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Island Hopping in Thailand Posted by on Dec 10, 2015 in Culture, Travel

When most people hear the word “Thailand,” they immediately think tropical islands. At least one or two of the country’s islands will be included on a holiday maker’s itinerary, but with hundreds of islands how do you choose which one(s) to visit? A lot of this depends on how much time you have and how you want to travel. Here’s a quick little guide to help you plan your Thai island getaway:

A remote Thai island.

I wanna go to that one!

Near Bangkok

Ko Chang (เกาะช้าง) – This island is great for those who don’t have a lot of time and don’t want to fly. It is the second largest island and the nearest to Bangkok, taking just over five hours by bus to get to the pier and then a short ferry ride. The name literally means “Elephant Island” in Thai. It was given this name because of the shape, not because elephants are indigenous to the area. There are several hiking trails and a few waterfalls worth visiting. Diving, snorkeling, kayaking and tree climbing are also on offer. This is considered one of the quieter islands, as it is somewhat less popular than others.

Gulf of Thailand

Full Moon Party

Neon and buckets!

Ko Pha-gnan (เกาะพะงัน) – Known for its wild parties, especially the infamous Full Moon Party, this is the largest island in the Samui Archipelago. Although it has a reputation for drinking and dancing, there are still plenty of other things to keep you occupied here. There are several more remote and quiet beaches on the north side of the island far away from the parties. It also has the best access to Sail Rock, one of Thailand’s premier dive sites. Waterfalls abound in the island’s central region. In recent years the government has tried to make it a more family-friendly island by stepping up police presence. It is still very popular with backpackers on the Banana Pancake Trail, although the monthly parties have been limited to only Full Moon.

Koh Tao viewpoint.

Go take a hike.

Ko Tao (เกาะเต่า) – The name means “Turtle Island” because the outline of the island is that of a turtle nosediving towards Ko Pha-gnan. Even though it is smaller than its neighboring party animal island, there is still plenty to do here. Most notably diving, as there are numerous stunning dive sites just offshore. The island churns out the most open water dive certificates each year at some of the lowest prices in the world. The fun dives offered are also quite cheap due to the proximity to the dive shops and competition. Hiking up to the view point to get a bird’s-eye-view of the island is also a fun thing to do.

Ko Samui (เกาะสมุย) – This is the most developed of the three islands. If you’re really missing western fast food and shops, then this is the island for you. It has all the western fast food comforts you could want. It also has an airport, so if you’re short on time it’s a good place to go. It has gained a reputation of the honeymoon island. If you’re staying long term on either Ko Pha-gnan or Ko Tao, this is where you will come to do your visa extensions.

Andaman Coast

Thai longtail boat.

Lonely Planet cover shot?

Phuket (ภูเก็ต) – As Thailand’s largest island, it is certainly the most popular and well known. It has many high end beach resorts, restaurants and spas as well as plenty of bars, discos and nightclubs. Some would say it’s like Bangkok on an island, so if you’re looking for the quiet, deserted island feel you’d better go elsewhere.

Taking in the views on Phi Phi Island.

Taking in the views on Phi Phi Island.

Ko Phi Phi (หมู่เกาะพีพี) – This is an archipelago of six small islands not far from Phuket. The only inhabited one is Ko Phi Phi Don. It is so small that there are no roads and as such, no motorized vehicles; everyone gets around on foot here. It is a very popular island with bucket-schwilling backpackers. Most of the development is on the small sand bar that separates the two main beaches. Ko Phi Phi Leh is a short boat ride away and gained its popularity from the movie “The Beach.”

Ko Lanta (เกาะลันตา) – You will find a bit of an older crowd here than Ko Phi Phi. It is popular with families because of its more chilled out scene. The beaches are quite large here, so it’s a great island to visit if you’re looking for a quieter holiday. Even in the busy seasons the beaches here are never full or crowded.

Ko Lipe (เกาะหลีเป๊ะ) – Located in the south of the Andaman Sea near the Thai-Malay border, this island is on the border of the Tarutao National Marine Park. It’s beauty is undeniable, but many worry about the amount of development it has undergone in recent years. There are now more than 100 resorts and it is very popular with Thais, Malays and Chinese tourists.

Ko Tarutao beach

An empty beach… in Thailand?!

Ko Tarutao (เกาะตะรุเตา) – If you’re looking for the Robinson Crusoe experience of rugged forest, wildlife and empty beaches, this is the place for you. Because it is part of the Tarutao Marine National Park, all development is banned except for a few small bungalows operated by government agencies. The island used to serve as a prison, which was a bit tough to escape from given its location and the fact it was previously surrounded by crocodiles and sharks. Many of the prison ruins can still be seen today.

Thai islands

So… many… choices.

With so many awesome islands, the hardest part about your trip will be choosing which to go to. “Which tropical island should I spend my holiday on?” Life is tough, isn’t it?

 

Have you ever been to a Thai island? We’d love to hear about your experience and any tips you might have! Don’t be shy – leave a comment below.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.