Photo: Handy advice.

Lounging on the porch of a bungalow, a beach dog curled up at your feet as waves splash and a hornbill glides out of the treetops—is there any better travel experience in Thailand?

For the past six years, finding quality beach bungalows for less than 1,000 baht per night has topped my priority list when covering any island or mainland beach for Travelfish. The below were chosen out of hundreds of bungalow operations on roughly 40 Thai islands. I’m not saying they are, necessarily, “the best” bungalows in Thailand; just that they’re all places where I’ve had great experiences and look forward to visiting again.

(Notable islands I’ve not covered, and so weren’t considered for this list, include Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Yao Yai/Noi, and Ko Kut.)

Ao Nuan Bungalows, Ko Samet

You’re on Ao Nuan time now.

You’re on Ao Nuan time now. Photo: David Luekens

The namesake bungalows of Nuan Bay sit sheltered between bigger bays and a forest behind, the perfect conditions for backpackers. Built into the trees, the shacks stand far apart—here and there—over a hillside, or under umbrella trees just beyond the secluded sand. Helpful staff serves quality Thai food, and those bigger bays, with their barbecues and parties, aren’t far beyond the headlands. Rates start at 800 baht—reasonable for Samet.

Chao Lae Homestay, Ko Bulon Lae

Hello Chao Lae.

Hello Chao Lae. Photo: David Luekens

I don’t care that the bungalows lack direct sea views. A distinctive beach, Ao Panka Yai, begins 30 metres away and is strewn with opaque sea glass, polished shells and boulders—head to the eastern corner at low tide to find an unforgettable sunset spot. The family in charge has caught fish around here for generations and the restaurant is one of my favourites in Satun province. A sturdy wooden fan bungalow with squat toilet, cold water, and most likely some chickens clucking around out front, fetches 400 baht.

Coco Lodge, Ko Muk

Go nuts at Coco.

Go nuts at Coco. Photo: David Luekens

The Trang natives behind this smoothly managed budget resort took a seaside coconut grove on an island where the tourism industry was just starting to take hold, committed to preserving their trees, gathered coconut wood, bamboo, sand, thatch leaves and other readily available materials, and tied together some bungalows. I say “tie” rather than “build” because the architectural feeling, using few nails, is more “bird’s nest” than “building”. The sea breeze flows straight through these 800-baht bungalows, with hammocks strung up to the many trees and a seafront cafe affording you a dramatic view to the Pakmeng cliffs.

Gipsy Resort, Ko Lipe

The beach is not too far off at Gipsy.

The beach is not too far off at Gipsy. Photo: David Luekens

The first time I set foot in Gipsy back in 2011, the Spanish manager served me a spirits-raising “Roma” espresso. I thought he was Italian. Turns out he’s a very nice Spanish guy who runs these good-value bungalows alongside a Lipe native, who is also a very nice guy, on a fabulous stretch of a beach that ranks among Thailand’s five best, in my book. Starting below 1,000 baht, only a few of the bungalows have direct sea views, but a laid back vibe pervades grounds draped in flowering bushes. Don’t worry about the dark walkway behind the resort—the Urak Lawoi people who live there are members of the family in charge, and they are good people.

June Horizon, Ko Phayam

Hammock guardian at June Horizon.

Hammock guardian at June Horizon. Photo: David Luekens

Arriving on Phayam for the first time, I rented a bike and rode around with my pack, finally stopping at June Horizon because it was at the end of the road. Dim lights and Tibetan flags drew me inside, and I climbed into a tall stilted bungalow with an A-shaped thatch roof, wide gaps between thin wooden wall panels and a thatch-leaf door, for 600 baht. I stayed six nights, losing track of time. In the face of torrential storms that billowed south from Burma, this lanky bungalow kept me dry and cozy yet connected to the natural forces. When the winds died down, I made friends with other guests and watched bioluminescent plankton paint the water neon green beneath the brightest stars I’d seen in years.

Libong Beach Resort, Ko Libong

A hammock with your name on it at Libong Beach Resort.

A hammock with your name on it at Libong Beach Resort. Photo: David Luekens

A beautiful beach with limestone cliffs dotting the horizon and only the sound of longtail boats puttering home at sunset… This is Ko Libong, a favourite of mine in Trang province. For backpacking couples, I can’t think of a more romantic option than the sea-view, wood-and-bamboo stilted bungalows at this, Libong’s original family-run resort, for around 800 baht. On a sparsely travelled island that’s a delight to explore, the skillful chefs and other services—maps, boat service, kayaks, motorbikes and bicycles—are much appreciated.

Porn’s Bungalows, Ko Chang

Old school at Porn.

Old school at Porn. Photo: David Luekens

Tourism-wise, Ko Chang is an old island that’s seen its share of drama—original land owner opens bungalows, makes a little money, sells land to developer and it becomes yet another obtrusive concrete resort. This did not happen to Porn (a common Thai name), the head of a native family offering fan-cooled wooden bungalows for as little as 600 baht on a quiet corner of Kai Bae. Topping it off is a seaside, treehouse-style restaurant serving fiery Thai dishes (try the jungle curry). Also on Chang, check out Independent Bo’s artistic bungalows, and Oasis’ own treehouse setup overlooking Lonely Beach.

Sai Thong Resort, Ko Tao

Leave the rest of Ko Tao behind at Sai Thong.

Leave the rest of Ko Tao behind at Sai Thong. Photo: David Luekens

Ko Tao can seem like a lost cause with its mismanagement, money-grabbing attitudes and accusations of corrupt cops and mafia-type figures or, at least, a poorly handled investigation into the 2014 murders of two British travellers. But Tao keeps on drawing in the backpackers, and I think Sai Thong is one good reason why. Like Ao Nuan on Samet, make the extra effort to reach this low-key backpacker hangout and I suspect you’ll find the Tao that Tao intended itself to be. Basic wooden bungalows start at 500 baht and you’ll find plenty of space to swim and play beneath the palms of pretty Haad Sai Nuan.

Si Boya Bungalows, Ko Si Boya

Pack a book for Si Boya.

Pack a book for Si Boya. Photo: David Luekens

I usually travel with a book, but only in really quiet places do I tend to sink deep into a story. By the end of a stay at Si Boya Bungalows, I had finished The History of China. Part of Krabi province but sitting largely forgotten in the shadows of Lanta and Phi Phi, Ko Si Boya is haunting with its weathered boats and cows and the echo of the imams calling out prayers at dusk. The owner provides an excellent service, from pick up at the pier to quality food and solid bamboo bungalows for 400 baht. A few foreigners have also built beach houses, which are often available for rent.

Golden Beach Resort, Ko Pha Ngan

Golden views at Golden Beach.

Golden views at Golden Beach. Photo: David Luekens

A 450-baht bungalow with a big porch built above a boulder within a jump of the sea—that was my happy fate on the long southern coastline of an island that’s a whole lot of fun to explore. The family in charge offers positive vibes, a full bar and tasty Thai dishes served on a deck with a smashing view of the sunset over Samui and the Ang Thong Islands. When I’m in Bangkok, at exciting places like the motor vehicle registry, I often daydream about bungalow #4 at Golden Beach.

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