The islands of Southern Thailand

Here are the best, the beachiest, and the backpackers' secrets amongst the koh (islands) of Southern Thailand's Malay Peninsula.

Popular Thai Islands
Ko Samui
• Ko Phi Phi
• Ko Phangan
• Ko Lanta
• Krabi - West Railay

Maybe you've seen pictures of isolated sugar-sand beaches. Grass-roof huts snuggle into the shade of coconut palms. A few snorkelers bob lazily in the crystalline, body-temperature waters of a private cove, washing gently over coral reefs teeming with colorful fish.

Perhaps you've heard of the constant sea breezes that shoo away the mosquitoes and cool the tropical temps to just the right level. Of islands where every full moon brings out thousands of ravers who party on the beach until sunrise. Of the ridiculously low prices—$70 to $90 for flights from Bangkok, beachside bungalows from $10. Of healthy, $3 to $5 meals mixing tropical veggies, seafood and chicken, curries, chilies, pineapple, and rice.

Could be you've just read Alex Garland's cult novel The Beach—or seen the Leonardo Di Caprio movie—one too many times and harbor dreams of discovering some hidden lagoon that lies beyond the ken of the guidebooks.

Surprisingly, all of that is true of the Thai islands (Koh Phangan is home to the Full Moon Party; plenty of abandoned isles await intrepid travelers with the time to find them and camp out on the beach). It's also true that any place you have seen, heard, or read about of, others have too—and the backpackers have beat you to the punch.

Any island touted as a paradise on earth will in short order be overrun by bungalow operations and low-rise hotels elbowing for room on an increasingly crowded beachfront.

The dirt track that runs behind these seaside lodgings quickly develops into the main road of a claptrap tourist town. In between ubiquitous 7-11 stores and bars, you'll find scores of noodle shacks where TVs blare the latest Hollywood hits on pirated DVDs; travel agents double as Internet cafes, dive centers, and rental shops; and longtail boat touts constantly harangue passersby to take a ride.

When this gets out of hand, what you get is Phuket. Once the darling of Hippie Trail backpackers in the 1970s, this largest of the islands has since poured cement over most of its natural beauty and turned the bulk of the island into a pre-fab tourist experience. We won't even bother including this Cancún of Southeast Asia in the listings below (though it is a convenient gateway for other Andaman Sea islands, especially Koh Phi Phi).

But charm still clings to South Thailand's other isles, and we've rounded up the best of them. On the Gulf of Thailand side of the Malay Peninsula, Koh Samui is large enough that, so far, it has been able to absorb the development, though it's becoming a bit overrun by tour packages.

Just to the north, Koh Phangan may host party-hearty backpackers during that monthly Full Moon Party, but in between raves it actually make for a quiet retreat (though all the partying translates to a rather trashy beach).

Islands and beaches on the peninsula's Andaman Sea side have more of that prototypical Southeast Asia look, the beaches bookended by tall, craggy karst peaks dripping with vegetation.

The dense little tourist town that has sprung up on tiny, overly-famous Koh Phi Phi still manages to thrive with a funky, bohemian air, so folks more interested in hanging out and low-key partying than in finding seclusion can still have a blast.

To get away from it all, Koh Lanta and West Railay Beach are still sufficiently off the radar that they haven't yet been, well, Phuketted.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

Related Articles


Thai island tours

This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.