A while back I set myself the task of visiting every island in Thailand, or at least those habitable, with actual accommodation on their shores. Yet 6 years on and I am no closer than I was in the first years. Because I am admittedly more drawn to big cities and food in travel. So instead I have looked to fellow bloggers for help in sharing some of the lesser-known, and best islands in Thailand, outside of the big three tourist destinations (Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Chang). Also away from the main backpacker and banana pancake trails (Koh Phi-Phi, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao). So these lesser-known islands of Thailand are dotted mostly in-and-around the big three, and given flights are often just as cheap as long-haul bus tickets these days, it does make sense for air travel, where Air Asia, for example, now include island transfers on their tickets (island connections here). So expect lots of white sands, blue skies and turquoise waters. These are some of the lesser-known and best islands in Thailand.
The Eastern Islands
The Eastern islands are found out towards the Cambodian borders and would be the exception when it comes to long-haul travel, as you can easily reach the piers of Rayong and Trat by a short-ish bus or minivan ride from Bangkok’s city centre. And because of this, these lesser-known islands are the more popular island destinations for long weekends or quick getaways from Bangkok. And are otherwise overlooked by the generic backpacker and tourist trails further south. So they do tend to be less developed, at least outside of the main beaches of Koh Chang, and they are more influenced by domestic tourism. Koh Chang (the second largest island in Thailand) would be the main island here, however there is no airport on the National Park (Trat is the closest airport) and access to the island is almost always by boat from mainland Trat (travel to Koh Chang here). There are then a handful of lesser-known islands that can be reached by regular boat services from Bangbao Pier in the south of Koh Chang island (we shared these before here). And some routes also by-pass Koh Chang from the piers in Trat as well. Anyway, these are the lesser-known islands of Thailand’s Eastern Islands:
Koh Kood (Koh Kut)
Jessica J. Hill of Missadventure Travel. From the quaint and colourful town of Trat on Thailand’s oft-skipped Southeastern Peninsula, one can catch a ferry at the pier. But you’re not going to the party island of Koh Chang (though it can be a good time). Instead, cruise past. You’re headed for Koh Kood, which is Thailand’s fourth largest island, and one of the least developed. It’s an island without a town, an island without a scene, an island without a crowd. It has three roads, which altogether don’t quite make it around half of the island. The rest is covered in dense jungle land. It’s nature at its best. The ferry will drop you at a rickety wooden pier in a small fishing village and taxis will be waiting to take you to your chosen resort. No matter which you choose, you’ll find your bliss. With nothing to do but split your time between some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and the natural waterfall pools in the jungle, Koh Kood offers ultimate, unplugged relaxation for the traveller who wants to be spoiled by the rare unspoiled. (I should also point out that this is our own favourite island).
Claudia Tavani of My Adventures Across The World: Koh Wai is one of the lesser-known islands in Thailand, yet one of the most beautiful, just a 20 to 45 minutes boat ride from the more famous Koh Chang Bang Bao harbour. What makes this island incredible is the complete lack of traffic and noise. There’s no electricity and no roads, just a dirt trail that connects the two main beaches and goes around the island to the bungalows rented to tourists. There’s no village either – just a couple of restaurants, which also are the only places where to get wi-fi. Compared to the nearby Koh Chang, Koh Wai is beautifully preserved. Imagine empty beaches (apparently they get busy on certain days, but definitely not as busy as those of other, more popular islands); soft white sand and lots of palm trees. And all around, the clearest, most beautiful water packed with marine life, where swimming and snorkelling are simply fabulous. I suppose it is the lack of electricity and internet that puts many people off from visiting Koh Wai. There’s no partying, no dining out – just complete relaxation and isolation from the crowds. In other words, pure bliss.
Mimi McFadden of The Atlas Heart: Koh Mak is a tiny island (only 16 square km) located off the coast of Southeast Thailand, near its big brother Koh Chang, in the Trat province. The sparkling shores of Koh Mak are worth a visit for its off-the-beaten-path atmosphere that welcomes everyone from honeymooners to the adventurers at heart. The island is ideal for anyone who wants to escape the busy streets of bigger islands such as Koh Chang, to be surrounded by locals and less tourists, and to be at peace with nature. I lived on the island for a month and I never tired of things to do, even with its small size. Snorkelling in the morning, riding my bike around the island during the afternoon, trying a new local restaurant in the evening, or enjoying the strong cocktails at Banana Sunset Bar from a swinging hammock at sunset. This is also the perfect island for day trips around the clear blue waters of Trat, especially if you’re into scuba diving. Spend an afternoon at the gorgeous Koh Kham Island or have an adventure at Koh Rang National Park to see its colourful coral reefs. There are endless options for outdoor enthusiasts in and around Koh Mak, or for those who simply want to relax on a beautiful tropical island. Lucky for you, it’s only a short 45 min speedboat ride away from the Trat pier on the mainland, or a slightly longer slow boat ride from Koh Chang.
Fanfan of us: Until recently I had always taken Koh Samet as being one of the better-known islands of Thailand, but this is due to the fact that we are based in Bangkok much of the time, and Koh Samet is the closest island destination from the city. So it is a hugely popular destination for short getaways, and weekends even, as you can literally reach the island on Friday night, and after 2 nights of relaxation, be back to work on Monday morning (although I would suggest a more leisurely stay). This does, of course, mean the island is a lot busier through weekends and short holidays, although most visitors and revellers will be found in and around the busy stretch of “Silver Sands” which is lined with the brasher bars and nightlife of the island. But there are many more secluded and peaceful beaches on the island to escape to. Although the entire island will be relatively quiet on non-holidays and weekdays. If planning to reach Koh Samet, it takes a 3-hour bus ride to Ban Phe pier in Rayong, where boats leave regularly throughout the day (full travel guide to Koh Samet here).
The Gulf of Thailand
While the Eastern islands are also found on the Gulf of Thailand, they are a long way away from the better-known islands found on the southern coastline, which are mostly accessed from the ports of Chumphon and Surat Thani. The best route to this coastline (from Bangkok) would really be by flight to Koh Samui. However, Koh Samui airport is owned by Bangkok Airways, meaning low-cost carriers are snubbed on this route, and it’s just rather expensive. Otherwise, flights to either Chumphon or Surat Thani are still silly cheap (or maybe Nakhon Si Thammarat), where transfer to the islands is relatively simple. When booking the boats separately the Lomprayah Catamaran Services do regular loops between the three main islands, which include Koh Samui (a well-developed tourist resort), Koh Tao (a scuba/snorkelling mecca), and Koh Phangan (the original island of the infamous full moon party). There’s really something for everyone on these three islands, but there are otherwise no real lesser-known islands to escape to.
The Andaman (Krabi)
I have split the central Andaman islands into two parts, as some islands are easier accessed from each of the two different coastal destinations of Krabi and Phuket. The furthest north of these two ports would be Krabi, which is a huge destination in itself, where much of the excitement (and tourist tack) can be found along Ao Nang beach. However travel is relatively simple and diverse throughout the Krabi area, and island transfer can be found at arrival at the airport, through the travel hubs of Krabi town, or just the countless kiosks of Ao Nang. I also feel that Railay is worth a mention here, a mainland peninsula separated from Krabi by towering limestone cliffs and the ocean. It’s only 15 minutes by longtail from Ao Nang, yet it feels like a completely secluded island of its own. Anyway, below are the lesser-known islands of Krabi’s Andaman Sea:
Vanessa Workman of The Island Drum. Although located just 70-kilometres from the Krabi International Airport, Koh Lanta is often overlooked by travellers in favour of more popular Phuket. But what Koh Lanta lacks in neon lights and disco balls, it makes up for with its explore-worthy 52 island archipelago and long stretches of uninterrupted beaches. Along the west coast alone there are over 10 non-private beaches and sandy bottomed adjacent waters to enjoy. Accommodations are also plentiful in Koh Lanta, with the more attractive options being on the west coast where even waterfront rooms can be affordable in addition to being front and centre to those spectacular Koh Lanta sunsets. With the main island of Koh Lanta being only 30-kilometres long and 6-kilometres wide, exploring on one’s own is non-complicated, interesting and not-excessively time-consuming; leaving visitors plenty of time to get their island groove on and relax under a shady palm tree. Local conveniences and services include plenty of eateries, bars, sundry shops, island hopping and dive trip tours, as well as day and night markets and jungle trekking. And if your body takes a tropical beating during the day, there are plenty of massage specialists to rid you of those awful vacation kinks.
Gábor Kovács of Surfing the Planet. Koh Poda is a small island (diameter is less than 1 km) situated at only a 30-minute boat ride from Ao Nang, Krabi. It has pristine white sand beaches with crystal clear sea around them and there are enough palm trees to provide you shade during the warm hours of the day. There’s a nice coral reef near the island to do snorkelling, and you can also rent a kayak to explore around. There’s a huge picture-perfect limestone rock just in front of the island, which seems to simply balance in the water. Koh Poda is not an unknown island to visit in Thailand, since many excursions in the Krabi area visit there, but not so many people know that you can actually stay there. You can come on a long-boat without a tour and stay a few days in one of the bungalows, located in the interior of the island. In the evening or in the morning before the excursions come, you will basically be alone on this beautiful island.
Paul Faruggia of Global Help Swap: When my Parents decided to visit us in Thailand we wanted to find an island away from crowds. It was Christmas and we were looking for something a bit special. That’s when we found Ko Ngai the perfect island to get away from it all. Ko Ngai is part of the Trang Islands in Southern Thailand. You can get to it by boat from Trang Province (which also has an airport). If your idea of the perfect Thai beach is white sand, crystal clear waters and Karst formations protruding from the sea, then Ko Ngai is the island for you. It’s a very small island with no inhabitants so all the hotel staff come from the mainland. The beach was the best we found in all Thailand. As we woke on Christmas morning we had the beach to ourselves. My Mom said she never thought she would end up in a place like this growing up. In fact my Parents still call the island “heaven”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Koh Pu / Koh Jum
Emily Lush of Wander Lush. Near-empty beaches, rustic bungalows and a relaxed atmosphere. Koh Pu off Thailand’s Andaman coast is one of the few islands where you can still have the beach to yourself—even in peak season. Northwest of Koh Lanta, Koh Pu is the name given to the northern half of the island. (The southern half is known as Koh Jum, and both names are used interchangeably.) Koh Pu’s main village, Baan Koh Pu, is home to a Muslim community and completely devoid of the bars and ‘buckets’ that have come to characterise neighbouring islands. The western coast offers a 10-kilometre stretch of wide, white-sand best beaches, shaded by a canopy of casuarina trees and rocky cliffs that shield the beach from the harsh morning sun. Accommodation is a scattering of bungalows, each with its own small restaurant. Koh Pu only has about 100 bungalows in total, meaning the beaches are always quiet, even in peak season. Away from the shore, you can trek or bike through the island’s interior, which is mainly unkempt rainforest and small villages. Koh Pu’s tourist infrastructure is bare bones (at the time of writing, there was no ATM on the island). You can reach Koh Pu by speedboat from Krabi or by local ferry from Laem Kruat pier.
The Andaman (Phuket)
We actually travel to Koh Phuket more than most islands, simply because there is a diverse range of luxury get-aways, and many of the times at ridiculously cheap prices (there’s a lot of competition in Phuket). However it can be a frustrating island to navigate, not only because it is massive (not much smaller than Singapore), but the local ‘taxi mafias’ make travel on the island limited and expensive. It’s really not a backpacker destination. However the surrounding islands in the Phang-nga region are surprisingly peaceful, and even the nearby islands are relatively unspoiled, despite the regions obvious popularity. For a further guide check our own bit on escaping mass tourism in Phuket. Otherwise these are the lesser-known islands of the Phuket and Phang-nga region:
Koh Yao Yai
Andra Padureanu of Our World to Wander. You know you’ve chosen a good island for your trip in Thailand when you tell people its name and the reply is “Koh what? Where is this?” This is what happens to us each time we tell people about the Thai island that won our hearts – Koh Yao Yai. Surprisingly, it is located half-way between the most famous destinations in Thailand – Phuket and Krabi. And somehow, people overlook it. The main advantage of an island found between two major touristic attractions is transportation. Because it’s not difficult at all to reach it. It’s not as if you need to put tons of effort in getting there. You have to take a boat either from Krabi or from Phuket. We took it from Phuket, from the Bang Rong Pier and it was a one hour journey (our directions / guide from Phuket here). What we loved most about this island was its pure serenity and quiet. There were only a handful of tourists on the island when we visited it. So you can easily find small beaches all for yourself. Another important aspect that drew us to Koh Yao Yai was its location. Being so close to the famous Phang Nga Bay you have a variety of daily trips to choose from. But it will be difficult to get off the island as for sure it will make you want to never leave it!
The Southern Borders
These islands were relatively unheard of until recent years, as they’re really not near any major destination (40miles/5 hours by speedboat from Phuket) and the islands really just lacked the same tourist infrastructure as the other islands and archipelagos of Thailand. Which is of course a good thing. But this has changed slightly these days, where cheap flights to Hat Yai now offer island transfer via the port of Satun, and the journey is now just rather simple, even from Bangkok. However, I would normally arrive in these southern border islands from the opposite side, as you can pretty much see them from Malaysia’s duty-free island of Langkawi. Although these routes are seasonal in the area, so it’s best to check beforehand (ferry times here). Finally, these are the lesser-known islands of Thailand’s Southern Borders:
Nate Hake of the Travel Lemming: Picture a tiny dollop of picture-perfect white sand covered with palm trees and plopped in the middle of some of the bluest water on Earth. Now you’ve got a sense of what it’s like to experience the magic of Koh Lipe. This small island in the far south of Thailand is free from the congestion of traffic. You’ll have to get around by foot or take a motorbike taxi. But no worries about getting around, because it’s possible to walk the entire island in a just an hour or so! Though Thailand’s islands are all famous for their white sand and blue water, most visitors agree that Koh Lipe offers the cream of the crop for the beach bum in you. So grab a Chang or mojito, dig those feet into the sand, and settle in to soak up some sun! Lest you think you’ll get bored on such a tiny slice of paradise, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on Koh Lipe too. Gear up for some incredible diving and snorkelling. Or grab a kayak and explore the nearby uninhabited islands of the Tarutao National Park. Whether you’re solo travelling Thailand, visiting with your family, or a couple on honeymoon, you’re sure to fall in love with gorgeous Koh Lipe!
Stefan Arestis of Nomadic Boys: Koh Tarutao is the largest island in the Tarutao National Marine Park in Southwest Thailand, close to the Malaysian border. It is a former concentration camp for political prisoners. Today it is heavily protected by the Thai government with very few facilities. To reach it, you need to take a 1-hour speedboat from Pakbara on the mainland, which costs around 450 bahts per person each way. The entry point for Koh Tarutao is at Ao Phante Malacca in the north of the island, which is where the camping ground base is. Ao Son beach was our favourite on the island, located around 6km away. We rented mountain bikes and visited as a day trip, passing jungles, stunning waterfalls and some pretty spectacular sceneries. You can also do snorkelling, kayaking and trekking here. Thankfully, because the island is so heavily controlled by the Thai government, this has prevented it from becoming ruined by tourism. As such, facilities on the island are few, with only a handful of restaurants, and lodgings are bungalow hunts to rent, or areas by the beach to pitch your tent.We absolutely loved Koh Tarutao. It is one of the places we will always remember from our travels in Thailand, and definitely want to return to explore more of it.
Adam Lukaszewicz of Getting Stamped: One of my favourite islands that is well off the tourist map in Thailand is Koh Adang. There are no hotels just a few chalets and beach tents for rent run by the rangers through the National Park. The island is everything you could ask for in a Thai island. White sandy beach, turquoise waters, great snorkelling, epic viewpoints, great hiking, a few waterfalls to be found. There is a small little restaurant that services breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as rents, snorkel gear. The only way to get to Koh Adang is by boat or kayak. Most tourists stay over on Koh Lipe which is a quick 5-minute boat ride for 100 baht per person. You can also rent a kayak and kayak over to Koh Adang. Once on the island stop and see the rangers to check out the map if you want to hike up to the viewpoints or the waterfalls. If you have time and like peace and quiet there would be no other place for some epic beach camping than in Koh Adang.