When visiting the islands surrounding the southern coast of Thailand, one can easily get wrapped up in the serenity and beauty of these incredible island destinations around Thailand. If visiting Koh Phi Phi it’s and it’s imperative to visit Maya Bay – famous for it’s perfect enclosed beach and dotted islets used as a filming location. Take a look at the best Thai islands to visit following the busy city life of Bangkok, featuring the best quotes from The Beach movie!
Bangkok – Grand Palace
We arrived into Bangkok from Hanoi feeling a little worse for wear after a bug caught us during a day trip to Halong Bay. A night in with comfy beds and aircon was all we wanted, and we were back in the familiar Saphaipae Hostel near Silom that we stayed at during our previous visit.
The following morning we felt so much better, proof that a good night’s sleep can make all the difference. We had a busy day of final sightseeing, most of which was spent at the enormous complex in the Grand Palace.
We indulged in the final temple we would be visiting for some time, and revelled in all the grandeur that Thailand has to offer. As I’ve mentioned before, no expense is spared when it comes to their carefully decorated architecture, and the beloved King is number one priority. We loved the Grand Palace, from the jewels room to the Emerald Buddha, everything is lavish and beautiful. It’s really a treat for the senses! It’s probably my favourite of the main temple attractions in Bangkok, if only for it’s variety, but for me it was the majesty and delicacy of it all. Where else can you see a Buddha made entirely of Emerald that gets dressed by the King?!
For our final night we went to an old haunt for street food and market bartering on Koh San Road for one last Jojo’s Pad Thai (in my opinion the best in Thailand!). It was here we bid goodbye to this wonderfully crazy, fantastic city. As a fast changing city I can’t wait to return one day and see what’s changed, so watch this space!
A long bus ride overnight and we were at the port in Surat Thani watching the sun slowly rise as we waited for our boat to the island of Koh Tao.
“I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.”
What are the best Thai islands to visit?
There is really no clear answer here, it depends on what you’re looking for!
When deciding where to go we had several ideas and were advised on a few islands that kept cropping up. These pockets of paradise are the perfect backpacker place on a budget, we could just sit back, relax and top up the tan! The only question was which ones to visit… Here’s where we ended up!
Koh Tao is very small, and well known for the scuba diving courses that are an affordable activity and give you a chance to see some wonderful reefs and marine life. We couldn’t afford time or money to do this, but I would LOVE to one day.
The island itself is extremely quaint and pretty, and we adored it. It was functional enough with everything we need such as a Seven Eleven corner shop for food, snacks and water, restaurants, bars, cafes, walks and of course, beaches. We explored a couple of beaches, and chose one we liked which was a 20 minutes walk from the hostel. We loved our hostel too, everything was just perfect for our time on Koh Tao and the peaceful atmosphere was welcome after busy Bangkok.
While there have been mixed reviews on visiting Koh Tao, as mentioned it’s really personal taste and for us we were sure to remain safe and sensible during our visit to ensure we had a relaxing time. We wish wish wish we’d stayed longer, but alas, it was on to the next!
The largest of the Thai Islands, Samui is much more commercialised, and feels like a coastal town on the mainland instead of an island. Access can either be by booking a ferry as with other islands, or by plane as the island has an airport. The more expensive of the islands we visited, it seems more of a place for holidaying couples and families, and the long stretch of beach is filled with so many tourists and locals selling all sorts of food and souvenirs.The resorts that back right onto the beach get the best spots, and the water sport enthusiasts make gentle waves on the jet skis.
As for a backpacker scene, there’s plenty of activities to enjoy from jungle hikes and extreme sports, but we opted for relaxed time enjoying the beach, window shopping at The Mall, a new large shopping plaza right by the beach, and enjoying a chance to rehydrate and shelter from the heat in the cool cafes dotted along the main street.
Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui
Koh Phi Phi
This island on the west side of Thailand we reached by boat, bus, and another boat by crossing the country. Booking is cheap and easy though the Thailand ferry service, and the routine trip runs like clockwork but be prepared for a long trip. Just head down to the ferry port and there’s likely to be a travel office or booking booth to make a booking if you’d like to do so in person, and if not there’s always people nearby who can direct you. There are rarely booked out boats, so we left it until the day before sometimes to book, and as the prices didn’t change it was really easy to be a little more spontaneous.
Phi Phi is known as a party island, and it’s very apparent when you arrive. There’s no roads on the island, but it’s just a short walk to the backpacker haven of the beach front, with hostels, bars and all the young people enjoying the sunshine.
We decided to try the west side as we’d heard so many good things about Phuket and Phi Phi and thought “when in Rome!”. Although we were a little unsure and apprehensive of the party atmosphere, we actually ended up really embracing it all and loving it. We let our hair down, and had a wonderful last couple of nights being carefree. This of course improved our end-of-holiday-blues massively, and our attitude changed immediately. We were suddenly making lots of friends and feeling like the life and soul of the party as we boogied on the beach and enjoyed the fire shows and entertainment on offer throughout the evening.
Maya Bay Day Trip
In the day time on Phi Phi there are a few activities, some short walks to view points and kayaking, but the one we were really interested in was to Maya Bay. This day trip took us around Phi Phi to various places of interest and it is SO worth it. We didn’t know whether to go at first, but if you’re ever in doubt, try to enjoy and embrace it, you don’t know what you’d be missing out! For just £8 we enjoyed a boat trip for the whole day, including lunch and our entry to the national park.
The first stop was to Monkey Beach, which is quite a literal name for a small bay near the main port where monkeys quite happily approach people and extremely curious and cheeky, one even stole someones drink! they climb all over and it’s actually so much fun if you’re able to get past the whole “it’s an unknown wild animal” thought.
Next up the long tail boat took us out into the choppy waters to reach the heart of the Hat Nopparat Thara-Ko Phi Phi National Park (bear in mind the 400 Baht entry into the park). After a provided lunch we got to the main reason for the trip, to visit Maya Bay. This bay is known for being beyond stunning, and was used as the filming location for the movie The Beach made in 2000 by Danny Boyle and starring Leonardo Di Caprio.
The bay did not disappoint, with crystal blue waters, white sands and enclosing islets of tall rock I felt like we were so lucky to be standing there, in paradise. The waters are choppy mind you, but a new friend and I swam our way over to a tiny bay just next to the main bay itself. This quirky bay felt like we’d stepping into a creepy movie scene, the piled rocks and makeshift swing were clear signs of past visitors, but the tides had long washed away and footprints and instead the sand was as soft as fresh snow, untouched and perfect.
We walked around the park a little to other side of the bay, but of course Maya Bay is famous for a reason, as the other areas just don’t compare. Bear in mind when visiting, it’s an extremely busy and popular spot, so make sure to catch a tour leaving early to get the beach mostly to yourself.
Once it was sadly time to say goodbye, we were off to enjoy some snorkelling and immersing ourselves in every detail, as we were aware this was to be our last beach day!
Phi Phi Beach
“So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”
After a brilliantly fun last night on the islands, it was back to the mainland to spend a night in Krabi. I’d heard good things about Krabi, but we didn’t have much of a chance to see anything besides the night market.
For anyone planning to do a big trip, I would really recommend doing something like the Thai Islands LAST, because if you start out with them you might feel like you’ve peaked, but really it’s just beginning! Ending with them was a wonderful way to relax and prepare for going home, and at the end of being so busy we felt satisfied we’d achieved a lot, and ready to relax.
We were also used to the culture, which made being on a little island with the potential of less access to amenities we were way more prepared than had we started there. There are plenty other things to do and see on the islands, but this time our goal was purely beach based. If you’re after a more adventurous trip there’s a wealth of other things if napping and swimming isn’t your thing, so plan ahead where will be right for you.
“And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.”
Following our relaxing time on the Thai islands we took a whirlwind trip back to our favourite Thai spot of Chiang Mai. We were eager to spend a little more time sampling the food, immersing ourselves at Art in Paradise, and spending our remaining Baht at the market! Before long, we were on a flight back home after 2 incredible months in South East Asia, and a 6 month trip around Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand too.
Have you visited the Thai islands? Which was your favourite? Let me know your tips for travelling Thailand!
Pin it for later!
To follow my 6 month journey across some incredible countries, you can find posts to all the stories below by each country visited:
Australia – Whether a city visit with Melbourne day trips and culture or East Coast beaches and nature are your thing, Australia has it all!
New Zealand – Stunning landscape of mountains and lakes plus the quirkiest cities you’ll find, New Zealand is the ideal backpacker destination for those with time to really explore in depth.
Fiji – Paradise has been found with the white sands of the Yasawa Islands in this Pacific country.
Thailand – Rich culture and delicious food, Thailand is a must-do stop for travellers of all sorts and the low prices and easy transport options make seeing a lot in a short time easy.
Laos – Float down the Mekong River through untouched rolling hills to see waterfalls and caves in the hidden gems throughout Laos.
Cambodia – For the history fans visit Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap, to S-21 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia provides an insight into modern and ancient antiquity.
Vietnam – Embrace the vibrant cities and gorgeous colours that light up the skies and streets along Vietnam’s coastline. From Saigon to Hanoi, the winding roads take you though historical, cultural, and adventurous stops for a place that has a bit of everything.
That’s all folks, until the next story!