The Thailand islands have skyrocketed in popularity over the past two decades, and with good reason. With a colorful culture, adventurous activities, and constantly improving infrastructure, Thailand offers something for every type of traveler.
Trips to northern Thailand and the mountains around Chiang Mai offer opportunities for jungle trekking, meeting hill tribes, and diving into the significance of Buddhist spirituality. Visiting Bangkok offers travelers a crash course in Thai culture within the hustle and bustle of a major city.
But the south Thailand islands call to travelers for entirely different reasons. These are some of the most beautiful islands in the world, and anyone lucky enough to visit them comes away with different favorites. There are so many islands in Thailand, even Wikipedia doesn’t have a complete list.
Curious which Thailand islands made our Top 5 list? Check ‘em out below, and let us know your favorites in the comments!
Located about an hour off the coast in the Krabi Province, Ko Lanta is actually a group of small islands. Surrounded by impossibly clear, pristine waters and sandy white beaches, Ko Lanta Yai is the largest and arguably most popular island in the area.
Ko Lanta Yai offers something for everyone. Whether your ideal vacation includes sunbathing on beautiful beaches, diving world-class Scuba sites, getting an unforgettable Thai massage, or eating delicious Tom Yum soup with the locals in friendly fishing villages, this is the island for you!
Although you can find nature reserves and beaches where you won’t see another soul, Ko Lanta Yai has accommodations running the gamut from spare to super-swanky. This tends to attract an older, more mature crowd, as opposed to young backpackers.
It’s also a great place for kids, as the waters are calm and the island is incredibly safe.
Ko Phi Phi Leh
If you’ve been dreaming about a trip to the Thailand islands, chances are good that your screensaver is a colorful photo captured on Ko Phi Phi Leh, a.k.a. the Phi Phi Islands.
The Phi Phi islands are a small group of islands located between Phuket and the Strait of Malacca on the west coast of mainland Thailand. It’s one of the most popular islands in Thailand for day trips due to its iconic beaches, rock formations, and impressive snorkeling. It’s easy to get here: Ferries depart from Phuket, Krabi, and Ko Lanta several times per day.
In recent years, the Phi Phi Islands have been almost entirely rebuilt after the tsunami devastated it. So the island’s accommodations are more impressive than ever. Stunning resorts back up to breathtaking turquoise waters teeming with unique marine life.
The island is famous for its appearance in the 2000 Leo DiCaprio film, The Beach. Its beaches are truly some of the most stunning you’ll ever see. With a reputation for good times and lots of activities on offer, Koh Phi Phi draws a young, energetic crowd. This is also the island getaway that Discover Corps travelers visit for a 2-night getaway on our Elephant and Islands Expedition!
James Bond Island
The second most popular stop in the Thailand islands is “James Bond Island,” made famous by the classic film The Man with the Golden Gun. The small but oft-visited island’s most notable landmark is Ko Ta Pu, a Shingle rock about 69 feet tall, which is recognized around the world. This is an Instagram-worthy spot, and you won’t be sorry you visited.
As Green Global Travel noted in their roundup of the best national parks in Thailand, James Bond Island is part of Ao Phang-Nga National Park. This is truly a must-see destination for anyone who appreciates the natural wonders of southeast Asia.
The island is set in the calm green waters of Phang Nga Bay. Exploring this region by long-tailed boat is one of the most popular things to do in Thailand. But it’s worth braving the crowds in order to set eyes on the stunning scenery, monkey-filled islands, and hidden lagoons.
Ko Chang is the third largest of the Thailand islands. It’s beloved for its incredible coral reefs, mountainous rainforests, and stunning hidden waterfalls. The island is located near the border with Cambodia, so people often stop in Ko Chang when traveling between the two countries. But this island is much more than merely a convenient place for a stopover!
Because of its remoteness, tourists (and 24-hour electricity) only arrived on the island in the last 20 years or so. Boasting a much quieter atmosphere than Ko Samui or Phuket (neither of which made our list, but are incredible destinations in their own right), Ko Chang still draws many visitors to its countless world-class beaches and incredible natural beauty.
Despite the recent development of the island’s populous west coast, it’s still possible to have an “off-the- grid” experience on Ko Chang. Simply head into the jungle for a trek. Or, for a taste of what Ko Chang was like before the tourism surge, head to the villages on the island’s southeastern coast. And don’t miss the mangrove forests of Ban Salak Phet and Ban Salak Kok!
Established in 1974, Tarutao National Marine Park covers a 575 square mile area off the coast of southern Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Ko Tarutao is the largest of the 51 islands that belong to the Tarutao National Marine Park archipelago.
This is the perfect island for adventurous travelers looking to get off the beaten path and have a more rugged, raw experience. Thailand’s National Parks system offers accommodations on the island, including campsites and bungalows for rent. But there’s little other infrastructure, so much of the island’s natural beauty and wildlife has remained untouched by tourism development.
Visitors will enjoy the island’s quiet, pristine atmosphere. There are dramatic views of the mountain and jungle wilderness, including the limestone cliffs for which the Thailand islands are famous. You’ll also have a good chance of spotting exotic wildlife, particularly if you visit the beaches of the western part of the island, which are frequented by large Sea Turtles.
If you go, don’t expect any frills other than stunning views and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The National Park runs a restaurant that provides a considerable range of quality meals, including fried rice/noodles, main courses, cold soft drinks, water, and beer. There’s also a small mini-mart for snack foods, soft drinks, and bottled water. But there are no other options here for food or nightlife.
It’s an island totally dedicated to appreciating Thailand’s incredible natural beauty. And, as ecotourism enthusiasts, we couldn’t be more down with that! –Sara McDaniel
BIO: Sara McDaniel is a San Diego-based educator who uses her summers to explore the world, often alongside her students! In addition to writing for The Volunteer Traveler, she has directed international programming for various travel organizations. When she’s not writing or researching, she can often be found swimming in the ocean, eating all of the delicious foods she can find, and teaching in San Diego State University’s College of Education.