Discover the right island for you with this comprehensive guide to the best islands in beautiful Thailand.
While there’s no denying the attractions of bustling Bangkok or charming Chiang Mai, you need to head out into the blue yonder of some of Thailand’s most beautiful islands for your once-in-a-lifetime Thailand honeymoon or romantic getaway.
In our opinion, the perfect itinerary will have you spending time at one of the famous islands and then exploring a few of the lesser-known islands, many still untouched by the masses.
So, follow us here as we plot a course that takes in some relatively ‘hidden’ islands off the country’s breathtaking Andaman coast before stopping by some of Thailand’s more renowned islands. While they all boast beautiful beaches, you’ll discover each has its own distinctive character and charms.
Related article: Thailand insider guide: Phuket’s top beaches
Our holiday actually starts in Malaysia. The first Thai island we’re visiting, Koh Lipe, is a 90-minute speedboat ride from Langkawi. After a scenic journey through entrancing emerald green waters, we dock at Hat Pattaya, one of three seductive beaches on Lipe, an L-shaped island that has recently seen a spike in development, especially in high-end accommodation, but still retains its relaxed feel.
We’re drawn, time and again, to Hat Chao Ley (Sunrise Beach), a delightful 2km strip of powder-white sand. It’s fringed by longtail boats, certified diving resorts and family-run eateries that ply us with papaya juices and mouth-watering meals (think grilled squid with coconut sauce, white snapper with lime and chilli, and green curry with sticky rice).
We’re immediately transfixed by the primeval forested peaks of Koh Mook (also known as Muk), a sleepy gem in the Trang Archipelago and a two-hour boat trip north of Lipe. We enjoy bike rides across an island studded with coconut trees, rubber plantations and rustic hamlets where cheerful locals wave and smile as you pass (and tempt you to pit stop in their humble restaurants for the likes of pad Thai and spicy squid salad).
The calm waters that surround Koh Mook are ideal for kayaking and we paddle over to Tham Morakot (Emerald Cave), a secluded tunnel that leads to a lagoon where you can take a dip. Pirates apparently used to hoard their booty here, but these days, in high season (November-April) at least, the cave is a popular stop for boat tours from Phuket. We kayak back to Hat Farang (Charlie Beach) and, when the sky starts to pinken, scale the beach’s rickety clifftop bar for iced Chang beers and a gorgeous sunset.
Buzzing by speedboat to Koh Ngai (also called Ko Hai) we pass the iconic karst (limestone) formations that soar from the water – what a spectacular introduction to this popular island. With its crystal clear waters, Ngai is a great place to snorkel and hike.
We tread an undulating trail to Paradise Beach, where we fossick for shells and sip from coconuts. Later, after snuggling up in a tree swing, we enjoy happy hour cocktails and a beachside candlelit dinner at Koh Ngai Seafood Restaurant. We share two large crabs, one in a sweet and sour sauce, the other in a coconut milk and pineapple curry. Both are absolutely delicious.
Taking a mix of boats and buses, the journey to our final island, Koh Phayam, eats up the best part of a day (we almost feel like backpackers again). Thankfully, it’s worth it. Close to the Thai-Myanmar border, kangaroo-shaped Phayam is a rustic beauty.
We hire a scooter and bump along the island’s narrow lanes and dirt tracks, pausing at dreamy, hammock-festooned beaches, keeping an eye out for wildlife (wild pigs, snakes and hornbills call Phayam home) and savouring some of the best food of our trip. Over our last meal – stuffed squid, curried prawns and barracuda in tamarind sauce at a friendly little joint called Kruq Khun Kao – we raise a toast to the last, fabulous fortnight. Our appetite and affection for Thai island-hopping has been well and truly rekindled.
Go-to kohs: Koh Phi-Phi
Fancy seeing where The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed? Hire a longtail boat and head to a pretty bay off Phi-Phi’s main island. Go early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds.
Go-to kohs: Phuket
Thailand’s largest island – and gateway to the country’s south – was once pockmarked by tin mines, giving it a desolate moonscape appearance. Thankfully, tourism has long since supplanted tin, and it has become one of the world’s most famous tropical destinations. Most come for the sun and sand, with more than 30 beaches to choose from dotted along the shore. The most famous of these, with enticing names including Karon, Kata and Kamala, are down the west coast, where you’ll also find the party town of Patong. Offshore there are many more islands to be discovered, meaning Phuket has a beach to suit everyone. Be sure to take time out from the spectacular beaches and soak up the charms of Phuket Town, where arty cafés, galleries and restaurants are nestled inside beautifully preserved old shop-houses.
Go-to kohs: Koh Samui
Looking to recharge the batteries? Alluring yoga, meditation and detox retreats dot ‘Coconut Island’, as Samui is fondly known. But honeymooners will also discover some of the most incredibly romantic, and luxurious (or affordable, if that is more your style) resorts in Asia on here. Approaching the small, jewel-shaped isle of Samui, lush green mountains loom up out of the mist, as you fly close over colourful fishing boats bobbing in the emerald sea and the small wooden homes that line the sandy shore. It’s no wonder it’s been nicknamed ‘fantasy island’ by those lucky enough to visit. Most arrive via Bangkok – it’s just a one-hour flight direct south from the busy capital, a pleasant jaunt over the Gulf of Thailand – before disembarking at one of the world’s prettiest airports, an assemblage of open-air tropical themed halls, navigated by trolley car, which sets the tone for the rest of the stay. Be sure to visit the weekly Sunday walking street market in the Bophut Fisherman’s Village. Not only is it a great place to pick up unique souvenirs but – when you need a break – it is perfect to sit back and people watch. Not far from here you’ll also find the famous Big Buddha, and amazing coastal views.
Go-to kohs: Koh Phangan
Famed for its raucous monthly Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan is still largely unspoilt island is blessed with secluded coves, photogenic temples, hiking trails, waterfalls and plenty of monkeys. It’s an easy ferry-ride from Samui and well worth putting on your Thailand island honeymoon or holiday itinerary.
Thinking of escaping to Thailand? Find the best romantic accommodation here
Original story published in the print magazine written by Simon Ostheimer. The introduction has since been edited for this web edition.