Thailand’s Andaman Coast is ideal for island hopping. While many travellers will already be familiar with locations like Phuket, Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, there are so many more islands to choose from in this gorgeous corner of Thailand. In this round-up, we shine a light on three islands in Satun province: Ko Lipe, Ko Tarutao and Ko Bulon Leh. All three islands offer something different and can be combined together in one trip. For this itinerary, we would suggest spending a minimum of two weeks to look something like this:
- Trang Town: 2/3 days
- Ko Lipe: 5/6 days
- Ko Tarutao: 2/3 days
- Ko Bulon Leh: 5/6 days
The little island of Ko Lipe has become increasingly popular in recent years with a corresponding rise in development on the island. It is still a lovely location to visit, but is now firmly on the tourist trail. If your idea of paradise is to escape the crowds completely, uninhabited Ko Tarutao is a good option. And for an island which strikes a balance between the two, laid-back Ko Bulon Leh is ideal.
Trang and Hat Yai
The mainland towns of Trang and Hat Yai can both be used as the base for onward travel to the islands of Tarutao, Bulon Leh and Lipe. From Bangkok you can fly or take the overnight sleeper train to Hat Yai. Similarly, you can also fly direct from Bangkok to Trang or take the overnight sleeper train.
From Trang or Hat Yai, onward travel to the islands can easily be arranged at any tour office in town to the islands. This involves a shared minivan transfer to the mainland port of Pakbara and connecting boat travel to the respective islands.
For this particular itinerary, we’ve opted for Trang Town as the springboard for Ko Tarutao, Ko Bulon Leh and Ko Lipe. While Hat Yai is geographically closer, there are advantages to transiting via Trang Town. And if you have the luxury of time on your hands, you could also include the delightful Trang Islands in your itinerary.
Trang is a charming destination in its own right and it’s worth spending at least a few nights here. This is an easy to navigate town where you’ll find good value accommodation, friendly locals and a fabulous food scene.
The area around Trang train station is the main traveller hub and if you don’t have transport or accommodation pre-booked for the islands, any of the travel agents and guest houses near the station can arrange it for you. The area in front of the station is also the location for a small, but enjoyable weekend market.
Trang may be a small town, but it punches above its weight when it comes to food. A mix of Thai, Chinese and Malay influences make for a wonderful food scene. Alongside all the usual Thai staples, Trang is famous for its must-try ‘moo yang’ (crispy roast pork). You’ll also find plenty of traditional coffee shops serving up tasty dim sum and cake.
When you first arrive on Ko Lipe and step off the boat onto the soft white sand, it’s easy to see why this little island has become so popular. Although it still involves a bit of effort to reach Ko Lipe, it’s more convenient than ever thanks to improved connections from Trang and Hat Yai on the mainland.
The wide range of accommodation and dining options on Ko Lipe makes the island a good choice for all types of traveller. And when you walk around Ko Lipe you will see solo backpackers, couples, and families with young children.
The compact size of Ko Lipe makes walking a convenient way to get around. If you have heavy luggage or would prefer not to walk, motorbike taxis with sidecars are also available.
Walking Street is the main commercial hub of the island. Running between Pattaya Beach and Sunrise Beach (aka Hat Chao Leh) this is where you will find the bulk of the restaurants and accommodation options. You’ll also see plenty of tour offices where you can arrange snorkelling or diving trips and also book onward travel.
Ko Tarutao has a fascinating history. During the 1930s, this remote island was a penal colony. Political prisoners were banished here at a time when this was a dangerous place with malaria rife, saltwater crocodiles in abundance and piracy rampant. The name of one of Tarutao’s caves, Tham Jorakae (Crocodile Cave) and the remnants of the old prison which are still in situ hints at the island’s dark past. But strolling along the tranquil, empty beaches today, it’s difficult to imagine Tarutao as being anything other than a peaceful island.
What hasn’t changed too much over the years is that sense of remoteness. Ko Tarutao is now part of the eponymous National Park with the only accommodation on the island coming in the form of National Park bungalows or tents. You’re likely to see as many wild boars and monkeys as you are people, so this island won’t appeal to everyone. It offers a stark contrast to Ko Lipe and for that reason alone makes it a good option as part of a balanced itinerary where you get to enjoy a range of different island experiences.
Ko Bulon Leh
For some discerning travellers, Ko Bulon Leh is the ideal Thai island. It’s eschewed development and still retains an easygoing charm with wooden beach bungalows and a welcoming local community.
There isn’t a great deal to do on Bulon apart from relax, swim, swing in a hammock and forget about your worries. The presence of the local Chao Ley community means that compared to Ko Tarutao there is more choice for food and accommodation.
People of the Sea
The islands in the Andaman Sea are home to seafaring indigenous people. The different groups – Urak Lawoi, Mokken and Moklen – share things in common, but have their own culture. The term that Thai people use to describe all the groups is ‘Chao Ley’ which translates as ‘People of the Sea’. Sometimes referred to in English as ‘sea gypsies’, the Chao Ley were settled on the islands in the Andaman Sea long before the first tourists arrived. In Satun province, Chao Ley communities continue to live in small villages on Ko Lipe and Ko Bulon.
Good to know
The flight time from Bangkok to Trang is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes with the airport located around 10 minutes drive away from the centre of Trang town. At the time of writing (November 2023) budget airlines AirAsia, Nok Air and Thai Lion Air operate services between Bangkok and Trang.
Daily train services to Trang town depart from Bangkok’s Krung Thep Aphiwat station with a scheduled journey time of approximately 15-16 hours.
If you book a combination minivan/boat ticket you’ll be taken to the appropriate pier on the mainland (usually Pakbara) to catch the boat to the islands.
The weather in Trang and the offshore islands is similar to Krabi and Phuket with November-April the best time to visit. During the May-October rainy season, some boat services are suspended and guest-houses and resorts on some of the islands are closed for the season.
This article is part of our Itinerary Ideas series. These particular itineraries are for anybody, but may appeal more to repeat visitors to Thailand looking to explore different destinations on their next trip or anyone seeking meaningful travel experiences. If you’re a first-time visitor to Thailand or looking for more ideas of where to go and what to do, check out these articles too:
2-week Thailand itinerary
3-week Thailand itinerary
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