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Each time we’ve gone to Thailand’s southern region we add a few more beaches and islands to our travel repertoire. Six trips and countless boat rides later, we think it’s about time to put together a guide to island hopping in Thailand off the Andaman coastline. Here goes!
To make things a bit easier, we’ve grouped the islands into two categories:
- “Main Islands” are those that are built up, have well-established mass transportation systems (ferries, speedboats, etc), and a variety of accommodations and restaurants
- “Smaller Islands” have a more castaway feel and are better suited for daytime visits with the help of boat tours and generally don’t offer much as far as accommodations or restaurants, if anything at all
Koh Lanta Yai
From our experience, Koh Lanta Yai has a little something for everyone and it’s only a two-hour drive from the Krabi Airport (KBV). It’s possible to stay there on a budget and spend your days lounging in a hammock or swimming at the beach, but there were also some very nice resorts and plenty of outdoor excursions, too. One of our favorite things about the island is the unlimited number of places to watch the sunset. This long, narrow island runs north to south so its entire west coast is populated with bars, restaurants, resorts, and bungalows perfect for grabbing a cocktail and watching the sun go down.
Koh Phi Phi Don
Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee, not Fee Fee!) is accessible by first flying into either Krabi Airport or Phuket International Airport (HKT) followed by a short bus ride to a pier and then a transfer by either ferry or speedboat.
Parts of Koh Phi Phi Don are quite pretty and the centrally located Tonsai East Shopping Alleyway is a network of narrow streets linking together restaurants, beach shops, and hotels. There are plenty of bars serving up rum buckets and blasting dance music late into the night. It’s absolutely perfect for the professional partier!
Unfortunately, this is probably our least favorite island. The crowds were overwhelming and the central area of the island felt dingy and overrun. The food, hotel, and even massages we had were overpriced and the quality was average at best. The biggest disappointment was the beaches, particularly Loh Dalum Bay; it was muddy at low tide and littered with plastic bottles and other trash. Overrated? We think so, but we’d be willing to give it a second chance and go during low season.
Not only is Phuket Thailand’s biggest island, but because it has its own airport it is arguably the most convenient and quickest island to travel to in the Andaman Sea. We spent two weeks in Phuket and to our surprise, loved almost every bit of it. We were impressed just how big it was, the number of beaches and different towns we drove through, and the number of things to do in Phuket that catered to both travelers and expats. Since Phuket has several marinas, it’s also possible to splurge and go island hopping in Thailand’s Andaman Sea on chartered speedboats, yachts, and catamarans.
Railay is not actually an island (it’s part of the Krabi mainland), but it would be a shame not to include it among the list of islands off of Thailand’s southwestern coast. Since this area is only accessible by a network of boats from Ao Nang (there are no direct roads via the mainland), it certainly feels as if it were an island! There are several different beaches including Tonsai Beach, Railay West, Railay East, and Phra Nang Cave Beach (our favorite).
The latter three beaches are connected by a Walking Street with several tiny restaurants and shops selling beach paraphernalia. Phra Nang Cave Beach has immense limestone cliffs that hang over the water and picturesque longtail boats that line up on the shoreline selling snacks and fruit smoothies. Tonsai Beach is great for rock climbing during the day and partying at night.
|TIP: Before taking a longtail boat from the mainland (Ao Nang Beach) to any of these nearby beaches, pack a bottle of liquor in your beach bag. Buy a fruit smoothie for 50 baht and top it off instead of buying a fruity cocktail for 200 baht.|
Koh Phi Phi Leh (Maya Bay Beach)
A photo posted by Chris and Angela Scott (@tielandtothailand) on
Infamously known from the movie The Beach, this bay and beach area is spectacular but incredibly overcrowded. Ah, the paradox of tourist attractions! Arriving early (before 9am) makes a big difference. Anytime after that will result in tour boats coming in by the dozens and dumping hordes of people onto the beach.
There is also a second overlook point with a partially hidden cove that is accessible by a climbing net. This is a popular spot to snorkel with beautiful views of the nearby islands.
Poda Island was the very first Thai island we’d ever visited and it left a lasting impression on us. It’s easy to grab a longtail boat from Ao Nang and spend an afternoon there. We noticed that visitors tend to hang around the drop-off point of the island, so it’s worth it to wander further down the beach because you’ll eventually be completely by yourself.
This island is best known for its natural rock formation that looks like the head and neck of a chicken. It’s worth passing by and snapping a few pictures of the iconic rock but if you get the opportunity, take your boat around to the back of the island and walk across the exposed sandbar during low tide and connects to Tup Island.
Koh Rok Nai
Part of a pair of islands, Koh Rok Nai’s beach looks like a postcard with its nearly white sand and aquamarine waters. Surprisingly, there were not many people on the beaches when we visited during the high season, so it was wonderful to have the place nearly to ourselves. We distinctly remember the ultra-fine sand under our toes and saw several huge Monitor Lizards and many teeny tiny hermit crabs. We visited Koh Rok Nai during a daytime snorkeling trip (which was fantastic!) but it’s possible to camp overnight there, too.
A photo posted by Chris and Angela Scott (@tielandtothailand) on
This island had some very unique coves that are only accessible through narrow passages between towering limestone cliffs. This creates a very hidden, secluded feel. Once inside, there are opportunities to swim and snorkel in the shallow bays as well as to rent kayaks and take a lap around the island in the open waters.
Koh Mook (Emerald Cave)
The Emerald Cave has emerald green waters at its rocky entrance at Koh Mook. After taking a short swim into the pitch black cave (we saw others go through in small rafts, too), it opens up to a secluded beach completely surrounded by cliffs shooting straight towards the sky with sunshine streaming down. The beach and small lagoon are actually inside the island! This is accessible from Koh Lanta Yai, Koh Phi Phi Don, and Phuket.
The wow factor of this island is the walkable sandbars that become exposed during low tide. These sand strips connect Koh Tup with a small island called Koh Mor as well as a larger island called Chicken Island and create a natural separation in the sea. A word of caution: wear water shoes because the sandbar is full of tiny sharp shells that make it uncomfortable to walk barefoot!
Koh Khao Phing Kan (James Bond Island)
Khao Phing Kan Island has a major tourist attraction just off its coast: the James Bond Island. This rock formation’s base is delicately narrow and gets progressively wider at the top. It is most impressive at low tide because it’s even skinnier than what this picture shows! We weren’t allowed to approach the island, but visitors can snap shots from either the mainland or from their boat.
The Best Way to Go Island Hopping in Thailand
To get to the island of your choice (by flight, van, and even speedboat), we’ve booked our tickets online through 12go.asia.
Once you’re there, many of these islands can be explored by booking a day trip with local boat companies such as Ao Nang Travel and Tour and Opal Speed Boat, both of which offer island hopping packages via speedboat. Tours such as these provide hotel pickups, boat transfers, equipment (if applicable) and lunch for the day. Alternatively, you can visit individual islands for the day for cheap by hiring a longtail boat that slowly shuttles visitors back and forth on request.
If you really want to do some extreme island hopping in Thailand (in addition to partaking in some incredible parties with 20- and 30-something vacationers), it’s totally worth checking out The Yacht Week Thailand. This event takes place in December every year with a group of privately chartered yachts and catamarans. The beauty of The Yacht Week Thailand is that although there is a rough schedule of recommended day and night stops at various islands, there’s the opportunity to deviate during the day and visit the smaller islands and attractions such as Emerald Cave, Maya Bay Beach, Hong Island, and James Bond Island.
We’ll continue to add to this list as we visit more islands in the Andaman Sea, but for now, this is a good start dontcha think?
Are there any must-visit islands we need to add to this list? Tell us your favorites!
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