Quick Start Guide to the Thai Islands

This blog comes from STA Travel’s James Greenslade, who has left his Oz homeland for a few months to explore the UK. He can currently be found staring at still light sky at 9:30pm, shaking his head and muttering about witchcraft.

Thailand’s many islands are a staple on the backpacker, flashpacker, gap year, sabbatical, long break, beach holiday, and any other circuit you can think of. And there’s a reason – they’re bloody brilliant.

But the sheer number of versions of paradise to choose from, and hassle of wading through millions of blog posts, articles, reddit threads and Instagram pictures, can leave you in an agony of indecision about which to choose. No more. Check out our quick start guide to the Thai Islands for those who want less time researching, more time sunbathing.

Quick Start Guide to the Thai Islands

Koh Samui

Come here if you like: Home away from home.
Not so good for: The traditional Thai experience. There are quieter spots (the south and west) but Chaweng, Lamai and other popular beaches could almost be in Ibiza. Nothing wrong with that of course, if you fancy Ibiza.
Don’t miss: Big Buddha Temple. Opulent, audacious, majestic.

koh samui

Image courtesy of Tetsuji on Flickr
Hidden gem: Village visit. If you’re craving some home cooked Thai cuisine and a little local culture check out one of the villages such as Thong Krut, Bang-Kao and Hua Thanon.

Koh Phangan

Come here if you like: Hedonism.
Not so good for: Sleeping.
Don’t miss: The Full Moon party. Obviously. Thailand’s internationally renowned gathering of those who would proudly claim, “we like to party” along with The Vengaboys.
Hidden gem: Thong Sala’s night market. Authentic Thai seafood and fruit dishes served for a steal.

Koh Tao

 Pretty Koh Tao fish courtesy of Christian on Flickr

Come here if you like: Small and perfectly formed islands.
Not so good for: Those who can’t handle the strength of the sun.
Don’t miss: Diving. One of the best, if not the best, island in Thailand to dive off
Hidden gem: Rent a motorbike and explore the island for some amazing views. The roads can be a bit suspect though so go with a group trip if you’re not sure.

Koh Chang

Image courtesy of Andrij on Flickr

Come here if you like: Islands with a bit of everything. Plus it’s a great beach stop on your way to Cambodia.
Not so good for: Relaxing – too many jungle hikes to get stuck into.
Don’t miss: The backpacker hub of Lonely Beach.
Hidden gem: Long Beach. Remote, underdeveloped, hard to get to, it’s an “off the beaten track” lover’s dream.

Ko Phi PhI Don

Come here if you like: Oh look at it. Everyone should come here.
Not so good for: The well-being of your friends and family back home. They’ll be well jealous.
Don’t miss: Phi Phi Viewpoint. Hundreds of steps will take you up to the viewing point where you’ll be rewarded with views of the double-fronted beach, and seemingly endless ocean in its emerald colour.
Hidden gem: If you’re into climbing don’t miss Hin Tak Climbing Area in Tonsai Bay.


Come here if you like: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Beach, Moby’s 2000 classic Porcelain and Pure Shores (filmed in Norfolk but you get the picture).
Not so good for: Those who can’t keep a secret. We’re looking at you, Leonardo.
Don’t miss: The actual Beach itself, Maya Bay.
Hidden gem: Snorkelling and diving. With amazing visibility, the coral is waiting for you.

Koh Lanta

Image courtesy of dronepicr on Flickr

Come here if you like: French, German and Swedish travellers. Some peace and quiet (relative to Thai standards).
Not so good for: Nightlife.
Don’t miss: Ko Lanta National Marine Park. Wildlife galore. Over 100 species of fauna call this national park home. Trek through the park and if you’re lucky you might even come across a monitor lizards.
Hidden gem: Tham Khao Maikaeo. To the surprise of many that venture out to the islands of Koh Lanta, they play host to a vast network of caves dating back millions of years. Local Thai guides will take you through them for a small fee.

Koh Lipe

Image courtesy of Vyacheslav on Flickr

Come here if you like: Relaxation and party rolled in one (the best of both worlds).
Not so good for: The whiteness of the sand might blind you.
Don’t miss: Boom Boom Bar on Sunrise Beach. Your quintessential ‘beach shack’, it’s about as laid-back as you can in our fast-paced world.
Hidden gem: Koh Adang View Point. A relatively easy one hour hike to the viewpoint and you’ll be rewarded with more beautiful Thai island views.

Khao Phing Kan (James Bond Island)

Come here if you like
: James Bond. More specifically, The Man with the Golden Gun.
Not so good for: Avoiding Bond villains.
Don’t miss: Ko Tapu. The limestone rock is one of Thailand’s natural wonders. Reaching 20m in height and having its diameter increase from bottom to top, it’s a sight to behold.
Hidden gem: Caving on a kayak.

Koh Mak

Come here if you like
: Cool ship wrecks and palm trees, Koh Mak’s got over 10,000 of them. Palm trees not ship wrecks.
Not so good for: People who don’t like palm trees.
Don’t miss: Biking. The best way to see this island is on two wheels. Ride through coconut plantations and who knows, you might even discover a lost, deserted beach.
Hidden gem: As one of Thailand’s least developed islands, it’s all a hidden gem!

Koh Panyi

Come here if you like: Seeing things you’ve probably never seen before – like a fishing village built on stilts which houses over 1,500 people.
Not so good for: Those allergic to seafood.
Don’t miss: The floating football pitch. Arguably the most scenic and simultaneously bizarre football ground in the world.
Hidden gem: The school. See how education is done over water.

Coming soon…the Andaman Islands!

Go on your own Thai Island adventure with our amazing flight deals to Thailand with Qatar airlines and check out our brilliant island hopping trips and guide to Bangkok.