There's nothing like settling into a bare-bones beach hut on a nearly off-the-map tropical island where honking horns, politics and TV commercials exist only as distant memories. On the Thai islands below, the mind has space to relax, reflect, and to lose itself in gently swaying palms. These places aren't bursting with activities -- and that's sort of the point.
Be warned that these islands are not for everyone. Air-con? Forget it, and don't expect a fan at night either. No electricity from 22:00 to 07:00 is the rule. Taxis? Ha! Most of these places don't even have cars, and the only "roads" on a few are nothing but sandy footpaths. Resorts? Spa treatments? Chipper waiters bringing mai tais to your poolside lounge chair? No, no and no. Most of the "resorts" offer dirt cheap thatched roof bungalows with cold-water showers, mosquito nets and plenty of geckos to keep you company.
Ko Bulon Lae
Arriving on this blip of an island off the far south of Thailand's Andaman coast feels like entering the setting of an enchanting fantasy novel. It's inhabited mainly by a very friendly group of Chao-lae, historically a nomadic seafaring people of Malay descent who practise a mix of Islam and spirit worship. They now run a handful of simple bungalow joints for the trickle of travellers who arrive each high season. Filled with tropical flowers, lizards, butterflies, dragonflies, spirit shrines, humble homes nestled along forest paths and secluded bays, it's easy to see how Bulon Lae is so quick to cast its spell.
Ko Phra Thong
Aesthetically, Ko Phra Thong is one of Thailand's most unique islands. It's the only place in the country with a desert-like savannah landscape, and travellers often comment how similar Phra Thong's flat inland stretches look and feel to parts of the African savannah. You'll see a lot of speedy sand lizards rather than cheetahs and gazelles, but Phra Thong's wide open inland sand dunes, stilted fishing villages, expansive stretches of empty golden sand beach, stunning starry nights and occasionally neon green translucent waters after dark thanks to a particular type of harmless, naturally occurring bacteria all combine for an unforgettable experience.
Sukorn means 'pig' in Thai, and this little known Andaman Sea island is named after the many wild boar that once roamed its lush terrain. The pigs have mostly been replaced by water buffalo and goats; today the island's small Muslim community rely mainly on agriculture, with fishing next in line and tourism ranking a distant third. Sukorn is best known for its other-worldly black sand beaches with striking hard coral formations, but it's also a fun place to bicycle along the narrow seaside roads while being swept up in the island's slow pace of life.
Just south of Ko Chang off the far southeastern Gulf of Thailand coast, Ko Maak is an idyllic four-pointed star shaped island that remained largely unspoilt as its beastly neighbour was heavily developed. The island's fine white sand beaches and bamboo bungalows are connected by sandy tracks through wide stretches of palm and rubber plantation, and jungle that still teems with wildlife. So spectacular are Ko Maak's beaches that the island earned a spot on British newspaper The Sunday Times' list of the 'top ten beaches in the world.' Heading out for a week on Ko Chang? Maybe you should make that six days on Ko Maak. Just watch out for the sandflies.
Ko Chang Noi
Not to be confused with big Ko Chang near Ko Maak, little Ko Chang or Ko Chang Noi as we've always known it, is a rugged, pristine and out-of-the-way island near the south coast of Burma in the Andaman Sea. We dubbed little Chang "Thailand's most laidback island" thanks to its exceptionally chilled out, reggae-music-playing bungalow joints and artsy atmosphere that's popular with long-term stayers. If you want to feel really far away from it all and forget not only about air-con and TV but also internet and cell phones, Ko Chang Noi fits the bill. Enjoy those Marley tunes.
All of the above are great choices for anyone looking to play Robinson Crusoe, but if you like these, you might also be into some of our favourite Thai islands for nature lovers. But be warned -- some who went to lose themselves for a short period ended up blending into the palms forever. Or perhaps they never got lost but rather found themselves -- in a beach hammock -- under a big, bright moon.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 10th December, 2012.