The most popular islands in Thailand can accommodate all budgets and interests. Rowdy beach parties aren't difficult to find, but when you're ready for peace and relaxation, it's easy to slip away to more romantic places with blue water. Along with inexpensive diving, health retreats and yoga sanctuaries are easy to find, too.
Each of the top islands in Thailand have their own personalities. Fortunately, hopping between islands is easy as you travel around Thailand, and relatively inexpensive once you're already in the country. If you can't decide which one to visit, don't feel limited to choosing just one. Take an island tour and visit several!
Be sure to confirm that the island you choose is accessible at the time of year you want to visit. While bigger islands like Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi always have tourism, many smaller islands virtually shut down during the low season of June to October.
Precariously close to Phuket but much quieter and less developed, the long island of Koh Lanta is a favorite for nearly all who visit. The vibe is more relaxed, and people just seem to have more room to themselves.
When visiting the island, you'll have to choose from the many beaches and bays along the west coast. Long Beach is arguably the best beach on Koh Lanta. It's a long strip of soft sand dropping off into deep water, making the swimming superb. Unlike other beaches, you won't have to worry much about underwater rocks and urchins.
Although you can certainly find some beach parties, Koh Lanta isn't really a party destination — nearby Koh Phi Phi and Phuket fill that need.
Koh Lanta mostly closes down during the rainy months between June and October. Inclusive resorts may keep operating, but beaches around the island become strewn with rubbish.
Pronounced "Koh Lee-pay," tiny Koh Lipe is the perfect definition of remote island in Thailand for many people. It can be crowded during high season, but no cars and very few motorcycles disturb the serenity.
Clear, calm, and mostly shallow water make the swimming great for families. Unlike Koh Lanta, you can snorkel directly from the beach.
Koh Lipe is on the Andaman or west side of Thailand. It's one of the tiny islands visible from the west side of Koh Lanta. The island's popularity has skyrocketed in the past decade, and the infrastructure there is improving. An immigration point means you can actually jump on a boat to Langkawi, Malaysia.
You won't find much of a party on Koh Lipe, but the beauty and romance of the place have destroyed more than one traveler's itinerary.
Also on the Andaman coast close to Phuket, Koh Phi Phi was practically rebuilt from the ground up after the 2004 tsunami.
Beautiful jungle scenery and jagged limestone rock formations make the island one of the most photogenic. The island is narrow enough in one place to see water on both sides from where you stand.
Koh Phi Phi just looks exotic, that's why it was chosen for the set of the backpacker cult movie, The Beach. Koh Phi Phi today is an energized mix of partying budget travelers and resort-dwelling tourists. The shape of the island provides several nice beaches, but extreme tides often create warm, shallow water for swimming.
The island is so small and the party so big that sometimes it's difficult to escape the thump thump of a DJ's music at night.
Once attracting mostly just scuba divers and backpackers, Koh Tao on the east side of Thailand has transformed in recent years as a popular island destination in the Gulf of Thailand for everyone.
Koh Tao is way smaller and cheaper than nearby Koh Samui, so it still attracts a lot of young budget travelers. But like many islands once the realm of backpackers, upscale places continue to spring up — particularly in the southern part of the island.
Sairee Beach can get rowdy with pub crawls and beach parties, but the island is quiet during the week of the Full Moon Party as most travelers head over to Koh Pha Ngan to party.
With scores of dive shops boasting excellent staff and equipment, Koh Tao is still the most popular place in the world to get PADI certified for scuba diving. You can opt for a Discover Scuba course if you just want the experience. Snorkeling trips are available to the many reefs for non-divers.
The big island of Koh Samui on the east coast is one of the most popular islands in Thailand. Large resorts, an airport, nightclubs, and crowded beaches keep Koh Samui busy much like Phuket, however, the island is large enough to escape to peaceful spots.
With plenty of parties and nightclubs, Chaweng and Lamai are the two busiest beaches on Koh Samui. The prices are higher than those on other islands in the area.
Although flying into Koh Samui is relatively costly for the distance covered, it does save a day of travel time for people on shorter holidays.
Koh Pha Ngan
Pronounced "Koh Pahn Gone," Koh Pha Ngan was once declared the King of Thailand's favorite island. Ironic, because Koh Pha Ngan is also Thailand's infamous backpacker party island.
Don't let Koh Pha Ngan's unfair reputation spook you. The party is mostly contained to Haad Rin — a small peninsula in the south where the monthly Full Moon Parties can attract tens of thousands of revelers.
It's simple: If you don't want to party late with younger travelers, don't go to Haad Rin! The rest of the large island has beautiful bays, upscale resorts, hidden places, famous health retreats, and lots to explore via the bumpy roads or by taxi boat.
Haad Yuan is a popular choice of beach located between the rambunctious party on Haad Rin and the quieter parts of the island.
Although Koh Chang is Thailand's second-largest island and the largest Thai island on the Gulf side, you'll still find plenty of beaches with soft, white sand. It's one of the closer islands to Bangkok, although it's still a five-hour drive by car, limiting the number of tourists who are willing to make the trek.
A mix of budget travelers and short-term visitors flock to the island to either relax, party, or wait out flights at the end of their trips (you can leave your bulky luggage at an airport locker and take a bus from Suvarnabhumi Airport directly to the port city of Trat). And thanks to its location near Cambodia, while the rest of Thailand is getting soaked during the rainy season, Koh Chang stays relatively dry for low-season beach time.
Closest to Bangkok of all the islands in Thailand, tiny Koh Samet is extremely developed and attracts a mix of weekenders, locals, and tourists from the city.
Despite the development, the interior of Koh Samet is still mostly jungle and includes a small national park. Some beaches on Koh Samet are more serene than others. If you don't like what you see on the main two, grab a scooter and explore a bit.
Pronounced correctly as "poo-ket," Phuket is the most popular of islands in Thailand. With bridges connecting the island to the mainland and a busy airport, Phuket is easy to reach, highly developed, and draws lots of crowds.
If nightclubs, honeymooning, shopping, fitness, tourist-oriented activities, and umbrellas on the beach are your thing, then Phuket is the right choice of islands.
Koh Yao Islands
If you want an off-the-beaten-track experience without actually straying too far from the path, then the Koh Yao Islands are for you. They're only 30 minutes away from Phuket by boat, so the islands are relatively accessible. But despite their proximity to the bustling hub of Phuket, thanks to the dirt roads, rice paddies, and water buffalo, you'll feel like you've stumbled upon an undiscovered gem.
The Koh Yao Islands are actually a pair of islands: the smaller one of Koh Yao Noi is more developed and where most people stay, while the larger Koh Yao Yai is wilder and excellent for a rugged day trip. Once you've had your fill of partying and nightlife in Phuket, the Koh Yao Islands are a perfect place to escape and enjoy the bliss of having nothing to do.
One of Thailand's national parks, the Similan Islands are an archipelago of 11 islands located in the Andaman Sea. It takes some effort to reach them—first drive an hour north of Phuket to Khao Lok, then take a two-hour boat ride from there—but the destination is well worth the journey. These are some of the most untouched beaches in all of Thailand, in some cases literally because people aren't allowed to step foot on all of them.
The islands are numbered from north to south, from Island 1 to Island 11, and you can swim or scuba dive around them all. However, only Islands 4 and 8 are open to the public. While there are day trip options from Phuket to the Similan Islands, you won't want to leave before seeing the sunset. Instead of rushing your trip, make the most of it and stay at least a night.
With white-sand beaches and long stretches of coral reef, it's no wonder that Koh Kradan is considered the jewel island of the Thai province of Trang. While some parts of the island are privately owned, much of it is part of the Hat Chao Mai National Park that stretches all the way to the mainland. The accommodations on the island include lush resorts, making this an ideal location for those who want a remote island experience without forgoing amenities.
During the high season, boats leave from several places to Koh Kradan, including Phuket. It takes about three hours to reach the island from Phuket, and many travelers visit on a day trip or en route to Malaysia. However, once the day trip backpackers depart in the evening, the island is at its best. Sunset Beach on the west side of the island earned its name for a reason, so don't even consider being anywhere else at dusk.
Koh Phayam is the second-largest Thai island in the Andaman Sea, but you would never guess that based on the limited amenities, lack of cellphone reception, and absence of cars. This is the island to visit for an escape to a place where you can completely disconnect and not be bothered by the hassles of daily life. Spend your time sitting on the picturesque beaches, scootering around the island, and practicing yoga in paradise.
To reach Koh Phayam, boats leave from the port town of Ranong, just across from the southern tip of Myanmar. Ranong is about eight hours south of Bangkok or five hours north of Phuket by car, but you can also take a quick flight directly to Ranong Airport from Bangkok.
Angthong National Park
The Angthong Islands are an archipelago of over 40 islands that form a national park in the Gulf of Thailand, not far from the party islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. Many of the smaller islands are protected and off-limits to tourism, but the larger islands are popular day trip destinations for backpackers who want a break from the nightlife of Samui and Pha Ngan.
These islands are a nature lovers dream, filled with flowing waterfalls, tropical forests, underwater caves, and freshwater lakes surrounded by lush vegetation. Around the islands are incredible rock formations that jut out from the sea. Wildlife is abundant, including long-tailed monkeys, otters, herons, iguanas, sea turtles, and colorful fish.
Being a national park, the only way to reach the islands are via government-sanctioned boats, most of which depart from Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan. Tour operators generally take guests on a full-day trip, stopping at various islands along the way before returning in the evening.
Just south of the larger island of Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand is the idyllic smaller island of Koh Mak, which has been called one of Thailand's best undiscovered gems. The island's residents have resisted big development and resorts, so even in the high season, you can find stretches of virgin beaches with almost no other people around. While it's undeniably quieter than nearby islands, there are still beach bungalows and rustic accommodation options to choose from.
Direct speedboat service from the town of Laem Ngop—four hours south of Bangkok by car—on the mainland has made it much easier to reach Koh Mak. You could just make it a day trip from Koh Chang, but those looking for extra intimacy should consider basing their trip out of Koh Mak instead.
The largest island that makes up Tarutao National Park is the eponymous Koh Tarutao, which is just a stone's throw away from the much busier Malaysian island of Langkawi. While Langkawi is considered a major tourist destination, the nearby Koh Tarutao is just as breathtaking but almost completely unspoiled. The island is made up of limestone cliffs with long stretches of mangrove trees, and the white-sand beaches are interrupted by rocky caves to explore.
Apart from the island's natural beauty, it has a lot of history, too. In the early 20th century, the island was used as a prison for criminals and political prisoners. On the south side of the island near Ao Taloh Bay where the prisoners were once kept, you can visit a small museum that sheds light on its history.
Of the islands off the coast of Trang province, Koh Sukorn admittedly doesn't have the postcard-worthy white sand beaches of others, such as Koh Kradan. However, you could also go to any of the Thai islands for dreamy beaches. What Koh Sukorn offers are rich agriculture and a lush interior. The island is covered with rubber trees, mangroves, rice paddies, and even watermelon fields (which it is perhaps best known for).
That's not to say that the beaches aren't worth visiting. You'll still find the same turquoise water and pristine sand bars on Koh Sukorn as you would on nearby islands, but for travelers who prefer hiking through greenery over sitting out on the beach, Koh Sukorn is the place for you.