The Ultimate Guide to Thailand Island Hopping
Thailand is a fascinating country, which offers tourists the chance to explore myriad types of landscape while also enjoying different kinds of holiday experiences. Many travellers choose to start their Thai adventure in the enigmatic metropolis of Bangkok, but it’s not long until the lure of the islands draws most away from the streets of the city. The prospect of golden sands, vivid turquoise water and a relaxed way of life is too tempting even for the most intrepid urban adventurer. The good news for those keen to discover the numerous Thai islands is that there are some incredible island hopping opportunities available. If you need inspiration, or you’re struggling to refine your island itinerary, this Thailand island hopping guide features three of the best routes to consider.
1. Andaman Sea Island Hopping
If you’ve browsed guidebooks, or scoured Instagram for the best island hopping routes, it’s highly likely that you’ve stumbled across images of picture perfect beaches nestled in the impossibly vivid waters of the Andaman Sea. The scenery here is nothing short of breathtaking, and it won’t take you long to catch a glimpse of the traditional wooden longboats bobbing about in the pristine waters. Most people choose to start their island hopping adventure in the Andaman Sea from Krabi. You can catch internal flights to Krabi, but it’s also possible to book private and shared transfers from most major towns in Thailand. Krabi itself is well worth a visit, but the true magic appears when you leave the shoreline and set sail for the idyllic islands.
From Krabi, a good starting point is the beautiful island of Phi Phi. This small but perfectly formed feature boasts bright golden beaches, shallow warm waters and a laid-back vibe, which permeates through the warm climate. Phi Phi is a popular spot on the well-trodden traveller tracks, so if you don’t fancy sharing a dorm or booking a room in a guesthouse, there are plenty of luxury resorts available. Many occupy hilltop locations, which offer awe-inspiring views. The beaches of Phi Phi are attractive areas amongst travellers, but many people also choose to visit the island to enjoy snorkelling and scuba diving. Boat trips are also very popular, most notably, the tourist pilgrimage to nearby Maya Bay, which featured in cult movie, The Beach. Over the years, this stunning cove has become incredibly popular, and as such, it is due to close for a few months to enable regeneration and recovery. If you’re lucky enough to visit when the bay is open, your boat trip will also take you to sea caves and a tiny beach, guarded by mischievous monkeys.
From Phi Phi, you can travel by longtail boat to Bamboo Island or by speedboat to Koh Khai Nok, both of which are famed for their secluded bays, which provide the perfect base for swimming and sunbathing. If you’re up for travelling a little further, and you’re keen to explore Thai history, Koh Yao Yai is an excellent option. This island, which is only inhabited by farmers and fishermen, will catapult you back in time and treat you to a slice of the simple life.
2. Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao
Whether you fancy living it up on your Thai travels or you’re keen to jump from one exquisite beach to another, you can’t go wrong with an island hopping itinerary on the east coast. Off the coast of Surat Thani, you’ll find a string of islands that has been seducing backpackers, families and couples for decades in their search for the ultimate romantic getaway. Catch an internal flight to Koh Samui or hop on the boat at the port of Surat Thani. Once you touch base on Koh Samui, it’s easy to travel between the main tourist spots of Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Boats are inexpensive and they run frequently.
Koh Samui is the largest and busiest of the islands, but there’s no shortage of tranquil spots if you are keen to escape the hustle and bustle. Samui is famed for its beaches, but if you travel inland, you’ll find dense forests and waterfalls. If you are keen to see elephants on your visit, here you can take part in showering these huge mammals to help them cool off after a long day in the sun. Chaweng Beach is a hive of activity and is lined with numerous bars and restaurants serving cocktails by the bucket and freshly caught seafood. As night falls, it’s not uncommon for crowds to gather to enjoy a drink, live music, fire breathing and poi performances. The island markets are lively, and well worth a visit. If you’re interested in martial arts, you may want to check out a Muay Thai battle while you’re in town or work up a sweat in a Muay Thai class.
From Koh Samui, many travellers head to the party island of Koh Phangan, which provides the backdrop for the famous Full Moon parties. Don your neon wristbands, cover your face in paint and glitter, and be prepared to join forces with huge crowds of fellow revellers as you party under the starry skies until the sun rises. Although the island has a reputation for hedonistic nights out, most of it is unspoiled, and it’s not hard to find deserted beaches if you long for a quieter break.
From Koh Phangan, head north to Koh Tao where you’ll find white sandy beaches flanked by calm waters and rugged cliffs that resemble a film set. Eat on the beach with the waves lapping at your sand-covered toes or take advantage of the spectacular dive sites in the area. There are numerous diving schools equipped for diving fanatics and beginners. If you don’t have enough time to take a course, simply grab a snorkel and a mask and create your own tour of the blue waters. If you’re feeling energetic, flex your quads and take a hike up to the John-Suwan viewpoint. Here, you will be rewarded for your efforts with phenomenal views of the sand, the sea and the verdant jungle that adorn this scintillating slice of paradise.
3. Phuket and Koh Lanta
Phuket has something of a reputation with a loud and lively resort centre. However, as soon as you leave the tourist hot spots behind, you’ll encounter a completely different environment. Away from the street stalls and the constant clamour of voices at Patong Beach, you’ll find a collection of more serene offerings including Freedom Beach, Banana Beach and Ao Sane Beach. Many of the high-end hotels on the island have private access to their own stretches of sand, which are ideal if you want to relax and unwind. Phuket enjoys an enviable location, and it’s a fantastic base for island hoppers. From here, it’s easy to get to Koh Lanta, a destination widely regarded as one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands and with the standard of competition as high as it is, this is a significant achievement.
Koh Lanta is located in the Andaman Sea and it is famed for its quiet beaches and boutique resorts. You won’t find neon lights and party beats here. It is simply a perfect spot for recharging your batteries and appreciating the beauty of the scenery that surrounds you. There are still plenty of beach bars and restaurants, but there’s no pressure to party, and you get a more authentic, laid-back island experience. As well as swimming and sunbathing, it’s worth heading inland to discover charming fishing villages and rickety, rustic restaurants that serve traditional Thai delicacies. The island is dominated by a mountain range, which offers a challenge to anyone who fancies taking a break from catching rays. There are plenty of hiking routes you can take, and you can rest assured that your exertions will be rewarded handsomely when you reach the summit. If you’re feeling weary after your trek, you’re in the perfect place to enjoy a Thai massage.
From Koh Lanta, you can travel back to Phuket, or catch a boat to Krabi or Phi Phi. While you’re on the island, it’s worth exploring the tiny islands that surround Koh Lanta by longtail boat. Highlights include Ko Rok and Ko Mook.
If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience Thai island life. Thailand is blessed with an abundance of picture-postcard islands and whichever Thailand island hopping route you choose, there’s no doubt you’ll make incredible memories. Whether you choose to only see one island or you make the most of seeing them all, you will be able to enjoy the sun drenched beaches, explore the waters and get involved in some unforgettable cultural activities and adventures throughout your journey.