This is the question you’ve asked us a hundred times! Which island should you choose? Which one is the best if you’re travelling with a child? Which one is the most beautiful? And which one is perfect if you’re in Bangkok and have only a few days to manage? Which one is good in November and which one is good in July? They’re always hard questions, because there’s a whole lot of islands where you can spend beautiful vacation on in Thailand. It’s also difficult, because there’s always a touch of subjective judgement in how we feel about a place, so everything’s that’s perfect for us may not be perfect for you. However, we’ve been to so many islands on our last trip, that I think I need to make a guide that will make your Thai decisions easier 🙂
Out of typically beach places in Thailand, we can check off Krabi, Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Lanta, Ko Ngai and Ko Lipe off our list. We’ve also seen Ko Kradan and Ko Mook a little bit. We’ve seen enough to advice you, although, of course, there are still some islands that we never got to that I wish we’d visited – Ko Tao, Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi. There are also those that we’ve been to, but I can’t really judge, such as Ko Samui. We had to run away from it because of rainstorms and floods.
Some of these islands are pretty big – the biggest ones are Phuket (542 square kilometers) on the Andamanese side and Ko Samui (280 square kilometers) and Ko Phangan (168 square kilometers) in the Gulf of Thailand. Some of them are tiny, just like Ko Ngai, Ko Kradan or even Ko Lipe.
I’ll start with my favorites 🙂
1) IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A HEAVENLY BEACH, RELAX AND PEACE, CHOOSE KO NGAI
Ko Ngai is a tiny island near Ko Lanta. It’s perfect if you just want to lay on the beach, stare at the sky and beautiful views and spend a few days on walking barefoot and procrastinating. There only a few hotels/resorts on the island, there are no roads, no shops – well, there are 2 or 3 little stores with ice cream, snack and chips near hotels 😉 But it is beautiful, heavenly and peaceful. This is where you can recharge your batteries, and it doesn’t matter if you’re here on a romantic trip with your other half or with your whole family, digging in the sand, getting some rest and eating dinners by the beach. It’s this kind of a small paradise. More pictures, our impressions and a hotel we recommend can be found HERE.
Not to say that Ko Ngai is only for lazy people, you can go snorkeling or go on a longboat trip through its surroundings. I wrote about it HERE. Ko Mook and Ko Kradan make a similar impression of heavenly, intimated beaches. But we’ve only passed them through. Ko Kradan also has beautiful cyan water, but we thought the beach was a little bit worse than on Ko Ngai (far more trees).
2) IF YOU WANT HEAVENLY VIEWS BUT LIKE TO GO TO A RESTAURANT OR A BAR IN THE EVENING, CHOOSE KO LIPE
Until recently, Ko Lipe was also recommended as a heavenly, peaceful and intimate island. Here, you need to remember that it’s been changing in the past few years. Although the island is small and there are places you can get to from the other side of the island in 15 minutes (with two kids ;)), it’s not a small paradise in the traditional meaning of this word. The views are perfect, the colors of the water will bring you to your knees, but the amount of longboats parked by the beach sometimes makes it impossible for you to find a spot where you can swim. It’s not very clean and abandoned dogs on the beach may make you feel a little disturbed if you’re with two little kids.
There’s also The Walking Street, vibrant in the evenings, with a lot of restaurants, bars, Thai pancake stalls, travel agencies, little store etc. It has its pros and cons – it’s not that quiet and heavenly anymore, but there is a doctor, a pharmacy, and if you’re with your other half or friends, you can sip on colorful drinks in the evenings and meet people from around the world. There is also a restaurant “at Gong’s” AKA Sunrise Beach Restaurant by the beach, that you can fall in love with and eat lunched and dinners there everyday, enjoying good foot and awesome atmosphere. More about Ko Lipe can be found HERE.
You can go snorkeling in Ko Lipe’s neighbourhood 🙂 We loved it!!! We booked our trip at Gong’s 🙂
3) IF YOU WANT RELAX, BUT ALSO WANT TO DRIVE AROUND ON YOUR OWN, CHECK OUT KO LANTA
Ko Lanta is not as amazing when it comes to views as Ko Ngai, Ko Kradan or Ko Lipe, but it has wide, kilometers long beaches, great infrastructure, and you can drive around the island by auto rickshaw with a driver or by auto rickshaw or scooter you rent. You can check out even the most hidden spots that way, and go to climatic Lanta Old Town, and try some great street food in Saladan. Huge base when it comes to stores, restaurants, brasseries, and on weekends it’s easy to run into some markets with local snacks.
4) KOH PHA NGAN – FOR FAMILIES AND FOR PARTY ANIMALS
Ko Pha Ngan is on one side of the Gulf of Thailand, the closest to Ko Samui and Ko Tao. They say that it has great weather when other parts of Thailand don’t, which would be during our vacation – since June to September. Ko Pha Ngan is peaceful and not so tourist-ish, although it doesn’t apply to every part of it 😉 We managed to find an amazing, low-keyed recess by Salad Beach, which I highly recommend! Even the New Year’s Eve was low-keyed, with no crowds, but with Chinese lanterns flying above our heads – perfect if you’re here with kids 🙂 You can read about our impressions of Ko Pha Ngan and our hotel with amazing food HERE.
Why is it for party animals, then? Because the other side of the island called Haad Rin is famous for its crazy, all night long parties on the beach. They’re called Full Moon Parties and they happen once a month, including the New Year’s Eve 🙂 The ferry to Ko Samui was full on the third of January – and these people were definitely not families with children 😉
5) KO SAMUI AND PHUKET – DEPENDS ON WHAT PLACE YOU’LL CHOOSE…
Ko Samui on the side of the Gulf of Thailand and Phuket on the side of Andaman Sea are the biggest islands of Thailand – so the place and the beach you choose will be the key to everything. I think we had bad luck in both cases. On Ko Samui, we stayed by the Lipa Noi beach and, compared to other places we’ve been to, it didn’t really impress us. The good thing is that it’s close to the ferry station, and Ko Samui for us was just a stop on our way from Ko Pha Ngan to Ko Lanta.
We managed to find a great hotel on Phuket – it was Vijitt Resort which I wrote about HERE. Unfortunately, the neighbourhood was pretty average. However, I know people who looooved Phuket and Ko Samui, but you need to remember that they’re big islands for tourists 🙂 Still, you can find low-keyed spots, but it’s not going to be the island you can cross on your feet like Ko Lipe 🙂
6) KRABI – RAILAY
This is the first place we’ve visited in Thailand (and in Asia in general) to go to the beach, and I will always have a soft spot for it in my heart. Railay is between Krabi and Ao Nang, it’s tiny and you can get there only on a boat. There are cool beaches – Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach, various brasseries where you can sit in the evening, and yet it’s still peaceful and nice. This is how it was in 2012 and I hope it still is that way, especially since there was literally no space for change 😉
P.S. If you don’t have much time, choose islands near Bangkok – direct flights can be found on Ko Samui, Krabi or Phuket. Ko Chang is also very close to Bangkok – you can get there by cab 🙂 We haven’t been there but our friends recommend it 🙂
So what do you say? Did it make it clear for you which island you should choose or did it make it even more difficult to decide? 🙂