A Short Guide to Thailand's Islands and Beaches
Koh Lanta - One of the more mellow islands, Koh Lanta seems less developed and more spread out than the others. The main beach along the west side of the island is Long Beach. It feels truly endless and provides more than enough space for all tourists to lounge and swim. The horizon here seems to expand more than 180 degrees from the beach making the sunsets incredible. You'll have many options to dine along the water while enjoying these views. There is also a lot to explore on the island, but a scooter or tuk tuk is necessary. On the very south end of the island you can find more remote beaches as well as a national park. Here you'll find many monkeys, rich culture, and calm vibes. A visit to Old Town offers a small, unique street on the east side of the island that is worth stopping at for lunch and shopping. From Koh Lanta you can take a day snorkel excursion of Four Islands. This trip includes a swim through Morakot Cave (Emerald Cave) to find a hidden beach. It's an experience you don't want to miss. As for accommodations, we had a wonderful experience in the bungalows at Nautilus Resort and highly recommend staying here.
Koh Phi Phi Don (Pronounced "P P")- This island is unique in that you can walk almost the entire town (and island) and no scooter is necessary. This seems to be both a beautiful benefit of the narrow island, and also a downfall as it can quickly start to feel too crowded. The beach on the east is lined with colorful long-tail boats and, when the tide goes out, it also includes a giant sandbar to hang out on. There are options to hike, kayak, snorkel, scuba, and lounge around the island. The streets are filled with restaurants, tour operators, and souvenir shops. There's a vibrant bar scene in the evening (or sometimes even during the day depending on the day/crowd) full of beer pong, fire shows along the beach, and awesome live music.
Koh Tao - One of the main attractions of Koh Tao is learning how to scuba dive. Many travelers come to this island to get their PADI certification. If scuba diving isn't for you, this island still has great variety to offer. Hiking, scootering, and adventuring around the island can fill your days. There is a laid-back vibe with plenty of options for a relaxing on the beach or watching sunset during dinner. At the same time, if you're looking for it, there's a bustling nightlife lining the beach in the evenings. This island seems to have a little bit of everything. (You can find more details about what to do in Koh Tao here.)
Tonsai and Railay Beaches - Not to be confused with Tonsai on Koh Phi Phi, Tonsai and Railay Beaches are located on the western coast of Krabi just south of Ao Nang. The only way to access these remote areas is by long-tail boat. Once there, you can walk between Tonsai and Railay via 10-30 minute pathways, time depending whether you walk through town or along the water. Tonsai also know as a rock climbers paradise. Many levels of climbers scale the large rock faces above the water. If you aren't a big climber, renting kayaks for a few hours will provide you access to many small, secluded beaches and caves. In the evenings, the tiny town of Tonsai turns into a chill, hippie getaway. As for beaches, Railay West is your best option for lounging in the sand and swimming in crystal clear waters. The beach on Tonsai is quite small and rocky. *You need to be even more cautious than usual with food and drinks here. Since almost everything is brought to the island via long-tail boat, the likelihood for contamination is higher. Also due to the secluded location, food/drink/accommodation prices tend to be higher than most of Thailand. We enjoyed the authentic meals at Mama Chicken Restaurant.*
Ko Phangan - Renowned for it's monthly full moon party, Ko Pha Ngan is considered one of the more "party" islands. We unfortunately only experienced the island for the full moon party on New Years Eve, so we can't claim to know more than how fun that event is! During the full moon parties, accommodations on the island tend to cost more and require longer stays. For that reason, we took a ferry from Koh Tao instead of spending additional time on Koh Phangan.
We've yet to explore Koh Samui and Phuket. We skipped out on these areas for now as we've heard they are more touristy than the others. Please feel free to write about your own experiences in the comments below. We'd love to learn more!
*Please note: All photos in this post were taken on an iPhone only.