31 Thai islands
Just a few to choose fromFirst published on 14th April, 2014
Recently I sat down with Travis Sherry of Extra Pack of Peanuts for an interview about Travelfish.org, travel in Southeast Asia and so on. I mentioned that during my frequent travels over the years to Thailand, I've visited 31 islands in total. So while Thailand has very famous islands like Ko Samui and Phuket -- perhaps your average traveller would be pushing it to name more than five -- it also has a lot of others worth considering. Without further ado, here's my list of 31 islands with a few lines about each. Happy island hopping!
Gulf of Thailand
October and November see the most rain on Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao; the best time to go is June through August and around Christmas. The wet season is fairly mild.
1) Ko Samui
A large island with equally large resorts. A wide variety of beaches, from the over-developed and sleazy to low-key and local. Budget options remain, but backpackers are better served with more options on neighbouring islands.
Hello Leela, it has been too long.
2) Ko Pha Ngan
Home to the infamous Full Moon Party, which for better or worse is a rite of passage for many young travellers, Ko Pha Ngan is also home to more than a dozen beaches and bays, some stunningly beautiful, and an interior clad in coconut groves and jungle. Interests served range from smoking weed in a hammock (this is illegal by the way!) to getting high naturally. This island is a hit with sun hedonists and a great spot for single travellers to meet others.
3) Ko Tao
One of Thailand's most popular diving locations, with thousands of travellers learning to dive here year in, year out. By Thai standards the diving is reasonable. Above the water, beaches range from bar and guesthouse-lined through to isolated getaways. Prices are moderate. Good for hiking and bouldering.
4) Ko Nang Yuan
A blip of an island just off the coast of Ko Tao and home to a single semi-upmarket resort. Known for its snorkelling -- and gets overcrowded with day trippers.
5) Ang Thong National Marine Park
While the park encompasses a bunch of islands, we'll count it as one. Commonly visited on a day trip from Ko Samui, you're able to visit a spectacular lake (the one Leonardo jumped into in The Beach), go kayaking and just explore. Overnight camping trips are possible and come very highly recommended.
6) Ko Thalu
Off the mainland, between Bang Saphan Yai and Noi, Ko Thalu hosts a single private resort that also claims ownership of the entire island. Most visit on a day trip as the resort is overpriced for the standard. Acceptable snorkelling when the conditions allow.
Assistant required. Must be able to paddle.
This area, especially around Ko Chang, gets very heavy rain in July, August and September, so bear that in mind. Ko Samet is pretty good year-round.
7) Ko Si Chang
Just a hop, skip and a jump from Bangkok, Ko Si Chang faces onto Bangkok's deep water anchorage and delivers great ocean vistas, but not the cleanest waters in the kingdom. This is a very local spot with foreign travellers few and far between. It's a good choice if you're waiting for a visa and can't face Samet again.
8) Ko Samet
Ostensibly a national park, but a shambles in that regard, Ko Samet offers convenient weekend getaway material for Bangkokians and others passing through. Quite built up, it's generally not the best value and pollution remains a problem. Some of the beaches though are very photogenic.
9) Ko Mun Nork
Just to the east of Ko Samet, Ko Mun Nork was home to an affordable resort that did packages out of Bangkok. It has recently redeveloped and moved considerably more upmarket, but if your budget stretches, this is a great place to get away from it all with a few books and a bottle of wine or three.
10) Ko Chang
Thailand's Elephant Island rivals Ko Pha Ngan for its budget offerings, but also has a mind boggling selection of more upmarket hotels and resorts. The busier beaches are well worth skipping entirely while the quieter spots still offer considerable beauty. The interior is still vast tracks of jungle.
11) Ko Maak
Broad and largely flat, Ko Maak is almost as famous for its sand flies as it is for its low-key vibe. Popular with slow travelling backpackers, you'll find plenty of discounts for long stays here.
Ko Maak taxi rank.
12) Ko Kham
A tiny island just off the coast of Ko Maak, this was once a popular place to hangout when Ko Maak just got too busy for you, but it's now in the midst of a very slow moving villa development, which should keep it out of most budgets.
13) Ko Wai
If you thought Ko Maak was too busy, Ko Wai could be to your liking. While it gets busy with day trippers during the day, in the morning and late afternoon this island has a blissful serenity you'll not find in many islands in Thailand.
Islands and more islands.
14) Ko Kut
My favourite island in Thailand. A little pricey for backpackers, but the beach quality more than compensates. Some of the best beaches in Thailand can be found here -- it's truly Maldivian. One downside is the snorkelling and diving isn't very good.
The wet season on the Andaman Coast runs from around May to October. On smaller, less popular islands, some resorts may shut up shop while the popular islands run year round.
15) Ko Chang Noi
Often referred to as "Little Ko Chang", from a vibe point of view this is more like "Little Ko Pha Ngan". Think much time spent in hammock doing very, very little. Particularly popular with German travellers who've been coming here forever.
Take a walk on the wild side.
16) Ko Phra Thong
In a solid case of wilderness meets an island, Ko Phra Thong delivers the goods for people how want to really get away from it all. Beautiful wooden houses are available to rent for those with the funds and backpackers are also catered to. Great for families who'll enjoy a place where the closest 7-eleven is a two-hour boat ride away.
Some love it, some hate it. Swings between breathtakingly sleazy to breathtakingly beautiful in a matter of a five-minute motorbike ride. While the best known beaches are heavily touristed with massive resorts, the far north of the island is largely deserted, save the occasional seafood shack where you can order barbecue squid and cold beer at very reasonable prices. Phuket Town though boasts a charming historic vibe and fabulous food. Many who write off Phuket have never been there.
18) Ko Phi Phi Don
From a distance, one of Southeast Asia's most beautiful islands. Up close it is overdeveloped and wickedly over-priced -- but the people keep coming. Home to a few glorious high-end resorts, flashpackers are the best served here, with a wide range of mid-priced lodgings. A heaving party and singles scene, the "village" can be too much for some, in which case a hideout on one of the remote eastern beaches is a better idea. A popular diving centre as well.
Phi Phi: Where just filling up the tank is scenic.
19) Ko Phi Phi Leh
You've read the book? You've seen the movie? Now see The Beach. There's no formal accommodation on the island, though you can camp at the national park campground. In practice though, the vast majority visit on a day trip, meaning you're best to try and get here earliy-ish to dodge the worst of the crowds. When empty the beach is beautiful, but when busy in the middle of the day in high season, it's like a longtail parking lot.
20) Ko Yao Noi
Set well to the north of Ko Phi Phi, conservative Ko Yao Noi is home to some very high-end resorts along with a clutch of backpacker to flashpacker options. Beaches are good, the snorkelling less so, but the real attraction is the low-key, seemingly untouristed vibe.
21) Ko Jum
Halfway between Krabi and Ko Lanta, Ko Jum is the perfect antidote for travellers looking for a laidback island scene without the development you'll get on Ko Lanta. Conservative and mostly Muslim, this is one of our favourite islands in the country.
Just another day on Ko Jum.
22) Ko Lanta
One of the best family destinations in Thailand. For those who feel Samui is now too developed, Lanta offers a comprehensive range of beaches and accommodation options along with calm waters and good food. Longer term holiday rentals are becoming more popular here.
23) Ko Ngai
Also known as Ko Hai, Ko Ngai has shifted somewhat upmarket over the years, but it makes for a good rest stop for a night or two while island hopping around the Southern Andaman islands. While much of the coral is stone dead there are still plenty of fish, and extremely clear water makes for fun snorkelling.
24) Ko Kradan
One of the more isolated Thai islands, Ko Kradan offers a great place to stay hidden away in the jungle and a terrific beach for taking in the scenery. As with many of the islands around here the coral is quite banged up, but good visibility and plenty of fish partly compensate.
25) Ko Rok Nai
Super isolated, Ko Rok Nai is the northern of twin islands separated by a deep channel. With a very pretty beach it promises good snorkelling, but we've heard that conditions have suffered over the years and it isn't what it once was. While possible to camp here, nearly all visit on a long day trip from one of the islands closer to the mainland.
Ko Rok many moons ago.
26) Ko Muk
Ko Muk is famous for its Emerald Cave, a collapsed sinkhole that you can swim to via a submerged tunnel -- the sinkhole is beautiful, the tunnel more of an acquired taste. Both are best experienced without being accompanied by 30 tourists in lifejackets, so pick your time wisely. The island otherwise has some good beach and great sunset views, with a true traveller vibe.
27) Ko Hin Ngam
Another day trip-only island. Legend has it you'll be cursed with bad luck if you take one of the beautiful black smooth stones on the pebble beach here. One of our travel companions scoffed at the warning and took a stone -- she was run down by a longtail while snorkelling the next day and promptly returned it. Apparently the national parks office receives hundreds sent back in the post every year.
28) Ko Bulon Lae
Think Ko Lipe without the mob scene, and not as great beaches, but with a very good jungle atmosphere and a very relaxed vibe. People find this island and return again and again and again.
Beach hobbies on Bulon Lae.
29) Ko Tarutao
Once the site of a Survivor series, Ko Tarutao is a rugged island offering multiple beaches to explore. Most stay at the top beach where there is national park bungalows but it's possible to camp on some of the others. Those planning on sleeping rough should note that the island has sandflies. Still, even a night or two at the top can be rewarding and it's a good spot to break the trip out to Ko Lipe.
30) Ko Lipe
Thailand's new Ko Phi Phi, with a staggering array of accommodation for such a small island. Plenty of beach to go around and some very beautiful spots. It's popular for snorkelling and diving, but many choose just to hang out. A good spot for meeting other travellers.
Sweat was involved in the creation of this photo.
31) Ko Adang
Opposite Ko Lipe and a flip side of the coin when it comes to the scene. A rugged national park, with simple park accommodation making for a change from Ko Lipe. Most visit on a day trip to see the waterfall and enjoy the significantly quieter beach.
I'm still yet to get to Ko Phayam and the Surin and Similan islands in the northern Andaman and Ko Siboya, Ko Sukorn and Ko Libong in the southern Andaman. Also yet to get to Ko Yao Yai. Over in the east Ko Kradat still beckons.
Where should I go?
Younger travellers looking for a vibrant scene to meet other travellers: Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lipe.
People looking to chill out: Ko Jum, Ko Chang Noi, Ko Yao Noi, Ko Bulon Lae and Ko Maak.
People looking for more creature comforts but still a unique getaway: Ko Jum and Ko Kut
Families with young children: Ko Lanta, Ko Samui, Ko Maak parts of Phuket and Ko Chang.
Families with teenage kids: Phuket, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samet.
Beach bums: Ko Lanta, Ko Kradan, Ko Lipe, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Kut and Ko Chang.
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Or scroll down for all our individual Southeast Asia island travel guides
Southeast Asia island guides
Islands in Thailand
Coral and Raya Islands
Off Phuket's southern coast lie a number of small islands whose pristine shores lure scuba divers and beach bums away from the mainland. Most of these isolated islands are undeveloped, but the notable exceptions are Coral Island and Ko Raya (also known as Ko Racha) which have accommodation options and restaurants. Both islands have safe swimming, reefs teeming with aquatic life, and a sense of getting away from it all that's harder and harder to come by in Phuket proper. Coral Island is read more about Coral and Raya Islands
Far out in the Andaman Sea, the formidable mountains of Ko Adang rise over Ko Lipe like a protective uncle. The two islands are so close together that if arriving to Lipe at Pattaya Beach, you may very well assume that Adang's lushly forested southern eminence is part of Lipe's interior. In fact, the two neighbours could hardly be more different. While both islands are technically part of Tarutao National Park, development and mass tourism have taken a firm hold on Lipe. In contrast, Adang read more about Ko Adang
Ko Bulon Lae
Kicking a football in the sea breeze, school kids laugh on their beachside field. Local sea gypsies smile at backpackers and families who lounge outside their simple bungalows. Flowers and butterflies abound. Away from the over-development and other problems found on more popular Thai islands, Ko Bulon Lae quietly preserves its rural tranquility. If that sounds wonderful, well, it truly is. But it takes a special sort of person to appreciate this one-of-a-kind island in the Andaman Sea. read more about Ko Bulon Lae
Sometimes called the Beast of the East thanks to its sheer mass and location in the eastern Gulf of Thailand near Cambodia, Ko Chang might just be the quintessential Thai island destination. From breathtaking mountains to idyllic beaches, hippy hangouts to salubrious resorts, and traditional fishing villages to neon nightlife, Elephant Island truly has something for everyone. Some say that Ko Chang's name derives from its shape on a map that somewhat resembles the head of an elephant. read more about Ko Chang
Ko Chang Noi
Not to be confused with the far bigger and better known Ko Chang of Trat province in the Gulf of Thailand, little Ko Chang — or, as we have always known it, Ko Chang Noi — is a formidable destination in its own right. One of Thailand's quietest, most relaxed, and undeveloped islands, Ko Chang Noi makes up for its lack of sparkle with an artsy, laid back atmosphere you'll find nowhere else. Don't expect luxury resorts and bus loads of short-term holiday makers but rather rustic read more about Ko Chang Noi
The little-known Andaman island of Ko Jum (aka Ko Pu) strikes an ideal balance of great beaches, thin crowds and ultra-relaxing atmosphere. With mass tourism having been left to neighbouring Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, Jum's Muslim residents have happily preserved their traditional lifestyle. So enchanting is Ko Jum that we'll go out on a limb to call it one of our favourite Thai islands. Colourful fishing hamlets dot the east coast, where longtail boats bob amid the seaside villages and read more about Ko Jum
An idealic little blink-and-you'll-miss-it island barely a kilometre from Ko Maak, Ko Kham was once the perfect spot to really get away from it all. Crystal-clear waters and a number of coral reefs made the island popular with the snorkelling crowd and many boat outings from Ko Chang stopped here for an hour or two to have a look into the not-so-deep. A series of black volcanic rocks jut out of the snow-white sand on the island's eastern beach, and for those on the island they made for read more about Ko Kham
Ko Kho Khao
Just a ten minute boat ride from the Takua Pa area of Phang Nga province, Ko Kho Khao (pronounced kaw koe cow) doesn’t look very different from the mainland. However, for those seeking a family beach destination that’s not as remote as nearby Ko Phra Thong but not as busy as Khao Lak or Phuket, Kho Khao is worth a visit. The island’s long golden beaches are the main draw, and aesthetically these are similar to the beaches of the Khao Lak area further south. The waters are slightly murky read more about Ko Kho Khao
A thin slip of an island off the coast of Trang province, Ko Kradan boasts a gorgeous white-sand beach stretching between fluffy green hills and the cerulean blue Andaman Sea. Also home to some good snorkelling and low-tide sandbars that make for the beach walk of a lifetime, Kradan is among Thailand's more visually spectacular islands. With some advanced planning, anyone from solo gap-year backpackers to groups of old friends to honeymooning couples and flashpacking families can enjoy a read more about Ko Kradan
We're going to go out on a limb and declare Ko Kut (also spelt Ko Kood) to be the most beautiful island we've seen in Thailand over two decades of travel to the kingdom. There. We said it. It really is just drop dead gorgeous. And we strongly recommend you add it to your itinerary the next time you holiday in Thailand. Set to the south of better known Ko Chang and Ko Maak, Ko Kut is a large, mountainous island whose interior remains largely jungle covered and whose western and southern read more about Ko Kut
Lanta. The word alone conjures daydreams of lazing in a hammock, soothed by tepid waves and refreshed by the juice of coconuts that collect on the sand. The exact meaning is unknown, but the island's old Malay name of Pulao Satak translates as Long Beach Island. Four splendid stretches of powder-white sand span several kilometres each on Ko Lanta, with many more secluded beaches just waiting to be lounged upon. First discovered by Scandinavian backpackers in the 1980s, this long and slender read more about Ko Lanta
Ko Lao Liang
If you thought that all of Thailand’s finest islands had been ruined by mismanaged development, Ko Lao Liang will prove you wrong. A little-known remedy for travellers seeking breathtaking Andaman Sea scenery without the crowds, the isolated pair of islands don’t even register among Trang province’s more popular destinations. And we hope it stays that way. Part of Mu Ko Phetra National Park, Ko Lao Liang’s two islands stand side-by-side some 40 kilometres west of the mainland. All read more about Ko Lao Liang
The largest but certainly not busiest island in Trang province, Ko Libong lulls travellers into a simpler state of mind with its unusual landscapes, deep starry nights and Muslim fishing villages uninfluenced by mass tourism. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of an endangered dugong, but all will depart with a sense of experiencing something completely different. Close cousins of the manatee and more distantly related to elephants, around 130 chubby and amiable dugongs, also known as read more about Ko Libong
In the early 1990s, whispers of an unspoilt island far out in Thailand's Andaman Sea began surfacing among backpackers. With dazzling white-sand beaches touched by crystal-clear water that sheltered vibrant marine life, Ko Lipe was everything it was cracked up to be. Though it remains tremendously beautiful today, mass tourism is pushing Lipe in a worrisome direction. Those who appreciate their luxuries and want to avoid the bigger resort islands will probably find everything they desire on read more about Ko Lipe
Just a few kilometres south of Ko Chang but a world away from its heavy development lies Ko Maak, undoubtedly an overlooked gem in Thailand's crown. Ideal for those who prefer the quiet life, this decidedly rural island has so far escaped the grasp of major developers. Though a sprinkle of tasteful new resorts have appeared in recent years, it appears that Maak will remain a sleepy, family-friendly destination for the foreseeable future. Ko Maak is blessed with long stretches of read more about Ko Maak
A quintessential island paradise Ko Muk is not, but its decent beaches, affordable accommodation and terrific day-trips draw a handful of travellers each high season. Also commonly spelt Ko Mook, the mid-size island sits off the coast of Trang province in the Andaman Sea and supports a modest Muslim-Thai lifestyle focused on fishing. The only part of Ko Muk ever seen by many travellers is the spectacular Tham Morakot, or “Emerald Cave.” After swimming through a dark sea cave, you read more about Ko Muk
Ko Mun Nork
The blip of an island of Ko Mun Nork rarely finds itself on the itinerary of roving backpackers and travellers -- partly due to the cost of the resort, but also because it can only be visited as a part of an organised trip. Ask many Bangkok residents though and you'll quickly hear some of the rave reviews Ko Mun Nork receives -- both as a romantic weekend getaway, but also for the occasional parties thrown on the island -- parties which are very much invite only. Private label raves and read more about Ko Mun Nork
If you're after a romantic beach holiday on a beautiful island and don't mind paying a premium for it, Ko Ngai is worth considering. Sitting quietly amid a scenic patch of the Andaman Sea with plentiful coral, Ngai hosts a long sliver of blondish-white sand with views to distant limestone karsts and the mainland. The tiny island doesn't have much character, but it offers plenty of comfort. Officially part of Ko Lanta National Park, Ko Ngai (also spelt Hai) is easily reached during high read more about Ko Ngai
Ko Pha Ngan
Although best known for the monthly full moon parties, which attract thousands of travellers from all over the globe, there is a lot more to stunning Ko Pha Ngan than getting trashed and passing out in the powder-soft white sand. The mid-sized and quite mountainous island (it stretches over 168 sq km and 70% of its topography is mountainous jungle with the remainder beaches and coconut groves) is situated roughly a third of the way from Ko Samui to Ko Tao. The island's original inhabitants read more about Ko Pha Ngan
Ko Phayam boasts long uncrowded beaches, plenty of walking trails, some jungle, lots of birdlife, roads without cars and one small village. Sounds good? Read on. Until a few years ago, few tourists had heard of this quiet laidback island on the Andaman coast near the Burmese border. It's still pretty unspoiled compared to many Thai islands but the number of tourists has increased significantly over the past few years. Tourists of all ages and backgrounds visit but they are nearly all read more about Ko Phayam
Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi, or Phi Phi Island, is one of the most talked about places in Southeast Asia, with its natural beauty and reputation for good times putting it firmly on the tourist trail. The beauty of the island is unparalleled, even in a region of the world renowned for its stunning destinations. Limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, white sand beaches and miles of trackless forest make Phi Phi a perfect tropical island. Developments over the past 20 years however have made it the subject of read more about Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phra Thong
In Thai, phra thong means golden Buddha, and a legend tells of how a valuable solid gold Buddha image was buried somewhere on the island hundreds of years ago. Any treasure hunters seem to have given up their searches long ago, which isn't surprising given Ko Phra Thong's unforgivingly hot and expansive savannah landscape. Totally unique not only in Thailand but all of Southeast Asia, visitors to Ko Phra Thong often remark that the landscape looks strikingly similar to the savannahs of read more about Ko Phra Thong
Despite its relatively close proximity to the town of Khuraburi along Thailand's west coast, the long, thin and rugged island of Ko Ra is one of the country's more remote islands with accommodation, and is a good choice for those seeking an offbeat, eco-minded destination. With most of the island protected as a wildlife sanctuary, this is a chance to experience a lush, untamed landscape. Ko Ra Ecolodge, which offered a wide range of activities, has recently closed and though we haven't read more about Ko Ra
Unspoilt Ko Rawi arguably boasts the best beaches of any island in the Adang archipelago -- and that's saying a lot. A smidgen smaller than neighbouring Ko Adang, Rawi has a similarly rugged interior to go with far more rudimentary national park services. Most visitors only stop here for lunch during a boat tour from Ko Lipe, but it's possible to pitch a tent for a longer stay. Separated only by a one-km-wide channel, Rawi and Adang look like a healthy pair of twins when viewed on a map. read more about Ko Rawi
Brilliant white-sand beaches, crystal-clear water, expansive coral reefs and metre-long monitor lizards: welcome to Ko Rok. Protected as part of Mu Ko Lanta National Park, these gorgeous twin islands boast some of the finest snorkelling in Thailand's Andaman Sea. Most come as a day trip, but it's possible to hang around for extended stays during high season. Aesthetically similar to Ko Surin further north, Ko Rok refers to Ko Rok Nai (called the inner island since it's closer to the read more about Ko Rok
As the closest major island to Bangkok, Ko Samet is one of the most popular places in Thailand to watch teal water caress feathery white sand shores. It's not the kingdom's most picturesque, enchanting or cleanest island, but Samet consistently draws droves of travellers seeking a quick, easy getaway from the Thai capital. One of the very first Thai islands to surface on the foreign traveller radar back in the 1970s, Samet's old days of crashing in hammocks next to beach campfires are long read more about Ko Samet
Back in the days when backpackers to Southeast Asia were first discovering Ko Samui in the 1970s, a basic thatched hut with running water and electricity was considered luxury. Now Ko Samui is home to some of Thailand's best luxury resorts and in the popularity stakes is surpassed only by Phuket. With an international airport, a mass of ferry connections and close to 500 hotels and guesthouses, this is not somewhere to come to glimpse a corner of the Thai kingdom untouched by tourism read more about Ko Samui
Ko Si Boya
The rural island of Ko Si Boya sits windswept and largely forgotten off the southern coast of Krabi province. The few travellers who make it here are far outnumbered by villagers, who themselves are outnumbered by cows and monitor lizards. While this is not the place to find idyllic beaches and luxury resorts, Si Boya doesn't disappoint those seeking peace and quiet. Reachable via a 15-minute local ferry hop from the mainland villages of Laem Hin and Laem Kruat, this mid-size island mainly read more about Ko Si Boya
Ko Si Chang
Ko Si Chang – not to be mistaken with Ko Chang – is an island two to three hours from Bangkok, in Chonburi province, 12 kilometres from the western shore of Siracha district and surrounded by eight smaller islands. Ko Si Chang is geographically the closest island to Bangkok, and often overlooked by tourists for more well known destinations. The small island is popular among Thais living in or near Bangkok and is a great place for a day trip with friends or a pleasant weekend with read more about Ko Si Chang
On calm and pastoral Ko Sukorn, water buffaloes outnumber the locals, and locals far outnumber the travellers. The not-so-easy-to-reach island is home to a slow-paced Muslim community that subsists mainly off agriculture and fishing, with tourism a distant third. Many of the few travellers who make it here settle in for extended stays, soothed to the bone by the time they leave. The dark-blue water off Sukorn’s shores doesn’t strike the idyllic sapphire and turquoise shades that read more about Ko Sukorn
If Thailand's tropical islands are the country's crowned jewels, Ko Surin could be the brightest of them all. Protected as the Mu Ko Surin National Park, Ko Surin actually consists of two relatively small islands — Ko Surin Nuea (north) and Ko Surin Tai (south) — as well as a handful of islets and some magnificent underwater seascapes. Though many choose to visit on a daytrip, Ko Surin really warrants spending a night or two in order to adequately absorb the unspoilt natural beauty both read more about Ko Surin
Once jokingly referred to as a drinking island with a diving problem, Ko Tao has evolved far beyond backpackers diving and beach boozing. Today the island draws families, flashpackers and sports junkies alike. Visitors will find hiking trails of various levels of difficulty that end with the promise of picturesque views, extreme rock-climbing, live jam sessions where locals and tourists showcase their talents, beach barbecues accompanied by fire shows and even trapeze-flying classes. For such a read more about Ko Tao
The Malay word tarutao means old, mysterious, primitive. At 150 square km and with mountains reaching over 500 metres high, this rugged island does indeed stir up a primeval sense of awe. It's no wonder that Thailand once banished convicted criminals here, and that the TV show, Survivor, chose this as one of its shooting locations. First occupied by only a handful of sea gypsies, Thailand sent more than 3,000 prisoners to work camps on Tarutao in the 1930s and '40s. Common criminals were read more about Ko Tarutao
Azure water laps onto powdery beaches framed by distinctive rock formations. Vibrant tropical marine life dazzles the snorkellers. Draped in jungle and overgrown rubber groves, pristine hills dare visitors to discover hidden beaches and viewpoints. No roads or motorbikes; no blaring all-night parties; limited electricity, just primitive huts in paradise. Welcome to Ko Wai. This tiny island sits six kilometres south of Ko Chang's southerly point, reachable via an easy cruise during high read more about Ko Wai
Ko Yao Noi
Ko Yao Noi, or Small Long Island, sits halfway between Phuket and Krabi in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. Found just a 30-minute speedboat trip away from Phuket, Yao Noi's tight-knit local Muslim community has led the island along a more low-impact, peaceful development path than its rowdy island neighbour. Yao Noi boasts a diverse and photogenic landscape with mangrove forests lining its west coast, a lush, pastoral interior and sandy east-coast beaches with superb views to the towering read more about Ko Yao Noi
Ko Yao Yai
Ko Yao Yai, or Big Long Island, running about 30 kilometres in length from top to bottom, sits halfway between Phuket and Krabi in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. Though only a 25-minute speedboat trip from Phuket’s east coast, this long, narrow island ringed with thick mangroves and white-sand beaches has somehow avoided becoming another hectic island resort. It’s more than twice the size of neighbouring Ko Yao Noi, but tourism development here lags behind its sister island. Yao Yai’s read more about Ko Yao Yai
Thailand's largest island is its best example of the benefits and problems of tourism. Huge promotions of Phuket by the TAT and travel agents since Thailand first start attracting international travellers on a large scale in the 1980s have brought in millions of tourists and billions of baht -- the province is visited by over a third of all international visitors to Thailand in any given year. But along with them has come unregulated development, severe environmental degradation, organised read more about Phuket
Some 50 km from the Thai western coast among open water in the Andaman Sea, the Similan islands are known far and wide to boast some of the most spectacular scenery and best snorkelling and diving of anywhere in Southeast Asia. With Malay roots, the word similan means nine in local Moken (sea gypsy) language after the nine tiny islands of the Similan archipelago. Along with magnificent underwater seascapes, the Similans boast some of the finest white sand, turquoise water beaches in Thailand, read more about Similan Islands
Islands in Cambodia
Koh Rong is quite possibly that cliched island paradise you've been looking for, boasting pristine white beaches, turquoise water and limited development on most of the island. For years the island was almost completely undeveloped save for a diving outfit and a few bungalows, though that's changing, in particular on the southern patch Koh Touch. Serviced by the fast boat from Sihanoukville as the fourth stop, Koh Touch is a sandy guesthouse-packed stretch that has earned Koh Rong a read more about Koh Rong
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong Samloem is just 45 minutes by speedboat and yet a world away from Sihanoukville. The island of many spellings -- it's also known as Koh Rung Samloem, Koh Rong Saloem, Koh Rong Samlon and a few other variations -- is owned by the Cambodian navy, which has a base there. As of late 2014 a development company awaits the approval of their plans for the island, with large signboards along the beach near M'Pay Bei village sticking out between the trees, reminding you of the future that read more about Koh Rong Samloem
This small fishing village island sits at the half-way mark between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville within the Koh Sdach archipelago. Located a 15-minute boat-ride off the Cambodian coast, Koh Sdach is dominated by a sizeable fishing village that stretches along the side of the island that faces the mainland. While fishing is the mainstay of the local economy, the village also has a large ice-making plant, where you can watch the production and see the ice ferried off by boat to the surrounding read more about Koh Sdach
Koh Ta Kiev
Only an hour away from the mainland, Koh Ta Kiev is one of the closest islands to Sihanoukville and is on the itinerary of many of the day trips and island tours that leave from the beach town. Few people stay overnight on the island though, which is a shame because it's beautiful and has a few easily accessible beaches. Like most of the islands in Cambodia, Koh Ta Kiev has been leased to a foreign company -- the same French outfit that owns, or has taken 99-year leases, on half of Koh read more about Koh Ta Kiev
Koh Thmei is part of Ream National Park but this hasn't stopped the government from selling a substantial amount of the island to the highest bidder. Right now the island is mostly empty; although a few families live on the island, there's not so much as a village and the only current accommodation is the eight wooden bungalows that comprise Koh Thmei Resort. Their owners believe that they were allowed to open because of their eco-friendly policies; they power it by day using solar panels read more about Koh Thmei
Better known as Rabbit Island, Ko Tonsay is a lovely little island about 25 minutes away from Kep by hired boat, making it one of the most easily accessible of all the islands. It is also one of the least-developed, with no motor vehicles, no mains electricity and few residents, making it an ideal getaway from the grind. Boats leave the ferry ‘port’ in Kep regularly throughout the day — a return ticket will cost around $7 or pay $25 for a boat with enough seating for six to eight read more about Koh Tonsay
A small drop in the ocean at only 1.3 kilometres by 500 metres wide, Koh Totang is one of the 12 tropical islands that make up the Koh S'Dach Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand. Midway between the Thai border and Sihanoukville -- approximately 60 kilometres in either direction -- Koh Totang is somewhat out of the way of the main island hotspots, with the likes of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem significantly further south. Until 2014 it was also tricky to get to, requiring an uncomfortable read more about Koh Totang
Islands in Laos
Referred to by some as Khao San Road on the river, Don Dhet is a classic backpacker hub with just a fraction of the shenanigans that take place on Khao San Road. Now well-established on the backpacker trail through Laos, the number and quality of rooms on Don Dhet continues to climb steadily. The scenery is indeed beautiful and the ambience very relaxed, but Laos this is not. Anyone who tells you differently has eaten too many banana pancakes. If you're on the way here expecting to read more about Don Dhet
Far larger than Don Dhet, Don Khon is skipped by many budget travellers because most of the accommodation is midrange. However although there aren't 40-odd places to choose from as on Don Dhet, there are budget options here and staying on Don Khon is far more of a Lao experience than Don Dhet. There is a better range of eateries than on Don Dhet and the options for cycling and walking are considerably more extensive. The main disadvantage or advantage depending on your point of view is that read more about Don Khon
The largest island in the Si Phan Don area, Don Khong is nowhere near as popular as the more southern islands of Don Dhet, with its chilled-out atmosphere, and Don Khon which has more activities on tap. The interior of Don Khong is almost entirely given over to rice cultivation and a forested mountainous area, while just about all the accommodation is crammed into and around the sleepy town of Muang Khong, which is situated on the east coast of the island. The major pastime on Don Khong is read more about Don Khong
Islands in Vietnam
Cat Ba Island
Nestled on the periphery of Vietnam's fabulous Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island is big -- more than 350 square kilometres -- but most tourists see but a sliver of it. Put ashore as part of a three-day tour of Ha Long Bay, time is spent on organised treks or bike rides in the national park and tours of Monkey Island, or eating at one of the many seafood places around the harbour. But independent travellers shouldn't rule out a stay. Three beaches are located near the harbour town -- hardly world read more about Cat Ba Island
Con Dao Islands
The Con Dao Islands (also known as Poulo Condore) are an archipelago of 15 islands situated in the South China Sea, around 250 kilometres, or a 45-minute flight, from Ho Chi Minh City. The island is famed for its grizzly past: due its remoteness, the French used the main island of Con Son (the largest island in the group) to keep anti-colonial protestors prisoner. The South Vietnamese continued the tradition, sending political dissenters and activists to the 11 prisons which were also used read more about Con Dao Islands
Phu Quoc Island
Sitting back in a hammock, looking out over the quiet surf, you may wonder why more people don't know about Vietnam's Phu Quoc Island. It gets almost none of the press of those islands over in Thailand -- and yet with its rugged jungle, squeaking white sands and sparkling cobalt waters, it more than matches them. Sadly, with a brand spanking new international airport and progressive visa-exemption scheme, this is slated to change in the coming years. Drive around the island and you can read more about Phu Quoc Island
Islands in Malaysia
Pangkor Island is about a fifth of the size of Penang off Peninsular Malaysia's west coast, midway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The word Pangkor is said to be a derivative of the Thai pang koh, which means beautiful island – and yes, this gives a hint of what the island is like, with sandy shores and surrounding emerald waters. Pangkor is well regarded as a family-oriented and culturally diverse destination, so guesthouses and hotels are generally family friendly rather than party read more about Pangkor Island
Malaysia's second largest island, Penang is also its most developed, with the eastern coast dotted with high-rises and crammed with holiday resorts. Travellers who have experienced beaches elsewhere in Asia will probably be unimpressed with the most popular beach spots, but the island's real attraction lies in its culture, history and cuisine. The main city of Georgetown boasts a meld of interesting architecture stretching from the British colonial era to the colourful multicultural read more about Penang
The Perhentian Islands are two main islands, along with a scattering of uninhabited islets, off the northeast coast of Peninsular Malaysia. They've long been renowned for their coral reefs and clear waters, snorkelling, diving, attractive beaches and remote, semi-untouched feel and appearance. The two inhabited islands, Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian) sit across a narrow body of water from one another and each boasts a collection of attractive read more about Perhentian Islands
Semporna and Sipadan Island
Its name may mean perfect in the Malay language, but the seaside town of Semporna makes a poor first impression with its fishy smell and littered water. Thankfully for most travellers Semporna is not the destination but the gateway to some of the best scuba diving in the world at Sipadan and Mabul Islands. Sipadan Island has been something of a mecca for scuba divers ever since Jacques Cousteau described it as an untouched piece of art. More than 3,000 species of sea creatures have been read more about Semporna and Sipadan Island
Islands in Indonesia
Bididari Island is another popular daytrip destination for those heading out of Labuan Bajo or Wae Cicu and the white sand beach certainly doesn't disappoint. If you're visiting on a daytrip, expect to be dropped on a sandy stretch on the northeast coast of the island. The reef is right offshore and has a good drop off. This spot was particularly notable for the volume of fish and we also saw a seasnake here which was a great surprise. The beach is very attractive and is fairly well looked read more about Bidadari Island
Gili Air is the closest to Lombok of the three Gili islands. In size, it lies between Meno and Trawangan, and has the largest normal community. Unlike Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan, Gili Air actually does have its own water source and you'll notice immediately how much greener and overgrown it is compared to the other two far more arid islands. Much of the interior is given over to coconut cultivation, though tourists are proving themselves a more lucrative crop and slowly the palm read more about Gili Air
Gili Gede is arguably the best known of the Secret Gilis -- a sprinkling of islands off the coast of southwest Lombok far lesser known than the Gilis of the northwest. Gili Gede lies among a group also comprising Gili Layan, Gili Ringgit and Gili Asahan -- about halfway back to Lembar is a second cluster including Gili Nanggu and Gili Sudak. Of all these, Gili Gede has the broadest selection of accommodation. At time of writing (mid-December 2014) there was a single midrange resort on Gili read more about Gili Gede
Situated midway between Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, Gili Meno is the smallest and least developed of the three Gili islands. Peanut-shaped, with a brackish seawater lake towards its western coast, this arid island is ringed by a good selection of places to stay and is the most affordable of the three islands. As with the others, Gili Meno is encircled by a rather pretty white sand beach, and, as with Gili Air, there is some pretty good snorkelling to be had. While it is the least read more about Gili Meno
Gili Trawangan, or Gili T to its friends, is the largest of three islands scattered off Lombok's northwest coast. While all three of these Gilis (Gili means island in the Sasak language of Lombok) are especially photogenic, each has a character of its own and attracts a certain crowd -- in the case of Gili T, it's the party set. It is a very pretty island. You'll have near endless opportunity to take photos to make the office back home suitably jealous. The beaches here really are white sand read more about Gili Trawangan
A beautiful island about one and a half hours by boat more or less due west of Labuan Bajo, Kanawa Island is a bit of a go-to location for backpackers and flashpackers looking for some downtime. The island is surrounded by a reef, some of which is in extremely good condition with an impressive range of sealife, from soft coral through to sting rays, sharks and turtles -- and it's easy swimming distance from the beach. The beach itself is also very attractive, with ample shade, and you're read more about Kanawa Island
The Karimunjawa Islands are an idyllic group of 27 tropical islands surrounded by aquamarine water and coral reefs located approximately 120 kilometres north of the Central Java city of Semarang and 90 kilometres north of Jepara. Disappointingly for the local tourism industry, foreigners are infrequent visitors to these stunning islands, meaning the infrastructure sometimes feels a little rudimentary which can be good or bad depending on your point of view. This means that travelling the read more about Karimunjawa Islands
The sliver of land that makes up Nusa Ceningan lies directly to the south of Nusa Lembongan in the main channel between Lembongan and far larger Nusa Penida. The northern channel (Ceningan Strait) runs almost dry at low tide while the southern channel (Toyo Pakeh Strait) is a roaring flow with swirling eddies and very fast currents. The Ceningan Strait runs almost dry at low tide and is given over to seaweed cultivation at the western end. It's also this channel that has the yellow read more about Nusa Ceningan
Nusa Lembongan occupies a comfortable middle ground between well-trafficked Bali and relatively untouched Nusa Penida. It's not as pretty as either of the other two islands, but it has a banquet of good places to stay, a friendly bunch of locals and makes for a comfortable time-out. Lembongan is known for two things: seaweed and surf. Seaweed cultivation and harvesting is what keeps the bulk of the local population busy. It is farmed off many of the beaches (likewise on neighbouring Nusa read more about Nusa Lembongan
Nusa Penida dwarfs nearby Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, yet is almost devoid of tourists. For all intents and purposes there are only three (yes, three) places even worth considering staying at, despite miles upon miles upon miles of beautiful beaches, an attractive hinterland and a generally unspoilt vibe about the place. Before you pack your bags, a couple of disclaimers: The vast majority of beaches, with the notable exception of Crystal Bay, are given over to seaweed farming. read more about Nusa Penida
Sabolo Besar Island
A popular day trip from Labuan Bajo or Seraya Island, Sabolo Besar is the larger of two islands more or less directly north of Komodo National Park. The island has a brilliantly white sand and broken coral pinnacle on its east coast that juts out into the water and, when it isn't covered in flotsam, offers picture-postcard white sand beaches and amazing turquoise waters. The best snorkelling is off the south side of the pinnacle -- walk as far along the sand as you can then just swim out. read more about Sabolo Besar Island
Set north of Labuan Bajo, about an hour away by boat, Seraya Island has an excellent offshore reef and drop-off and a good beach for lazing on. The reef is in very good condition and the volume and variety of fish (at least to snorkelling amateurs like us) appeared to be even more varied than at Kanawa. Expect to see sharks off the north point and turtles straight off the centre of the reef. There is a channel, more or less right in front of the restaurant, that you're encouraged to swim read more about Seraya Island
The Togean -- or Togian -- Islands are an archipelago in the southeast region of the Tomini Sea in northern Sulawesi. Famous for both their difficulty to reach and diving, the archipelago is formed by seven primary islands situated near the centre of a global hotspot of biodiversity known as the coral triangle. Home to a great number of rare marine and terrestrial species, most tourists who come here are divers or snorkellers hoping to see some of the world's best marine life in unspoiled read more about Togean Islands
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