Over the last few years, Thailand has become an incredibly popular destination to visit as the number of tourists visiting increases by about 10% every year. There is a good reason for this. Anyone who has been to Thailand has surely shared stories of the beautiful Thailand islands. If you’ve ever spoken to someone who has traveled to Thailand, we bet that (s)he has shared stories about magnificent elephants, bright blue water, the most deliciously spicy food, and people with hearts as warm as the humid air that fills the country. Thailand’s government has also done a fantastic job with improvements in infrastructure and investment in the public welfare.
Thailand is a spiritual experience and a good portion of that experience can be attributed to the beautiful islands and the gorgeous beaches that line their shores. If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, make sure you have an adequate amount of time to visit the islands as well as the mainland. They are equally incredible experiences that are both imperative to gain a full understanding of the beauty of Thailand.
Read our Thailand Travel Guide for tips on Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and more.
Can we just call them Thailands? Thai…Islands….Thailands…..
Ok, joking aside. Thailand has islands on either side of its southern isthmus (where you’ll find Phuket, Krabi, and more). The islands are separated by the isthmus (and Malaysia and Singapore to the south) and are spread throughout the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Many of the most popular islands are located in the Andaman Sea and the Phang Nga Bay, making them easily accessible by ferry. Travelers are able to take cheap ferries between the islands and visit a number of islands in a short period of time. Other islands (those in the Gulf of Thailand), require a brief flight. We visited islands in both bodies of water and want to share our favorites (those that we think are the best Thailand Islands).
After bathing elephants at a nature reserve in Chiang Mai (below), one of the best parts of our trip to Thailand was the time we spent on Koh Samui at Four Seasons Koh Samui. This property is one of the most gorgeous hotels we have ever visited. As always, Four Seasons creates an oasis on an island that is already a utopian paradise.
We had planned to do much more in Koh Samui (kayak, SUP, and snorkel) but our plans were impeded by a tropical storm. We spent a good bit of our time hiding from the rain and enjoying our villa. But hey, these villas are so nice that the team at FS not only offers in-room dining, they also offer an in-villa BBQ. We were still able to enjoy the yoga shala, every restaurant on the property, and the most beautiful fitness center at which we have ever had the chance to exercise. The gym offers a panoramic view of the mountainside and the gorgeous white sand and blue water of the beaches below.
We all love to joke about this one and pretend it is pronounce “fuck it,” but it is actually pronounce “poo-ket.” Either way, still a fun name. Phuket is not exactly an island, but rather a province made up of mainland cities as well as beautiful offshore islands. If you want to follow a similar route that we took during our trip to Thailand, you can start in Phuket, take the ferry to the islands in the Andaman Sea (Phi Phi and others), take the ferry to the mainland in Krabi (Ao Nang), and then fly to Koh Samui.
Similar to Phuket, Krabi is a province in Thailand that travelers around the world know for its massive cliffs and gorgeous offshore islands. The province of Krabi is made up of many islands, each of which is worth visiting. Below you’ll find both mainland beaches in Krabi and Islands that sit in the Andaman Sea. There are a plethora of beaches worth visiting both on the mainland and throughout the archipelago of Krabi.
Railay Beach is a gorgeous beach located on the mainland of Krabi. The beautiful blue water in the cove is enveloped by tropical topography and the aforementioned massive cliffs of Krabi. From Ao Nang, you can hire a boat or hop on a group boat and sail over to Railay Beach for the day.
Another island with a fun name when you pronounce it right. This island is pronounced “pee-pee” and is a must-visit for anyone visiting Thailand. We have read mixed reviews on Phi Phi because of loads of tourists simply looking to party, the increasing abundance of trash in particular beach areas, and the overdevelopment following the tsunami relief efforts of 2004. However, we found Koh Phi Phi to be a wonderful stop on our trip.
We found both delicious Thai food and delicious tourist food (when we wanted something like an American breakfast or a pizza). There is a great fitness center with an ocean view at the Phi Phi Banyan Villa where you’re able to pay a day rate to exercise. The hike up to the lookout is sweaty, but worth it for the panoramic view. All in all, there is plenty to do on Phi Phi. The island is famous for snorkeling and scuba diving and many tourists also choose to stumble into 1 of what seems like 5,040,581 tattoo parlors to take home a permanent souvenir.
The Phi Phi islands are broken into a series of islands. Don is bigger and Lee is smaller. Phi Phi is part of the province of Krabi.
Koh Phi Phi Lee is the home of Maya Beach. The name might not be immediately familiar, but most of you have probably heard of it. The Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach was set on Phi Phi Lee and a good bit of the movie is set on Maya Beach inside of Maya Bay.
Phi Phi Lee is part of the greater collection of Phi Phi Islands and the province of Krabi. When we visited, we hired a private boat on Phi Phi Don and explored the entire island of Phi Phi Lee. Unfortunately, Maya Beach is temporarily closed to tourists. Honestly, there was a lot of trash and far too many tourists when we visited, so it makes sense that the government is giving the island some time to breathe and freshen up.
We always love to avoid crowds by waking up at sunrise and starting our day early. We were the first boat to arrive on Maya Beach, and as such had some time to enjoy the beach before the hoards of tourists arrived. After the crowds started to show up, we boated around the island to snorkel and enjoy the gorgeous water that encompasses the island.
Koh Lanta is also part of the province of Krabi. The island is gorgeous and is known for its network of caves, beautiful limestone rocks, epic waterfalls, and coral reefs that provide world-class scuba diving. The island is littered with mangroves and rainforests, making it one of the most beautiful and unique islands in Krabi. Koh Lanta is technically an “island district” with a series of islands off the coast of Krabi.
Koh Tao is yet another Thailand island that is great for scuba diving and snorkeling. The crystal clear water is filled with vibrant sea life where travelers can swim with fish and sharks alike. The island is quaint, with a jungle topography and romantic beach bungalows.
Many know the island of Koh Phangan for the infamous full moon and half moon parties. The island isn’t very clean and doesn’t have a ton to offer, but if you’re looking for a great party, you might make it part of your trip.