As a major tourism destination in South East Asia, Thailand hosts a great choice of attractive places to stay.
As the country is bordered by two large bodies of water – the Andaman Sea to the west, and the Gulf of Thailand to the east – there’s over 300 islands, most of them uninhabited, but a handful of them are already world-wide famous as dream-holiday destinations – with crowds to match the fame.
If following the crowds isn’t your idea of a relaxing holiday, check out these smaller islands that have started to develop their infrastructure to accommodate visitors from abroad.
As always, backpackers are the pathfinders of new exotic places, and the Thai islands on display below will certainly become extremely popular one day soon… to beat the crowds, you should visit them while they are still barely known.
#1. Koh Lipe
Located right next to the Tarutao National Marine Park, near the border with Malaysia in southern Thailand, Koh Lipe (also spelled Koh Lipeh or Koh Lipey) is a small paradise island that started to appear in international travel agencies’ lists of destinations due to the beauty of its three beaches: Sunset Beach, Sunrise Beach, and Pattaya Beach. Even though Koh Lipe nowadays hosts a fair amount of accommodation choices, it’s still barely known. Snorkelling, scuba diving, and island hopping are the main activities at hand in Koh Lipe, where you can enjoy a relaxing holiday far from the crowds. Koh Lipe is well served by ferries and speedboats from Pak Bara (Satun Province), Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Trang during high season (from December to April) yet, it can only be reached by speedboat from Pak Bara in low season.
#2. Koh Phayam
Koh Phayam is the most popular island in the Province of Ranong. Located 200km north of Khao Lak, it is the perfect getaway to those looking for a destination off the beaten track. Featuring two main beaches, Ao Yai (Long Bay) to the southwest and Ao Khao Kwai (Buffalo Bay) to the northwest, this 50 km² island that counts only around 500 inhabitants, offers its visitors a travel-back-in-time experience. First thing, there are no cars on Koh Phayam; the only way to travel around is by renting a motorbike (moped) or bicycle. A few narrow cement roads allow people to easily reach the main bays and tips of the island from Koh Phayam Pier (located on the east coast). The central part of Koh Phayam is rather flat and hosts cashew-nuts trees plantations and virgin forest. A large patch of mangrove forest can be found at the western end of Buffalo Bay, offering a wild playground to sea kayakers.
#3. Koh Rok
Krabi Province is home to more than 100 unique tropical islands and Koh Rok is one certainly worth visiting. Many people take a day trip there and it’s good to know that there’s an option to stay overnight too. Famous for snorkelling, scuba diving as well as fun camping, Koh Rok is under the supervision of Mu Koh Lanta Marine National Park so an admission fee applies. Koh Rok is actually made up of twin islands by the name Koh Rok Nai and Koh Rok Nok with the distance of about a couple hundred metres in between them. There are tents and bungalows available for rent at Koh Rok Nok.
Contact Mu Koh Lanta Marine National Park for more detail at Tel +66(0) 75 629 018 – 9. Please note that Koh Rok group of islands is opened only in high season (from October to May).
#4. Koh Mak
Named after the Areca nut (Mak in Thai), and located 35km off the coast of Trat Province on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Mak is a small – 16 km2 – island which has a 27-kilometre shoreline. Featuring splendid white sand beaches, coconut groves and mangrove forests, Koh Mak is a stunning pristine island that hosts a good range of accommodation for all types of budget. Sea kayaking and snorkelling are the favourite activities here. At low tide, you can also walk to Koh Kham, a small island located one kilometre off the northwestern tip of Koh Mak. Despite its recent development to tourism, Koh Mak retains a strong and pleasant local vibe.
#5. Koh Tarutao
Get ready for a journey back in time on Koh Tarutao. Located just north of Langkawi Island in Malaysia, Tarutao gives its name to a national park which counts no less than 51 islands of smaller size. Around 70% of the island is covered by thick rainforest, Koh Tarutao used to be a penal colony between 1938 and 1948. The national park headquarter offers two types of accommodation: bungalows and tents. The island’s most beautiful beaches are located on the west coast, while the east coast features mangrove forests. Birdwatching, collecting shells, hiking, and snorkelling are the main activities available on the island which offers the perfect destination to get away from it all. Ferries and speedboats link Koh Tarutao to Pak Bara and Koh Lipe.
#6. Koh Ngai
Koh Ngai (aka Koh Hai), Krabi is great for Nature lovers, especially those who are also fans of sea, sun and sand. The island has some great coral reefs along its coastline, making it perfect for snorkelling. Koh Ngai is under the supervision of Mu Koh Lanta National Park and has plenty of beaches, big and small that enjoy gorgeous views of tiny karst islands and some equally well-known nearby islands including Koh Libong and Koh Mook and Koh Lanta. Koh Ngai has a handful of beach accommodation choices, old and new. Some of them feature a swimming pool and allow outside guests the use of it as long as they spend money in the hotel restaurant or bars.
#7. Koh Phra Thong
Phang Nga Province
Koh Phra Thong (Golden Buddha Island in Thai) is an 88 km² island located about 40km north of Khao Lak. As with most islands along Phang Nga and Ranong provinces’ coast, it features three main styles of landscape: mangrove forest to its eastern coast, white sand beaches and rocky islets to its western coast and, unique in Thailand, the central area of island has all the characteristics of an African savanna; you’d almost expect to see zebras, giraffes and lion wandering around! Barely developed to tourism, Koh Phra Thong counts only a few accommodation choices. Apart from the high-end Golden Buddha Beach Resort, most hotels on the west coast of the island are simple budget or mid-range bamboo and thatch bungalows.
#8. Koh Mook
Longing for beautiful beaches and exotic landscapes plus a magical cave? Koh Mook may have all the answers for you. The island lies between Krabi and Trang and is another must-visit here in the Andaman region. Rumour has it that it was here at Emerald Cave where pirates used to hide their treasure. The place was known only a few decades ago, accidently found by locals searching for edible bird’s nests (a delicacy in Chinese cuisine). Koh Mook (also spelled Koh Muk) has subsequently also been ‘discovered’ by paradise seekers from all over the world. There are a handful of accommodation options on the island. Many are located on Haad Farang Beach and are active only in high season between Nov – April but a few of them stay open all year round. Most Koh Mook hotels are in the budget to mid-range category, meaning you can choose from a basic bamboo chalet with fan to a comfortable bungalow with air-conditioning.
#9. Koh Kho Khao
Located a short boat ride from Takua Pa, just north of Khao Lak, Koh Kho Khao offers a cool off-the-beaten-track destination for families. Less remote than its northern sister-island Koh Phra Thong, the main attraction at Koh Kho Khao is its 14km-long beach that reminds the long strips of sand that can be found in Khao Lak, and offers endless strolls at sunset. Even though the island is barely developed, it nevertheless hosts a decent choice of hotels and resorts from budget to luxury. Perfect place to unwind, you can rent a motorbike to explore the different areas of the island that include mangrove forest, an overgrown air strip used by the Japanese during WWII, and an archaeological site. Sea Kayaking is the main activity at hand, and there’s a dive centre that offers diving and snorkelling day trips to nearby sites, and further west, to the Similan Islands.
#10. Koh Bulon Leh
If you’re looking for a rural local place in close relationship with real life in southern Thailand, then Koh Bulon Leh should be the destination of your next vacation. A few low key bungalows and only one modern resort are available on Koh Bulon Leh. Note that only the resort has 24/7 electricity; the other accommodation choices run a generator only at night. A holiday here is truly an experience as it seems progress has not yet reached the coast of this little pristine paradise. The inhabitants are Chao Leh (sea gypsies), and they carefully maintain the island’s natural beauty. The waters surrounding Koh Bulon Leh are crystal clear and host an impressive marine life. Snorkelling, sea kayaking, and hiking are the main activities here. The small size of the island, roughly 3km2, permits to explore it on foot, hopping from one beach to the other.