zero party scene. It felt a little off the beaten track but still has hotels and restaurants around. The beaches are fairly thin strips of sand so there’s not all that much room for sunbathing. Swimming with the backdrop of Phangna Bay behind you felt pretty awesome though. I rented bicycles and cycled around the island – which has a couple of hills so be prepared! (or get off and walk like someone may have done…). This is a great place to rent kayaks from as well and I discovered the small empty island of Koh Nok which this amazing viewpoint. I loved the place I stayed at,  Sabai Corner Bungalows, it had tall wooden bungalows set back into the mountain with great views of the bay. It was also very affordable and the owners were helpful with renting kayaks and bicycles.

Best Thailand Island for: getting off the beaten track but still with amenities

Things to do in Koh Yao Noi:  If you can’t afford to stay somewhere like the Six Senses Hotel (and I can’t!) then head there for a cocktail to enjoy sunset and the views at this exotic looking hotel.

Cheapest way to get to Koh Yao Noi: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then long tail boat. Book tickets on this useful website…

Fastest way to get to Koh Yao Noi: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, speedboat to island.

Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi Thailand Islands
Views of the beach

Koh Phi Phi is the type of island that the first time I went there, I hated it. Lots of young backpackers falling drunk out of bars and overpacked long tail boats pouring into Maya Bay to see the beach from Dicaprio’s ‘The Beach’ movie. Now I’ve returned there a 2nd, 3rd and 4th time, I have to admit that Phi Phi is growing on me. I’ve accepted it for what it is : a party island and a great place to meet backpackers. Try taking a snorkelling trip to a few of the less crowded islands and definitely watch some of the fireshows. I personally feel they are the best in Thailand and even after watching a few I still think they are very impressive.

The diving around the marine park is generally of a very good standard for Thailand. I was lucky enough to see a turtle, black tip reef shark and a leopard shark all in one day. I also love that you can walk everywhere and there are no cars on the whole island, definitely a bonus if you’re living in Bangkok and sick of traffic jams.

Best Thailand island for: parties and beautiful beaches combined

Things to do in Koh Phi Phi:  An island hopping trip to nearby islands

Cheapest way to get to Koh Phi Phi: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then ferry. Book all your tickets together here

Fastest way to get to Koh Phi Phi: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, ferry to island

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta Thailand Islands
Lunchtime with a view!

Serene and stunning, this is a quieter island for a relaxing time. Kantiang beach in the South is huge, wide and empty when I was there in April. There isn’t much of a party scene and not so many backpackers here. The snorkelling and island hopping trip was definitely a highlight for me as it took you to Koh Kradan, a stunning white beach uninhabited island. I went with my parents and we stayed at Alama Sea Village Resort which was incredible. It has a great view (so a short walk uphill), an infinity pool and monkeys who come and visit your balcony.

Best Thailand island for: relaxing, couples, families

Things to do in Koh Lanta:  The 4 Island Hopping Trip

Cheapest way to get to Koh Lanta: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then ferry. Tickets can be booked via this website, including ferries

Fastest way to get to Koh Lanta: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, ferry to island

Koh Lipe

koh lipe
Mango smoothies and banana pancakes breakfast on the beach! Yes please!

This paradise island is home to white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, beautiful coral reefs and less tourists than many others! The main beach is kept extremely clean but unfortunately a lot of litter gets washed up around this island’s shores despite local efforts to consistently clear the trash. When I was there, the people were working every day but unfortunately they are fighting a losing battle with the currents. It also had some of the best sunsets I’ve seen in Thailand and the coral reefs were extremely colourful for snorkelling. (I’ve yet to dive here!) It’s close to Malaysia so can fill up if there are Thai and Malaysian coinciding holidays. I suggest you book in advance if this could be the case. I stayed at Gypsy Bungalows and loved these basic but cute bungalows with a garden walk to the beach.

Best Thailand Island for: white sand beaches

Things to do on Koh Lipe:  Walk around the corner from the main beach to Sunset beach for some of the most impressive sunsets in Thailand

Cheapest way to get to Koh Lipe: Night bus to Hat Yai, minivan to pier, 2 hour speedboat

Fastest way to get to Koh Lipe: Fly to Hat Yai, minivan to pier, 2 hour speedboat

This island can take a long time to get to. I think it’s definitely worth it but don’t try if you’re on limited time.

 

Koh Jum

IMG_2868

A lesser known island to both tourists and Thais, this is a rocky, wild island which still feels fairly untouched. However, this is not always a good thing as it was extremely expensive to get to from Koh Phi Phi and once on the island it was difficult to get around.  My sister and I stayed at the gorgeous Onlee bungalows – pricier than normal but amazing food as the couple who run it are Thai-French.  The stargazing was also incredible and so clear as there is not much light pollution nearby. I recommend settling into a resort as there are limited ways to visit other restaurants and if you want to hire a ‘taxi’ it won’t be at a cheap price.

Best Thailand Island: that people have never heard of

Things to do on Koh Jum: Star gazing

Cheapest way to get to Koh Jum: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then ferry

Fastest way to get to Koh Jum: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, ferry to island

 

Railay

Railay Beach Thailand Islands
Swimming around limestone karsts in Railay

I’m including Railay in this island section as it is only accessible by boat. (And until very recently I thought it was an island!).  Lots of snorkelling day trips stop off here so it can get crowded during peak season (Nov-Dec) but you can jump on boats from Krabi to get here at any point during the day. Limited options at night where the boats can charge a much higher price.  Watch dusky langur monkeys climb in nearby trees, hike to the top for a sweaty but great view and visit the Buddhist shrine to the penis. I love that this place has beaches, views and jungle.

Things to do on Railay: slip and slide your way up the viewpoint for a pretty view of both beaches

Island Hopping Tip: Many boats arrive on the not so nice beach area so walk through the jungle pathway to reach the prettier beach

Cheapest way to get to Railay: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to Ao Nang and then longtail boat. Book your bus tickets here now. 

Fastest way to get to Railay: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to Ao Nang ferry to island

 

Ao Nang

This is also not an island but as one of the easiest beach destinations to get to from Krabi I thought it was worth a mention. Ao Nang has two long, wide stretches of yellow sand beaches where a lot of long tail boats depart from, making for some pretty photos. It has a lot of choices of accommodation and restaurants and is a good jump off point to go island hopping to the nearby beach of Railay, and National Park island hopping to nearby uninhabited islands like Koh Poda, Koh Hong and many more.

Best Beach Destination for: breaking up the journey to nearby islands

Things to do in Ao Nang: sign up for some rock climbing

Island Hopping Tip: Wait for the boat to fill up and take a 20 minute long tail boat to Railay when it’s quieter. At night time only private (read expensive) long tail boats will run

Cheapest way to get to Ao Nang Night bus to Krabi, local songtaew from bus station to Ao Nang  Book your night bus tickets here now. 

Fastest way to get to Ao Nang: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to Ao Nang (approx 100 baht).

Best Thai Islands: The East

Koh Chang

koh chang Thailand Islands
Lonely Beach in Koh Chang

Koh Chang has a really chilled back vibe to it, a small party backpacker crowd and some okay diving. This is one of the first islands I travelled to alone and I immediately met backpackers as it has a more intimate feel to it than other islands like Koh Tao or Koh Phi Phi. Lonely Beach is the main backpacker area and White Sand beach is a little more upmarket. I have stayed at a few places but none to rave about. There is also one creepy bartender who has followed a few solo females home so be aware and try to always walk in groups or with someone late at night.

Best Thailand Island for: daytime chilling

Things to do on Koh Chang: enjoy the backpacking party scene

Cheapest way to get to Koh Chang: Big bus or minivan from Ekkamai, Bangkok, songtaew (truck) to the pier then ferry- often a car ferry. You can book your tickets here

Fastest way to get to Koh Chang: Fly to Trat then ferry

Read here for Bangkok’s closest islands and beaches 

More islands information about Koh Similan, one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands can be found here

 

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Ethical Elephant Experience in Thailand

Hot Water for Elephants

Riding an elephant in Thailand on your bucket list? Re-think your list.

I like to think that any tourist planning to visit South East Asia and interact with animals would do some research into the type of establishment they are participating in and giving money too. Unfortunately the high number of tourists who ride elephants and visit tiger temples in Thailand every year suggests otherwise.

elephants Thailand
Feeding the ellies some sugarcane at Hug Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Making a Difference

I would love to see tourists taking responsibility for their actions. In the Western world, we are so lucky that we have the money and often the time to travel to places like South East Asia. When I first visited Thailand, I could find only TWO elephant sanctuaries that did not offer rides. Four years later there has been a burst in ‘no riding’ sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and it is thanks to the tourists who drive the demand for this. If there is no demand for elephant riding, then local Thai people will be encouraged to use their elephants in alternative tourist settings such as feeding and bathing with them.

Elephant Abuse

Elephants are not made to carry items on their backs. The metal racks placed upon them during tourist rides does lasting damage and deforms the elephant’s back. Working elephants are subject to cruel and abusive ways of taming them known as ‘the crush’ in which elephants are tied up for days or weeks and violently abused until they will comply with the abusers’ commands. Many elephants are trained from an extremely young age which includes being separated from their mothers. Elephants are often blinded on purpose, as a blind elephant is that much easier to control. Large metal hooks are driven into wounds to force the elephant to turn left and right. The skin around the tusks is often hacked at in order to sell as much of the tusk as possible on the ivory black market.

The Future

Ideally these elephants would be rehabilitated and released into the wild. Unfortunately in Thailand this is often not possible, either the elephants rampage local farms, are too dependent on humans. or there is simply not enough jungle to realise them back into. Luckily Thai locals have set up sanctuaries such as Elephant Nature Park and Hug Elephant Sanctuary (two that I’ve personally visited!) to protect them, work with them and boost local tourism using them.

So here’s to the Thais and the tourists, changing the fate of elephants in Thailand little by little…

Links to sanctuaries visited:

Thailand: http://www.hugelephantssanctuary.com/

Thailand: https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

Cambodia: http://www.elephantvalleyproject.org/

Even better yet – head to Khao Yai National Park and see elephants in the wild!

Heading up to Chiang Mai for your elephant sanctuary? Book your tickets here? The more tickets and trips you book, the cheaper it gets!

What are your elephant experiences? Any other ethical places to recommend?