The islands off the coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam are some of the most popular places for tourists to Southeast Asia to visit. Some of these islands are famous throughout the world for their beautiful beaches and party atmosphere. But the best islands in Thailand also offer numerous opportunities for recreation, spiritual exploration, and relaxation.
Settled by sea gypsies, Ko Lipe is located in the Adang-Rawi Archipelago in southwest Thailand. It is a small island and visitors can walk around the island in little over an hour. Ko Lipe is just outside the jurisdiction of Tarutao National Park, and as such is exempt from certain laws prohibiting development. Its three main beaches have plenty of accommodations ranging from grass huts to air-conditioned bungalows.
Ko Lanta is made up of a group of islands off the coast of Thailand in the Krabi province. The largest island of the group is called Ko Lanta Yai also known as simply Ko Lanta. Several beaches on the west coast of Ko Lanta Yai are each strung with a line of resorts and bungalows. This region is an important destination for snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts, who come to the islands to view the coral reefs and the ocean life, including manta rays and whales. There is also an abundance of tropical plant life, including the remnants of the ancient rainforests.
Ko Samet is known for being a favorite respite from the bustle of Bangkok. Though the majority of the island is a national park, there are a number of vacation spots located there with different amenities depending on the type of experience sought. One of the great attractions of Ko Samet are its white sand beaches. Visitors can choose from peaceful and relaxing settings or popular beaches with lots of activities. Ao Noina, Ao Phutsa, Au Nuan, and Ao Wai are known for being more serene, and feature cozy accommodations and stunning sunset views. Hat Sai Kaeo and Ao Hin Khok are busier, and visitors to these beaches frequently come to sunbathe, swim, windsurf, or enjoy nightlife.
See also Where to Stay in Ko Samet
Ko Tarutao is one of the 51 islands that belong to the Tarutao National Marine Park archipelago in southern Thailand. This island offers accommodations including campsites and bungalows that can be rented. Tourists to this island can enjoy the pristine and quiet atmosphere of the area, and can also view the rugged mountain and jungle scenery, including the limestone cliffs for which this part of Thailand is famous. Visitors can have a good chance of catching a glimpse at some exotic wildlife, particularly if they visit the beach on the western part of the island, which is frequented by large turtles.
Ko Samui is one of the most visited islands in Thailand. There are abundant accommodations for travelers ranging from small bungalows to exclusive villas on the island. There are several festivals that take place every year on Ko Samui, including the Buffalo Fighting Festival, the Ten Stars Samui Art Party, and several street fairs with vendors selling local delicacies, clothing, and souvenirs. Sailing enthusiasts also gather for the yearly Samui Regatta, and triathletes and their supporters flock to Samui for the annually Triathlon Event.
Ko Phangan is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, halfway between the islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao. It is a famous destination for the backpacking community, who come to immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty including rainforests and beaches. Every year the island holds an electronic dance festival known as the Full Moon Party. Those tourists who would like a more serene getaway are keen to visit Ko Pha Ngan’s numerous Buddhist temples. The island is also known for its spas and meditation retreats.
See also Where to Stay in Ko Phangan
Phuket is the name of both a Thai province and the main city of that province. The province of Phuket covers a large island and several smaller islands off the western coast of the mainland. Outside of Bangkok, it is the most popular tourist area in the country, and many of its scenic beaches feature numerous resort accommodations for visitors. Close to these beaches, tourists will find thriving nightclubs and shopping areas. Some of the other attractions on Phuket include golf courses, historical museums, and monuments.
Located near the border with Cambodia, Ko Chang is the third largest island in Thailand and the biggest in the Ko Chang Marine Park archipelago. It is a mountainous island known for several waterfalls, thriving coral reefs, rainforests and long white sandy beaches. In less than ten years, Ko Chang has become a major tourist destination in Thailand although still far quieter than islands like Phuket or Ko Samui.
Ko Tao is fast becoming the favorite destination of those who come to Thailand for recreational purposes. The island’s caters especially to scuba divers, rock climbers, and hikers. Around 7000 new divers get certified on Koh Tao each year making it one of the most popular destinations in the world to learn to dive. Fishing enthusiasts also visit the island in increasing numbers, hoping to catch a specimen of one of the abundant marlin, snapper or barracuda. With the exploding tourist population of Ko Tao, a number of resorts, bars and nightclubs have opened up, though it is still possible for those seeking a more relaxed vacation to find quieter, less developed areas of the island.
Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in the Krabi Province in Southern Thailand. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the group, and is the only island with permanent inhabitants while the smaller Ko Phi Phi Leh is famous as the filming location for the 2000 movie “The Beach”. Ko Phi Phi was severely hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed. Redevelopment has, however, been swift, and services are back with building regulations in place to limit the height of new hotels and other buildings to preserve the island’s stunning views.