Whether in search of beach parties or peace and quiet with book in hand, you'll find both on the islands in Thailand. The Thai islands can be enjoyed for a fraction of the price of other destinations such as Hawaii or the Caribbean—so you'll have many wallet-friendly options to choose from.
Precariously close to Phuket but far quieter and less developed, the long island of Koh Lanta is a favorite of nearly all who visit. The friendly locals haven't become jaded by excessive tourism as they have in other places.
Long Beach is the best beach on Koh Lanta; a long strip of beach and soft sand dropping off into deep water make the swimming superb. Although you'll certainly meet people during the busy season, Koh Lanta isn't really a party destination -- nearby Koh Phi Phi and Phuket fill that need.
Pronounced "Koh Lee-pay," tiny Koh Lipe is the perfect definition of remote island for many people. No cars and very few motorcycles disturb the serenity. Clear, calm, and mostly shallow water make the swimming great for families.
Koh Lipe is on the Andaman or west side of Thailand, a tiny island visible from Koh Lanta. The island's popularity has skyrocketed in recent years and the infrastructure there is improving.
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 and once devastated by the 2004 tsunami, Koh Phi Phi has been rebuilt and is busier than ever. Beautiful scenery in the form of green jungle and jagged rocks add to the exotic vibe. The island is narrow enough in one place to see water on both sides from where you stand.
Made even more famous with backpackers after the movie The Beach was filmed there, Koh Phi Phi is a strange mix of partying budget travelers and resort-dwelling tourists. The shape of the island provides several nice beaches, but extreme tide changes often create warm, shallow water for swimming.
Once attracting mostly just scuba divers and backpackers, Koh Tao on the east coast has transformed in recent years as a popular island destination in the Gulf of Thailand. Far smaller and cheaper than Koh Samui, Koh Tao still attracts a lot of budget travelers, although several upscale places have sprung up in the south.
With much of the Koh Pha Ngan party crowd taking the two-hour boat over, nightly beach parties can be found in Sairee—a popular destination on the island.
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 diving. Snorkel trips are available to the many reefs for non-divers.
The big island of Koh Samui on the east coast is the Gulf of Thailand's quieter version of Phuket. Large resorts, an airport, nightclubs, and crowded beaches keep Koh Samui busy, however, the island is large enough to escape to peaceful spots.
With plenty of parties, Chaweng and Lamai are the two busiest beaches on Koh Samui. The prices tend to attract a more family-oriented or short-term traveler crowd.
Pronounced "Koh Pawn Gone," Koh Phangan was announced as the King of Thailand's favorite island. Ironic, because Koh Phangan is also Thailand's infamous backpacker party island. The hedonism knows few limits during the monthly Full Moon Party on the beach where sometimes more than 15,000 people gather to dance. Now, Half Moon Parties in the jungle and a long list of other parties keeps the island thumping.
Luckily, the party is mostly contained to Haad Rin—a small peninsula in the south. The rest of the island has beautiful bays, upscale resorts, hidden places, and lots to explore via the bumpy roads or by taxi boat.
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. Relatively 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.
Pronounced correctly as "poo-ket," Phuket is Thailand's busiest tourist island. With bridges connecting the island to the mainland and a busy airport, Phuket is easy to reach and draws the crowds. If nightclubs, honeymooners, shopping, tourist-oriented activities, and umbrellas on the beach are your thing then Phuket is the place.
Most accommodation in Phuket is mid-range to upscale; prices soar during the high season.