Probably the most popular travel destination out there, it's easy to forget that Thailand has so much more to offer than the obvious. Perfect sandy beaches, water so clear you feel like boats are suspended in middair, hot sunshine warming your skin, and of course a fresh coconut from a nearby palm tree in hand. The Thai islands are bliss on Earth. But with a constant flurry of names flying around, how do you know which island's for you? Here's a definitive guide of the top five must-see islands in the Land of Smiles.
On Sairee beach you'll find all the main bars, hotels and quaint shopping streets, or for those with a little more wanderlust, a snorkelling trip which sets off from Mae Haad pier, and makes snorkelling stops at Aow Leuk, Hin Wong bay and Mango bay reward you with crystal clear waters, colourful coral, thousands of fish which move as quick as reeds blown in the wind, and exquisite views. One of the top diving sites in the world, Koh Tao is absolute paradise if you’re into water-based activities or if you’re simply looking to fly and flop. By night, there’s a fantastic bar and restaurant scene, where you can enjoy delicious cocktails in dreamy beachfront bars lit up by sparkling fairy lights and torches.
Koh Phi Phi
An island off the Andaman coast, Koh Phi Phi is a dream! No trip here is complete without a snorkelling tour around Maya Bay beach (where the film The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed!), which is as idyllic as it looks in photos. The colour of the water is unlike anything you've ever seen – so crystalline that the longboats docked up along the beach look like they’re suspended in mid-air. The cliffs surrounding the bay, dotted green in tropical shrubbery, provide natural shade from the slowly setting sun and all you need to do is sit on the beach, rolling around in the sand as you watch the light fade. By night, stroll along the beach with your toes in the sand as the water laps at your feet, and enjoy a heart-achingly gorgeous sunset…
Koh Samui is as close to island life as you can get without actually leaving behind modern comforts. The most popular beach stretch to be seen at is Chaweng, so naturally that’s where you can find plush hotels, luxurious massage parlours and your trusty Starbucks, McDonalds, Italian restaurants or even a shopping complex! A trip to Na Muang waterfall, an elephant farm and Buddha’s Magical Garden amidst a lush jungle will offer you some action and a perfect escorted day trip, if you've had your fair share of sunbathing. But when the sun sets, wander back down to Chaweng to see tree lights hanging low overhead, standing torches marking the edges of each bar, lanterns hanging near tables, and chilled music accompanying the sound of crashing waves in the distance. All this, before the party kicks off and fire-dancers spin lit poi balls on the edge of the water for a glorious firework-like display!
By day this island offers excellent beaches, snorkelling opportunities and a small village to wander around, however the real reason anybody truly visits, is for the Full Moon Party! Colours bursting out of everywhere, boys and girls in fluorescent, tie dye, brightly coloured clothes and body paint make this one-monthly party one to remember. Haad Rin beach is one of the largest and most popular on the island, where the rest of the time you’ll find a leisurely setting to enjoy a fresh coconut with a book, in one of the many beachfront eateries and bars. Several temples around the island such as Wat Khao Tham and Wat Chaoloklum are definitely worth a visit if you’re in search of some culture.
Not officially an island, but certainly one of the most scenic spots along the Andaman Coast, the charming Khao Lak, will certainly inspire you to lead an island lifestyle, the type that slows down time and you’re not in a rush for anything! Find the perfect holiday souvenir at the bustling market, while boat tours to nearby islands, and trips to the Si Phanh Nga National Park and the Sairung as well as Ton Chong Fa Waterfalls should also be on your itinerary here. White Sand beach and Pak Weep beach are highlights here; if you’re interested in the history of the area, visit the International Tsunami Museum to find out more about the great natural disaster which rocked Thailand’s coasts in 2004.