10 Things to Do on Thailand’s Islands and Beaches

Published 29 September 2016

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

While other Southeast Asian countries boast striking temples, tasty curries, a selection of sandy beaches or perhaps a national park or two, Thailand is lucky; it has all of these and more.

It comes as no surprise then that it’s the region’s most popular country, with many visitors returning year after year to relax on their favourite beaches, or discover new ones. With well over a thousand islands, some found in the Gulf of Thailand on the east coast and others in the Andaman Sea to the west, it can be difficult to know which to choose. To help, we’ve put together a list of our favourite things to do on Thailand’s islands:

Wat Chalong, Phuket, Thailand

Touring Phuket’s temples

As the largest island in Thailand, Phuket’s size means it doesn’t feel like an island at all, and there’s quite a distance from coast to coast (13 miles to be precise). The space in between, a rugged land of mountains, jungles and palm plantations, is dotted with no less than 29 Buddhist temples and various Taoist shrines. Take your pick from the Grand Pagoda of Wat Chalong, which contains a splinter of one of Buddha’s bones as well as various vibrant murals, or Wat Srisoonthorn, where a 29-metre-high golden Buddha sleeping on the roof makes it difficult to miss.

Spend six nights in Phuket on Round the World Expert’s tailor-made Bangkok, Jungle & Beach holiday.

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Islands

Marvelling at perfection in Ko Phi Phi

Close your eyes and imagine your perfect Thai island. What do you see? Glittering turquoise sea, bright white sands, swaying palm trees and a picturesque forest-clad mountain backdrop? Chances are you’re thinking of Ko Phi Phi Leh’s Maya Bay, an impossibly beautiful cove that was used as the filming location for Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. Although you might also recognise the scene from those motivational posters you see at the dentist entitled ‘Tranquillity’ or ‘Peace’, any attempts to recreate the photo are likely to be in vain, as you will no doubt share the sand with a number of other tourists. Your best bet is to get up early and beat the day trippers to it.

Explorer Maya Bay with Round the World Experts’ Island Explorer itinerary, which can be tailor-made to suit you.

Sea kayaking, Krabi, Thailand

Sea kayaking in Krabi

Gateway to the offshore paradise islands but a destination in its own right, Krabi is a great place to try sea kayaking, a relaxing way to visit the numerous sea caves and soaring limestone pinnacles along the coast. Calm seas mean there’s no experience necessary and on a typical day trip you’ll pass cliffs, mangroves and lagoons, spotting hornbills, herons and monkeys as you go. You’ll call in at a beach or two for a bit of snorkelling, but this isn’t even necessary – here the sea is so clear you can peer down from your kayak and see the colourful shoals shimmering just below the surface.

If you’d like to try sea kayaking, check out Round the World Experts’ Island Explorer holiday, which includes a Sea Kayak Adventure in Krabi.

Beach, Koh Lanta

Relaxing in Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta’s long, wide and very white beaches make it the ideal spot for a few days doing absolutely nothing. You’re spoilt for choice – perhaps try the fine white sands and shallow waters of Klong Dao, or the aptly-named Relax Beach, which has front-row sunset-watching seats night after night. Better yet, its small cluster of bars means that you can watch the sun sink, cocktail in hand. Bliss! And when the beach lazing gets too much, there’s diving, snorkelling and mangrove adventures to be found here too.

Finish your Island Explorer holiday with four days of relaxation in Koh Lanta.

Girl rock climbing in Thailand

Rock climbing in Railay

Reachable only by boat from Krabi and Ao Nang, Railay’s beach is a popular sunbathing and swimming spot. But the main reason to come is for the world-class rock climbing on over 700 routes bolted to the towering limestone pinnacles. Although they all offer far-reaching ocean views, most routes are quite steep and best left to those who’ve done it before, but there are a few options for beginners. Come with a guide, and if you don’t have your own rope, harness and climbing shoes, hire them at the climbing shops in Krabi.

Chat to your Expert about adding Railay into your tailor-made Thailand holiday.

Hiking in the forests of Ko Chang

Hiking in the forests of Ko Chang

Thailand’s second largest island after Phuket, Ko Chang’s mountainous interior, with little in the way of settlement, offers some excellent hiking trails. Walks take you from river to waterfall and back again, through the thick, sweaty rainforest. As well as the mountain views, you might spot wild pigs, barking deer or civets, as well as sunbirds and hornbills. Although maps are available, it’s best to hike with a guide, especially if you want to summit the 744m Salak Phet Mountain, the island’s tallest.

Spend four nights in Ko Chang on Round the World Experts’ Temples, Palaces & Villages holiday.

Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan

Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is a popular island with backpackers, who come to party all night and sleep all day. But step away from the hostels and you’ll find secluded bays and long, lazy beaches. A cluster of elegant hotels and swanky resorts has sprung up in recent years, with plenty of excellent options for families. But what brought visitors here in the first place is the monthly Full Moon Party, a hedonistic beach fiesta that pulsates with dance music, lurid cocktails and up to 30,000 neon-clad revellers. If nightlife is your thing, this is where it’s at.

Chat to your Expert about adding Koh Phangan into your Thailand trip.

Scuba Diving in the Similan Islands

Scuba Diving in the Similan Islands

Thailand is awash with first-rate diving sites, but the deep, clear waters of the Similan Islands National Park stand head and shoulders above the rest. Made up of nine totally tropical islands, usually, and rather unromantically, referred to by their numbers, the Similans are home to an enormous variety of fish, including lionfish and clownfish (otherwise known as Nemo) as well as manta rays and reef sharks. To reach the islands, take a day trip with a Phuket or Khao Lak diving school or set sail on a multi-night, diving-focused cruise, known as a liveaboard.

Cruise to the shores of the Similan Islands with Round the World Experts’ Phuket, Cruise & Elephants holiday.

Snorkelling in Koh Tao

Snorkelling in Koh Tao

If diving’s not your thing, then snorkelling comes in at a very close second, and is far cheaper and easier to arrange. One of Thailand’s snorkelling hotspots, Koh Tao offers kaleidoscopic fish aplenty, including the stripy scorpionfish and the enormous whale shark. For an overview, try an around-the-island snorkelling trip, which takes a full day. Or, if you’re a bit more picky, aim for a particular locale – head to Ao Leuk Bay for manta rays or Mango Bay for giant swirling shoals of barracuda.

Chat to your Expert to add Koh Tao to your Thailand holiday.

Thai massage

Pampering in Koh Samui’s spas

As one of the most visited Thai islands, it comes as no surprise that Koh Samui offers a wide range of accommodation, from cheap-as-chips beach bungalows to private villas with a butler at your beck and call 24 hours a day. And naturally, many of the more upmarket hotels and villas boast well-appointed spas, with all the lotus flowers and luxury pampering facilities you might expect. Think herbal steam caves, plunge pools, and a long list of massages and beauty treatments including the legendary, and brutal, Thai massage. And relax…

Chat to your Expert to add Koh Samui to your Thailand holiday.

You might also like:

A Beginner's Guide to Island Hopping in Thailand

Top 5 Thai Adventures

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