What is the best island in Thailand?
Our pick of the cropFirst published on 21st March, 2006, last updated 16th December, 2014
Thailand is famous for its tropical islands. From Phuket to Ko Lipe, Ko Samui to Ko Tao and from one Ko Chang to another, there's an island for every month, a beach for every week, and a new palm tree to lay under for every day. But the question begs, "What is the best island in Thailand?"
While the simple answer is "None" a better answer is "it depends". It depends because it's not so much a case of finding the best island in Thailand, but rather finding the best island for you in Thailand. So here's our guide to the islands that we hope will help you find your best Thai island.
Thailand has three main sets of islands; those to the east of Bangkok, between Bangkok and the Cambodian border; those in the southern Gulf of Thailand; and those in the Andaman Sea -- off the west coast of Thailand, between the Burman and Malaysian frontiers.
Each of these groups has one or two particularly well known islands that attracts the bulk of travellers and tourists. To the east of Bangkok you have Ko Samet and Ko Chang, in the Gulf you have Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, and in the Andaman you have Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. All these islands have seen a steady flow of tourists for well over a decade and they are very developed. Often heaving with tourists in the high season, they all suffer to varying degrees from the problems that typically blight popular islands in developing tourist destinations -- overcrowding, dodgy operators, uncontrolled development and waste management issues.
But it isn't all bad news. All the afore-mentioned islands are still worth visiting -- you just need to do your research and be a little more selective about where you stay. When your travel agent in your home-town tells you to stay on Patong Beach in Phuket, check that they've stayed there themselves -- we bet they haven't! Not only to all these islands have their hidden away gems, they're also surrounded by other, lesser known islands that can often be just what the doctor ordered.
A work in progress on Ko Kut.
So what are you looking for?
Call me Crusoe
If it's deserted beaches and few tourists, then you're going to need to wander further than you'd have needed to ten years ago. Don't make the mistake of assuming the entire island needs to be deserted -- both Ko Samui and Phuket have totally deserted beaches that run for kilometre after kilometre, but for a real island experience, consider Ko Rok, Ko Phra Thong, Ko Ra, Ko Phayam, Ko Chang Noi (the other one, near Ko Phayam) and Ko Tarutao.
Late light on Ko Phra Thong
Where's the party?
Everyone knows about Thailand's infamous Full Moon Parties -- easily the biggest party in Thailand, and it happens every single month. So if you're after the party, Ko Pha Ngan should definitely be on your itinerary, Ko Phi Phi also has a pretty lively single's party scene, while if you're after throbbing clubs, Ko Samui is hard to beat. Consider Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Samui and, if you want a smaller island, Ko Lipe.
Never jumped a flaming skipping rope?
This is a family vacation
Thailand's islands can be pretty good with kids, though the range of distractions you want for them will play a part in picking where you stay. Phuket and Ko Samui lead in this area with everything from mini-golf and go-karts through to water-sports and child-care. If you kid's idea of a beach holiday is more sedate -- a few buckets and a sand castle perhaps, then both Ko Lanta and Ko Bulon Lae are excellent choices, as is the southwest coast of Ko Pha Ngan.
Watch the kids from the deck.
There's been an explosion of spa and "lifestyle resorts" across Thailand, and again Phuket and Ko Samui are the premiere destinations for these types of self-contained resorts. Some particularly tasteful ones have also appeared on Ko Lanta, and, more recently, Ko Chang.
I'm after some local flavour
If you're tiring of hanging out in tourist ghettos, there's an ample supply of islands where tourism is but a small part of the local economy. Ko Yao Noi is an excellent choice, as is Ko Jum, Ko Libong and Ko Kut. Ko Kut in particular attracts a lot of Thai weekenders, so as a foreigner you'll often be in the minority -- a refreshing change from most Thai islands.
Where's the beach?
You've read the book, seen the movie and now you want to swim in the waters. You're looking for Ko Phi Phi.
Where's the diving?
Ko Tao issues more PADI Open Water Certificates than just about anywhere else in the world. It is, for better or worse, Thailand's diving mecca. Phuket is also popular with divers, but mainly for its live aboard cruises and trips out to the Similan Islands. Diving is also possible from Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui, Ko Chang and Ko Lipe.
Shall we go?
Still undecided? Here's the best and not so best of Thailand's islands in under 30 words apiece -- not this isn't ALL of the islands -- you'll have to dig around to find the rest ;-).
Thailand's most developed island. International airport brings added convenience but package tour hordes. Some stunning six star resorts, but budgeteers will find it woefully overpriced. Very heavily touristed. Read more about Phuket or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Phuket's Naithon Beach – certainly not awful.
Ko Phi Phi
Devastated by the 2004 tsunami, Ko Phi Phi is more or less fully recovered, and, all things considered, is looking about the best it has in a decade or so. The island is beautiful but continues to suffer from extremely uncontrolled development and overcrowding. There is a popular singles scene, good diving and snorkeling. Guesthouses and hotels expensive compared to other islands. Read more about Ko Phi Phi or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Phi Phi: Despite all the efforts, still spectacular.
Sedate, calm waters make it a family favourite. Excellent value budget guesthouses -- laid back, often family-run operations. Not overly scenic, good for snorkeling and liveaboard diving. Ideal for doing nothing. Read more about Ko Lanta or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Lanta: Gorgeous in a just gorgeous kinda way.
Small island with traditional Muslim village and a handful of backpacker bungalow resorts. Beach is similar to Ko Lanta, calm waters, grainy yellow sand. Popular with island-hopping backpackers taking their islands slowly. Read more about Ko Ko Jum.
Ko Jum: One of our favourites.
Popular with a good range of mid-range resorts. Not many budget offerings. Fine snorkeling, pretty beaches, but little nightlife to speak of. Good base for day-trips to other islands. Read more about Ko Ngai.
Ko Ngai: Easier to lay on than pronounce.
Home to the heavily touristed Emerald Cave. Fine range of budget to mid-range resorts. Lovely sunsets. Good swimming and sunbaking though snorkeling limited. Good base for day-trips to other islands. Read more about Ko Muk.
Living the simple life on Ko Muk.
Stunning island long blighted by a very average resort, but there are some good spots too. Decent snorkeling and lovely white sand beach. Better accommodation has sprung up over the last year or so -- check out Wally's! Read more about Ko Kradan.
Ko Kradan: All that pesky shade.
Stunning twin island with terrific snorkeling and camping potential -- so good we were tempted not to list it. Best visited from Ko Muk, Ko Kradan or Ko Ngai.
Please set your timepieces to Ko Rok time.
National Park status. Largely undeveloped. Camper and self-sufficient traveller's paradise. Sand flies can be a problem. Camping and Park bungalows available. Site of Thailand Survivor. Read more about Ko Tarutao.
Ko Tarutao: The picture says it all.
Fairly remote and rugged. Ideal for naturalists -- large waterfalls, good snorkeling -- big island with loads of empty space. Read more about Ko Adang.
Ko Adang: Still more trees than concrete.
Increasingly popular. Party scene. Decent snorkeling off the beach. Good range of budget to mid-range bungalows. Very small island -- can walk around it in half a day. Serious over-development and environmental issues. Read more about Ko Lipe or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Lipe: Hold on to your seat, this place is achangin.
Ko Hin Ngam
Pebble beach. Take a pebble and you're cursed. A friend was run over by a longtail after taking a stone -- she sent it back the next day.
Ko Hin Ngam: Do NOT take one with you!
Ko Bulon Lae
Low key, sedate island with some good beaches and isolated resorts. Not far from the mainland. Dense wooded interior ringed by beaches and bays. Read more about Ko Bulon Lae.
Ko Bulon Lae: A slow day bounty.
Dark sand now there's a change. Fine selection of resorts at a very low-key island. Famous for the dugong which can be visited from the island. Read more about Ko Libong.
Ko Libong: Can't move for the package tourists.
Ko Yao Noi
Large island with isolated resorts. Conservative Muslim villages on the island. Very local feel -- particularly hospitable and friendly. Beaches are of mixed quality. Read more about Ko Yao Noi.
Ko Yao Noi: Where every swing has a view.
Ko Yao Yai
Another large island with with a conservative Muslim fishing-village scene. Very hospitable and friendly, with super sleepy resorts. Beaches are mixed. Read more about Ko Yao Yai.
Ko Yao Yai: Just another sunrise.
Ko Chang noi
The "other" Ko Chang. Small island with west-facing beaches. Breathtaking sunsets overlooking the Burmese archipelago. Low key, backpacker orientated resorts. Very popular with Euros. Read more about Ko Chang Noi.
Ko Chang Noi: Peak hour.
Little known island, further out from Ko Chang. Fine beaches with a handful of budget to mid-priced resorts. Very sandy interior, some complaints of sandflies. Very quiet. Read more about Ko Phayam.
Ko Phayam: Almost off the map.
Ko Phra Thong
Lovely island home to one fancy resort and a backpacker option. Stunning 11km-long deserted beach, monkeys, turtles and more. Fabulous! Read more about Ko Phra Thong.
Ko Phra Thong: No need to share sunsets.
Gulf of Thailand
Thailand's second most developed island. Everything from deserted beaches to Tescos. Heavily touristed, ongoing unregulated development. Waste and flooding an issue. From backpackers through to six star resorts. Read more about Ko Samui or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Samui: Much more to it than Chaweng.
Ko Pha Ngan
Home to the Full Moon Party. Over a dozen bays and beaches, some of the cheapest guesthouses in Thailand. Some beaches very developed, others deserted. Extremely popular with backpackers. Read more about Ko Pha Ngan or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Pha Ngan: A backpacker -- and flashpacker -- favourite.
Diver's mecca. Large range of dive sites, competitively priced dive shops. Very popular, lively single's scene. Some beaches very quiet, others boisterous. Full range of accommodation. Read more about Ko Tao or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Tao: Dive and dive and dive and dive.
East of Bangkok
Overdeveloped. White sand beaches, particularly scenic. Some snorkeling. Full range of accommodation from budget shacks to full service resorts. Just three hours from Bangkok. Read more about Ko Samet.
Ko Samet: Being close to Bangkok is good and bad.
Ko Mun Nork
Private island with one resort. Very clear water, pristine beaches. Accommodation poor value for the money. Has a bit of a Crusoe feel to it. Food gets mixed reports. Read more about Ko Mun Nork.
Ko Mun Nork: Oh yes, quite pretty.
Thailand's "next big thing". Over a dozen bays and beaches, full range of budgets catered for though focus moving upmarket quickly. Massive jungle interior, waterfalls, elephant riding. Read more about Ko Chang or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Chang: A big island with some very hot spots.
Medium sized, very flat island. Beaches and bays ring the island. Bungalows very good very and mostly budget orientated. Calm waters, low key destination. Popular with repeat visitors. Read more about Ko Maak.
Ko Maak: No reservation, no problem.
Very popular with Thai package tours, slowly becoming more popular with western independent travellers. Some spectacular beaches. Resorts are mostly mid ranged rather than budget. Read more about Ko Kut or check for discounted rates with Agoda.com
Ko Kut: We love it.
I just trapped and killed lunch.
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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 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
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
Think of your ideal tropical paradise. Once you have that in mind, if it includes white-sand beaches fringed by palm trees, turquoise water so bright it stings your eyes, warm weather all year round, hardly any tourists and just enough decent accommodation to ensure you don’t have to pitch a tent then the islands of Karimunjawa are your paradise. Located about 90km off the north coast of Central Java, the idyllic group of 27 tropical islands that form the Karimunjawa Islands is one of 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
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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