Phuket is a haven for backpackers thanks to its beautiful beaches, lively party scene, and accessibility from the mainland. However, its popularity also means it's extremely busy and expensive compared to other Thai islands. For a Thai island experience that’s further off the beaten path than Phuket, travelers can head to these 8 islands surrounded by turquoise waters.
8 Koh Tao
Koh Tao is a diver’s paradise, located in the Gulf of Thailand. While Phuket is on the opposite side of the coast in the Andaman Sea, Koh Tao is near Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan.
Travelers come from all over the world to attain their PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification here because it’s more affordable than most other destinations. Besides snorkeling and scuba diving in the crystal clear waters of this island, visitors often enjoy hiking to viewpoints that overlook the waters below.
7 Koh Samui
Koh Samui is the biggest island in the Gulf of Thailand and offers a range of accommodation options, from budget backpacker hostels to luxury villas. Beaches that back onto dense jungles and idyllic yoga retreat facilities are abundant on Koh Samui.
Travelers can hike to the Na Muang waterfalls on the island or visit the sacred Big Buddha Temple while visiting.
For travelers who are island hopping and won't be visiting Chigan Mai on the mainland, check out the Koh Samui Elephant Sanctuary. The best time to visit is during the dry season between November and February when temperatures are cool and rainfall is at its lowest point for the year.
6 Koh Si Chang
Koh Si Chang is another island in the Gulf of Thailand, but it’s much smaller than Koh Samui. Koh Si Chang is not a popular spot among tourists, making it the perfect place to spend a night or two for a local experience. Koh Si Chang is an important port island and, as a result, is home to quaint fishing villages and delicious seafood.
The biggest beach on the island is Tham Phang, on the west side. Travelers can rent a lounger under an umbrella to enjoy the sun or rent a kayak and head out onto the clear blue waters.
5 Koh Pha Ngan
Travelers looking for the height of Thailand’s nightlife scene must head to Koh Pha Ngan during their trip. Koh Pha Ngan is in the Gulf of Thailand and is renowned for its full moon parties. The party is a lunar celebration that takes place the night before, the night of, or after, the full moon. Travelers gather for dancing, partying, and typically wear neon pieces of clothing that glow in the dark.
If the blue waters of Koh Pha Ngan are appealing, but travelers don’t want to get involved in the party scene, they can head to the north of the island. The white sand beaches of Hat Khuat and Hat Thian are quieter and just as beautiful as Sunrise Beach.
4 Koh Phi Phi
Travelers who want an experience closer to Phuket can visit the Phi Phi Islands, which are part of Krabi Province in the Andaman Sea. Stunning turquoise waters, limestone cliffs rising from the ocean, and golden sands make this a dream getaway spot. Koh Phi Phi is also where travelers can find Maya Bay, which is often regarded as Thailand's most beautiful beach.
Koh Phi Phi is an archipelago of six islands, rather than a single island. Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh are the two biggest islands and offer the most versatile accommodation options for visitors.
3 Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta is a beautiful and underrated Thai island between Koh Phi Phi and the Thai mainland. While it was once a hidden gem of Thailand, Koh Lanta is gaining popularity among travelers for its vast sandy beaches, charming old town, and relaxed vibe.
Because of its quieter nature, Koh Lanta is a great option for travelers seeking a mixture of a peaceful escape and nightlife. There are some full moon parties hosted on Koh Lanta but overall it’s a much more serene destination than Koh Pha Ngan.
2 Koh Yao Yai
Koh Yao Yai is in the Andaman Sea and is one of the two Yao Islands. Halfway between Phuket and Krabi, it’s a convenient spot to get to for travelers who are looking for a lesser-traveled island with all the same idyllic scenery and amenities as the backpacker hotspots.
In the middle of the Phang Nga Bay, Koh Yai Yai, and its sister island, Koh Yao Noi are great for snorkeling and kayaking. They are easily accessible by ferry or longtail boat from Phuket and offer an authentic local experience.
1 Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is a Thai island bordering Malaysia in the Andaman Sea and while it’s not on traveler’s radars, it should be. The blue waters here are full of coral reefs and underwater wildlife just waiting to be discovered. Top dive sites in the area include 8 Mile Rock along with the Yong Hua Shipwreck, known as the haunted wreck of Koh Lipe.
Koh Lipe is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park and is home to 25% of the tropical fish species in the world. For wildlife enthusiasts and divers, this island is likely to be the highlight of a trip to Thailand.