Blessed with hundreds of idyllic islands scattered along its Andaman and Gulf of Thailand coastlines, Thailand is one of the world’s most enchanting island hopping destinations. There are outstanding diving and snorkeling sites in the surrounding coral reefs, Hollywood-worthy beaches nestled within towering karst limestone settings and remote stretches of sand where you can escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Whether you want to party into the early morning hours or just watch the sun sink below the horizon with your feet in the sand, island hopping in Thailand is an adventure worth adding to your bucket list.
Ko Phi Phi
With its soaring karst limestone islands rising spectacularly from the Andaman Sea and picture-perfect stretches of sand, the small archipelago of Ko Phi Phi lies in Southern Thailand’s Krabi Province. It was made famous as the filming location of the 2000 movie “The Beach”, with island hopping tours visiting the breathtakingly beautiful Maya Bay, as well as Shark Point, Bamboo and Mosquito Islands. Or jump aboard a ferry leaving from Phuket, Krabi or Ko Lanta to spend a night or two on Ko Phi Phi Don, the largest and only permanently inhabited island in the group which has a good selection of hotels and restaurants.
Nestled in the Gulf of Thailand near the border with Cambodia, Ko Chang is an archipelago of more than 50 islands which are protected within a vast marine park. Its largest island, Ko Chang, features a lush, mountainous interior with a number of waterfalls to discover, while the crystal clear waters and surrounding reefs are teeming with marine life. You can while away a few days on the idyllic beaches of Hat Sai Khao or Hat Kai Bae and explore Ko Chang’s picture-perfect coastline by kayak. Ko Chang is also one of the closest islands to access from Bangkok, with buses departing Khao San Road for the ferry terminal at Trat.
Situated within the Adang-Rawi archipelago in Southern Thailand’s Andaman Sea, Ko Lipe is an enchanting little island which has escaped the mass development of some of its neighbors. Originally inhabited by sea gypsies, it now features a scattering of beach bungalows where you can soak up the tranquility and idyllic stretches of sand. It’s best accessed by boat from Pak Bara (near Hat Yai airport) and is the launching point for island hopping trips into the Tarutao National Marine Park.
Home to some of Thailand’s most untouched landscapes, Ko Tarutao includes more than 50 jungle-draped islands in the Andaman Sea. It’s protected as the Tarutao National Marine Park, with outstanding diving and snorkeling in its healthy coral reefs, as well as crystal clear waters to swim in. You can take a long-tail boat tour from nearby Ko Lipe to explore its remote islands and bunk down at simple bungalows or campsites run by the park authorities.
Surrounded by idyllic beaches lined with upmarket resorts and international restaurants, Ko Samui has emerged as one of the Gulf of Thailand’s most popular getaways. Lazing on the sands and water sports are just part of the attraction, with little-known Buddhist temples and Chinese merchant villages to discover for those who venture off the beaten track. Aside from its boutique shopping and luxury villas, there’s also a good choice of budget bungalows, with direct flights from Bangkok and other Southeast Asian cities making for easy access.
Located just off the coast of Thailand in Krabi province, Ko Lanta is a small group of islands surrounded by white sandy beaches and warm waters teeming with marine life. Spend your days snorkeling and diving to get up close with manta rays and even whales, or head inland through its remnant rainforests to discover a vibrant tropical plant life. You can select from rustic bungalows or boutique resorts on the main island of Ko Lanta which is easily accessed by ferry from the piers in Krabi Town or Ao Nang.
A firm favorite with scuba divers (and one of the most affordable places in the world to get certified), Ko Tao lies in the Gulf of Thailand, just a short boat ride from Ko Samui or Surat Thani. There are more than 30 different dive sites to discover which are frequented by a myriad of tropical fish, as well as rays and sharks, while its interior jungle trails will satisfy keen hikers. There’s a great choice of accommodation and an inspiring nightlife scene, with plenty of beach bars to relax in after an adventurous day underwater.
An easy getaway from Bangkok, Ko Samet lies in the Gulf of Thailand around 220 kilometers southeast from the capital. There are a range of beach resorts to select, from the laid-back, peaceful settings of Ao Noina and Ao Wai to the busier beaches of Hat Sai Kaeo and Ao Hin Khok where there are plenty of water sports on offer. There are buses from Bangkok direct to the Ban Pae pier from where you can catch a ferry across to Ko Samet.
Located part way between Ko Samui and Ko Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Phangan has made its mark as the backpacking capital of Southern Thailand. While it’s home to a number of spas and meditation retreats, as well as Buddhist temples to explore, it’s the world-famous Full Moon Parties of Ko Phangan which attract the majority of visitors. Its picturesque beaches are easily accessed by ferry from Surat Thani and can be combined with a visit to Ko Samui or Ko Tao.
Thailand’s most popular tourist island is undoubtedly Phuket which lies in the province of the same name in the country’s south. Phuket Town boasts great restaurants, outstanding shopping and plenty of accommodation to choose from, or you can head to one of the laid-back beach resorts at Kata or Karon. Phuket has its own international airport for easy access and is the launching point for island hopping trips throughout the Andaman Sea.
When to go island hopping in Thailand
When planning your Thailand island hopping adventure, keep in mind that the southern coastlines experience two different weather systems. The Andaman coastline is at its sunniest and driest between November and April, while the Gulf of Thailand is at its best between March and September. Avoid visiting in October when rains are experienced across the region.