There’s the picture-perfect beach vacation we all dream of. White sand beneath your feet, an ice-cold drink in your hand, and the quiet sounds of the palm trees blowing in the wind and turquoise waves crashing on the shore. Total tranquility.
…Then, there’s the beach vacation we actually get. Somehow, fighting for overpriced beach chairs at overcrowded beaches amid blaring music, screaming children, and unruly tourists never live up to the seaside serenity you had in mind.
These days it can feel like a truly relaxing beach vacation just doesn’t exist for the everyday traveler. Instagram seems out to convince you that maxing out your credit cards on a Maldives private villa is the only way to get some real island paradise without the crowds.
But there’s a better way.
Thailand is famous for its unbelievable beaches, serious affordability, and friendly locals. While this Southeast Asian destination is a tourist hotspot with plenty of buzzing beach crowds, some of its 1,430 islands remain well-kept secrets.
Here are five unknown islands in Thailand to experience paradise without the crowds:
Located off the eastern coast of Thailand, the tiny island of Koh Mak usually flies under the radar compared to neighboring backpacker hub Koh Chang. But if a quieter experience is what you’re after, Koh Mak is the island for you.
With just 10 square miles to its name, Koh Mak often surprises visitors with how many virgin beaches they can find all to themselves simply by walking or cycling for a few minutes around the island.
You won’t find any plastic bucket drinks, nightclubs, jet ski rentals, or big chain resorts here. Instead, there are a few serene beach bungalows and boutique luxury properties dotting the main beaches of Ao Kao and Ao Suan Yai, where visitors fill their days finding their zen in sleepy ‘old Thailand.’
The big activities on this small island are daily cycle tours, friendly beach volleyball matches, and scuba diving. In place of flashy touristy restaurants, you can enjoy top-notch seafood shacks alongside locals.
Travelers to Koh Mak come for its neverending untouched beaches, with not a single crowded cluster of beach loungers in sight. Pack an adventurous spirit and get lost among the rubber trees and palm plantations on your way to your own private beaches – free of charge.
You know that picture-perfect paradise you imagine when you fantasize about leaving your desk and running off to a tropical island where no one can find you? Well, that vibrant postcard image has a name – Koh Kood.
Just a few kilometers away from Koh Mak, this hidden heaven is one of Thailand’s points of pride. Visitors are often surprised to hear that the nearly unheard-of Koh Kood (alt: Koh Kut) is the fourth largest island in the country.
While we have no idea how this magical island has avoided mainstream tourist attention and overdevelopment for this long, far be it from us to question a good thing.
Beaches like Ai Noi and Khlong Chao seem like they belong in the Maldives, not undiscovered eastern Thailand. Ban Ao Yai fisherman’s village (which shares a name with its more popular counterpart on Koh Phayam) is also a popular destination on the island to experience a taste of traditional Thai culture.
The way to reach Koh Kood is the same as to neighboring Koh Mak. Take a ferry from either Trat (a mainland city reachable by plane or bus from Bangkok) or Koh Chang for about 2 hours. The best time to visit both islands is November to February.
Once again, it’s a mystery how Koh Phayam has escaped mass tourism – but we’ll take it over the tourist throngs of Phuket or Koh Samui any day. From ethereal temples to photogenic rock formations and sunsets at Ao Khao Kwai, the views all around Koh Phayam can’t be beat.
No need to worry about crowds in this authentic beach gem. One traveler said of his recent trip that “at any given time there were only around 100 foreigners on the island.” Whether you’re surfing in the bay or baking in the sun, you’re sure to have a calm seaside holiday in Koh Phayam.
Koh Phayam is located off the southeastern coast of Thailand. To reach this tropical slice of heaven, travel by plane or bus to the town of Ranong before catching a speedboat (40 minutes) or a slow boat (2 hours) to Koh Phayam.
Koh Bulon Lae
Unspoiled simplicity is the name of the game on Koh Bulon Lae. You can walk from one side of this little gem to the other in about 20 minutes, so a trip to Koh Bulon Lae is for one purpose only – beach relaxation.
This beauty is hidden in the Andaman Sea in the south of Thailand, near Tarutao and Mu Ko Phetra National Parks. It’s mostly just soft white sand and thick tropical jungle… just what the doctor ordered.
There are no cars, roads, mega-resorts, or crowds. Electricity is touch-and-go for a few hours a day, and you can pretty much forget about Wi-Fi. These Robinson Crusoe vibes are perfect for adventurers, zen-seekers, and digital detoxers.
One tourist had this to say about his recent visit. “This is what I envisioned when I first started dreaming of Thailand, only this was better. There are trails that will take you through the center of the island and to the other bays where you’ll find bars and restaurants scattered…this is truly paradise.”
It’s worth noting that accommodation here is pretty limited, mostly unavailable online, and books up far in advance. We suggest booking well in advance directly with the property via phone or email.
You can get to Koh Bulon Le by a 30-minute ferry from Pakbara Pier, reachable by a short drive from the nearby airports at Hat Yai or Trang.
Koh Kradan is a long, thin island that makes up for its teensy size with breathtaking beaches.
Tourists love the world-class snorkeling all around the island and appreciate its long stretches of snow-white sandy beaches.
After being named the “best beach on earth” by World Guide this year, Koh Kradan isn’t going to be a well-kept secret much longer. Locals are rushing to protect their island’s natural riches so that locals and tourists can continue to enjoy it for generations to come.
The coral reefs and endangered marine wildlife of Hat Chao Mai National Park are the island’s top priority as it continues to welcome visitors from October to May. The beach remains closed for four months each year, from June 1 to September 30, to maintain its pristine coastline.
You can reach Koh Kradan in Thailand’s southern Andaman Sea from Trang Airport via Hat Yao Pier. Alternatively, you can catch the ferry to and from other popular islands like Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket.
For a truly relaxing beach vacation, It’s all about finding the sweet spot between untouched, uncrowded beaches and accessibility. Each of the islands on our list is roughly 2 hours or less from a Thai airport.
While they’re not too tricky to get to, they do have some limitations. Ferries typically only run during the high season (typically November to February/March). If visiting during the low season, you’ll hire your own speedboat or longtail for $50-80, depending on the destination.
There are no ATMs and limited shops on these islands. It’s important to bring more than enough cash, medications, and other necessities with you. Being prepared is a small price to pay for your peaceful beach paradise!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com