Destinations Explore Thailand

A Guide to Thailand’s Best Islands

A guide to Thailand's best islands. Phi Phi Don.

So many islands, so little time – we’re here to help you plan your adventure to Thailand’s best islands. 

Thailand’s best islands are a treasure trove of white-sand beaches, limestone cliffs and wildlife-filled turquoise waters. It’s your tropical paradise dreams come to life.

With over 1,000 islands to choose from, it can be a mammoth task to narrow down which island to visit. Will it be Koh Phi Phi Don and its heavenly beaches? Koh Samui with its buzzing foodie scene? Or are you seeking stellar scuba-diving sites at Koh Tao? Read on for our pick of Thailand’s best islands.

Phuket

Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, is a popular and easily accessible go-to for first-time Thailand visitors and devoted returnees. The island is encircled by dazzling beaches: popular Patong Beach, family-friendly Karon Beach and secluded Laem Sing Beach (accessible via a short boat trip from Surin Beach) are all worth a visit. 

Kayaking in Phang Nga Bay. Image courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand.

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Phuket is the gateway to Phang Nga Bay, so you’re perfectly placed to explore the limestone cliffs, mangrove forests and secluded islands – including the famous James Bond Island. If days are meant for beaches and islands, evenings are reserved for night markets. After sundown, the air becomes thick with the aroma of sizzling barbecue and the chatter of hawkers and locals. Check out Patong’s night market or Phuket Walking Street while you’re here.  

There’s no shortage of luxurious resorts on Phuket, making it a memorable family holiday or romantic honeymoon destination. Discover your island bliss at gems including The Chava Resort PhuketThe Nai Harn and Cape Panwa Hotel

How to get here: You can fly directly to Phuket, with international flights arriving into Phuket International Airport (HKT).  

Koh Phi Phi Don 

The Phi Phi islands are a gold mine of powder-white beaches, flourishing jungle and aquamarine waters. The largest of these islands, Koh Phi Phi Don, is the perfect hideaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of the best things to do is spend sun-soaked days basking on postcard-perfect beaches. On the north-eastern corner of the island, roll out a towel on Ao Lo Bakao, a beach flanked by palm trees and dramatic green hills. On the west coast, make footprints on Phi Phi Don’s softest, whitest sand at Long Beach. Get here on foot via a short jungle trail from the centre of town.

Vista from Phi Phi Viewpoint. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Planning a visit to Koh Phi Phi Don? Check out this award-winning escape

When you feel like stretching your legs, brave the strenuous climb to Phi Phi Viewpoint. Armed with a bottle of water, follow the narrow, twisting path from Ton Sai Village through jungle, to the highest point on the island (the walk takes 20-30 minutes). Your efforts are rewarded with a spectacular panorama across Loh Dalum Bay.

How to get here: Koh Phi Phi Don is easily accessible via a two-hour ferry from Phuket or 90-minute ferry from Krabi. 

Koh Samui

You can’t look past Koh Samui when it comes to discovering Thailand’s best islands. This island gem is a popular tourist destination – and for good reason. Koh Samui’s laidback vibe makes it a great spot to take the family. Spend a day at tranquil Maenam Beach on the island’s north coast, where calm waters are perfect for swimming. The beach is fringed by palm trees and just beyond, you’ll find Fisherman’s Village, a pedestrian street lined with cafés and shops.

Image courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand.

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Pack your swimmers and head southeast for Na Muang Waterfalls. Surrounded by lush forest, these sister waterfalls cascade into a large waterhole – perfect for an afternoon dip. Meanwhile, at Ang Thong National Marine Park – an archipelago of 42 islands east of Koh Samui – spend a day kayaking, hiking and snorkelling.  

Foodies will rejoice at the abundance of mouthwatering dining options on Koh Samui. Fill your belly with traditional Thai dishes cooked to perfection: think massaman curry, papaya salad and mango sticky rice. You can also feast on freshly caught rock lobster at a seaside restaurant, pop into one of the many kôw gang (rice and curry) shops or order a straight-from-the-pan pad thai at a local market.

How to get here: Fly from Bangkok or Phuket to Koh Samui Airport (USM).  

Koh Lanta

Off the coast of Krabi, discover another of Thailand’s best islands, the pristine natural wonderland of Koh Lanta. This is where you come to relax and recharge your social battery. The island is ultra-laidback, with very little traffic, long secluded beaches and jaw-dropping sunset views. The best way to explore the island is by hiring a moped and zipping along near-empty roads, bouncing between beaches, exploring Koh Lanta National Park and visiting Koh Lanta Old Town.

Koh Lanta Old Town. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

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Head out on the water for the day to island hop the tiny Trang archipelago, a nearby cluster of limestone islands. Here you can swim through the enchanting Emerald Cave and discover a secret beach. If you’re looking for some of the best snorkel spots in the area, head to Koh Rok. Submerge yourself in bright turquoise water and keep on the lookout for vibrant parrotfish, titan triggerfish and clownfish.

Koh Lanta boasts a number of luxury resorts, including the five-star Pimalai Resort & Spa, voted into the #5 spot in Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice 2021 Best of the Best Top 25 Hotels – Thailand.

How to get here: The best way to get to Koh Lanta is by flying into Krabi Town airport (KBV) and catching a boat from Chao Fa Pier (these run twice daily). Or fly into Phuket International Airport (HKT) and catch a boat from Ban Saladan Pier (these run daily). 

Koh Phangan

Party-goers and full moon revellers might be familiar with one of Thailand’s best islands, Koh Phangan. This island paradise is home to a boisterous monthly Full Moon Party, a night-long celebration tied to the lunar calendar. But there’s so much more to this dreamy island than a night of merriment. Outside of party season, hire a scooter and uncover a haven of secluded coves, untouched wilderness, waterfalls and sacred temples. Koh Phangan is quieter than many other islands, making it a relaxing escape from the crowds.

Nam Tok Phaeng waterfall. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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If you’re seeking sun-soaked shores, look no further than Hat Khuat. This hidden cove is cradled by lush green hills and a crescent of sugar-fine sand, accessible via a water taxi from Hat Khom. Take your snorkel and towel and spend the day here. If you’re a keen hiker, follow a 2.5-hour trail through jungle to majestic Nam Tok Phaeng waterfall and Domsila Viewpoint.

How to get here: Koh Phangan is easily accessed from Koh Samui via a 30-minute speedboat ride.  

Koh Tao

Wildlife lovers and keen scuba divers seeking their next best dive spot can find paradise at Koh Tao. Tiny ‘Turtle Island’ is 45 -kilometres north of Koh Phangan and home to significant breeding grounds for hawksbill and green turtles. Don your snorkels or gear up for an epic scuba diving expedition. Get up close and personal with one of these gentle, beady-eyed creatures, while also glimpsing rainbow coral, gliding manta rays and even a spotted whale shark.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Planning a visit to Koh Tao? Check out this blissful escape

If you prefer to stay dry, there’s an abundance of land activities to fill your days. Head out on a hike to Mango Viewpoint, a one-hour trek from Sairee Village. Here, you’ll find incredible panoramic views of the verdant hillside and the sapphire-hued ocean. Awaiting at the summit is a small restaurant and juice bar; pull up a large cushion and sit for a while, drinking in the views. In the evenings, get a taste for the island’s vibrant nightlife thanks to an abundance of breezy beach bars, neon-lit cocktail bars and cabaret shows.

How to get here: The best way to get to Koh Tao is by flying to Koh Samui Airport (USM) and catching a three-hour ferry to the island.  

Read more: Khao Lak: Seven Things to do in this Hidden Resort Destination in Thailand