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. You don't have to choose only one!
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 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.
As one of the best choices close to Bangkok, 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.
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 and highly developed. It draws the 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.