There are a lot of beautiful tourist destinations in Thailand but the most famous spots are certainly the Thai islands. If you visit this incredible country, it’s crucial that you visit more than one island. Island-hopping in Thailand is an increasingly popular way to see the country and we’ll show you how to do it.
We will cover the islands that one must visit – like Phi Phi, Koh Pha-ngan, Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and more!. Then we’ll discuss how to reach these islands, what to expect when you are there, and key details that will add an additional sense of excitement to your vacation.
Bangkok is hard enough to reach. A full-day of flying and layovers is hard enough on the body. How are you expected to reach these tiny islands in the days that follow? We’ll demonstrate how travelers can minimize jet-lag and reach these pieces of paradise without wasting an entire extra day on travel.
Islands to Visit
We’ll give an example of our ideal 7-day itinerary. However, it’s crucial that first, we discuss every island that’s worth your time in Thailand. It would be near impossible to visit all of these beautiful beaches in such a short amount of time. If you were able to rent a private speedboat and private plane to take you to all of these islands in 7 days, you would not be able to spend nearly enough time on each island to justify your experience.
Which islands do we believe are worth seeing? Well, all of the islands are beautiful in their own right, but these are some of our favorites.
There are not very many islands on the West coast of Southern Thailand, but the Similan islands are certainly worth the expedition and long boat ride. Each of the Similan islands offers incredible diving and crystal clear waters. The unique rock formations that make Similan famous lead one to believe they are in Madagascar or Mauritius.
The island chain is quite small and tourism has recently exploded in the region (and for good reason). The Thai government has often opted to shut down the island chain during different monsoon seasons so double check with locals before trying to plan your entire trip around Similan.
The Similan Islands are a protected National Park of Thailand, and Thailand treats these natural treasures with an intense sense of protection. If you’re into diving, then Similan offers more access to marine wildlife than almost any other diving spot in Thailand.
Don’t expect a lot of infrastructure on Koh Similan. You can find a place to sleep at night, but your chances of finding a McDonalds on the island are zero. Wifi, air-conditioning, and modern eateries are practically non-existent here. We recommend taking the speedboat to reach Similan. The ride only takes an hour.
Koh Phayam is quickly becoming a hot new tourist destination in Thailand. As 42 million tourists will visit Thailand in 2019, it should be expected that many of the most famous beaches will be too busy for an isolated experience. Many tourists who come to Thailand visit to escape large crowds so for those who are easily overwhelmed in big groups or heavy traffic, Koh Phayam is the place for you.
The island doesn’t even allow cars anywhere on their streets. You shouldn’t expect much in terms of your accommodations. A few of the homestays offer air conditioning and most of the rooms are just the basics. However, there are a few places you can access wifi on the island.
As you venture across the island, spotting rasta bars and vegan eateries, it’s easy to understand why this island is so loved. Koh Phayam is often called ‘Koh Samui in the 1970s’.
Thailand isn’t necessarily famous for surfing. While there are some beaches that offer waves, most Thai beaches never experience enough swell in order to justify the business expenses of a surfboard rental shop nearby. Koh Phayam is an exception to this rule. While the waves aren’t incredible, Ao Yai beach faces the Indian Ocean and receives a rather heavy swell during certain seasons.
Koh Lipe is Thailand’s southernmost island. It is located just a short hop and skip away from Malaysia. When in Bangkok, the general logic most tourists abide by is the following – the further South you head, the more beautiful the scenery. We believe that is certainly the case with Koh Lipe.
The island is known for being a bit more expensive than traditional Thai islands. We believe the price difference is well worth the cost. There are a lot of tiny beaches on Koh Lipe, but the 3 main beaches that most tourists frequent when they visit the island are incredible. The most peaceful and natural beach is ironically named ‘Pattaya Beach’ and is truly a far cry from the similarly-named Pattaya Beach in the raucous party capital of Thailand.
The other two beaches are named Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach. As each name implies, they are great destinations to watch the sun rise and set every day. Sunrise Beach faces the mainland but you won’t be able to see it on even the brightest of days. Sunset Beach is said to offer the most beautiful view on all of Koh Lipe. We would have to agree with that statement.
‘Walking Street’ is a popular bar district in the area, however, it’s not as well-named as the beaches in Koh Lipe. Heaps of motorbikes frequent this street so make sure you watch where you are headed to avoid a collision. This is the best place for a fun night out on the tiny island. Koh Lipe is so small that you can walk to any beach in around 45 minutes.
The nearby Koh Tarutao marine national park is revered for its incredible coral gardens. A ton of divers reports seeing large sea turtles around the area. Koh Lipe is a great place for those after a fun fishing trip or a diving spot to write home about.
Everyone is well aware that southern Thailand is famous for having some of the world’s best beaches. Did you know that Koh Pha-ngan is famous for having some of Southern Thailand’s most beautiful beaches? You do the math. That means ‘beautiful beaches’ to the second power.
With more than 30 beaches to name, you’re always relatively close to a stretch of sand worth your time. The most popular beach is named Haad Rin. The area has a cliff on both sides of the beach. It’s a popular place to spend the day sunbathing, riding jet-skis, and grabbing a delicious bite to eat.
This crescent-shaped bay even has a staff to help maintain a state of cleanliness on the shore. This is needed as it has the notorious nature of being labeled the party beach of the entire island. Koh Pha-ngan makes a tremendous amount of money every month thanks to the Full Moon party. Crowds of 20,000+ often leave this beach destroyed. In order to preserve the environment, the city has employed tons of workers to keep things clean.
The north side of the island has a lot of beauty, as well. If you need adventure or excitement, scuba options are available just past the bay. A nude beach is directly West (about 1 km) of Bottle Beach, though, it’s not well-labeled and you might very well end up at the wrong beach.
Salad Beach is another famous Koh Pha-ngan beach. It’s well known for a blue-green cove and shade from giant palm trees, Salad Beach is right beside a cooking school, a ton of affordable restaurants, and a luxury yoga retreat. This beach is one of the best that the West side of the island has to offer.
Koh Pha-ngan is certainly most famous for the Full Moon Party that takes place every single month. If you miss the once a month date for this shindig, the island has started the Half Moon party, the Quarter Moon party, a Black Moon party, and a Shiva Moon party. If you visit the island for a month, it may be the only time in your life that you ever truly know the cycle of the moon.
Koh Samui is the bigger cousin of Koh Pha-ngan. In fact, it’s actually located so close to the party island, many people who visit the Full Moon Party rent hotels in Koh Samui and take boats to and from the event. Koh Samui has less of a party reputation so it’s a more wholesome place to take the family.
One of the most gorgeous parts of Koh Samui is Lamai Beach. Koh Samui is known for beautiful beaches so the presence of one exceptionally beautiful beach really says something. The neighborhood around Lamai Beach is known as Chameng, and it is a bit quieter than the popular resort district on the island.
You will be able to find plenty of new buildings and villas made for families. You can bring your children (or girlfriend) to the Samui Elephant Sanctuary, a wholesome no-riding place to learn more about these beautiful creatures. I just wonder how on Earth they brought the elephants to a small island!
There are a variety of temples on the island and several night markets to explore local Thai culture. This island is so large that cars exist (a far cry away from Koh Tao). You don’t have to worry about hopping on the back of a motorcycle when you can just rent a taxi.
Koh Tao directly translates to ‘Turtle Island’. A name like that certainly implies a great time for those who enjoy diving. The island is abundant with hundreds and hundreds of hawksbill turtles. The name also stems from the shape of the island. From specific viewpoints on Koh Pha-ngan, Koh Tao actually looks quite a bit like a turtle.
It is quite well known that a local mafioso runs the island. Koh Tao isn’t very big and used to belong to a small handful of families. The police who work on the island serve at their pleasure (and their pleasure alone).
Several different tourists have been found dead but no real accountability has been shown. The local police have botched investigation after investigation. We understand if this puts a damper in your desire to travel there. If you want to dive in Koh Tao, we recommend leaving from Koh Pha-ngan and taking a day trip!
This information might turn people off to the island (and rightfully so). However, if you are a 6 foot plus bodybuilder who loves to scuba dive, you’re likely not going to run into any issues. If you are not a large bodybuilder, proceed with caution.
Phi Phi Island
If you have Googled ‘Thailand Beaches’, you have certainly seen pictures of the famous Phi Phi islands. This well-known chain of islands is on every tourist’s destination list for a reason. The Phi Phi islands were even the setting of one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s breakout films, “The Beach”.
Phi Phi is the most sought-after tourist destination in Thailand for very obvious reasons. Absolutely everyone can find their own version of paradise in Phi Phi. For a small island, there are a surprising number of beautiful beaches for tourists to select.
There are two giant mountain structures and a thin stretch of land that connects the two natural towers. One of the most iconic activities in Phi Phi islands is the classic and difficult hike to the top viewpoint.
The most popular viewpoint has a platform to sit in absolute awe at the top. There are two separate ways to reach this view. One is a hike on a dirt road that is quite steep and quite long. This method takes about twice as long as the other option. Option #2 is a set of stairs that is even steeper than the first method, but it’s shorter. Both are grueling but the view makes it well worth the journey.
As the sun sets, locals and tourists alike flock to the top of this small mountain to watch the sun disappear beyond the horizon. I highly recommend this activity. An already incredible view becomes even more incredible.
Once the sun goes down, the fire-twirlers come out to play! It’s unlike anything you could possibly find in a Western country, probably because of the goodie-two-shoes regulatory rules that prevent people from lighting themselves on fire.
People report seeing whale sharks, reef sharks, moray eels, turtles, and any number of exotic fish while underwater. For those without a PADI certificate, you can always try to snorkel instead.
In the Phi Phi islands, you can get beat up in a Muay Thai match, sail around in a speedboat, sleep on the beach, explore in a rasta-colored kayak, hike until you are pouring sweat, and above all else, find your next Facebook profile picture. The opportunities are endless here – you just have to know where to look.
Phuket is such a large and expansive place that it won’t feel like an island when you’re there. Technically, it is one. For those who want easy access to several different islands, a flight to Phuket is a great way to be in the middle of it all. Not to mention, this is arguably the most famous tourist destination for beachgoers in all of Thailand.
There are hundreds of beaches in Phuket and over 20 of them are more beautiful than 95% of the beaches I’ve ever seen in my life. Not only does Phuket offer access to some of the most beautiful stretches of shoreline in the world, but it is also a fully functional city. There are huge night markets, bar streets, grocery stores, and everything you could possibly need.
So now that you know about all these different beaches, how do you plan out your trip? We will extensively cover an ideal 7-day island hopping adventure. The article will explain how to reach each of the best island destinations and even mention a few worthy activities on each.
On your first day, you’ll likely arrive in Bangkok. You’ll be exhausted and tired, but we recommend booking that one extra flight to Phuket if you really want to get your money’s worth out of a 7-day island hopping trip.
In theory, you could take a bus from Bangkok to Phuket. If you’re trying to save money, an overnight bus from the nation’s capital to Phuket is a cheap and efficient option. However, this is only worth your time if you can find one that leaves late at night and arrives in the early morning. Otherwise, you are wasting precious beach time!
Besides, the flights to Phuket can be very affordable if you purchase them ahead of time. The duration of a plane ride from Bangkok to Phuket is only about an hour and a half long.
If you wish to find a cheap flight, look into booking your flight with one of the following carriers: Thai Smile, Thai Lion Air, Nok Air, and Thai AirAsia. Between these 4 budget airlines, you’ll find a flight leaving from the Bangkok Don Mueang Airport every hour or so.
It’s crucial to know the difference between Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. The latter sits on the East edge of the city, while Don Mueang is directly North of Bangkok. Make sure you show up at the right location!
When you arrive in Phuket, you’re still an hour-long taxi ride North of your destination. While not expensive, you’ll need to hail a taxi when you arrive at Phuket airport. You’ll likely pay a little more than $20 USD for the long ride.
Once you arrive, check in to your hotel room. From there, you can go straight to Bangla Road if you’re looking to party. You could visit any number of beaches. You and your loved ones could even go to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary to bathe in mud baths with baby elephants! There is no shortage of things to do in Phuket.
You just had a huge travel day! Instead of heading directly to the next island, try to get some peace and relaxation in Phuket. There are so many things to do here that you’ll be overwhelmed with paralysis by analysis.
We recommend relaxing on the beach. One of our personal favorites is Kata Noi, This beautiful area is only a few miles away from the much more crowded Patong Beach. It’s deemed a quieter and laid back beach which makes it popular for those who like peace and quiet. Kata Noi is a great spot for surfers and equally great for those who like to snorkel.
Get a good night’s sleep so you’re ready to hit the ground running on your next day! If you really want to ensure you sleep easily, we recommend getting a Thai massage at any number of the amazing massage parlors in town. It might hurt a tad during your massage, but you’ll feel incredible the next day.
On your next day, you’ll want to wake up early and head to the Phi Phi islands! The easiest way to reach this beautiful place is by taking a public ferry. Your destination is a little under 30 miles away. The public ferry is the most popular method of transportation because it is the cheapest and runs on a consistent schedule.
The ferry will take about two hours and the seas can be rather rocky. We recommend taking a seasickness tablet to avoid any nausea. You can buy them at any drugstores and the boats even stock them.
If you don’t want to take a ferry, a speedboat can get you to the Phi Phi islands much faster. Many of the all-inclusive tours from Phuket use speedboats to take you island hopping, but it’s also an option if you’re interested in staying in Phi Phi overnight. However, it does cost a good bit more and prices certainly vary depending on the agency. If you’re in a large group, this is a good option as it saves time.
When you get there, go hike up to the viewpoint after checking your baggage at your new hotel. Rent a kayak or choose to go snorkeling! Check out a Muay Thai fight at the island’s Reggae Bar. Once nighttime begins, head to any of the popular beaches for a fire-twirling show!
It’s time to leave Phi Phi islands! It’s going to be a long day of travel but your destination will make your journey well worth the pain. Your family or friends will need to wake up early and head back to Phuket. From there, take your bags and go straight to the airport. You’ll be boarding a flight to head to Koh Samui!
If flying isn’t your cup of tea (or rather, maybe paying for additional flights isn’t your cup of tea), then you can take a bus from Phuket to Surat Thani. At Surat Thani, you’ll need to hop on a 2-3 hour ferry. We recommend the flight as it’s inexpensive and will save you an extra day.
When you have reached Koh Samui, you’ll be exhausted, but you’ll have enough time to visit the giant Buddha statue at the top of the island. There are plenty of sunset bars you can grab a drink at to enjoy the jaw-dropping view. Get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow will be crazy.
Take a short ferry from Koh Samui to Koh-Pha-ngan. Today is the day of the legendary Full Moon Party. Drink lots of water during the day and don’t exert too much energy. Otherwise, you’ll be too tired to go out at night.
If you want to be near the action, stay at Haad Yuan Beach – just a hop and skip away from Haad Rin. This area is significantly less crowded than Haad Rin. You can reach this beach by taking a short boat taxi or hiking for two hours through the jungle.
We recommend the North side of the island. Bottle Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on Koh Pha-ngan. This slice of heaven is significantly more remote than Haad Yuan (or any of the other beaches in town). You can only reach this beach by rough dirt road or boat taxi from Chaloklum.
Bottle Beach (also called Haad Khuad) gets its name from the bottle shape its bay resembles. This area is incredible, isolated, and filled with some of the friendliest Thai people in the entire world. These bright souls will drive you to and from the party for a small fee. The Full Moon Party will have you drinking liquor from a bucket. Godspeed.
Nurse your hangover with a snorkeling (or diving) trip in Koh Tao. Another cheap ferry can take your barely alive self from one island to it’s a smaller nearby neighbor. Spend some time on the beach, then spend some time looking at gorgeous creatures underwater.
This is a great hungover activity because it’s silent. No loud noises can make you more miserable than you already feel. The beautiful imagery will distract you from the throbbing headache that resulted from one too many Thai party buckets.
You’ve now seen 5 of the best islands that Thailand has to offer. It’s time to go home. Get on a ferry and head back to Koh Samui. From there, you can take a plane to Bangkok before heading home! Hope you enjoyed the most visually appealing trip you’ll likely ever experience.
There are plenty of other islands worth visiting (like those mentioned at the beginning of the article). However, due to logistics, these islands are largely inaccessible if you’re looking to island hop and be efficient with your time. You can always check out those beautiful spots on your next adventure in Thailand.
What is the best island in Thailand?
Phuket is the most visited island in Thailand, but the most beautiful island in the country is likely to be named Phi Phi island. The question is subjective in nature. If you want the best party island, Koh Pha-ngan is the best spot for you and your friends.
Is Thailand safe?
Yes, Thailand is considered a very safe country. The area benefits tremendously from tourism so those who cause harm to the tourists who visit are subject to serious time in prison. This has created a safe culture in most tourist spots. However, one should avoid places like Koh Tao or Pattaya if they are concerned about safety.