Thailand has some of the best beaches in the world. Deciding which one to visit can be difficult — but that's a good problem to have!
Whether island or mainland beach, any of Thailand's top beach destinations will be a great addition to your vacation in the Land of Smiles.
Patong Beach, Phuket
With a wide coastline, soft white sand, warm water, and plenty of hotels, restaurants, and shopping within walking distance, it’s impossible to get bored here.
The vibrant nightlife attracts a partying crowd, and the jet skis keep the volume cranked high during the day; those looking for peace and quiet might want to head elsewhere. Patong Beach isn't an idyllic island paradise for travelers looking to recharge.
Although Patong is busy, it's also very social. If you're looking for action among Thailand's top beaches, you'll find it here.
Railay Beach, Krabi
Though it’s technically on the mainland, Railay Beach in Krabi is only accessible by boat and has an isolated island feel you won’t find at most of Thailand's popular beach destinations.
Clear blue water, small islands on the horizon, and majestic limestone cliffs surround the small beaches which are usually only crowded during Thailand's peak season.
Railay is considered a rock climber's haven in Thailand. Several climbing schools will teach you the basics of sport climbing and belaying. For climbers with a little experience, take advantage of the excellent bouldering right on the beach and an opportunity to deep-water solo — climb as high as you dare without protection then jump into the sea!
Aside from rock climbing, swimming, and snorkeling, there’s not much else to do here but admire the gorgeous scenery — so bring a book and prepare to relax!
Though Railay Beach is still much quieter and less developed than most popular Thailand beaches, there is more development here every year, and during high season it can feel crowded.
Long Beach, Koh Lanta
Long Beach on the island of Koh Lanta is exactly that — long. It's also arguably one of the best, widest beaches in Thailand. Restaurants right on the beach and views of Koh Phi Phi's unique shape on the horizon lend an even more "exotic" feel.
Unlike many of the other beaches on Koh Lanta, Long Beach is nearly void of sharp rocks and swimming hazards such as sea urchins. A sloping, soft-sand bottom provides dreamy swimming, both day and night.
Although Long Beach once mainly pulled in backpackers for beach bungalows and cheap eats, the scene is considerably more family oriented these days. Regardless, good deals on accommodation can be enjoyed, particularly on the northern side of Long Beach.
In the evenings, Long Beach offers just the right amount of social interaction. The parties (some on the beach, some at venues along the road) are easily avoidable — or easily enjoyable — depending upon your whim.
Koh Lanta is very much different than its nearby neighbor Phuket. The lack of an airport and need to take a short ferry have provided welcome resistance to development on the island. For now, you won't find golf courses (aside from the miniature variety) or chain cafes/restaurants anywhere on Koh Lanta.
Tip: Storms force Long Beach to practically shut down completely each year in May or June. Although a small handful of businesses remain open, many more are shuttered until the season reopens in November. The beach won't be clean and even takes on an apocalyptic feel with broken furniture and destroyed thatch roofs during peak of the off season.
Regarded by many as one of the nicest beaches near Bangkok, Hua Hin is immensely popular for locals and international visitors. The popularity is mostly thanks to the flat stretches of beach, plenty of things to do, and ease of travel from Bangkok.
The beach slopes almost too gently into the gulf, so although it’s not the best beach for serious swimming, it’s a great place for families with small children.
Aside from beach activities and water sports, Hua Hin has an internationally acclaimed spa and wellness scene, as well as world-class golf courses. For some time with nature, Khao Sam Roi Yot national park isn't too far away.
Hua Hin's main strip stays busy. There are ample opportunities for enjoying nightlife and dining. If all the traffic starts to ruin your vibe, consider going just a little farther south to the peaceful beach strip at Pranburi.
Kata Beach, Phuket
Just a couple of miles away from the hustle and bustle of Patong Beach and south of Karon Beach is Kata Beach — a quieter, more relaxed stretch of sand in Southern Phuket.
Kata has everything that makes Phuket so popular: palm trees, warm water, and nice scenery — but there aren't many high-rise hotels or shopping malls in sight. Gorgeous resorts line the coast.
Snorkeling can be enjoyed around the northern end of Kata Beach; gear can be rented from dive shops or purchased in local mini-marts. For a great picture or cocktail with a view, drive up to the viewpoint between Kata Beach and Nai Harn.
During low season, waves at Kata Beach can be intense making it a great place to do some surfing or boogie boarding but not ideal for travelers with young children.
Keep in mind that each fall Phuket becomes very busy for at least 10 days during the chaotic-yet-fascinating Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Hint: it isn't just about celebrating tofu!
Lamai Beach, Koh Samui
Though Koh Samui’s beaches can be packed due to it being such a short flight from Bangkok, Lamai Beach strikes the perfect balance for visitors looking for pretty scenery, good swimming, and other things to do when not in the water.
Clusters of palm trees and turquoise water make Lamai Beach the exotic paradise travelers hope to find. The southern end of the beach is the best and busiest, with the sand eventually tapering down to rocks on the northern end. Unfortunately, a few go-go "girlie" bars have set up shop along the road.
For a bizarre break from the sun, have a look inside Wat Khunaram where an esteemed monk's body is mummified and on display (per his request) inside a glass case.
Renting a motorbike is the best way to explore the big island of Koh Samui, but only do so if you're experienced at driving in Asia. The fishing village just a little south, although now catering to tourists, is an interesting diversion.
At night, the scores of bars and restaurants turn Lamai Beach into a party scene that attracts expats and travelers alike.
Sairee Beach, Koh Tao
Once almost exclusively a base for divers, visitors are slowly realizing that Koh Tao has more to offer than just a place to eat and sleep between dives.
Surprisingly, Sairee Beach on Koh Tao has become as much of a party scene as Haad Rin on Koh Phangaan — between Full Moon Parties, of course. Guidebooks that still refer to Koh Tao as an "island for divers that shuts down early" (it was until only a few years ago) are in dire need of an update. Nightly pub crawls cater to young travelers who want to meet others and make a lot of noise.
Sairee Beach is a one-mile stretch of sandy beach with a beautiful view of small islands on the horizon. Sairee is Koh Tao’s most popular beach with plenty of inexpensive accommodations and restaurants. The closest airport is on Koh Samui, so getting there involves a ferry trip and thus keeps the beach relatively uncrowded.
White Sand Beach is another example of a beautiful strip of sand once the domain of backpackers a decade ago but now growing into a resort scene. Numerous resorts and evening buffets now occupy the beach, however, the northern end of White Sand Beach still has some of the old bamboo bungalow charm.
As the name implies, the sand is soft, white, and powdery. This beautiful stretch of beach on the west side of the island is fringed with palm and coconut trees against a backdrop of gently sloping hills.
Though Koh Chang is still considered more of a budget traveler island than a luxury destination by some, there is a wide selection of accommodation available. It is also considered to be one of the nicest islands within overland striking distance (5 – 6 hours) of Bangkok.
Once a month, Sunrise Beach on the east side of the peninsula goes on an all-night bender that continues until noon the next day with plenty of drinking, dancing, and music. At other times of the month, the party atmosphere still pervades, so those looking for a quieter beach experience might want to steer clear.
During the day, the golden sand and gently sloping coast make Sunrise Beach good for sun bathing, although there are some rocks in the water to watch out for when swimming. Many visitors spend days sweating out bad decisions (often in the form of bucket drinks) made the night before.
Despite the strong party scene, the beach at Haad Rin is among the best in Thailand. Between Full Moon Party dates, it's not even all that busy. Be warned though, the beach and accommodation both fill to capacity up to a week before the big party. During high season, over 15,000 people will be coming that way to party!
Sunrise Beach is on a small peninsula jutting out from the island, so although there are places to sleep and eat, it’s still relatively undeveloped. A short walk through town to the other side provides access to sunsets on the much tamer Sunset Beach.
Even though Haad Rin seems to steer the reputation for the whole of Koh Pha Ngan, the island is big! A short boat ride away from Haad Rin is Haad Yuan, an even better, more "grown up" beach. The Sanctuary, an isolated health-wellness resort occupies a beautiful bay not far from there. Don't worry: it's way more affordable than it sounds.
Although even by Thailand's standards, the beach at Ao Nang in Krabi is narrow and overcrowded during high season, it keeps drawing the crowds because of one thing: the scenery.
The Krabi limestone formations are visible in every direction, as are small islands on the horizon. Since Ao Nang is highly developed and easily accessible from Krabi Town without the need to take a boat, it stays busy.
Some small shops line the beach road, however, there aren't any major malls or outlets in Ao Nang. Instead of shopping, Ao Nang has plenty of water sports, diving, and even a jungle zipline on offer. Rock climbing is also available, but travelers interested in serious climbing should proceed straight to Railay by longtail boat.
A host of bars, some of the go-go variety and some not, serve up Thailand's three major beer choices along with imports to satisfy expats.
Updated by Greg Rodgers