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Guide to the Thailand Islands

Ko Lanta
Ko Lanta

Thailand is a very popular destination for budget travelers and most inevitably end up in the beautiful islands either in the Gulf of Thailand or in the Andaman Sea on the west coast.

Ko Phi Phi Island
Ko Phi Phi IslandGreg Rodgers

The islands around Thailand are some of the most beautiful in the world and offer cheap diving, adventure, or just an amazing place to relax or party before exploring the rest of Southeast Asia.

The choices can be overwhelming when deciding which islands to visit, here is a brief overview of each to help with your trip planning:

In the Gulf of Thailand (south of Bangkok)

  • Ko Chang - this island is popular because of its close proximity to Bangkok and many people come here to burn up their last days in Thailand before flying out.  There are many budget accommodation options as well as nicer resorts and restaurants.
  • Ko Samet - even closer to Bangkok, this island is popular with Thais coming to party for the weekend and for more mid-ranged budget travelers.
  • Ko Samui - this large island is popular with Europeans on holiday and is definitely higher budget than the surrounding islands.
  • Ko Phangan - without dispute, this is the place to go in Southeast Asia to party and meet other backpackers.  Haad Rin in the south draws as many as 15,000 people to dance and party on the beach during the famous Full Moon Party.  There are many quiet and untouched places in the north as most tourists flock to the south.
  • Ko Tao - this is the diving mecca of Southeast Asia and offers a cheap and excellent place to get scuba certified.  Dive shops are regulated and offer good equipment, but many agree that the water around the island has been over-dived.  Once quiet, some of the party has spilled over from Ko Phangan.

On the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea:

  • Ko Lanta - this large, mostly quiet island is a great place to relax, dive, and explore.  You will find some rock climbing and beautiful beaches with an occasional party at night.
  • Ko Phi Phi - this small island is one of the most popular islands in Thailand for both budget travelers and higher-budgeted tourists.  The setting is idyllic and there is great diving to be found around the island as well as large parties at night.  Expect places to be full in high season.
  • Phuket - certainly more touristy and high budget, this popular island attracts people on short holidays and the prices reflex that.
  • Ko Lipe - this tiny island is quiet and isolated, popular mostly with couples or travelers wanting to escape the masses.  Some places only have electricity at night and things get quiet early.

Krabi is sometimes mistakenly included as part of the islands, but is actually on the coast.  Surrounded by mountains, the only way to visit is by boat, so you still get the isolated feel of being on an island.  Railay beach is beautiful and is popular with both backpackers and holiday tourists.  This is the rock climbing mecca of Southeast Asia with climbing schools everywhere.

There are many more islands in Thailand, and many are just short boat hops away from each other.  You can get as far away from the traffic and tourists as you desire or meet scores of new travel mates at the nightly beach parties.

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