Imagine a calm, cool scene of fine white sand and crystal clear ocean set against a backdrop of verdant green hills and landscape. You're picturing Thai beaches, my friends. Thailand gets thousands of tourists every year, both on the mainland and offshore. The country is popular with backpackers, honeymooners, and even families who are looking for an safe holiday in an exotic vacation spot.
Never fear. Even with all those tourists crawling about, there are still plenty of undiscovered island gems dotted about Thailand’s coast that haven’t been visited by the masses. And even if you are thinking about visiting a well-known Thai island or planning an island-hopping route for your travels … well, don't let your dislike of crowds stop you. There is a reason so many people visit these islands!
Read about the following islands to get an overview of the variety of chill spots, paradise parties, sweeping coastlines and crystal clear waters that surround some of Thailand’s most exotic pockets of paradise.
Map of Thai islands
Thailand is a great big place with a confusing geography and a lot of exotic names. With so many people visiting Thai islands for a vacation some have even wondered, is Thailand an island?
The short answer is, no. It’s firmly located on the mainland in Southeast Asia. That said, Thailand can proudly claim hundreds of islands off its coastline, both in the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west.
Even if you’re accustomed to the local language, it can be daunting to figure out the best islands in Thailand to visit. Here is a map to help you navigate your way through this list and your trip.
Thailand entry requirements
Few things are as upsetting as arriving in a country and not being allowed past immigration. We should know; it happened to us in Ecuador. If you’re planning a trip to Thailand soon, make sure you check all travel requirements and necessary documentation. Small price to avoid disappointment, if you ask us.
Passports. Thailand requires that all passports must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry. They must also be in good condition. Thailand will refuse entry if your passport is damaged or has missing pages.
Visas. Some countries are visa exempt, but for everyone else, Thailand now offers an online visa, which makes visiting far more convenient. Up until now, certain nationalities have had to stress with paperwork, embassy appointments and queues. Citizens from various countries can now apply for a visa from the comfort of home and present a printout of their Thai eVisa when they arrive.
Tip: If you're unsure whether you will need a Thailand visa and whether you are eligible to apply, here's the link for the Thailand eVisa.
Thailand is an affordable yet dreamy vacation spot that is easy-to-access and perfect for all types of travelers, whether you are a family with small children or a hard-partying student.
When to visit Thailand
There are three seasons in Thailand, generally classified like this:
- the cool season (Nov- Jan)
- the hot season (Feb-April)
- the rainy season (May-Oct)
Thai beaches, however, have just two seasons:
- The dry season
- The wet season
Thailand’s peninsula experiences two monsoons, the Southwest Monsoon that hits the Andaman coast from May to October, and the Northeast Monsoon that affects the Gulf of Thailand between November and February. As a result, regardless the time of year, there are always islands to choose from.
Which island in Thailand should I visit?
Thailand is popular because it has so much to offer: a rich cultural heritage, stunning temples, world famous cuisine and breathtaking natural beauty. Many travelers consider it a bucket list destination and this has led to heavy tourism on some islands. And yet, there are still many untouched treasures and hidden gems for those who prefer off-the-beaten-track travel.
From the well-known and diverse islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao to the quieter islands of Koh Yao Yai, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Mak, your options are endless. There is almost too much to do on too many islands at too many price points.
Trying to find the perfect fit for your needs is a difficult task. Consider: Of all the things to do in Thailand, what do you desire most? Do you crave a relaxing trip full of beachside massages, long soaks in the tropical sun, and cool, tall umbrella cocktails under a palm tree? Or are you after adventure in the form of hikes, scuba diving and rock-climbing?
The variey of options can be overwhelming, but don’t be intimidated. This article is here to give you an overview of the best islands in Thailand.
Note: The Thai word for “Island” is spelled both koh and ko, so we've spelled it both ways. Regardless of how you spell it, the word is pronounced the same.
Andaman islands or west Thai islands
1. Ko Ngai
Koh Ngai is one of the most southern islands of Thailand. This is the perfect island for honeymoons and some consider it to be the most beautiful island in Thailand. Pristine coastlines and turquoise blue water mean you can bathe in the pleasant seawater all day or go snorkeling to experience bright schools of fish passing you by on a world class reef.
If you would like to experience Koh Ngai without staying the night, you can take a full-day trip with a local guide and go snorkeling in one of the world-renowned Emerald Caves. This 4 islands trip takes you to the nearby islands of Ko Mook, Ko Chueak, Ko Waen, Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai all in one day. This way you still get a chance to explore but don’t have to worry about accommodation.
2. Ko Yao Yai and 3. Ko Yao Noi
Phuket is a popular holiday resort, which also means that it can get crowded in peak season and end up feeling the opposite of a vacation. Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai are the two biggest islands in the gulf to the east of Phuket and much calmer.
These Islands are perfect for those looking for a more rustic experience. Think rubber farms and water buffalo. They rank among some of the cheapest is Thailand. Don’t be fooled though, because escaping from the busier Islands does not mean escaping from the beauty Thailand is famed for. The islands are perfect for bicycle tours like this one.
At the tip of Koh Yao Noi, you have Phang Nga Bay; an emerald green oasis of pure beauty. If you’re trying to squeeze everything into your Thailand travel itinerary, you can take a day trip to explore the island oasis by boat. Don't miss the limestone caves and karsts, and make sure you see the beach where the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed.
Read more: Escape to Koh Yao Noi – Unspoiled Island Paradise in Thailand
4. Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi is Thailand's unofficial Party Island, so if you want a secluded Thailand island getaway or are planning a romantic honeymoon, take Phi Phi island off your short list. On the other hand, if active island life is exactly what you’re after, Koh Phi Phi has it all, from monkey tours to beach parties.
While the busyness of Koh Phi Phi’s tourist industry may put you off, it can be reassuring to know that whatever you want to do is available. Because it has so many tourists, all services you would expect in a touristic location are available, such as pharmacies, banks and other amenities.
Ko Phi Phi may not be the most famous Thai island, but it is well known by moviegoers. Maya Bay was a film location in Leonardo DiCaprio's movie The Beach. Unfortunately, the bay had to be closed indefinitely in 2018 due to excessive tourism. The local authorities made the decision in a bid to help underwater marine life and coral recuperate.
Read more: Phi Phi Tour Bucket list
Tip: If you want to catch sight of Maya Bay despite its closure, there's a day trip that will take you to the viewpoint. You will also be able to swim in Pileh Lagoon – also featured in the movie – and more. See details here.
5. Koh Samet
Few people know about the beauty and crystal clear water of Ko Samet. It’s only 3 hours away from Bangkok by bus and then boat. The beaches radiate chill vibes and the island is ideal for those who want to get away or unwind in a more tranquil environment. The island offers plenty of quiet spots, and even placres where you can relax on the beach with a massage.
If you are feeling more active, you can easily try out some watersports like kayaking, windsurfing and jet skiing on some of the busier beaches. And after dark, Koh Samet offers a variety of nightlife.
Koh Samet is a good jumping-off point to explore the islets further east. Unlike the party islands further south, most are fairly underpopulated and easy-going.
Gulf of Thailand islands or east Thai islands
6. Ko Samui
Koh Samui could be the most famous island in Thailand. If it isn't, it can at least claim to be the largest in the Gulf of Thailand. Thanks to its size, it has a broad appeal and offers dozens of things to do. This list will give you an idea of what's available.
Ko Samui has beaches that will suite every taste. We have an article that covers the best ones in more depth.
7. Koh Tao and 8. Koh Nang Yuan
Perfect as a day trip or a stopover for a few nights, Koh Tao is stunning. I you want a wild night out, be sure to visit Sairee beach. It is one of Koh Tao’s most lively beaches with party buckets, fire throwers and plenty of party animals.
Paired with nearby Koh Nang Yuan, they make a gorgeous set of islands, perfect for a catamaran and snorkeling tour, or for a hike to Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint for the sunset. That is, if you get there early enough in the afternoon with enough time for the climb. If you don't fancy the trek, visit towards the end of the day to miss the crowds.
Eastern coast of Thailand near Cambodia
If Cambodia is next on your trip, it won't take long to get there from any of these islands.
9. Koh Mak
Koh Mak is another one of Thailand’s best kept secrets, another best island in Thailand. Sitting 40km away from the mainland, this island is sure to stay off the radar of those unwilling to make the trek … but for those who are, it is worth it.
This island is great for those who are looking for an intimate getaway somewhere unexplored. With a Buddhist Temple, stunning beaches and a few restaurants and resorts, you will not be short of things to do. Dip into the ocean and explore the marine life of the nearby marine reserve.
Stay here and visit other islets or islands, as well as nearby Cambodia. For instance, tiny Ko Kham is privately owned and a marine gem with crystal white sand and aqua blue waves.
10. Koh Kut
Koh Kut is ideal for those who are adventurous and a relatively new Thailand destination (which is rare). It is hardly a hotbed, unless you're looking for quiet corners and sweet seaside sensations.
Called “Thailand’s last unspoilt Island” by The Guardian, this sleepy island is sensational. It offers good restaurants and hotels but lacks the tourist traps commonly associated with Thailand.
Koh Kut is quiet, even in high season, so you can rent a scooter and explore without having to worry about the bustle of Thailand’s often busy roads. The beaches are pristine. And with waterfalls spotting the idyllic beaches and inland, anyone who loves the outdoors will truly be in heaven.
It's also worth visiting nearby Mu Koh Chang National Park on Koh Chang island; jungle hikes and snorkeling are top-rated activities there.
Hopefully, you’ve managed to get some insight and inspiration to where you would like to visit in the paradise that is Thailand. Those glassy turquoise waters and green mountainous islands cannot be missed. Enjoy the adventure, the scenery and the culture throughout this beautiful and varied country. There are so many reasons as to why you should visit Thailand, it is harder to decide why not to.