As you can imagine, the Rome2rio team (we’re small; only 40 people) are avid explorers who are always trying to out-travel each other. And the best way to do that? It’s to find out where the locals are travelling to – as they always know the coolest and most interesting spots, right?
As summer has now ended in our hometown of Melbourne, Australia, our thoughts are drifting to white-sand beaches, swaying hammocks and turquoise seas. So we decided to use our travel superpowers (aka data from the 13 million people a month who visit our site) to find out which are Thailand’s best islands to visit. Sure, we’ve all been to Ko Phi Phi and Koh Phangan, but which are the beaches that locals love – and what makes them so special?
So here are 7 of the country’s top-ranking islands that were most searched for by our Thailand-based users between January and December 2018. If these spots are good enough for them, then they’re definitely good enough for us.
1. Koh Lipe
Located in southern Thailand’s Satun Province near the Thailand/Malaysia border (and very close to Langkawi Island in Malaysia), Ko Lipe has crescents of white sand, friendly locals, clear, warm water and affordable food. It also a part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, which makes it an excellent jumping-off point for awesome diving and snorkelling adventures. Local Thai (and Malaysian) tourists flock here for weekend getaways, and even have a moniker for this island paradise: ‘the Maldives of Thailand’.
How to get to Koh Lipe:
Get there by speedboat from Pak Bara (2 hours), or by ferry from Hat Yao Pier (2 hr 15 mins). Boats also run to/from Langkawi, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket and among other islands in the Andaman Sea during high season.
2. Koh Lanta Yai
Ko Lanta Yai is renowned amongst in-the-know travellers and locals for its mellow atmosphere, miles-long white beaches, island-studded coastlines, and plenty of jungle-covered mountains. Although it’s not far from backpacker-favourite Ko Phi Phi, it still feels secluded and serene; a hidden paradise far from the bright lights and loud bass of Thailand’s party scene. Tour the island on a motorbike, stopping along the way for delicious seafood and dips in the gin-clear, bathwater-warm Andaman waters.
How to get to Ko Lanta:
Take the ferry from Phuket (1h 15 mins, via Ko Phi Phi). From Krabi airport, you can either take a minivan to Koh Lanta (2.5 hours, including a short trip on the car ferry) or a bus + boat combination via Ao Nang or Chao Fa Pier (3-4 hours, including transfers).
3. Koh Chang
Koh Chang is part of a 52-island archipelago in Thailand’s far eastern corner, near Cambodia. It may be Thailand’s third-largest island, but it’s nowhere near as developed as the two largest (Phuket and Samui), which is perhaps why Thai residents seem to be so fond of this rugged, jungly spot – plus the fact that it’s an easy weekend jaunt from Bangkok. Ko Chang’s name translates to ‘Elephant Island’, likely due to its elephant-shaped headland, and you’ll find pristine waterfalls, houses on stilts, old-growth jungle, sandy coves and sweeping bays. Immerse yourself in the bohemian beach-bar scene, kayak through the mangroves and hike the jungle trails, before either heading back to the Thai mainland or continuing onwards to the nearby island of Ko Kut.
How to get to Koh Chang:
Take the ferry from Ao Thammachat Pier to Koh Chang (35 mins)
4. Ko Kut
On the off-chance that Koh Chang is too crowded for you, it’s southerly neighbour is sure not to be. Ko Kut (also known as Koh Kood) is certainly one of Thailand’s hidden gems and the paradise island of your imagination. Locals love it here for the natural beauty: the island is blessed with coconut palm trees, jungle-clad mountains, soft white-sand bays and mangrove-lined rivers. In addition, most of Ko Kut was never really developed, so you can revel in the fact that there’s not much else to do beyond kicking back and watching the waves roll in.
How to get to Ko Kut:
5. Ko Samet
As the closest major island to Bangkok, Ko Samet lures Thai locals and expats for weekend getaways and beachside parties. Add in the white sandy beaches, amazing underwater views, crystal-clear waters and vibrant nightlife, and you’ll start to understand what makes this island such a great spot to visit. Ko Samet is a laidback kind of place and exploring can easily be done on foot or bike or by hiring a motorbike/ATV. In town, be sure to search out the traditional eateries that serve good-quality Thai food, priced for locals.
How to get to Ko Samet:
It’s about 10-minute speedboat or 45-minute local ferry from Ban Phe Pier on the mainland.
6. Ko Phayam
Few travellers will have heard of Ko Phayam. Although it’s the second largest Thai island in the Andaman Sea, it’s still a backwater in an off-the-beaten-track province, visited by locals as a charming getaway from the sleepy town of Ranong near the Myanmar border. The island is overrun by jungle and cashew-nut plantations, the wide beaches are beautiful and unspoilt, and facilities are limited (think rustic bungalows and chilled-out beach bars). There are no cars on Ko Phayam island at all – nor are there banks or ATMs – which also helps keep some of the tourist crowds at bay.
How to get to Ko Phayam:
Get a boat from Ranong on the mainland (approx 1 hour)
7. Ko Kret
This man-made island, located at a bend of the Chao Phraya River about 30km from central Bangkok, is one of Thailand’s oldest settlements of Mon people, who were a dominant tribe of central Thailand. Locals flock here to experience the rural atmosphere, distinctive pottery and busy weekend market. It’s one of the best day-trips or weekend getaways for anyone looking to get out of the city and have an authentic, old-school Thai experience.
How to get to Ko Kret:
BONUS TRIP: HUA HIN
Although Hua Hin is not an island, it’s long been considered Thailand’s original beach resort. It is also one of the nearest beach towns from Bangkok, so locals love to visit on weekends. The Thai royal family built summer palaces here, which locals can also visit, plus there’s a long stretch of beautiful, powdery beach, seaside seafood restaurants, a lively night market and numerous beach activities. Added bonus: food and accommodation are also pretty affordable in Hua Hin.