Thailand’s Best Tropical Islands to Visit

Thailand’s Best Tropical Islands to Visit

Thailand is famous for its tropical islands. The beaches, the parties, the bungalow retreats, the exotic dives –that’s just the beginning of things you can find in these islands.

Thailand counts with three main sets of islands: The Andaman Sea islands group, the southern Gulf of Thailand islands group, and the east of Bangkok islands group.

Believe it or not, Thailand counts with 1430 islands, more islands than what you can visit on a regular trip.  That means, that in order to visit the best ones, you have to be selective.  So, which ones should you visit?

It is hard to decide what are the best islands you should visit. They are very diverse in shape, nature, development, activities, and vacationing style.

But, here are the best islands to visit within each geographical group – with a short description of activities and vacationing style.

Koh Rok, Thailand

Andaman Sea

Koh Phi Phi – Made famous by the movie “The Beach”, this island offers great diving and snorkeling spots. Although devastated by the 2004 Tsunami, it has slowly redeveloped itself to become a thriving destination. Guesthouses and hotels are more expensive than on other islands with the same features. Maya Beach is a must but is very touristy.

Phuket – This is Thailand’s most developed island and is the only one with an international airport, making it really convenient to visit. You will find some great resorts and a great variety of things to do. On the other hand, it is overpriced and heavily touristed.

Koh Lipe – This popular small island has a great mix of beach activities, like snorkeling, and party scenes. There is a good variety of budget accommodations.

Thailand Island

Koh Muk – Rent a motorcycle and travel around this small island to see its natural features and beautiful sunsets.  Visit the heavily touristed Emerald Cave, which leads you into an amazing hidden beach.  There are a couple of mid-range resorts and cabins. This island is a good base for day-trips to other surrounding islands.

Koh Rok – A twin island natural reserve that is great for camping.  Spend your day snorkeling or just laying on the beach.  A great “out of the grid” experiences.

Koh Phayam – Considered and “off the beaten path” island.  Accommodations range in the budget and mid-priced range.  Beaches are still pristine and almost deserted.

Koh Samet

East of Bangkok

Koh Samet – This island has a full range of accommodations, from budget to high end.  Although it is overdeveloped, you can still find some great scenic beaches and landscapes.

Koh Kood – A popular destination for the “typical” tourist.   It is focused more on the “tour package type” tourist than the independent backpackers.  Accommodations are in the mid-range.

Koh Chang – It is considered Thailand’s “next big thing”. You will find dozens of beaches, bays, and amazing landscapes like jungles and waterfalls.  It is still budget friendly on accommodations and shopping expenses.

Koh Phangan, Thailand

The Gulf of Thailand

Koh Samui – Like in Phuket, you will find everything here, from backpacker hostels to six stars resorts. Being Thailand’s second most developed island, it is heavily touristed and overpriced. But still, there are great deserted beaches to have a fun time and relax.

Koh Tao – One of the best islands to dive. Diving in Koh Tao is a must for any scuba enthusiast – plus, the price is decent.  There is a great variety of accommodations, beaches, and party scenes. And, Koh Nang Yuan is just next to it, and it is gorgeous!

Koh Phangan – Extremely popular island among backpackers thanks to its wild parties.  The Full Moon Party is a beach party you must experience.  It is cheap, but it still offers a lot of the commodities found in more expensive islands.  Koh Phangan is well known for having great beaches.  Some of them are somewhat developed while others are more pristine and deserted.

As you can see, one of the common features of most islands is the quality of their beaches. Without any doubt, Thailand offers a great variety of beach experiences that can be combined with other activities according to your ideal itinerary, budget, “scene”, and island of preference.

What are your favorite islands? Or, which one would you love to visit?

Original images by Greg Knapp, apdurruti, MaciekCz, Kris_B, and Christian Haugen respectively, from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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32 thoughts on “Thailand’s Best Tropical Islands to Visit”

  1. Great post Norbert. Choosing the right itenerary can really make or break a visit. We planned to spend two nights in Phuket when we visited Thailand. We actually tried to find a flight out after just a few hours of arriving in Patong Beach.

    Of course there are some stunning resorts, but we left wishing we had chosen a more low-key, less-overrun island. Live and learn!

    1. Thanks! Yes, Phuket is overrun and somewhat chaotic… full of tourist, resorts, and there are so many things happening at the same time. Still, it is a nice place if you’re a “party animal” and love to be surrounded by all that crazyness. Sadly Koh Phi Phi is moving on that “over touristed” direction (after “The Beach” movie put it on the map). But hey, everyone wants to see “The Beach”… lol

      Out of the islands I visited, I found Koh Muk and Koh Rok to be really low key. Koh Rok is a natural reserve, so we camped there. It felt really nice getting out of the grid and enjoy the unspoiled island for a couple days.

  2. What a great overview. I’ve always discounted islands in Thailand because I only hear about the crowded ones but I love that you’ve included some of the lesser known ones.

    1. Yeah… that amount is crazy! But, I would say that they are counting there all the uninhabited islands and the various rock formations that are commonly seen in the middle of the sea. I have tried some of them, not all… there are so many! lol. I have tried most on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, but none on the East of Bangkok. I think my favorite one so far is between Koh Muk and Koh Rok. They are both really laid back, budget friendly, nature oriented, and not overrun by tourists. Well, Koh Muk is more popular than Koh Rok, but both are great!. 🙂

  3. hahah that is very close. I can then check out two place at the same time. Some odd reason, it reminded me of Disneyland park and Disney adventure park…park hoping (next to eachother).. heehhe

  4. Great round-up Norbert. I’ve been in Thailand now for over 1 year, but haven’t been able to explore too many islands. Hopefully soon, I’ll have some time to get around and take some of these suggestions. Thanks!

    1. Thanks! Wow, a year in Thailand… how I wish I could do that. 🙂
      Take some time to do some island hopping. Most of the islands have such impressive sceneries and landscapes, and they feel like a totally different Thailand (compared to the mainland). Some of my fav’s are on the Andaman Sea.

  5. Koh Lipe! Way down near Malaysia. It’s quite a trek to get to. Development was only just starting when we were there in 06 so it could be very different. We went to Koh Chang in 02 and I wish I spent more time there. It was very underdeveloped when we were there. I think we were the only non Thais there. We went with a group of our Thai teaching friends.
    This is a great round up of islands Norbert. Once again I find myself pining for Thailand.

    1. Wow, I bet your experience must have felt totally “out of the grid”. Ah, yes, working on this list brought so many good memories of my trip to Thailand… sigh… how much I wish to be back there!

  6. My favorite island is Koh Samet. Not many foreign tourists and not crowded during the week. Weekends can get crowded with local Bangkokians but – mai pen rai.

  7. BackpackerThailand

    Maybe a good suggestion. This year I’ve been to the island of Koh Lipe in Thailand. This island is located 70km off the Andaman (west) coast of Thailand’s most southwestern province, Satun Province and shines out among some of Thailand’s most beautiful, and unforgettable environments.

    I had a great time on Lipe and there was a lot to do like snorkeling, shopping and eating in good quality restaurants and bars. I found my resort on Koh Lipe on http://www.welovekohlipe.com, where you can also check out more information about Koh Lipe and the surrounding areas. I can really recommend Koh Lipe for a nice relaxing holiday in paradise!

  8. Great post! It’s not easy to find good, concise info on the Thai islands, and it’s amazing how stressful it can become to just pick one or two when you have a limited time frame. Thanks for the suggestions!

    1. Thank you so much Sara! Glad to have you around. Yes, there are so many islands in Thailand that picking just a few can easily become a hard task. But, what’s pretty certain is that most of them are amazing, so it’s almost hard to go wrong with them. 🙂

  9. I thought that Thailand has over 1500 individual islands after a recount that was officially recorded around 1995 or so? I’m hoping I’m not wrong b/c that would be embarrassing… Had you heard anything like that during your visit?

  10. Thank you for a beautiful post! It reminded me of my trip to Phuket, Thailand last year. Apart from swimming in beautiful Andaman sea, I was really looking for a culture immersion. So I booked a trip to Phuket FantaSea Thai Cultural Theme Park. I know I probably wanted to stay on a safe side choosing this to a jungle trip, but ultimately I really enjoyed it. It was like my introduction to Thai culture in a very entertaining and positive way. The show was impressive and the elephants in the show – majestic and just adorable. The place is definitely a must see when you’re in Phuket!

  11. Good experience after reading your outstanding blog! Thailand is my favorite and you know it is not possible to explore everything within a week! I really want to go back there!

  12. Thanks for posting this article as I am going to Thailand in January! I know it will be the busiest month since it’s peak season however, I do not plan on booking any accommodations. Do you think I will be able to find somewhere to stay at a reasonable rate?

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