Thailand has over 250 islands, from deserted specks of land to tourist havens with mega resorts to everything in between. Regardless of what you are looking for in a tropical island, chances are that Thailand has at least one to fit your tastes.
Here’s the first of our two-part rundown of Spot Cool Stuff’s favorite Thailand islands. Continue reading on or click on an island category that meets your fancy:
|Best Thailand Islands||More of Thailand’s Best Islands|
|The Best Overall Thailand Island||Best For Tropical Forests|
|Best For Honeymoons||Best Island Close To Bangkok|
|Best For Scuba Diving||Best Nearly Undeveloped Island|
|Best For Rock Climbing||Best For Wild Parties|
|Best For Chill Parties|
|Best For Families|
Best Overall Island: Ko Lipe
Stunning beaches. Check. Crystal clear blue water. Check. Outrageously tasty seafood, jungle hikes, relaxing beach bars, world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. Check, check, check and check.
Ko Lipe has nearly everything you’d want in a Thailand island except for a high end resort. And therein lays the reason you may want to visit now.
Thai islands tend to run through a progression: They start out “primitive” and unvisited by outsiders, then a few tourists show up, then a handful basic huts and restaurants open to cater to those few tourists, then electricity comes to the island, then word of the island spreads and the island sees an increasing number of tourists. After that some nicer, mid-ranged, traveler facilities appear.
This is the point of development where Ko Lipe is now, perfect for travelers who want some comforts while also experiencing a remote-feeling, slightly wild, place. Ko Lipe has a few dive outfits, a few beach bars, a few air conditioned rooms. And if you seek a basic 400 baht (US$11, €8.50) a night hut on the beach, Ko Lip has that too. For now . . .
If Ko Lipe’s development follows in the path of other islands, the next steps involve the low-end huts and restaurants getting squeezed out of business. Then a luxury resort will come to the island along with an ever increasing tourist numbers. And then the islanders have a choice: They can manage their tourist growth in a smart way that preserves the island’s ecology and benefits all (as Ko Tao, Ko Samet and, to a lesser extent, Ko Phi Phi have done). Or they can grow with wild abandon (like Pattaya, most notoriously). We will be hoping Ko Lipe chooses the former option.
In the meantime, man is the beach here amazing!
Alternate Spelling: Koh Lipe (Ko, logically enough, means island in Thai and can transliterated into English with or without the h)
Where To Stay: Anywhere on or near Sunset Beach. We also love the lower-mid-range Castaways Resort and the basic huts of the very friendly and very unfortunately-named Porn Resort.
Getting There: You can only get to Ko Lipe from late-Octoberish to May. The monsoons are too strong at other times. Click here for ferry times & routes.
If You Go: Bring all the Thai baht cash you need for your entire stay. At the time of writing there are no ATMS on the island, no place accepts credit cards, and money changers are charging an 8% commission.
Best Island For A Honeymoon: Phuket
Phuket is Thailand’s most developed beach destination, a fact that draws the ire of travelers dismayed by the presence of McDonald’s on the island and the absence of $10/night beach-hut accommodations. Spot Cool Stuff is no such curmudgeon.
Development on Phuket has—mostly—been done in a smart, environmentally friend way (Phuket Town and the McDonald’s notwithstanding). Phuket still has pockets of protected nature, dozens of peaceful beaches and a multitude of palm trees, surf spots and chill seafood restaurants set up on the sand. If you are looking for an active (read, drunken) party scene that can be found on Phuket also, around Patong Beach. (And if you are not looking for such a scene get as far from Patong as you can).
Best of all, Phuket has the bulk of Thailand’s most romantic resorts. If you are looking for a luxurious, stylish beach getaway, Phuket offers dozens of choices. Combine that with a multitude of transportation options and you have Thailand’s best honeymoon island.
One of the best hotels in the world, the Amanpuri boasts an exclusive—and stunning—beach and villas dotting a lush coconut grove. What we love about the Amanpuri is how the whole resort feels like Thailand. The architechture is modeled on that of Thai temples, the rooms are filled with Thai-style furnishings and the service is full of Thai hospitality. And, oh yeah, the whole place is utterly romantic. Mr & Mrs Smith members ($20/year) get a free bottle of champagne upon arrival.
The Aleenta is a chic, modern resort. The rooms feature ceiling-to-floor windows with glorious views out over clear blue waters. Book through Spot Cool Stuff with a Mr & Mrs Smith membership and get 10% off, a complimentary massage with a 3-night stay and dinner for 2 with a 7-night stay.
For a private, romantic and, above all, secluded Thailand getaway it is hard to top Sarojin. The resort’s location—on 10 acres of private grounds across the bridge from Phuket Island in Khao Lak—is far from the action, and attractions, of Phuket. As if that isn’t secluded enough, the Sarojin’s rooms are divided among seven separate buildings. Each room has its own private garden area and many have their own swimming pools. Mr & Mrs Smith members each get a complimentary hour-long massage when staying here.
The Banyan Tree must be doing something right—this resort is a favorite of celebrities and consistently ranks among the world’s best hotels. Spot Cool Stuff is not so smitten. Banyan Tree’s beach, while good, is crowed and not as pristine as the Amanpuri’s (above). It also has a sub-optimal gym and over priced (though very good) restaurant. That said, the spa here is the best in Phuket, if not in Thailand. And the Banyan Tree’s famed DoublePool villas—in which you’ll have two of your own private pools as well as breakfast brought daily to you in your own private garden retreat—is the height of romantic luxury.
To review: The Amanpuri and Aleenta both have excellent beaches and outstanding service; the Amanpuri has a more lush setting with more Thai touches, the Aleenta is more modern-minimalist with a open feel. The Sarojin is your choice if you are looking for luxurious seclusion. And the Banyan Tree has the island’s best spa; absolutely stay here if you can afford a stay in one of their DoublePool villas.
Getting There: No island in Thailand is easier to get to. There are flights to Phuket from Bangkok every 45~60 minutes as well as direct flights from Singapore, China, Germany, Korea and other countries. There are boats to Phuket from most of Thailand’s larger Andaman Sea islands including Ko Lanta and Ko Phi Phi.
If You Go: Don’t let Phuket (and possibly Bangkok) be all you see of Thailand. If you can’t get to the beautiful north of the country and aren’t doing a Similan’s trip (see below) then consider taking a day trip by boat to Yao Yai, an island near Phuket full of more traditional Thai culture.
Honorable Mention Best Honeymoon Island: Ko Samui (where we’re partial to the Six Senses Hideaway Samui)
Best Islands For Diving: The Similans
Similan scuba diving is outrageously excellent. This group of nine islands off Thailand’s west coast comprise one of the planet’s top five dive locations (according to Spot Cool Stuff and pretty much anyone else in the know). Marine life is abundant here, the water is clear and there’s an impressive variety of dive sites, from the underwater canyon of Boulder City to the East Of Eden barrier reef. For all those reasons one could argue that the Similans are not where you want to learn to dive. If you start out here how can you move up to even better dives?
Where To Stay: The Similan Islands are part of a national park and might be the most protected area of Thailand. The islands themselves have very limited development and the national park only allows overnight guests at a handful of camping spots or in one of 20 bungalows. Both fill fast and so most visitors to the Similans stay on liveaboard boats.
Getting There: Most people go on charter boat trips from Phuket (above).
If You Go: Book as far in advance as possible—the best liveaboards fill fast.
Honorable Mention Best Scuba Diving Islands: Ko Tao is the best Thailand island for scuba diving if you don’t want to do a liveaboard boat trip or if the expense of the Similans is off-putting.
Best Island For Rock Climbing: Ko Laoliang
Ko Laoliang is a mere speck of an island. Or, more technically, specks of island. When most people refer to “Laoliang” they mean North Laoliang. South Laoliang, 22km (14 miles) away, is open only for day trips. Also nearby is another day trip-only island: Petra Island. Taken together this trio of islands offers some of the best rock climbing in Asia. Picture a limestone rock face shooting up from a pristine beach or from crystal blue waters.
Alternate spelling: Koh Lao Liang
Where To Stay: There are only two options: Bring your own tent or stay in the tent-like structures offered by the island’s only guest house. For this reason many climbers visit the Laoliang on day trips from Ao Nang and Krabi. Spot Cool Stuff suggests spending at least one night here, partly because that’s optimal for the best climbing but mostly because this gem of an island is a gloriously chill place to be once the day trippers have left.
Getting There: Heading to Laoliang on your own (ie. not part of a tour) takes some advance planning since there’s only one boat to the island per day from the port of Hadyao. A good Thailand guidebook is suggested to aid the journey.
If You Go: Plan your visit for between early-November and mid-May. The island can be rainy outside of those months and high winds can cancel boats.