If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to booking your Thai island vacation, we understand. This southeast Asian country is home to 1,430 islands, varying from majorly developed tourism hubs to quiet hideaway isles few have ever heard of. Read on for our top 10 picks for where to go.
Phuket: The Hub of it All
Phuket is the hub of Thailand island life. Not only will you find the biggest selection of resorts and accommodation on this, the largest Thai island, but you’ll also find the biggest selection of day trips and excursions to other islands. Day boats, ferries and multi-day cruises all depart from Phuket.
If you can’t decide which island to choose as your base, you may want to consider this one—as it also offers the biggest list of attractions, including rum distilleries, Buddhist temples, night markets, bars, nightlife and cabarets shows.
Koh Samui: Five-star Resorts and Nightlife
This island off the east coast of Thailand delivers golden sand beaches, an array of upscale and international dining, and no shortage of resorts, from five-star adults-only hotels with room service—including Four Seasons Koh Samui and a W Resort—to beachside bungalows at bargain rates.
When booking, decide first how much time you will want to spend in town, whether that’s the Fisherman’s Village or Bo Put. If you plan on staying at the resort and booking daytrips, then you may want to base yourself further out at places like Maenam Beach, still just a 10-minute taxi ride into town.
Koh Lanta: A Quieter Escape with Modern Amenities
Don’t expect much in terms of development at this still-sleepy, back-to-nature island on Thailand’s western, Andaman-Sea-facing side. Ko Lanta offers a few upscale resorts, such as the Pimalai Resort and Spa, but the majority of accommodations are more rustic. If you’re like most travelers, you’ll spend the majority of your time on the shoreline anyway—which is nicer here if you prefer your beaches without crowds.
Another highlight of Ko Lanta is renting a moped and exploring the smaller villages, which you can do with a guide or take advantage of the island’s safety and simply go on your own.
Koh Tao: For Scuba Divers and Snorkelers
The name of the island means “turtle” and for good reason—green and hawksbill sea turtles are sighted here regularly, as are whale sharks, manta rays and a host of other larger sea animals. The prolific marine life has drawn in scuba divers, making the island an excellent place to get certified, with courses costing starting every day and costing around $250 USD. When not scuba diving or snorkeling, you can take a trapeze class, go hiking or simply enjoy the beach.
Koh Sukorn: Experience Thailand Before Tourism
Fishing and rubber plantations—not tourism—define village life on Koh Sukorn, found in the Trang province on Thailand’s western side. Choose from just three resorts on island, each with WiFi and massive, wide beaches. Note that tourism has such a little foothold here that there are no ATMs, so plan ahead.
Koh Chang: An Up-and-coming Island with No Western Chain Hotels
Thailand’s second-largest island, Koh Chang welcomes backpackers and luxury travelers alike, with room for both to spread out. Here, you can spend your days scuba diving in the marine park, hiking to waterfalls and eating at night markets. Because tourism hasn’t exploded here just yet, it’s easy to score a middle-of-the-road stay for under $65 a night. However, if you prefer modern and upscale, check out the KC Grande Resort and Spa.
Our pick is the Santhiya Tree Koh Chang Resort for its traditional Thai architecture and décor rich with wood carvings, and gauzy-curtain-covered sliding doors leading to lush gardens.
Koh Phra Thong: Deserted Eco-island Getaway
If you want to experience the wildlife, natural ecosystems and empty beaches of Thailand, consider Koh Phra Thong off the western coast. Consider Golden Buddha Resort: It’s a sanctuary of 28 cabins and treehouses at the edge of a national park. This is glamping, with solar-heated water showers. The payoff is a quiet, back-to-nature experience with yoga, fishing trips, kayaking, savannah Jeep tours, as well as cooking, ceramics and batik painting classes.
Koh Bulon Lee: Best for Foodies and Adventurous Types
It’d be easy to call this one of Thailand’s still-secret islands. It’s still off the grid and a challenge to reach. The island has a handful of resorts—many without AC. Oh, and there are no cars. The highlights are the big white sand beach, and the sea gypsy village where wives rely on just-caught fish and centuries-old recipes to make dishes that are sheer perfection.
Koh Yao Noi: Off the Grid with Five-star Luxury
In between Phuket and Krabi lies Koh Yao Noi, an island with rice paddies, green hills, caramel beaches and lots of sandbars—and not a lot of hoopla about it. Reachable only by boat, this enclave has just a few shops and a small village. However, it’s also home to Six Senses Yao Noi as well as the TreeHouse Villas Koh Yao Noi Luxury Resort, allowing you to explore all day away from crowds, then return to a five-star experience of pampering.
Koh Ngai: White-sand Beaches and Pristine Reefs
Honeymooners, families and snorkelers see the appeal of this natural island that has very, very little nightlife. It’s known for two massive, white sandy beaches that anchor the island’s tourism—there are no roads on this hilly, jungle-covered island. Likewise, the accommodation leans far more toward simple than luxury.