The islands off the coast of Thailand are worldwide famous for a reason. Boasting white sand beaches, tropical lush forests and clear waters, most of them are travel postcards in real life. Some islands still remain fairly undeveloped and faithful to their own essence, like Koh Muk, Koh Tarutao and Koh Tut.
On the other hand, massive tourism has also over-explored some of these paradises. Sadly, noise, inflated prices and even trash are more and more frequent in places like Phuket, Railay and the Phi Phi archipelago. No wonder why many get back from Thailand disappointed!
Longtails in Phi Phi Islands.
But what about somewhere in the middle? What if you’re not willing to play “Survivor” and want sufficient infrastructure BUT want to escape tourist crowds at the same time?
Here’s a bit of help for first-time visitors. I’ve done my fair bit of island hopping in Thailand and shortlisted 5 places who are truly pieces of heaven. They all have a soothing balance of safety, scenery and relax without overwhelming signs of massive tourism to make your trip safe and enjoyable. At least for now.
Just off the coast of Ao Nang, Krabi, I find it incredible how this little island can still fall off the radar. The northern area is a frequent hop-on hop-off point for longtails and speedboats, but if you walk 10 minutes, you’ll find yourself in a huge pearly white sand beach. The whole east coast is an almost deserted area, with views to the nearby Chicken Island.
Koh Poda is part of the 4-island tour offered virtually everywhere in Krabi, but I strongly recommend you to skip the tour completely and just buy a single return ticket. It will make a much more enjoyable and relaxed day trip.
Long Beach in Koh Lanta.
As it stands, Koh Lanta hits the sweet spot on the compromise between tourism infrastructure and remoteness. There are no western food chains or big parties going on every weekend. It’s mainly a chill-out island. Even Long Beach – the largest stretch of sand in the island – is an absolute bliss, especially at sunset.
Unfortunately, Koh Lanta is one of those places I won’t predict a very bright future. The new bridge connecting it to the mainland and the ever-growing number of resorts will most likely turn it into a massive tourist hotspot. Make sure you go while there is still some authenticity left!
Severely overlooked by many right next to the Cambodian border, Koh Chang is the third largest island in Thailand. If you’re looking for a more diverse and adventurous place this is it. The many waterfalls, coral reefs and forests are sure to keep you busy for a long time.
And of course, beaches! It won’t be a proper Thai paradise without a good collection of white sands. Despite the name, you’ll never be alone in Koh Chang’s main party hotspot: Lonely Beach.
Despite an ever-growing tourism industry, Koh Tao has been able to keep its natural beauty more or less intact, both above and underwater. It has been a diving mecca for years – apparently it’s the cheapest place in the world to take the PADI training! – and a snorkeling hotspot.
Apart from this, there are top-notch beaches and coves as well as numerous hiking trails in the interior of the island. A complete package.
Sunrise Beach in Koh Lipe.
Being right to the point, Koh Lipe is my personal favorite island in Thailand. Not only the beaches are top-notch with white sand and clear warm waters, the locals are friendly and smiley and the food is amazing value. And don’t get me started on the numerous massage places. It’s a tiny island but there is so much to offer. There is one main street in the island – conveniently named Walking Street – loaded with restaurants, shops and arts and crafts.
I mean, what else do you need to be happy?! Everything is so easy, it truly feels like a piece of paradise.
That said, Koh Lipe is not perfect – now some environmental problems are starting to appear – but it still has an unique vibe to it I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Main beach in Phi Phi Don.
Bonus: The Phi Phi Islands
Much can be said about the Phi Phi islands and you are most likely to hear contradictory reviews. You most likely want to go there. See what all the hype is about, see the place where “The Beach” was filmed, maybe even meet DiCaprio. I was the same!
While still displaying a stunning scenario, this is a place where it’s impossible not to feel the economic pressure of tourism. After the 2004 tsunami, new hotels, restaurants and bars have been popping like mushrooms. As a result, this is probably one of the most expensive and overrated places in Thailand.
I still recommend you to go to Phi Phi islands if you’re going for the first time in Thailand. I mean, just don’t take my advice, go for yourself and decide. Despite the masses posing a threat to sustainability, Koh Phi Phi Don (the largest in the archipelago) is still a natural wonder and the famous Maya Bay (in Phi Phi Lee) is still an incredible sight.
My suggestion is to visit Phi Phi islands as a day trip tour from Krabi or Ao Nang. Just because as you can see from this article, there are far more enjoyable, cheap and authentic islands to stay in Thailand.