If you asked a dozen travellers what is the best island in Thailand, there’s a good chance you’ll get a dozen different answers. With so many incredible Thai islands to choose from, finding the best one to suit your style of travel is all down to individual taste. For some travellers, the perfect island getaway will involve staying in a luxury location where the only thing you have to worry about is what cocktail to order at sunset. Others may prefer to go off the grid, forget about Wi-fi and stay in basic beach huts.
Whatever your notion of the perfect holiday island, Thailand has an island that will suit you. In alphabetical order, check out this selection of some of the best islands to stay on your next visit to Thailand.
Ko or Koh?
‘Ko’ is the Thai word for island. It is also written in English as ‘koh’ and both versions can be used. In Thai, the way the ‘k’ is pronounced is somewhere between a ‘k’ and a ‘g’.
Ko Bulon Leh
If you need high-speed Wi-fi and all mod-cons on your travels, Ko Bulon Leh is not for you. But if your idea of paradise is to switch off from the outside world, lay in a hammock amidst the palm trees and gaze out at calm, turquoise waters, then Ko Bulon Leh (often simplified to Ko Bulon) may be just what you are looking for. This lovely little island will be too quiet for some, but for others it represents exactly what a tropical island should be. Home to a small Chao Ley community, Ko Bulon is an island that welcomes a small number of tourists, but retains its soul.
Read more about Satun province and the Tarutao National Marine Park
Ko Chang is well-established as a tourist destination and with a broad appeal is an excellent choice for a holiday, whatever your style of travel. Ko Chang is also the ideal base to go island hopping and explore more of the gorgeous Mu Ko Chang National Park. For an insight into local life on the island, prise yourself away from the lure of Ko Chang’s beaches and pay a visit to the community based tourism initiative at Ban Salak Khok.
Read more about Ko Chang and Trat province
Located halfway between Krabi Town and Ko Lanta, the small island of Ko Jum (also known as Ko Pu) is a good choice if you’re looking for a tranquil getaway. Stay on the west coast beaches and enjoy views over the Andaman Sea to the Phi Phi Islands in the distance. The opportunity to enjoy the slow life on Ko Jum is what brings visitors here, but if you find it’s too quiet for your liking, it’s easy enough to take a boat to Ko Lanta, Phi Phi or Krabi.
Read more about Krabi province
Ko Kood (also written as Ko Kut) is suitable for anybody seeking a laid-back island, but without foregoing any of life’s luxuries. And if it’s luxury you’re after, look no further than the fabulous Soneva Kiri. Try the unforgettable treetop dining experience or relax at the outstanding Six Senses Spa. With jungles and waterfalls to complement its scenic beaches, Ko Kood is similar in appearance to its bigger neighbour, Ko Chang. While Ko Chang has become increasingly developed in recent years, Ko Kood remains a quieter alternative.
Read more about Ko Kood and Thailand’s East Coast islands
There’s little to do on the slender little island of Ko Kradan, but that is part of the appeal. Days here are spent walking along the soft, white sands and taking a dip in the inviting aquamarine waters. Ko Kradan enjoys a reputation as being a romantic island and in previous years has been the setting for the Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony.
Read more about Ko Kradan and the Trang Islands
Ko Lanta is described by many repeat visitors as the perfect Thai island. Easy to reach from Krabi, Ko Lanta offers a choice of attractive beaches and a broad range of accommodation. With the local eateries and markets at Sala Dan and the heritage of Lanta Old Town, this charming island has a little bit of everything. And it is this all-round appeal that makes Ko Lanta as suitable for backpackers as it is for couples or families.
Read more about Ko Lanta
Ko Libong may be one of the largest Trang Islands, but it’s also one of the least developed. While the beaches and sea may not be as beautiful as other Thai islands, Ko Libong is an island for nature lovers and anybody interested in enjoying local life. Fishing and farming drive the local economy here and not tourism. Hire a bicycle or jump in a motorbike sidecar taxi to explore the quiet roads and take the opportunity to go on an eco-friendly boat trip to try and spot the elusive dugongs (similar to manatees) who feed on the seagrass near Ko Libong.
Read more about Ko Libong and the Trang Islands
Improved transport connections have coincided with a rise in development on Ko Lipe and although it is no longer the ‘untouched’ destination it once was, the views from the diminutive island remain as stunning as ever. The compact size of Ko Lipe means that most locations can be accessed by walking although there are also motorbike taxis with sidecars available to take you around. A 10-minute walk along Walking Street is all that separates the two main beaches of Pattaya Beach and Hat Chao Ley (also known as Sunrise Beach).
Read more about Ko Lipe and Tarutao National Marine Park
Part of the Ko Chang archipelago on Thailand’s East Coast, Ko Mak is an island for those who enjoy the quiet life. Home to a population of around 350 people, the traditional way of making a living here is from coconut plantations and rubber farming. Relax into island life and enjoy one of Thailand’s most laid-back destinations.
Read more about Ko Mak and Trat province
The amiable island of Ko Mook in Trang province is a delightful location to spend your holiday. Tourism helps contribute to the local economy, but the islanders retain their traditional way of making a living through fishing and rubber-tree plantations. It’s a happy medium which makes Ko Mook a great base to explore the other Trang Islands. If you visit Ko Mook, don’t miss the chance to explore the famous Emerald Cave.
Read more about Ko Mook and Trang province
With its gorgeous views and white sand beaches, the little island of Ko Ngai (also known as Ko Hai) is ideal for a romantic break. The weekends can see a temporary influx of day visitors on snorkelling trips to Ko Ngai and the nearby Emerald Cave at Ko Mook, but the rest of the time the island remains blissfully quiet.
Read more about Ko Ngai and Trang province
Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Pha Ngan is famous for the Full Moon Party, but there is so much more to the island than that. With a string of pretty beaches, a good choice of accommodation and a family friendly atmosphere, Ko Pha Ngan offers a quieter alternative to nearby Ko Samui. Or visit both islands as part of a Thai beach holiday and experience the best of both worlds.
Read more about Ko Pha Ngan and the Gulf Coast islands
Located in Ranong province on Thailand’s Andaman Coast, Ko Phayam is often overlooked by travellers heading to the better-known islands and beach resorts like Phuket and Krabi. That has left the island to retain its chilled vibe making it ideal for anybody looking for a beach destination off the beaten track, but not too remote.
Read more about Ko Phayam and Ranong province
Located on the East Coast, Ko Samet (also written as Samed) is one of the easiest islands to reach from Bangkok. This makes the island a popular weekend destination for people living or working in the Thai capital. But during the week, the pretty beaches remain mostly quiet and the island is a pleasant destination to visit if you want to combine an island break with a visit to Bangkok or nearby Pattaya.
Read more about Ko Samet and Thailand’s East Coast islands
One of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations, Ko Samui continues to attract visitors from around the world. Whether you travel via a scenic ferry ride from the mainland or fly direct into the delightful island airport, arriving on this tropical island is an experience in itself. With something to appeal to all types of traveller, Ko Samui is an excellent choice for a beach holiday.
Read more about Ko Samui
Ko Sukorn may lack the beautiful white sand beaches found on the other Trang Islands, but this island offers something different. The lack of tourists on Ko Sukorn is part of the appeal and those visitors who do make it here are assured a warm welcome from the islanders. The local population is predominantly Muslim and the traditional way of making a living on Ko Sukorn is from farming, fishing and rubber plantations. Cycle along the quiet roads and enjoy an island lifestyle that isn’t always so easy to find on the more built-up Thai islands.
Read more about Ko Sukorn and the Trang Islands
Renowned as one of the best dive locations in South-East Asia, Ko Tao should be on the list of any keen snorkelers or divers heading to Thailand. While it’s the underwater scenery that attracts many to Ko Tao, the island is also home to some stunning viewpoints. Make the hike to enjoy the panoramic views at John Suwan Viewpoint and don’t miss the opportunity to visit neighbouring Ko Nang Yuan where you can enjoy another fabulous view of the sandbars that connect the three rocky outcrops that make up Ko Nang Yuan.
Read more about Ko Tao and the Gulf Coast islands
Ko Tarutao was granted national park status and protection in the 1970s and there are no hotels or guest-houses allowed here. But visitors are able to enjoy the serene environment by staying in National Park accommodation which comes in the form of bungalows or tents overlooking the Andaman Sea. Ko Tarutao is an island perfect for nature lovers and ideal for long hikes and quiet contemplation.
Read more about Ko Tarutao
Ko Yao Noi
Within easy reach of Phuket, the charming island of Ko Yao Noi offers a stark contrast to its bigger and better-known neighbour. The beaches of Ko Yao Noi aren’t as attractive as those found on Phuket, but it is the laidback lifestyle of the island and the sumptuous views of Phang Nga Bay that are the main draw here. Hire a bicycle to explore the island and enjoy the serenity of Ko Yao Noi.
Read more about Ko Yao Noi
Ko Yao Yai
A short ferry hop across from Ko Yao Noi brings you to Ko Yao Yai. In Thai, the word noi means small, yai is big and yao is long. So Ko Yao Yai translates as the long big island. Although Yao Yai is bigger than Yao Noi, it is even quieter here and another fabulous location to soak up the scenery. Ride a bicycle along the traffic-free roads that take you past local villages and rubber-tree plantations or jump in a kayak to admire the beauty of the island from the sea.
Read more about Ko Yao Yai
Last, but by no means least, is Phuket. The largest island in Thailand is a province in its own right and consistently rated by visitors as one of the best islands in Thailand. It’s fair to say that Phuket isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, with its detractors arguing it’s too commercialised. But Phuket’s many fans will say that there is a diverse choice of beaches and an equally diverse choice of things to see and do away from the beach.
Read more about Phuket
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Roy Cavanagh is a freelance writer with a passion for Thailand and Thai culture. Owner of the online travel guide, thaizer.com, Roy has travelled to every region of Thailand and shares his valuable tips and insights with us.
Read more articles written by Roy