Everything You Need To Know About Island Hopping In Thailand
You might think you know what you’re in for when visiting Thailand’s islands, but until you land on the shore of one or two of them, you can’t really anticipate the beauty of this corner of the world.
If you’re going in fairly unaware, you should know that there are many Thai islands and they’re spread out over the east and west coasts of the south of the country. You can’t kayak from island to island (well, maybe you could kayak from one island to a tiny uninhabited one off its coast), but you can still island hop and see a selection of idyllic isles.
Now, the tourist trail is pretty explicit here. You’re going to be sharing the beaches with your fellow travelers. How many and what type depends on which islands you choose. We created a starter itinerary for exploring Thailand’s islands, beginning in Phuket and adding on different adventures the longer you have to play in paradise.
Start in Phuket.
If you only have a few days and want to fit in some sun and sand, head to Phuket. The large island is only an hour-long flight from Bangkok (you can grab flights for around $50 if you book in advance) and has spectacular beaches.
You’ll likely want to choose a beach on Phuket and stick to it — it takes a while to get around the island. Patong is the party beach (it’s like the Times Square of Phuket, with some added edge from an active red light district), Karon is prime for those looking for a bustling resort experience (the beach is enormous and full of restaurants) and Kata is a little quieter with a more hippy feel (check out the night market for eats).
Heads up: Don’t come to Phuket expecting to run into a local fisherman grilling his catch on the beach. This is a resort playground — a beautiful one, but still a land of tourists with an endless appetite for pad Thai and fruit smoothies. But the beaches are top-notch and the food is delicious.
Add a trip to Koh Phi Phi.
Located deeper into the Andaman Sea from Phuket, you’ll find the famous Phi Phi Islands. And these islands are famous for a reason — they’re exquisite. We could have stayed on the larger of the two isles, Koh Phi Phi Don, for an entire week, but even if you only have two days, the two-hour ferry ride from Phuket is worth it.
Go for the towering rock cliffs, Monkey Beach and crystal water that just begs for an afternoon of snorkeling. One side of the island gets pretty rowdy after sunset, with beach parties taking over the coastal bars, but it’s possible to stay on Phi Phi without running into too much of the techno scene.
Unfortunately, overtourism has hit Phi Phi hard, with pollution from tour boats and littering visitors. So if you go, please try to leave as small of a footprint as possible.
Take the ferry to…
Koh Lanta For Romantic Splurges
The ferry ride from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta takes about an hour, shuttling you away from the mainstream masses to a more reclusive retreat. Get yourself and your sweetie a bungalow on the beach and enjoy an island away from the younger gap year crowd.
Koh Lipe For Laid-Back Exploring
If you really want to escape any sign of luxury resorts or even the chic boutique hotels of Koh Lanta, head to Lipe. It’s six hours from Koh Phi Phi and five from Koh Lanta, but even the ferry rides in the Thai islands are like a miniature Andaman Sea cruise. Once there, you should also visit Koh Adang (it’s a national park, so expect to pay an entrance fee) for some jungle trekking, waterfalls and even more remote beaches.
Koh Samui For Easy Luxury Vibes
Resorts are plentiful on Koh Samui, but they’re not a huge production like the behemoths on Phuket. It’s a little more low-key here while still hitting high standards for vacation goals. You also can fly straight into Koh Samui from Phuket, Bangkok or even abroad. (The airport is one of the most charming we’ve ever seen, complete with only a few open-air gates, thatched roofs and flowers everywhere.)
Koh Phangan For A Party Scene
Home to the famous Full Moon Party (yes, the OG scene), Koh Phangan is where you’ll find all the backpackers looking for a wild time. And believe us, you’ll find it here. Every full moon, Koh Phangan’s main beach fills up with party people flooding the sand. The festivities pretty much take over the island, so you’ll be in for the full neon experience here.
Know before you go…
The best time to visit the islands in Thailand does vary from year to year, but the rainy season starts to dry out in November and it stays sunny until April. But you are going to the tropics, so don’t be surprised by a rainstorm or two.
If you’re the type who gets seasick, make sure to check the weather forecast before hopping on a ferry. In case of rain, you’ll want to pick up some motion sickness medication. The waves can get pretty choppy for the small ferries in the open seas hopping from island to island.
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