Thailand’s glorious islands are the stuff of daydreams: powder white sands, cobalt skies, balmy clear waters. Whether it’s blissful solitude or party central you’re seeking, there’s a Thai island with your name on it. Here are five of the best.
Thailand’s classic tropical island holiday destination, Koh Samui has universal appeal. Once the go-to for adventurous backpackers, these days it welcomes families, honeymooners and well-heeled holidaymakers seeking chic resorts and high end hotels. A great destination for first timers to south East Asia, the island provides plenty of western comforts to help you acclimatise, such as international restaurants and hotels, spa resorts and sleek yoga retreats. You can fly direct to Koh Samui’s tiny airport from Bangkok and Singapore.
Check out the 50 foot tall golden Buddha at Wat Phra Yai in the north of the island. Enjoy people watching and bar-hopping on popular Chaweng Beach. Take a boat excursion to Ang Thong National Marine Park, a stunning protected archipelago of 42 islands. Here you can kayak and snorkel in emerald lagoons amidst parrotfish and angelfish. The reserve is home to extensive wildlife such as langurs, otters, iguanas, and over 50 bird species including herons and hornbills.
Koh Pha Ngan
If you want to party round the clock, then head to Koh Pha Ngan. The monthly full moon parties at Sunrise and Sunset beaches in bustling Haad Rin are legendary. The island is renowned for its energetic beach bar scene, particularly around its southern tip, where nightly festivities are the norm. For a quieter stay, try the beaches on the north of the island, such as idyllic Haad Salad and Mae Haad. Bottle Beach is a lovely secluded cove, popular with long-stay travellers. Check out excellent Thai and international food stalls at Thong Sala night market. Rejuvenate with an indulgent massage and spa treatment at one of the island’s myriad spas. You’ll find accommodation to suit all budgets, from rustic beach huts to exclusive resorts.
If you’re seeking a peaceful retreat in blissful surroundings, consider a stay on Koh Lanta, an archipelago of 52 tiny gem like islands, surrounded by calm waters and home to unspoilt beaches and dense mangrove forests. Popular with honeymooners and families, its remote location means you’ll encounter low-rise buildings, low key resorts and fewer visitors; getting there takes around an hour by boat from Krabi. Lanta Yai is the main island, a mellow 18 mile stretch of jungle-fringed white sands lapped by the Andaman Sea. Enjoy diving, kayaking, swimming and lazing on pristine sands. Take a long-tailed boat trip through the mangroves of Koh Lanta Noi. Kick back with a cocktail and enjoy the technicolour sunset at Kantiang Beach.
The laid back island of Koh Tao (meaning Turtle Island, due to its distinctive shape) is beloved for its pretty coves and coral reefs. Here you’ll find great nightlife and a more chilled out atmosphere than its hedonistic neighbour Koh Pha Ngan. The surrounding waters are home to whale sharks and manta rays, and the island is a major scuba diving hub, boasting numerous dive schools and equipment shops. Many novices learn to dive in the turquoise sea, or if you’re more experienced you can get to grips with shark diving, wreck dives and diving at night. Explore the islands lush interior on a guided hike, and take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan, a picturesque trio of islands scenically linked by a sandbar.
The largest and most popular of Thailand’s islands, glitzy Phuket is a beautiful jewel in balmy azure waters. Here you’ll find top class restaurants and cosmopolitan resorts, plus some of the country’s finest beaches. If you can tear yourself away from the sands, check out the colourful Chinese and Portuguese influenced architecture of Phuket Old Town, and sample the food stalls in Kaset Market.
Pay your respects to the giant white Buddha that sits gracefully on the hillside above Kata and Karon beaches. Visit Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, and encounter majestic creatures rescued from the logging and tourist trades, now free to enjoy their natural habitat. For a spectacular twilight panorama, join the onlookers at Laem Phromthep Cape on the island’s southern tip, and watch as the tangerine sun dips beneath the horizon.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com