“Oh, brah, you can’t go there. That island is ruined now. You should have gone there 10 years ago. It was the spot back then. But now it’s just overrun with tourists and McDonald’s and Starbucks. It just isn’t what it used to be.”
Now that we got Henry McHeady backpacker’s opinion out of the way, let’s set the record straight.
Yes, there are certain Thai islands and beaches (Phuket and Koh Phi Phi leading the list) that has not been treated kindly by tourism. Yes, there are McDonald’s and Starbucks and other western food chains popping up left and right in areas that were once pristine and deserted. Such is tourism and development in the 21st century. It’s unfortunate, but there simply aren’t that many secluded, off the beaten track places left in this world, much less in a country very tourist-friendly and with such fantastic natural beauty like Thailand.
Are Thai islands different than what they were in the 90′s? Of course they are, but find me one other city or destination that is the exact same as it was 15 years ago. Does this mean that all islands in Thailand are now shit and not worth visiting? Of course not! Are some better than others? Well, that just depends on what you’re looking for. One thing’s for sure, if you enjoy some good old fashioned beach time, then Thailand still remains one of the top destinations in the world to get that fix.
What Are You Looking For?
The great thing about Thai islands is that there are so many to choose from. Travelers have to decide what it is they are looking for in a Thai island getaway. Partying? Rest and relaxation? Great beaches and swimming? Diving and snorkeling? Hiking and climbing? So many options for everyone.
Another factor to consider then choosing which Thai island to visit is the weather. Obviously the weather in Thailand is tropical, so it’s always going to be warm and pleasant for sitting on the beach. But monsoon season strikes different parts of Thailand at different times of the year, and this has a major effect on where to go as a traveler.
The Andaman Coast receives most of its rain from April to October, with the islands in the Gulf of Thailand receiving most of its rain from September to December. No matter what time of year you come to Thailand, you will be able to get to an island somewhere. And remember that the monsoon season doesn’t typically mean rain all day, every day for months. The monsoon season in Thailand is typically characterized by heavy rain for an hour or so in the afternoons followed by hot and humid weather the rest of the day.
Thai Islands by Category
Obviously most of these islands are pretty big and offer a lot of different highlights, but I’m going to focus on just a few and what they are known for.
Rest and Relaxation- When many of us think of beaches and islands, we think of good old fashioned R&R. Though you can certainly find some rest and relaxation on all Thai islands, some are better than others. Check out the following Thai islands and beaches for the best chance of just lounging around and enjoying the scenery.
- Koh Chang- Not the secluded paradise it once was, but Koh Chang still has several beaches that are devoid of giant resorts and pestering touts. Lonely Beach is one of these, and it’s on more of the backpacker budget, but you can find some nice places for cheap and waste the days away lounging around and swimming in the crystal clear waters.
- Koh Adang- Not far from Ko Lipe, Ko Adang is where tourists go to get away from the chaos and glut of tourist in Ko Lipe. It may not be the most beautiful or have the best beaches and water, but it’s still pretty secluded and is a great place for some R&R.
Resorts- If resorts, crowds, and pampering are what you’re looking for, then check out the following places. They are the most popular in Thailand, and while many travelers may look down their noses at you, there’s a reason all these places are so popular. They are beautiful.
- Phuket- Probably the most well known island in Thailand, Phuket has tons of resorts and is fully developed. There isn’t a whole lot of authentic Thailand left on Phuket, but it still is gorgeous.
- Koh Phi Phi- Made famous from the movie The Beach, Ko Phi Phi has been extremely popular for more than a decade now.
- Koh Ngai- A once secluded island that was more a backpacker haunt, Ko Ngai has had resorts popping up left and right for the past few years.
Diving and Snorkeling- Known as one of the world’s premiere diving and snorkeling destinations, Thailand has tons of great places for both. Super cheap certification courses make diving very popular, and the crystal clear waters provide visibility not seen in many other places in the world. The Andaman Coast is known as the better area for diving, but there is plenty of great diving opportunities in the Gulf of Thailand as well.
- Koh Tao- Not far from the party spots of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao is much more secluded and much quieter. Most tourists come here for the diving, as it’s one of the best spots in all of Thailand and a great place to get certified.
- Phuket- While it may not be the best for quiet and solitude, if awesome diving conditions is what you want, then Phuket will deliver.
- Similan Islands- The Similan Islands are known amongst divers as some of the best diving spots in the entire world and have been voted as some of the most beautiful year in and year out.
Partying- If you’re on a gap year or just really looking to let loose, then look no further than Thai islands. There are plenty of great party spots, and if you’re looking to drink yourself silly, then you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for other extracurricular activities, be careful as police have really cracked down on illegal drugs. You may not get arrested, but you will most certainly have to pay for getting caught.
- Koh Pha Ngan- Home of the Full Moon Party, and Half Moon Party, and Quarter Moon Party. Some of the biggest parties in the world take place at Koh Pha Ngan.
- Koh Samui- A large island that has some secluded places left, but the bigger beaches offer plenty of nightlife for those looking to get down and party all night.
- Koh Phi Phi- After chilling on the beach all day long, just stay put as the beach comes alive at nighttime with fire jugglers, fire dancers, and beach bars everywhere.
Most of these islands are rather large, and if you explore enough, you can probably find a little bit of each on every island. Even Phuket and Koh Phi Phi have a few quiet and secluded places left. With hundreds of islands in the country, this list could be expanded to have 20 or 30 islands and beaches within each category. While overdevelopment has certainly hurt some of the islands in Thailand, they are still extremely beautiful and are a great place for those who love the beach, the ocean, tasty drinks, and fresh fish.
What Thai Islands have you visited? What were your favorites and why? Comment below!