Looking for romantic settings? Check. Want to walk barefoot along white sand beaches? Check. In search of a tropical island getaway? Check, check and check. Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan tick all the right boxes for that perfect beach break. Whether you’re travelling alone, with your partner or on a family holiday, this trio of islands in the Gulf of Thailand offer a memorable holiday experience. There are plenty of good reasons to visit this delightful area of Thailand, but here is your starter for ten to entice you.
1) Island hopping
With regular boat connections linking Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, you can spend an enjoyable few weeks on an island hopping holiday to sample life at each destination. Frequent boat services also connect the islands with the mainland so if you have more time to explore Thailand, it’s easy enough to travel onwards to Bangkok or across to the Andaman Coast for Phuket and Krabi.
From either Ko Samui or Ko Pha Ngan, take a day trip to the spectacular Ang Thong National Marine Park. The 42 islands that make up Ang Thong were once a hide out of pirates with a myriad of sheltered bays and hidden shorelines providing cover for the pirate ships. In more recent times, this same sense of secrecy and isolation from the outside world inspired Alex Garland when he was writing his best-selling book, The Beach. Although the movie adaptation famously used Maya Bay and Phi Phi Leh as a setting, it was the islands of Ang Thong Marine Park that provided the inspiration for the original storyline.
2) Rise above it all
You’ll find some of the most gorgeous vistas in the country in the Gulf of Thailand. If you make a trip to Ang Thong Marine Park (and you definitely should) tour boats will stop at the island of Ko Wua Talab where the park headquarters are located. You have the opportunity to spend time swimming, snorkelling or sunbathing, which are all tempting options. If you are up for a challenge, though, make the trek up to the viewpoint for sublime views of the archipelago. The greenery of the islands combines with the blue skies and aquamarine of the ocean to provide an unforgettable scene.
Ko Tao is blessed with an abundance of scenic vantage points. One of the most memorable is found on the neighbouring island of Ko Nang Yuan where visitors can get a bird’s-eye view of the sandbars that connect the three rocky outcrops that make up Ko Nang Yuan.
And back on Ko Tao itself, one of the best views is from the spectacular John Suwan Viewpoint which is just a 10-minute walk away from Freedom Beach. The climb up can be slippery in places as you clamber over the rocks, but there are guide ropes to help you keep your balance. You’ll be hot and sweaty when you get to the top, but the sublime views over Ko Tao make it all worthwhile. If all that sounds too energetic for your liking, pay a visit to the Dusit Buncha Resort on Ko Tao where you can enjoy food and drinks at the resort’s Nangyuan Terrace & Sunset Restaurant with striking views across to Ko Nang Yuan.
On Ko Samui, make the journey to the Jungle Club at Chaweng Noi, pull up a beanbag and enjoy expansive views out to sea to accompany your food and drink. If you’re staying on Ko Pha Ngan, the hilly terrain of the island lends itself to a host of viewpoints with the chic Bluerama resort and restaurant being one of the best of the bunch.
3) Pamper yourself
A trip to the Thai islands is a wonderful opportunity to truly relax and switch off from the stresses and strains of life back home. From simple beachside massages to luxury spas, the Gulf Coast islands provide plenty of opportunities for pampering. Indulge yourself with some serious spa time and treat yourself on the inside too with a range of detox and wellness programs to choose from. On Ko Samui, Absolute Sanctuary is a great choice for a yoga or pilates holiday and offers good value too. Also on Ko Samui, the luxurious Kamalaya consistently earns excellent reviews. Described as “brilliant, quirky, unique . . . “ by Time Out Magazine, The Sanctuary on Ko Pha Ngan is all that and more. For more details on wellness breaks in Thailand, take a look at the various packages from UK-based Healing Holidays.
4) Love island
Amidst a backdrop of swaying palm trees, soft sand beaches and seas as warm as bathwater, the islands in the Gulf of Thailand have an enduring appeal for romantics. Pop the question, enjoy a magical island honeymoon or simply spend precious time with your partner on a tropical paradise. Ko Samui in particular has garnered a reputation as being one of the best locations in Thailand for weddings and honeymoons. A number of hotels on Samui can take care of your wedding arrangements and many will also offer additional perks for those on honeymoon.
Read more details about getting married in Thailand
5) Finding Nemo
With clear waters and so much sea-life beneath the waves, you’ll have no trouble finding Nemo. The seas around Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan are bliss for divers and snorkelers and you’ll discover a host of colourful marine life including corals, clownfish, barracuda and sea anemones. Ko Tao enjoys a reputation as being one of the best dive destinations in Asia and is an excellent location for all levels of diving experience, from beginner to advanced. If you don’t want to dive but still want to experience the sea-life, most boat trips around the islands also provide the opportunity to go snorkelling with all equipment included in the price of the trip.
6) Party people
The islands of Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui and Ko Tao attract an eclectic mix of visitors and offer a similarly diverse entertainment scene. Although all three of the islands provide opportunities for partygoers to let their hair down, don’t worry if you are seeking tranquility. The beauty of Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan is that there are enough different beaches to choose from and it’s easy to avoid the party areas and find the ideal stretch of sand and accommodation to suit your style.
In a pre-Covid world, Ko Pha Ngan was famous for the monthly Full Moon Party held on Haad Rin beach on the south of the island. While the parties brought in visitor revenue, they weren’t without problems and the future of the event is unclear.
7) Fabulous food
From tasty street fare to elaborate seafood restaurants, you’ll never go hungry in this part of the world. Seek out the various Walking Street markets and mingle with the locals as you enjoy great value food and shopping. On Ko Samui, there are Walking Street markets around the island on different nights of the week. The best three set up over the weekends with the popular Fisherman’s Village Market at Bophut on Fridays, at Nathon on Saturdays and the market at Lamai on Sundays. On Ko Pha Ngan, a lively Walking Street market sets up each Saturday afternoon in the main town on the island, Thong Sala.
You’ll find beachfront dining on many of the beaches with freshly caught seafood featuring prominently on the menu. For a special experience, dine at Six Senses Samui and enjoy one of the most romantic places to dine on the Gulf Coast. Or try the ever popular Dr Frogs and The Cliff for superb food and lovely views.
8) Beach walks
Kick off your shoes and ease into island life as you take a barefoot stroll along any one of the many inviting Gulf Coast beaches. If you suffer from jet-lag after the long-haul flight to Thailand, sunlight and exercise are both helpful for tackling the fatigue and a walk along the beach can work wonders. On Ko Samui, you’ll find acres of soft sand stretching out before you at Chaweng and Lamai.
On neighbouring Ko Pha Ngan, the aptly named Haad Yao (Long Beach) is another inviting expanse of soft white sand that is a delight to walk along. Just to the north of Haad Yao, you arrive at Mae Haad where you can walk along a sand bar to reach the small island of Ko Ma.
On Ko Tao, Sairee Beach takes the honours for being the longest beach and you’ll also find a host of places here to stop and have a drink or a bite to eat.
Ko Pha Ngan
9) Sunrises and sunsets
The Gulf Coast islands serve up some sublime sunrises and sunsets. Walk along empty beaches at first light and see the fishermen and boatmen at work as the sun slowly rises above the horizon. And there can be few better ways to relax at the end of the day than with a cocktail in hand, your feet nestled in the sand and watching the sunset over the Gulf of Thailand.
10) Family fun
Out of the three islands, Ko Samui has the most to do for families with waterparks, go karting and mini golf amongst the most popular activities. For a tropical twist on the golf theme, you can also play football golf and frisbee golf. Keep young children amused with a visit to Central Festival at Chaweng where you will find playgrounds and a number of attractions to keep the little ones happy.
On Ko Pha Ngan, explore the island on quiet roads on a family cycling trip or try your hand at one of the batik workshops on the island. And all of the family can pitch in and become a Trash Hero which is a novel and fun way to make new friends and meet people of all ages from around the world as you help keep the beaches clean. Award-winning Trash Hero has activities on Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Samui.