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This is the second of our two part overview of Thailand’s best islands. Continue on to read the whole article or click on one of the specific “best island” categories:
Best Island For Tropical Forests: Ko Kood
Ko Kood’s close proximity to Cambodia put it off limits for the nearly three decades that the Khmer Rouge brought political instability to Thailand’s eastern neighbor. Happily, the situation in Cambodia no longer makes travel to Ko Kood a risky undertaking. The tourists have started to come to this far flung eastern Thailand island. And several resorts have sprung up to cater to them.
Still, most of Ko Kood is undeveloped. There’s not even a road through the middle of this lush, densely forested island. You’ll need a sense of adventure, a good pair of hiking shoes and a bottle of mosquito repellent to explore the arboreal beauty the island has to offer. the rewards for making journey include a scenic temple in the middle of the island, a variety of bird time and a gorgeous three-tired waterfall.
Alternate Spelling: Koh Kut
Where To Stay: There are a number of mid-range resorts geared mostly to middle aged couples. For a location surrounded by tropical forests we suggest the Koh Kood Resort.
Getting There: At the time of writing there were two boats a day from Laem So, on the Thailand mainland, and one from Ko Chang. Travel agents in Bangkok (especially around Kao San Road) offer combination bus/boat tickets to Ko Kood from the Thailand capital.
If You Go: Don’t expect anything in the way of nightlife. There aren’t even many single backpackers that come here. There are, however, some stellar beaches in addition to the tropical forests.
Honorable Mention Best Tropical Forest Island: Ko Chang
Best Island Close To Bangkok: Ko Chang
There are many islands and beach spots closer to the Thai capital than Ko Chang is. But none are this nice.
In 4~6 hours (depending on traffic and the speed of your vehicle) you can travel by land between the bustle of Bangkok and beaches of Ko Chang. This large hilly island offers a bit of everything: nightlife (of both the low-key and loud nightclub variety), jungle hikes, beautiful beaches, scenic temples, and a smattering of scuba diving and snorkeling. Ko Chang accommodations fill up with Bangkokites on weekends but is very peaceful mid-week.
Where To Stay: The nicest resort is the Dusit Princess Koh Chang but there’s a large selection of places to fit most budgets. For quality budget accommodations check out the Cliff Cottage with a wonderful ocean-side bar/hangout and rates as low as $4.50 a night!
Getting There: You can make your own way to via the port of Laem So but the easiest option is to buy a combination bus/boat or plane/boat ticket available from travel agents in Bangkok and on Ko Chang.
If You Go: In general, the beaches on the island’s west coast are the best; we especially like vibe at Ao Klong Prao (Coconut Bay). Also, note that Thailand has two Ko Changs. This Ko Chang in Trat province is much larger than its doppelgänger in western Thailand. Still, if there’s any doubt you should specify exactly which Ko Chang you are talking about.
Honorable Mention Best Island Close To Bangkok: Ko Samet and Ko Mun Nork (both of which is closer to Bangkok than Ko Chang is)
Best Nearly Undeveloped Island: Ko Tarutao
So you want to get away from it all and live out your own version of Survivor (without the risk of being voted out of a tribe). Head to the island where actual Survivor reality show filmed its Thailand season: Ko Tarutao.
Ko Tarutao is brilliant blip of beaches and palm trees surrounded by clear blue water off of Thailand’s west coast. There are no Full Moon Parties here, no large resorts and no internet cafes. (Neither are there banks or medical services). Ko Tarutao is part of a national national park and has been left to its natural beauty. The island is teaming with wildlife, birds and turtles especially. There’s excellent snorkeling a short swim from the beach. And there’s not much else. Which is exactly how travels to this gem of an island like it.
Where To Stay: All accommodations on Ko Tarutao are run by the National Park. Guests have a choice of staying in a tent or a fan-cooled bungalow that, while not luxuriously, is comfortable enough to make a stay here pleasant. Click here for details and to make reservations.
Getting There: There are three boats per day, in season, from Ko Lipe.
If You Go: IMPORTANT—the travel season to Ko Tarutao is strictly from early November to the end of May. In the off-season the boats don’t run.
Honorable Mention Best Nearly Undeveloped Island: These days Tarutao gets a steady stream of travelers during the season and the island see electricity for a few hours every evening. So on which Thailand island can you really really get away from all manner of modern technology and other travelers? This is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of travel writing: No publication can reveal an “undiscovered” island while keeping the island undiscovered. But we will say this: All of the Thailand islands we’ve reviewed have smaller, lesser known, islands nearby. Ko Chang has Ko Suwan, for example. Ko Lipe has Ko Hin. Bring a tent, find a friendly (and reliable!) local with a boat, and you’ll be able to find some untouched island stretch of sand to have all to yourself.
Best Island For Wild Parties: Ko Phangan
Some love it. Some hate it. Some drink far too much to remember it. But everyone who has attended it agrees: the Full Moon Party on Ko Phangan is Thailand’s wildest event. Don’t come expecting local culture. At the Full Moon Party Thais are outnumbered even by travelers from Iceland, to say nothing of young British backpackers and Australians on their gap year. Instead, enjoyment of the Full Moon gala depends on getting into the spirit of the occasion—the rave music, the face painting, the fire twirling, the drunk college students vomiting behind the palm trees. If you’ve never before uttered the phrase “I’d like a bucket of whiskey, please” the monthly Ko Phangan Full Moon Party is your chance.
Alternate Spelling: Koh Pha Ngan
Where To Stay: When we seek mid-range bungalows and budget accommodations on Ko Phangan Spot Cool Stuff heads to the northwest of the island, especially to the area round Ao Haad Yao and Ao Mae Haad. This is a beautiful, laid-back part of Ko Phangan that’s an easy scooter/taxi ride to (and away from) the island’s nightlife areas; try the Haad Son Resort, the Haad Yao Over Bay Resort or the friendly and family-run Royal Orchid Resort (where there’s an open kitchen with fruit, snacks and drinks always available on an honor payment system). For something more luxurious we like the waterfront cottages of the Panviman Resort.
Where ever you stay, we suggest booking a room well in advance if you are going to Ko Phangan within a few days of the full moon. Check the schedule for upcoming parties for the specific dates.
Getting There: From Bangkok the fastest way is to fly to Ko Samui and take a frequent boat from there. A cheap, comfortable alternative is to get a combination overnight train and boat ticket.
If You Go: Do not go to the Full Moon Party with a passport, expensive camera or anything else you’d be sad about not leaving with. (If you absolutely need to capture the moment digitally consider an unobtrusive device you can strap to your wrist or belt like a Flip Mino).
Planning Tip: Ko Phangan is the middle of a chain of three islands that are interconnected by frequent boats. A great Thailand island vacation can be had by starting at Ko Tao, the outer most of the islands, for snorkeling and scuba diving. Then going to Ko Phangan for jungle hiking and the Full Moon Party (if that’s your thing). Then finishing on Ko Samui for a luxurious stay (at the Six Senses Hideaway, for example) before flying onwards.
Honorable Mention Best Wild Party Island: Patong Beach, Phuket
Best Island For Chill Parties: Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi is best known for playing the part of the perfect Thailand island in the the movie The Beach. A highlight of most people’s trip to Phi Phi is a boat and snorkel excursion to Maya Bay, “the beach” of the movie (first photo, below).
But even before Leonardo di Caprio graced Ko Phi Phi with his presence the island was becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Spot Cool Stuff first went there in 1990 when a hut on our own little stretch of sand set us back all of $5. Today the island is significantly more built up and densely populated; all the budget accommodations have disappeared. But we are thrilled how Phi Phi’s beautiful beaches have, on the whole, been preserved. The island is blessedly still car-free. The tragic 2004 tsunami, which wiped out the man made structures on nearly half the island, provided an opportunity to rebuild in a smarter, more environmentally friendly, way—Zeavola (see Where To Stay, below) being a prime example.
So, go to Phi Phi for the beauty of its beaches, or for “the” beach. Go for the laid-back island vibe mixed with reasonably high quality accommodations. If you are an active sort, go for the island’s excellent rock climbing, kayaking, snorkeling and fishing opportunities. There’s a scenic hike, too, to “the lookout” atop the hill in the middle of the island (see the second photo, below).
Whatever your reason for heading to Phi Phi you’ll likely enjoy the chill nightlife once you get here. Perhaps no Thailand island is better for nursing a whiskey-laden fruit juice and watching the sunset. Two drinking spots we especially enjoy on our Phi Phi trips are the Reggae Bar and the beach mats at the Karma Bar. You’ll have no problem finding your own favorites though—the island has one main path and you can walk the length of it in about 20 minutes.
Alternate Spellings: Koh Pi Pi, Koh Phiphi, Koh Phi Phi (but thankfully never Ko Pee Pee)
Where To Stay: Our favorite accommodations on the island—by far—are the luxurious, wood cottages of Zeavola. Their cottages are perched on a hillside; each has its own balcony. Unless you are bothered by the stairs ask for one of the upper cottages—the sunset views over the ocean amaze. Zeavola is around an 8~10 minute walk from the main ferry dock. Let the hotel know what boat you are coming on and they’ll meet you and transport you and your luggage to the hotel on a sort of motorized cart. Book through Spot Cool Stuff—and with a $20 Mr & Mrs Smith card—and get 25% off!
Getting There: From Bangkok, fly (or train or bus) to either Phuket or Krabi from where there are many boats. Click here for details.
Honorable Mention Best Island For Chill Parties: Ko Tao, Ko Lipe, Ko Maak. A special shutout goes to the Reggae Bar on the viewpoint south of Karon, Phuket, a few miles down the road towards the cape lighthouse.
Photos of Zeavola:
Best Island For Families: Ko Phi Phi
The Thailand islands best for family vacations are those that are small (so that wandering tykes can only get lost), are car-free, have comfortable air-conditioned accommodations, a range of activity options and beaches with shallow, undertow-free, swimming. Ko Phi Phi meets each of these criteria better than any other Thailand island we know of. For more information see our review, above.
Honorable Mention Best Island For Families: Ko Lanta, Ko Bulon Lae
Questions? Thoughts? Mad urges to fly off to Thailand today? Tell us about it in our Thailand islands comments section.