Andaman Sea island hopper
First published 30th December, 2012
Coconut trees crouch over white sands, limestone cliffs soar from clear aquamarine water and another magnificent sunset unfolds; it must be the Andaman Sea off the southwest coast of Thailand. The decision to visit this, one of the world's most idyllic destinations, is an easy one, but choosing an island or two can be tough. Settling into a single island for a solid chunk of time is the best way to fully unwind, but if seeking adventure, why not hop till you drop by way of high-speed ferries?
Several companies run speedboats that connect many of the best Andaman islands during the November to March high season, with plenty of more out-of-the-way islands reachable via private longtail boats. Beginning on Phuket and finishing up way down in Malaysia's Langkawi, you could conceivably chill out on 22 different islands without ever setting foot on the mainland -- and you don't need your own private yacht to do it. Here are some options to satisfy both the beach bum and Magellan in you.
So where to tomorrow?
It's essential to visit the Andaman Sea at the right time of year if wanting to take advantage of island hopping routes. The early bird boats get started early to mid November and finish up mid to late March while others, such as the large Tigerline, don't set sail until December. Arrive between December and February for the widest range of options. If you visit between April 1 and October 31, be prepared to head back to the mainland and travel by mini-bus/local ferry between each island as it's too dangerous to attempt these relatively long stretches on open sea during the monsoon.
Ko Ngai taxi.
Suggested trip length
Unless your primary desire is to feel the wind through your hair on daily speedboat rides, we would recommend at least two or three days on whichever islands you choose, not including travel days. Plan on a solid two to three months if you actually want to attempt visiting all of the islands mentioned here -- and if you can swing that, boy do we envy you.
Ko Lipe: All welcome.
Keep in mind that it's best to purchase each ferry route individually rather than by way of the "open tickets" offered by some travel companies as it can be difficult to find the right boat down the line and travel offices aren't always willing to help if you're not buying tickets from them. The one exception is Tigerline, which offers direct booking via its website and provides instructions on where to meet the boat. With that said, the smaller speedboats are speedier and more fun than the big Tigerline ferries. We've yet to try all of these, but we have enjoyed consistently smooth rides with Bundhaya.
Ko Bulon Lae: Quit your job now.
Also note that the mainland is reachable from virtually all of these islands, and boat tickets to anywhere can be easily arranged through guesthouses or travel companies. On the national park islands, simply contact the visitor centre when you're ready to go and they'll point you to the right boat. Prices can run anywhere from 100 baht for a short longtail ride, such as from Ko Lipe to Ko Adang, to more than 2,000 baht for longer distances. Most of the legs take less than an hour but expect a half-day of skimming the waves if going from, for example, Ko Lanta to Ko Lipe.
Ko Adang: Climb the hill, earn the swim.
The main island hopping route
Most speedboat companies run the following route daily in either direction, starting in either Ko Lipe or Ko Phi Phi in the morning and arriving at one or the other by late afternoon.
Ko Lanta: You've earned that massage.
A few companies stop at Ko Kradan as well, which can also be reached via a private longtail from Ko Muk. At least one boat also makes a stop at Ko Lao Liang, Ko Jum, Ko Libong and Ko Tarutao, respectively. Ko Jum is also reachable via a direct ferry from Ko Lanta, and Ko Si Boya is reachable from Ko Jum by longtail. You can also get to Railay direct from Ko Phi Phi, though that would be cheating as it's technically on the mainland.
Nai Yang Beach, Phuket. Overcrowded ... not.
The Phuket zone
Not surprisingly, Thailand's biggest and most visited island offers direct boats to a range of nearby islands. Low-key escapes like Ko Maiton, Coral and Raya Islands, Ko Lone, Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi are reachable from various piers around Phuket. Keep in mind however that these islands are not on the larger island hopping routes -- you'll need to first return to Phuket and then catch one of countless daily departures for Ko Phi Phi to link up with the speedboats that cruise further south.
Langkawi: Plenty of empty sand.
The Lipe / Langkawi zone
Several boats also run back and forth from Ko Lipe to Langkawi, making it possible to cross the border without going back to the mainland. We can't imagine a more fun place to enter Thailand than Lipe's charming immigration building slap bang on the fine sands of Pattaya beach. From Ko Lipe, a private longtail can take you to its national park island neighbours, Ko Rawi and Ko Adang. It's also a breeze to get dropped off at Ko Tarutao by one of the many speedboats that connect Lipe to Pakbara on the mainland.
Ko Kradan: Itinerary destroyer.
Possibilities are endless and your own itinerary should reflect your tastes, but if we had a few weeks to hop around the Andaman we'd seek a mix of kicking back on picture perfect beaches, back to nature activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkelling, settling into a comfy spot with good eating and nightlife for a little while, and also some bare bones bungalow time on at least one not-so-touristy island. Here's an example:
Ko Rok: Call me Crusoe.
Start off with a solid four days on activity-rich Ko Lanta, then cruise to Ko Muk for a three- to four-day stay including a side trip to the stunning beaches and great snorkelling of Ko Kradan. Next, head for a comfy and lively week on Ko Lipe, with some mountain trekking thrown in on Ko Adang. Finally, we'd lose ourselves on enchanting Ko Bulon Lae for a few last days before returning to the real world, at which point the story has two possible endings.
There is always next year!
Either you'll slide back into normal life and work feeling refreshed while secretly relishing the jealousy in co-workers' eyes upon seeing your deep chestnut tan. Or, you'll be so entranced by the island hopping experience that you'll quit your job and end up back in the Andaman within a matter of months. Be warned -- the latter is a lot more common than you think.
Related readingThai islands to lose yourself on
Thai islands for nature lovers
Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
Which island in Trang?
What is the best island in Thailand?
Read 1 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (4)
- Burma (3)
- Cambodia (19)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (14)
- All stories
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (6)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (59)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (29)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (18)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (14)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (15)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.