The Land of Smiles is the perfect country for island hopping. With over 1,000 islands scattered throughout the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam, choosing which ones to visit can be a daunting task.
Several of the larger islands are well-developed, with infrastructure, hotels, and restaurants on par with western standards. As a result, these tend to be the biggest tourist draws, so you will be making a trade-off in creature-comforts for crowded beaches. Hundreds of the smaller islands are accessible, but do not offer much in the way of accommodations or restaurants. Yet these are among the most beautiful – pristine, unspoiled, tropical paradises that you can enjoy without another soul in sight.
Likely the most popular tourist islands include Phuket, Koh Samui, the Phi Phi Islands, Koh Chang, and Koh Phangan. These are all located in the southern region of Thailand, so you might need a domestic flight from the main airport in Bangkok to reach them. Here is a little bit about them and what each one has to offer.
Phuket: This island served as the backdrop for the movie, “Man with the Golden Gun”, one of the films in the James Bond series. It is Thailand’s largest island, and can serve as an excellent home base for hopping around to the smaller, less populated islands in the region. There are plenty of flights in and out of Phuket daily
Koh Samui: Likely the second-most popular island in Thailand behind Phuket, this island has its own international airport and is also well-developed with western amenities.
Phi Phi Islands: Made famous by the film “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio, these islands are the ones you’ve see in all the Thai travel brochures. With unusual rock formations jutting out of the sea, you’ll feel as if you were dropped into some otherworldly paradise, except for all the other tourists you’ll be brushing elbows with!
Koh Chang: This island is popular with foreign travelers and Thais alike, owing to its diverse offerings. A wide variety of accommodations and activities are available to suit every traveler’s interests, whether it’s snorkeling, hiking, elephant trekking, or enjoying the nightlife.
Koh Phangan: Located just north of Koh Samui, this island is world-renowned for its monthly full moon parties on the beach. As such it is a perfect island to visit if you want to experience some of the crazy Thailand nightlife.
If you have time to explore while in Thailand and prefer to escape the crowds, consider making Krabi (also known as Koh Hong) your home base. This group of over 80 islands is part of a national park, making it perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving through beautiful coral reefs, and the luxury of lounging on the beach in near-privacy. While hiking through these islands, you may discover hidden waterfalls and caves to explore. You can also try your hand at rock climbing, which is very popular here. Accommodations and dining options range from zero to five stars.
Because the Thai language has its own unique alphabet, translating the names of places into English has resulted in many inconsistencies. For example, you may see the name for island written both ‘Koh’ and ‘Ko’. Likewise, Koh Phangan may be written ‘Koh Pha Ngan,’ which makes searching online for information extremely frustrating for visitors.
To make things even more difficult, Thai is a tonal language, so when you say the name of the island to a native Thai speaker, it is highly likely that they will have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s best to make a list of the islands you would like to visit and print them out written in Thai script. Wikipedia is an excellent source of information for this. Having your list in Thai will prove invaluable if you’re planning to hire a boat to take you island hopping, and inevitably save you a lot of frustration.
Thailand is home to many expats who have joined Couchsurfing to help point visitors in the right direction. Even if you don’t want to crash on their couch, they can be an invaluable source of information. There are over 130 registered surfers in Phuket and the surrounding southerly islands, so do some networking before you leave home. They may be able to personally recommend the best guide or boat hire to take you where you want to go.
Thai Cultural Faux-Pas
- Your feet are considered the dirtiest part of your body. Do not point your feet at anyone – especially monks.
- It is considered impolite to speak loudly, even if you are being friendly. Smile and speak quietly, and all the locals will have a great amount of respect for you.
Thailand Travel Tips
- If you would like to buy something, vendors welcome bargaining. You can negotiate until you agree on a price you’re both happy with. The same is true for negotiating services, such as hiring your boat to go island hopping.
- Always carry small packs of tissues and hand sanitizer with you. Many bathrooms on the remote islands do not provide toilet tissue or soap for you to use.
Thai people in general are very amicable and happy to help you in any way they can if you need assistance. In remote regions, most people will not speak English, so it’s a good idea to pack a phrasebook, or load a translator onto your phone in case you need it. Traveling to Thailand is a great way to explore as all of the islands have something unique to offer. Be sure to enjoy island hopping throughout this beautiful country, no matter which islands you choose!
This guest post was written by travel writer Roxanne B, who writes about all things travel including topics such as how to get a great deal on flights, the best insurance for pets or where to find the best tapas bars in Madrid.