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Thailand forum

choosing an island in Thailand?

Posted by damjanco on 17/8/2009 at 16:24

Hi everyone,

We're a couple in the early thirties and going to Thailand this November.
First we're going to Bangkok and then for 7-8 days on an island in the period 06-14 November.
I did some research about on which island to go but i'm still stuck :)
Of course good weather is a priority, and our other wishes are:

1. Relatively quiet island, no big-resort and no overdeveloped type of islands.
2. Not overcrowded beaches with clear water.
3. Some good snorkeling close to the beaches.
4. Do some exploring by foot or bike on the island, change beaches etc.

At first I thought Ko Tao would be the one but then I noticed that the weather in the west coast is not so good in November.
Then I thought about Ko Mak but I saw some reviews about not clear water and also that the snorkeling was not so good and a sandflies problem.
Is this true about Ko Mak and does anyone has some other idea?


#1 damjanco has been a member since 17/8/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by somtam2000 on 17/8/2009 at 18:32 admin

Off the cuff, if you're willing to risk perhaps a little rain, I'd venture Ko Libong in Trang province. It fits all four of the above and you can do boat trips to other islands if you get bored. Only risk is maybe a little rain.

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Posted by SBE on 17/8/2009 at 22:14

Where is the good snorkelling on Libong Somtam? All the coral seemed to be dead and broken because of dynamite fishing when I was there.

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Posted by christof on 27/8/2009 at 06:23

Koh Lipe is pretty nice. I haven't been for a couple of years and there are a few resorts. But it is a big island and I think you can get away from them. The beaches are great and the snorkeling is good too.

Also on the west coast Ko Phayam is an up and coming island with a few understated resorts. At the time you are going it is just coming into season and should be very pleasant.

Koh Phra Thong is another one coming through with long stretches of deserted beaches and local snorkeling.

Koh Kho Khao is also good but I think it has a few high end resorts already

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Posted by SBE on 27/8/2009 at 16:21

1. Ko Lipe is NOT a big island, it's tiny! There is now great concern about the environmental impact from the excessive number of tourists who go there and the building of too many new resorts. Major trash problems, a chronic water shortage and the ground water has been heavily contaminated with sewage.

Nearby Ko Adang might have been a good option for you but I don't think the NP accommodation opens till mid November. Maybe Lipe will be OK that early in the season if you don't need big walks.

2. Ko Phayam does have some corals but you probably won't be able to see them. The visibility around Phayam is terrible, usually less than a meter and there are often stingers in the water. Otherwise it fits your wishlist fairly well.

3. I haven't been to Koh Phra Thong

4. Koh Kho Khao doesn't have clear water or any snorkelling either AFAIK. Scenically I didn't find it a very exciting island.

I liked Ko Mak well enough when I was there in 2006, nice laid-back vibe and far less touristy than big Ko Chang or Ko Tao. However there was a LOT of trash there (both on the beaches and in the water) and all the coral I saw there was dead/dying and broken. This said, it is one of the few places in Thailand where I've seen a turtle. That's practically all I did see mind you ... probably feasting on all the plastic bags ... I noticed it just as I was about to leave the water in disgust!

They may have done something about the trash problem now (I see there's a good write-up on TF about Ko Mak) and I didn't swim right round the island so I could have missed some decent reefs...but I doubt if the ones I did see will have had time to recover yet.

I can't remember there being a particular sandfly problem there ... sandflies are very common on many of the islands anyway.

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Posted by christof on 27/8/2009 at 21:33

Agreed Koh Lipe is NOT a big island. What's your point?

I haven't been there in a couple of years. I did overhear that it has developed fast. Shame if it's got so bad as the beaches were quite empty and the water quite clear when I was there.

Uncrowded islands with "clear" water off the beach are hard to come by in Thailand as far as I can tell.

I don't think its as bad SBE makes out though. It very much depends on what standard the initial poster is used to. It seems like the bar may have been raised by SBE to a very high level after years of being spoilt traveling around beautiful islands.

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Posted by SBE on 28/8/2009 at 00:45

"Agreed Koh Lipe is NOT a big island. What's your point?"

Huh?? You stated in #4 that Ko Lipe was a big island and now agree it isn't... What do you think my point is Chrostof?

I did not say the beaches would look like Benidorm. My point is that Ko Lipe is a very SMALL island and it cannot cope with the current number of resorts and the increasing number of tourists going there.

There is no proper waste management, no means of treating sewage. Where do you think the trash and the sewage go? What little ground water there is has been heavily contaminated with e coli from human ***** so what you wash in when you take a shower is not terribly clean.

I'm not making this up. This is what an offical report on sustainable tourism says:

Koph Lipe, for example, has perhaps the
largest concentration of resorts and accommodation units of any place within Trang and Satun, but it has
exceeded its carrying capacity and is suffering from significant environmental degradation that will only
get worse without urgent remedial attention.
The former relatively large wetlands of Koh Lipe have disappeared, some 80% of the original forests have
been destroyed in the past two decades as resorts have been constructed, and the groundwater lens is
heavily contaminated with e.colii (human faecal waste). There is a severe shortage of water (it is piped
across the channel from a nearby island), lack of supporting infrastructure such as a sewage system, and
totally inadequate disposal of solid and liquid wastes that has resulted in the continuing and increasing
destruction of offshore coral reefs and pollution of the beaches.

I thought the OP might like to be aware of this before choosing which island to go to. I didn't say that the beaches would be as over-crowded as somewhere like Benidorm! Maybe my standards are too high. Here are some pictures (not mine)of what it's like now. Up to the OP to decide whether it's acceptable or not.

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Posted by SBE on 28/8/2009 at 00:48

Sorry about the typo when I wrote your name christof ... unintentional and unfortunately I can't edit (yet)!

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Posted by SBE on 28/8/2009 at 00:59

PPS.Somtam ... what's with the asterisks? I deliberately avoided the word s.h.i.t and used the word f.e.c.e.s. What noun would be acceptable to your tender eyes?

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Posted by christof on 28/8/2009 at 01:23

You are correct I did write BIG. Apologies.

When I wrote the original post it was based upon the subjective feeling I had walking around Koh Lipe. It felt big enough at the time for a good stroll. Then when I looked on the map after your comment. I agree it is not that big, but it is far from being very small.

I did not realise things had got so bad on Lipe in the last couple of years. That is interesting and sad.

The comment about your standards is based on the negative stance you seem to take on some of the other islands too. I do agree that compared to 10+ years ago conditions have degraded somewhat in some parts of the country. But compared to the beaches on Samui I think these smaller west coast islands are better than you suggest.

To the OP. If you are looking for really good snorkelling then stay in the National Park on Koh Surin . The Surin Islands have the best hard corals in the country.

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Posted by Tilapia on 28/8/2009 at 02:19

Koh Wai had quite good snorkelling close to the beach. Not very developed and a beautiful, clean, white sand beach. At least, it was when I was there 2 years ago. Close to Bangkok which saves time going back and forth.

Downside: In my opinion, far too much day traffic from Koh Chang (taking package tourists around to see the "rustic" little islands in the area.)

Koh Mak is also great, but you have to make a real effort to find decent snorkeling places. It's a bit more active than Koh Wai and has better sunsets.

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Posted by SBE on 28/8/2009 at 02:26

"But compared to the beaches on Samui I think these smaller west coast islands are better than you suggest."

I've never been to Samui so I couldn't say. What bits do you disagree with about my descriptions of Ko Phayam and Koh Kho Khao?

I mentioned Ko Adang NP already in #5 and pointed out it would be closed when the OP is going. Not sure why you now suggest the Surins because that doesn't open till mid-November either.

But what do I know about anything. I'll leave helping the OP up to you now Christof!

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Posted by christof on 28/8/2009 at 06:02

SBE: "Not sure why you now suggest the Surin s because that doesn't open till mid-November either"

Funny (peculiar)you say that because I was talking about that very same topic with my neighbour a couple of weeks ago. I was asking him when he was opening for next season and he told me October the 20th. I questioned him on why, considering the Surin National Park didn't open until mid November. He responded that actually it was going to open on the 1st of November and he wanted a week or so to get ready.

I reaffirmed my position that I read about the official opening on November the 15th. He gave me a look and told me that he had spoken to the head of the national park and to just wait and see what happened.

Just to put things into neighbour runs one of the 3 transfer providing companies to the Surin National Marine Park. Of course I dont know when it will actually open... T.I.T. after all.

Or (to the OP) even if Surin is not open you can always go to Similan National Park. It better be open because I am taking 2 guests on a liveaboard trip in early October.

Back to SBE: Your other comments are too complicated to comment on in a forum. Suffice to say, I am sure that both of us have better things to do than to get into some protracted argument on epistomology, subjective value systems or the philosophy of language. However, you are welcome to come to our island and thrash it out over a beer. (I'll even get them in)

If you would like I am happy to help and advise the OP. Maybe I can even reignite his enthusiasm to visit Thailand!

Alternatively, as a newbie to your Thailand forum I would be equally happy if you were to continue to wow us with your sage advice. Just let me know so I can sift through my junk mail for a message from one of those online chemists. It might be good idea to forward one to the OP so they can order an express delivery of prozac.


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Posted by SBE on 28/8/2009 at 07:25

"If you would like I am happy to help and advise the OP."

Please be my guest. The OP specifically asked for places with clear water and good snorkelling from the beach. If you think Ko Phayam and Koh Kho Khao fit these requirements, who am I to argue?

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Posted by tezza on 29/8/2009 at 14:20

Yep, you are right that Tao is normally wetter in November and around once in every 4 or 5 years tends to have a shocker.
I wouldn't discount the Andaman - normally the wet season is ending early and has ended late in the month so there is usually plenty of sunshine. I have had great November holidays in the Andaman and will be back again this year.
But statistically and anecdotally the wet season tends to end earlier in the eastern Gulf - so big Chang, Muk, Whai and Kut are good bets. I'm not fussed at the snorkelling off the beach at any except Whai, where it is not too bad at all. And it does satisfy the other 3 points in your opening paragraph. Actually I think Whai is a real nice island, my favourite in the area.

If you are also interested in the Andaman and other places, this is my list of good off the beach snorkelling islands with accommodation:

The 4 best I’ve found:
KO NANGYUAN - this has a mid-range resort one km off KO TAO. There is great snorkelling and lots of fishies in the bay to the north west of the sand spit which joins the 3 big rocks which make up the island. The fish are so used to being hand fed, they crowd around when you enter the water.
It is pretty good in the opposite bay, and I have read that if you are prepared to swim around the island some way, there are caves and some real nice fringing coral.
The resort is a dive resort but probably has more non-divers at busy times. I have stayed there twice when prices were a bit lower. It gets real serene sitting on your elevated balcony after sunset with a bottle of that great Thai rum, watching the lights of the night-diving class flash and arc in the bay below.
You can also day-trip from nearby Tao (long tails shuttle across constantly) but I believe the resort has recently levied a charge on daytrippers.

KO KRADAN - The reef off the main eastern beach here is not bad, but the best coral is found out from the southern beach. Technically this does not have accommodation, but Wally’s Paradise Lost budget place which is 10 minutes nice rainforest walk away. The bigger main beach resort is another 10.
There are pretty good small bommies and patches of coral close to the beach, but the best stuff is out on the reef drop-off about 70m from shore. Look for the big and small commercial snorkelling boats from Pak Bara and Kradan’s adjacent islands - but note, this bay is big enough that even with the 5 boats moored during my visits, it was not overcrowded and I found it easy to snorkel on my own.
The western beach on Kradan (once again 10 minutes walk from Wally‘s) is smaller and has a similar set-up except the quality of coral and fishies etc is not quite as good IMHO.

KO PHI PHI - there is a reef about 70m off Long Beach which is pretty good and attracts the daytrip snorkelling boats. If you swim out from the beach you need to keep going past the broken coral on the inside of the fringing reef. There is also some pretty good coral fringing the low reef-islet at the eastern end of the beach.
Long Beach has some real nice places to stay ranging from budget to upper midrange and is the nicest beach on the island within easy reach of town.
Additionally, just about all the east caost beaches have a fringing reef. I have snorkelled a few and they are not bad. Accommodation ranges from budget to very high end. Bamboo Island off the north-east of Phi Phi is said to be pretty good too.

KO LAO LIANG - snorkellers will find the coral (some nice soft coral here) and fish off the northern end of Laoliang’s resort beach pretty good with even better stuff accessed via the snorkelling trips at Ko Ta-Kiang aout 10 km further east.


There are nice coral/fish around Ko Ma which is joined by a sand spit to Mae Hat beach in the north-west of KO PHANGAN. This is a popular spot for the around island trip boats to stop for a snorkel. There are also some okay lumps of coral and rock right off the beach, but this area can get a bit shallow at low tide.
Mae Hat is a laid back beach with mainly budget and flash packer bungalows.

KO PODA - this is one of the offshore karst islands a short distance out from Railay/ Ao Nang near Krabi. It has a fringing reef with pretty good coral.Note the bungalows here are high range - associated with one of the more expensive hotels in Ao Nang. Most people visit Poda on daytrips out of Railay and Ao Nang - the daytrip area is towards the northern end of the long curved beach - the bungalows are at the far eastern end, so if you shell out big money for a place you will not be inundated with daytrippers.

KO LIPE - there is a fringing reef off the southern of the small twin bays where Viewpoint bungalows is located. This is just south of the big eastern Andaman beach. Viewpoint is a funky budget place and there is a lot more accomm on Andaman itself.
At each end of the main Pattaya beach are sections of coral which are okay. Acomm here is mainly flash packer up.

The eastern bays of KO TAO have some fairly good snorkelling. I have checked out Tanote and Thorntree poster mozzies reckons Ao Hin Wong has some of the best snorkelling on the island.
Other people reckon Ao Leuk is pretty good.
I have also snorkelled along the rocks of Ao Thian OK on the southern coast and found it reasonably good (others have reported lots of harmless reef sharks, other sealife and pretty good coral along and around the other side of the eastern headland) as was the coral just off the rocks down from Silvercliff bungalows, south of the main beach, Sairee.
Accommodation at all these is mainly budget and flash packer, although some bungalows are more expensive.

KO BULON LAE - pretty good coral to the west of Bulone Resort and off and to the south of Pansand resort. The coral directly out from Bulone is okay as is the stuff off the end of the spit where the main beach curves. These two resorts are flash-packer to midrange, but there are some budget bungalows quite close to the beach.

KO NGAI - snorkelling is not bad along the fringing reef off the main eastern beach. Accom ranges from budget tents to real high end, with a few very nice midrangers here.
I thought the coral etc was just as good across in the south-western bay. The budget Paradise Beach Resort has this nice beach all to itself.

KO WHAI (WAI) - I had a pretty good snorkel along the reef off Ko Whai Paradise, which is a nice budget place. Whai is south of big Ko Chang.

KO LIBONG - I found the coral in front of Libong Beach resort not so great when I finally decided to pull on a propper mask but it does improve a fair bit way down towards the eastern headland maybe 500m east.

I too have found the island national parks usually open mid-December. Taratao and Adang have good snorkelling, but some distance away from the accommodation beaches. I haven't checked the snorkelling off the headquarter beach in the Similans and haven't visited the Surins.

#15 tezza has been a member since 13/4/2006. Posts: 1,345

Posted by somtam2000 on 29/8/2009 at 16:38 admin

Great summary tezza -- I'll second that note re the snorkelling off Hin Wong bay on Ko Tao -- I never saw much in the way of coral, but the volume, and especially the size, of the fish was very impressive. Also at the northern end of the bay there's a great swinmthrough.

The owner of Hin Wong, a very interesting guy by the name of Sahaat, has a daughter, (Mon from memory) who was a very very keen snorkeller. She talked about very good swim-throughs further around to the north, around almost into the next bay -- I never saw them myself as were a bit out of my ability, but she said they were brill.

One that missed your list is Ko Hin Ngam -- it's a pebble beach -- and I remember seeing a lot of fish there too, but this was a long time ago (92/93) so don't know about now. Hin Ngam has an interesting story behind it, that goes that if you take a pebble (they're actually shiny dark lucky stones) with you, you'll be cursed.

One of my travel companions at the time scoffed at the story, took one and the next day, back on Lipe, she was run down by a longtail... true story. She organised to have the stone returned to the island and apparently the national park office receives hundreds of them every year by post.

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Posted by christof on 30/8/2009 at 02:04

Tezza: that is a good list I will have to try out some of the locations you suggested in the future.

the problem is trying to fit in ALL the OP's criteria into one place. normally, one or more of the conditions are compromised.

comments on Tezza's suggestions, on the places i know.

Phi Phi: could be worth a visit. if the OP was talking about a trip in december or january then i would be more hesitant, but the start of november could be a good time to go there before the hordes come in. it may still be busier than they would like though.

Ko Lao Liang: I really like. My friend runs the island and I have taught diving there several times. The snorkeling off the beach is pretty good with 5+m viz available and good soft corals. There is a good drop off quite close to the beach where some pretty big barracuda hang out. Its quite exciting. There are also loads of cool nudibranch (this is more of divers obsession though). I highly rate Lao Liang for a few days...but it is tiny.

Ko Poda: I'm quite familiar with this area having lived there for a few years from 2004-2007. I think this region has gone downhill in a huge way. This relatively sheltered area has really opened up to mass tourism in the last years. Eutrophication (where nutrients and sewage entering the water upset the natural balance of the reef) is occuring in the local waters causing a reduction in the water visibility and slow degradation of the reef. Also, the locals have been overexposed to farang and really take us for granted.

Surin and Similan are renowned for having the best reefs and marine life in the country. They are away from the coast in the open sea so they remain relatively unperturbed by coastal pollution. But they are slowly being degraded by overfishing and the shallower westerly facing reefs were hurt by the 2004 Tsunami. Nevertheless, they are spectacular. Even after 5 years of diving this area, there are still new things to see and I feel truly blessed to witness such beauty. In high season water visibility can be 20+m. It is difficult to predict what it would be at the start of the season in November. I am taking guests on the first liveaboard in October so I can post about that later. Similans are open at the start of November and Surins might be too.

Finally, I mentioned Koh Phra Thong before. I run the web portal for this island and also teach diving here. We have almost all the specified criteria. Probably the most vulnerable to criticism is the snorkeling. In high season we get 5+m and probably on a par with Lao Liang. The beaches are long and deserted. There are very few places to stay and you have to make your own night life.

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