Thailand has many wonderful islands and is globally recognized as one of the best countries to visit for a taste of island living. Its capital city, Bangkok is the world’s most-visited city and with just a short flight, you can visit one of its many world-class beach resorts with your loved ones or by yourself for a solo trip. Thailand is well renowned for its mountains, temples, night markets, street food and of course its annual Loy Krathong Festival, but its main claim to fame is the hundreds of islands in the country. You can find the beach that is perfect for you, ranging from private beach resorts, to pristine natural white sand beaches, to crowded party beaches. Here is our introduction to the top 5 islands you have to visit while you’re in Thailand. If you need a quick guide on how to pack for your upcoming trip, refer to our guide here!
How to pick the right island for yourself?
The first question many first time travellers to Thailand will face is: “Which beach should I go to from Bangkok?” The answer as cliche as it may sound is: “It all depends on you!” Let’s dig deeper into the question by looking at the personality of the traveller. The first and easiest classification is the type of traveller you are. Are you travelling with your partner? Are you looking for a quiet romantic beach or are you looking for the best party beach? Are you travelling solo and want a beach where it’s easy to meet people and socialize? With more than a hundred islands to choose from, this choice can be a very difficult one. But it shouldn’t be. BudgetAir® Australia has developed a simple guide to help you decide. We will help you pick the perfect island paradise that is just right for you!
Before we dive deeper into which islands to visit, keep in mind these three important factors: weather, time for island hopping, and of course flight tickets.
The worst enemy of a perfect island getaway is rain. Plan your trip around the dry seasons, so you don’t end up having to stay indoors during your holiday. Rainy season differ by region so the Andaman islands (like Phuket, Phi Phi and Koh Lanta) usually get heavy rainfall from April to November, while islands near Rayong and Trat get them between May and October and those along the Gulf Coast like (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao) get monsoon rains during August to December .
Next, while you’re on your island getaway, you’ll be wanting to see as many nearby islands and islets as possible. You’ll need to consider how much time you have and how much time you need to get around via buses, ferries and sometimes flights. It’s easier to island hop from main popular mainland islands as these have the most options available for tourists, so we’re going to start from here.
Lastly, we’re assuming you start your trip from Bangkok, and as such, you’ll be searching for flight tickets from the capital city to the island of your choice. Flight tickets on these routes are usually inexpensive and with many option of timing, airline and cabin class. Be sure to get these tickets ahead of time, so you can save even more time and money.
Islands for party people
We’ll start off our guide with the most popular beach destination in all of Thailand, Phuket . Phuket is a quick one hour flight from Bangkok to Phuket International Airport (HKT). You can travel there via the premium carriers like Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways, or you can choose one of the many budget carriers like Scoot, Air Asia, Nok, Thai Smile, Jetstar or Lion Air.
You’ll see why its the most popular island when you arrive in Phuket. Its convenience from the capital city, make it the top choice for many, who want ease in their travel planning. Phuket is well known for large crowds from every country, so you’ll never be alone, whether you’re in your hotel lobby, the nearest bar, swimming pool or even the beach. Phuket is also globally renowned for its wide variety of top luxury hotel chains and resort options. The highest priced ones even come with their own private beaches, like the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, or the Banyan Tree Phuket, or The Naka Island Resort & Spa.
Another great thing about Phuket is that its easy to get around to the other nearby islands for a daytrip or two. These include Koh Lanta, Koh Hae, Koh Racha Yai and Koh Muk. Just go to your nearest pier and you’ll be able to find a public ferry or a private longtail boat for hire.
Islands for lovers
The most popular island for lovers looking for a romantic getaway is Koh Samui . It's the perfect introduction to Thai island living. Koh Samui is easily accessible from Bangkok via flights on Bangkok Airways, and is a dramatically beautiful beach. Here, you’ll find many five star resorts and spas that cater to couples.
You can pick from popular high end resorts like Anantara Bo Phut Resort & Spa or the most famous, W Retreat Koh Samui or the more affordable Amari Palm Reef Koh Samui. Most of these resorts come complete with pampering services, amazing food options and infinity pools that’ll make you think twice about leaving. Occasionally, you’ll find some local Thai housing and bungalows where you’ll be served by island locals and you’ll be able to secure cheap accommodation.
When night falls and you’re ready to leave the hotel pool, venture out to Chaweng. This is where all the action happens on Koh Samui. This is the main street of the island, where you’ll find all the fast food joints, bars, tour agencies, and a long stretch of white bleached sands flanked by coconut palms and seafood restaurants all along the coast offering their fresh catches.
Islands for solo travellers
If you’re a solo traveller, then your best bet is Krabi. It has a great variety of hotel and hostel accommodations, ranging from the best luxury 5 star hotels to shared hostel options. Krabi is also well known for serving up peace and quiet for those who desire that and also a great party scene if you’re looking for that. Adventure lovers will also find many activities to take part in, ranging from trekking, snorkelling, rock-climbing, kayaking and of course island hopping.
If it's your first time in Krabi, then many local suggest staying along Ao Nang beach. This is the most buzzing place in all of Krabi and where all the popular hotels are located. There are many modern hotels that are perfect for solo travellers, as budget options are aplenty and are often close to the beach and make it easy to get to the pier for island hopping tours.
If you prefer a quieter place to stay, the other option is to pick a hotel at Railay beach. This beach is popular with rock climbers and those who prefer a pristine and quiet beach experience. Choices of accomodations are more limited here as Railay is a small island separated from the mainland and require sea transport to reach the beach. Transportation is limited to walking.
Another nearby island to Krabi is Koh Phi Phi. This island attracts backpackers, party animals and beach lovers from all over the world. Many people consider this island an extension of Krabi near to its close proximity. From your nearest pier in Krabi, Koh Phi Phi is only a 90 minute ferry ride away. You’ll get there faster if you hop on a private speedboat or longtail boat.
Koh Phi Phi’s claim to fame are its epic limestone cliffs and caves that are photographed and featured on almost every travel site. This panoramic image was featured in Leonardo Dicaprio's “The Beach”. When the sun sets in paradise, put your party clothes on and get ready to dance the night away from your new-found friends in one of the most epic nights of your life.
Islands for scuba divers
If diving is the name of your game, and you prefer to spend your vacation time under water instead of on the beach, then Koh Tao is the perfect paradise for you. If you’re a beginner, then this is the perfect place to start, with many PADI accredited diving schools on site, who will be able to equip you with the skills and information you need to become experienced at scuba. Koh Tao is a short flight away from Bangkok, and you’ll arrive in Chumphon Airport, with many airline options offering daily flights. From Chumphon, you can take a ferry. Some airlines like Nok Air, offer this connection as part of your flight ticket. You can also take a bus or train from Bangkok if you prefer to save money and keep the budget for your island getaway. Koh Tao has a little bit of everything, from scuba to quiet beach living to great food to wonderful foot massages. Dive packages should costs under 500 AUD, making it one of the cheapest places to learn to scuba. Another great island to visit near Koh Tao is Koh Nang Yuan, which has a lovely beach and a wonderful vantage point to view the glorious sunset. For accommodation, you can usually ask your dive school to suggest one that has a tie up for a good discount. If you prefer top of the line, then you can visit Pinnacle Koh Tao Resort, which is well worth the price tag if you like to live in luxury. You’ll get a private balcony to view the impressive sunset and sea views. All this from around 100 AUD a night for two people.