Sunday, December 2, 2007

WHICH ISLAND (or Beach)

LAST UPDATED JANUARY 2013 Samui overdone? Neighbourless, good value Jungle Club in the hills behind Chaweng Noi, 2km to the beach (this shot expands).


“Please suggest a great island for me”, is a pretty common question.
Sometimes that’s it, other times the ask is more specific: “…..laid back island”, “….good snorkelling”, “……great nightlife”, “….fantastic beaches”. Quite often it’s a combo: “…..not touristy but not too dead, with great beaches, fantastic snorkelling off the beach, budget bungalows by the sea with inbuilt spa and Jacuzzi, some nightlife but not over the top and with an international airport no more than 30 minutes away”. Yeah right, know a dozen of these.

Anyway I though I’d try to put the islands and beaches I know about into some sort of categorical order.

Right at the end of this page in WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY? I'll lay the islands' geographical locations out. There is also a section on ISLAND HOPPING before that.


LAID BACK - little Ko Chang Andaman side, Ko Jum, Ko Ngai, Ko Kradan, Ko Bulon Lae, Ko Mac, Khao Lak.

Not too  many people around at peak beach hour 1130 in this December (high season/not peak) 2012 shot of Ko Jum's main Andaman Beach.

COMPLETELY LAID BACK - Ko Kho Khao, Ko Yao Noi, Ko Yao Yai, Ko Siboya, Ko Libong, Ko Loaliang, Ko Sukorn, Ko Whai, Ko Kut. And of course the National Park no-resorts islands - Similans, Surins, Tarutao, Adang. The one that beats them all? Ko Phra Thong.

Pretty  uncrowded in this early Dec shot of the beach adjacent Ha Pla Restaurant on North Beach at Ko Kho Khao.

Note there are plenty of laid back beaches on non-laid back islands. For instance busy, commercial Samui has places like Thong Ta Kien among others. Phangan has a heap - most of the east coast beaches among others. Ditto Tao, which is also very relaxed in the small bays on the south west of the island. Phi Phi's east coast is a quiet gem. Ditto the southern most beaches on Lanta. Buffalo Bay on Phayam. Perhaps the standout - bustling commercial Phuket has 10 km of lovely sand backed by casuarina trees north of the airport with only a handful of low impact resorts - Mai Khao.

Laid back beach on a busy island - Ao Toh Koh on Phi Phi's east coast

A point about the National Park islands: Similans/Surins/Tarutao/Adang - the headquarter beaches can get a bit busy on weekends and Thai public holidays. As a matter of fact the Similans are so popular with daytrippers these days that the main beach is busy non weekends/holidays as is the gorgeous strip of sand at Donald Duck Bay.

It doesn't get much more relaxed than Ko Laoliang Noi - no roads, no tracks, no village, few boats, one low-profile tent resort. Yet if you WANT, you can climb, snorkel, dive, fish, kayak. In this late afternoon shot the awesome cliffs are shading the beach/resort area.


PARTY PLACES - Phuket, Pattaya, Samui, Phangan (Had Rin) are the big 4, You will find a fair bit of nightlife at Krabi's Ao Nang, Phi Phi's Ton Sai town, the first 3 beaches on Samet, White Sand Beach at big Ko Chang, Pattaya Beach and Walking Street at Lipe, Klong Dao and Long Beach on Lanta.

GOOD DIVING - Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lipe, Khao Lak, Phuket, Ko Laoliang, Ko Phra Thong.

PRETTY GOOD SNORKELLING OFF THE BEACH - Ko Kradan, Ko Lipe, Ko Bulon Lae, Ko Ngai, Ko Whai, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Tao, Ko Phangan, Ko Raya. And of course places like the Similans, Surins, Rok Nok, Laoliang. UPDATE 2013 - coral bleaching has knocked Thai coral about badly in recent years. The best coral I've seen at the above has been at Ko Tao, followed by Kradan.

Readers Trip reporter Cocodrilo sent me this shot from the Similans.

SPECTACULAR SCENERY - few island/beach areas in Thailand don’t have nice scenery, but the real stand-outs of places with plenty of accommodation are Ko Phi Phi, Railay/Ton Sai at Krabi and Ko Nangyuan at Ko Tao.

Ko Nangyuan off Ko Tao - a very scenic location. There are bungalows on the far "mountain", the mid-islet and on the hillside below the camera. The higher balconies are good places to hang after sunset watching the underwater lights of the night diving school flash and ark. Good snorkelling off the beach here - the fish are so used to being fed in the top-right bay that they crowd around when you enter the water.


The immediate area of Ko Laoliang is pretty good but there is only the tent resort.
The nearby Trang islands of Ko Ngai and Ko Kradan are above average and have plenty of accommodation.

Outlook from pool deck of Kohngai Cliff Beach Resort's pool deck. Outsiders welcome if they buy a not too expensive beer or snack.

Phang Nga Bay islands don't get much more spectacular, but you can only really stay on one of them, the sea gypsy fishing/restaurant island of Ko Panyi, and accommodation is limited.

Um, just remembered - if you consider Ko Yao Noi a Phang Nga Bay island, there are plenty of places to stay and all those on the east and north coasts have karst island views. Maybe not as elevated as the above which I pinched off The Six Senses' website - I had to pinch it because I'd never be able to afford this joint. Have a look at the Yao Noi Trip Reports page to see one budget place which has elevated views. Places down near the water aren't bad either.

Ang Thong National Marine Park is similarly spectacular but accommodation is again limited - to tents and a few bungalow rooms at the National Park HQ island. Most people visit on daytrips from Samui and Phangan. BTW - the novel The Beach and its hidden lagoon (which most trips visit) was inspired by this area, despite the movie being shot at Phi Phi Don in the Andaman.


Some of the dozens of islets at Ang Thong National Marine Park west of Samui (image SeaRobin Dive Center


Some travellers say The Lake at Khao Sok National Park is an inland Ang Thong/Phang Nga Bay landscape wise. Being midway between the southern Gulf and the Andaman, Khao Sok is a good stop-over for island fans swapping coasts.

CLIMBING - Railay/Ton Sai, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Laoliang and apparently Ko Yao Noi.

I take my first-ever climb on Laoliang

ALL-ROUNDERS - ISLANDS/BEACHES WITH A GOOD VARIETY - some nice beaches, laid back areas, some nightlife, some other activities like snorkelling/diving/climbing/trekking (but not necessarily all or most) - Ko Lanta, Ko Lipe, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao, Ko Samui, Ko Samet, Phuket, Railay/Ton Sai/Ao Nang, Ko Muk, big Ko Chang.

BEST BEACHES - these are probably found somewhere in the Similans, Surins, Ang Thong National Marine Park or similar. But of places with easily got accommodation the choice is so great it is hard to pick one or a few. Phra Nang at Krabi would maybe get the gong - but it is so crowded much of the time these days.
Whitest sand? Hell, I’m not good here because I don’t care if the sand is white or yellow, both look nice. As long as it’s clean and there is plenty at high tide and the water is deep enough to swim at low tide.
I’m copping out on best beach and whitest sand. Although you could check the next link for the pix of the beach at Donald Duck Bay in the Similans.
For people wanting nice beaches I put together a page of pix of what I consider some of Thailand's more pristine beaches.

No shortage of nice beaches - this one is at Ko Nangyuan. Attractive enough that a lot of people daytrip from nearby (1km) Ko Tao. Apparently the island owners now have a small charge for non-residents.

NOT SO NICE BEACHES - Ko Sukorn has brownish-grey sand most places. Yao Noi and Jum are rocky at low tide in a lot of areas. Siboya is similar. But Yao and Jum are still nice islands to visit, as is Siboya.

Very ordinary beach at Ko Siboya. But Siboya Bungalows 300m south is the best inexpensive bungalow joint I've stayed at in Thailand.


CAMPING
You often see people camping on the beaches in Thailand, particularly Thais.

All beaches are owned by the king and are open to the public - there is no such thing as a private beach although some resorts would like to kid you there is. Often resorts own the land behind the beach and block public access thru their land or have a small charge or want you to use their restaurants - such as Ao Leuk on Lanta.
Resorts which block access to the beach can get real pissed when someone comes in by boat, but they can't do a thing. I once saw two old fisherman in a tiny longtail land on a land-blocked luxury resort beach at Phuket and mend their nets for a few hours. The security goons near died with frustration.

One outfit that can ban camping is the National Parks - usually they have their own camping areas with tents for rent. And people can pitch their own tents there for a very minimal cost, but NP sometimes don't want people camping on beaches elsewhere in their area which may be a bit fragile eco-wise.
National Park camping areas are found on the Surins (2), Similans(2), Ko Adang, Ko Tarutao (2), Ko Kradan and the Ang Thong Marine National Park west of Samui and Phangan. I've got an idea you can camp in the small area at the southern tip of Ko Lanta and another on Ko Rok. I've probably missed a few.

They do pack them in at some of the National Park camping areas - this is camping area #2 at Mai Ngam beach in the Surin islands. Note a few private tents in with the NP tents.

Apart from the National Park islands or NP areas of islands above I have seen people camping on big Ko Chang, Ko Kho Khao, Phangan, a beach just west of Railay/Ton Sai at Krabi and Ko Lipe. At times Thais walk along an open-access beach and pitch their tents in a good spot - sometimes in front of a bungalow resort.

If you want a dedicated camping resort you could try Ko Ngai Camping which is pitched more to the budget market - or Ko Lao Liang for buoutique camping.

Some bungalow resorts have tents for overflow crowds - maybe you could check my Lipe page, Ko Kho Khao page, Mai Khao Phuket Trip Report page and Kradan Trip Report page by wonderingstar for more info.
And there is the semi-luxury tent resort on Ko Lialiang, the only accommodation there.

Should you take a tent? A lot of people will say no - the bungalows are so cheap it's not worth the bother. But if camping floats your boat, why not? But note trip reporter MV is a bit leery camping in an area with lots of others - he reckons things can disappear and prefers finding a deserted beach on some idyllic island.
I like camping but get my fix with the occasional stay on a NP island or in one of the budget resorts' overflow tents.

PRISTINE WATER
The nicest water I've seen at a beach with accommodation is at the National Park HQ beach at island #4 in the Similans. Of beaches with lots of accommodation, Lady Tezza's favourite spot in the swimming enclosure adjacent Varin resort on Ko Lipe's Pattaya beach would get the award. Patok, the main beach on Ko Raya/Racha Yai is spretty special too.

Deep, clear, calm, gorgeous colour - the bay off the headquarters beach on Ko Miang - Similans island #4. Because fishing is banned they have no fear and tend to check you out.

BUNGALOWS OVER THE WATER
I can't think of any bungalows on stilts over coral reefs as found in the Pacific islands or Indian Ocean. But there are a few joints on stilts over less spectacular bits of ocean . See the Ko Samet page for Ban Ploy Samed and its neighbours, the big Ko Chang page for Bang Bao Sea Hut and the Ko Maak page for Cococape.

View from my Cococape (Ko Maak) budget-priced bungalow on stilts. In my case all but the rear bathroom was actually suspended over the bay. A variety of prices for these and on-land accommodation at this nice midrange resort.

FLOATING ACCOMMODATION
Check the Kanchanaburi page for Boutique Raft Resort, the big Chang page for the boat houses and mini cruise liner at Grand Lagoona and the Khao Sok page for Tan Tuoy Raft Houses.

Boutique Raft Resort, river Kwai Noi in the Kanchanaburi hinterland. Okay, the Kanchanari district is not exactly beaches and islands but many of you will access LOS via Bangkok and this area is one of the better nearby places to spend a bit of time.


WHICH IS THE BEST WET SEASON ISLAND?
For a start you can avoid a lot of the sometime-from-lateApril/May to sometime-in-November wet season by going to the southern Gulf islands (Samui/Phangan/Tao) which tend to have a different wet season, October into January. Many of the shots of those islands in this blog were taken July-August.

In the other areas the driest island tends to be Ko Samet in the central Gulf. And all but one of the beaches on that island are on the lee east coast which means calmer conditions on windy days and less flotsam/jetsam blown onshore.
Pattaya is close to Samet and is relatively dry too.
Samet has a dozen or so east facing beaches ranging from super laid-back Ao Nuan above to lively party spots.

Other islands are not out of the question in wet season - I have always got enough sunshine for a satisfactory wet season holiday and have never lost one full day to incessant rain. But note that the southern Gulf has a reputation for turning on a shocker about one in every 4 or 5 years in Oct-Nov-Dec. Not on a regular basis unfortunately, so if last year was a schocker it doesn't necessarily mean this one will be okay.
Wet season - August on Ao Toh Koh, Ko Phi Phi. Not too much rain in this shot. Actually this was taken towards the end of a 2 hour sunny period on one of the few days where it rained more often than not in the fortnight we spent in the PP-Phuket area. There were several other sunny periods in the day. All but one of the uncredited shots on my Phuket page were shot in this fortnight or on other wet season trips - lots of sunshine on those. Quite a few days had no rain, some had no cloud.
Ao Toh Koh is a sheltered east coast beach, handy on those 15-25% of wet season days when the wind gets up. Other Andaman islands with sheltered east facing beaches are Ngai, Kradan, Muk, Lipe, Bulon Lae and Yao Noi.


The Trat and Ranong islands are statistically the wettest, particularly June thru October.
The Trat and central Gulf areas tend to end their wet season earlier than others.


SHALLOW AT LOW TIDE - the west coast and south coast of Phangan, Sairee and the south coast of Tao, quite a few Lanta beaches (most of Long Beach DOESN’T suffer this), the south end of Andaman on Lipe. Parts of Ting Rai and Luboa on Ko Jum. Loh Dalum and most of the south coast of Phi Phi, Buffalo Bay at Ko Phayam, particularly in the middle of the southern beach, the main beach on Little Chang Andaman side, particularly at the southern end. Northern end of the main east facing beaches on Ko Ngai and Ko Kradan. Some parts of the middle bay and nearby at Ko Phra Thong. Both main beaches at Ko Maak.
But this factor doesn't worry me too much - I'm a keen ocean swimmer for fitness and I never have problems swimming reasonably close to shore at these places except for a few hours around lowest tide. Note that in the Andaman most days tend to have 2 low tides roughly 12.5 hours apart and the daylight high tide gets roughly an hour later each day. In the Gulf there is only one low tide in a 24 hour period - and that gets roughly an hour later each day too. If low tide happens to fall around mid-day in the Gulf it means that it's going to be pretty shallow all the time in the peak swimming hours of 0900-1500. At least this shallow period will get an hour later each day. If your Gulf visit happens to fall in a period when the low tide is at night, you are laughing.

Note too, in many trips to Railay and Long Beach Phi Phi I had no problems swimming at low tide. However my last visits to each coincided with one of those extra low tide periods associated with SPRING TIDES (the bi monthly tidal extremes associated with full moon and no-moon) and I found each a bit shallow at lowest tide, close to shore. Phra Nang near Railay is good all tides.
Hat Noppharet Thara/Ton Son east of Ao Nang get real shallow.

Shallow mid year in the southern Gulf ? - well apparently lowest tides are a bit shallower mid year. But we are talking mere cms in difference according to the scientific report someone posted. I think this has been overplayed. I’ve had great swims at Mae Had and Had Salad on Phangan's "shallow" west coast away from lowest tide in June- August.

Samui's Thong Ta Kien at lowest August tide full moon) - there was still a clear patch at far end of beach where swimming was okay once 30m from the shore. Gorgeous beach above third tide - see shot 10% down on Samui page. This shot can be expanded.

GOOD SURF - forget it in high season. Most places are dead flat or have ankle ticklers. The only half-decent (body) surf I've had high season is on Ko Phayam, once in 3 visits (update - Dec 2010 trip to Phuket I got some fun body waves at Surin and Nai Thon. Very rare).

Uncommon dry season wave at Surin beach Phuket. Ever caught a body wave from a running start? Trust me, the timing is difficult.

In wet season the Andaman coast gets swell. The popular Phuket beaches have waves which are surfable. The Trang coast sometimes gets big swell. Wally at Paradise Lost on Ko Kradan told me the sunset beach there attracts surfers. Note wet season surf I have seen is not quality - sloppy onshore muck. But surfable.

BUNGALOWS RIGHT ON THE BEACH - the only places I've seen the water lapping the pylons at high tide are Sinchai's at Hat Yao/Ban Chao Mai near Trang, Good Feeling at Ko Wai and at Bulone Resort, Ko Bulon Lae. But if you want bungalows within a few meters of the sand there are lots - some I know are Paradise Resort and Paradise Pearl on Long Beach Phi Phi, Toh Koh Resort and Holiday Inn on Phi Phi's east coast, Sawasdee and a lot of the other resorts on little Ko Chang, Ko Muk Charlie, most of the places I mention on the main beach at Ko Ngai, Leela Beach bungalows Phangan, Paradise Resort and Kradan Island Resort on Ko Kradan, Ko Wai Paradise, Island Hut and Ao Kao on Ko Mak, Mai Pen Rai and JS on Had Sadet, Phangan, New Hut on Lamai at Samui, Seaside Cottages on Mai Khao Phuket.
The front row tents at Laoliang are 25m from the water.
Note you are out of luck at popular Railay and Ton Sai (Krabi). Restaurants and reception dominate the beachfront - the bungalows are behind.


Absolute beachfront bungalows at Island Hut on Ko Maak.

Technically the aircon bungalows at Ao Pudsa Resort on Samet are headland - but this corner one is virtually beachfront. Tezza's cheaper fan bungalow was on the hillside behind. Roof at far left belongs to beachfront restaurant.

Bungalows on the sand at Ao Sadet's "Mai Pen Rai" - Ko Phangan

Crikey, you can still get budget backpacker bungalows on Samui's popular Lamai. "New Hut" on the north third of the beach. Last 2 pix expand.

Budget bungalows on a laid back white sand beach - check Bottle Beach One's website for current prices. Hey, this place has a pool and midrange accomm. North coast of Ko Phangan.

GOOD FOR TREKKING - the only islands I can think of which had virtually no walking trails or roads suitable for walking when I visited are Kos Laoliang and Whai. Correction - you can now walk down the east coast of Whai plus a loop to a nothing bay on the west side and a track to a nice sunset viewpoint in a narrow inlet further north. Of the others, Ko Kradan and maybe Ngai would disappoint trekkers who want to cover big distances, but the trails are quite nice.

Siobhan from Adelaide crosses a creek on Tarutao

ADVENTURE ISLANDS
Ko Laoliang has climbing, diving, snorkelling, kayaks, fishing on the doorstep (umm, make that luxury-tent threshold). Railay/Ao Nang would be the next best bet - yeah I know it aint really an island area. All the big well-visited islands have made sure they have plenty of adventure stuff - I'm talking about Phangan, Samui, Phuket and Lanta.

Manager Vinnie and climbing-guide Elliott check out bouldering-routes under the cliff overhang directly behind the tent area on Loaliang. Climbing routes of most grades take off along this section too.

I found this pic on Loaliang's website. I thought it so perfectly captures the holiday spirt, I couldn't resist including it.

ISLANDS YOU CAN FLY ON TO - Samui and Phuket. You can also fly directly to Krabi but this area is not an island.

ISLANDS EASILY REACHED FROM BANGKOK - the closest nice island by surface transport is Ko Samet. Big Ko Chang is a lot closer than the Andaman and southern Gulf islands but it will still take you 6-8 hours by bus and ferry.
I reckon an overnight bus/sleeper train - ferry combination represents ease of access because it wastes little sunshine time and saves a night's accommodation cost - the quickest places to access this way are probably Tao, Phangan and Samui in the southern Gulf. Krabi and Phuket are similar but don't need a ferry (note no railway line goes near them - overnight buses only).
Of course, in this day of cut price airline tickets, taking a flight is often not too much more than the bus. Phuket tends to have the most frequent and inexpensive flights out of Bangkok, but you should Google other destinations - you could get a nice surprise.

OVERDEVELOPED OR STARTING TO GET OVERDONE - Phuket, Ko Samui, Pattaya, Railay/Ao Nang, Ko Samet, big Ko Chang, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Muk. A lot of people are saying Lipe is getting very crowded at peak season - sure is nice at shoulder.

GETS BAD PRESS BUT STILL HAS SOME NICE AREAS - Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, big Ko Chang, Ko Samet, Ko Muk, Samui, Lipe and Railay. All are certainly worth visiting.

Slightly overdone Phuket - Kata Yai south end, one of the nicer areas of the "big 3" beaches - the budget restaurant/bars adjacent the headland here are real nice places to spend time low season when the crowds are down and the surf is up. This is a high season shot.

CULTURE - Most Thai islands aren’t exactly dripping with history, temples, artistic stuff, old architecture etc. I guess Phuket would have the most. There are also some temples and stuff around Krabi.
But to see the normal everyday fishing/farming culture of Thai islands little affected by tourism, I reckon the best would be Kos Yao Noi and Yai, Ko Sukorn, Ko Siboya, Ko Kut and Ko Libong. Jum, Phayam and little Chang are not bad away from the tourist strips.
Some of the best glimpses of everyday life can be seen at the departure points for smaller islands. This is the market pier at Laem Kruat, where public longtails depart for Ko Jum and Ko Siboya. The building far left is a restaurant where you can sit and check the bustling scene while waiting for your boat to depart.

Watching itinerant fruit/hot chicken etc sellers cook-up for locals on islands popular with Thai holidayers like Ko Samet gives a glimps of cultural practices - not to mention some inexpensive yummy food for we farangs.

CAVES - Railay, Lanta, the area near Hat Yao have caves. So too does the lake trip at Khao Sok, but this is not such a good place to be in or close to wet season, as the recent tragedy attests. There are sure to be others - I'm not a big seeker of caves.
Flooded caves you can paddle a kayak into (or even enter by longtail boat) are widespread in Phang Nga Bay. In some the top has caved in to form a HONG - a sun-drenched inner lagoon.
Emerald cave at Muk is similar - this one you swim into. Magic place.

Locals' tour group emerges from Emerald Cave Ko Muk. Most Thais can't swim, hence flotation vests and ropes.

NUDE BEACHES - for some people topless women are nude. In that case all the tourist beaches in Thailand except maybe the domestic Hua Hin and Cha-Am are nude beaches.
But for full-on nudity, with people parading like in the Greek Islands, forget it. Thai people tend to frown on such displays. However there are plenty of lonely stretches of beach and rock platforms in Thailand where dedicated naturists can go nude and cover up well before any locals come near. I have seen nudists on many islands in Thailand.

All you dudes hoping for a gratuitous nude-pic here - bad luck kemosabes, this is a family show. So here's a gratuitous non-nude shot of smokin'-hot Aneka.


NO ROADS - of the places detailed in this blog Whai, Kradan, Adang and Ngai have narrow walking tracks only and Lipe, Railay/Ton Sai, Phi Phi and Bulon Lae have wider tracks/laneways but virtually no motor vehicles (Update Dec 09 - quite a few of the tracks on Lipe had been paved and there is now a fair few motorcycles. Not many 4-wheeled vehicles - a fair section of the cross island paved path is closed to all traffic come sunset - called WALKING STREET). Even the walking tracks at Whai are limited. There are no walking tracks on Laoliang.

NOT MUCH LONGTAIL NOISE
The beaches I found relatively quiet were at Ko Phra Thong, Ko Kho Khao, Ko Libong Beach Resort, Ko Sukorn Beach Resort, Ko Siboya Resort, Laoliang and the main beaches at little Ko Chang Andaman side and nearby Ko Phayam. The east coast of Samet has mainly speedboats which hummmm - I didn't hear one longtail in my Feb08 visit. There was not much longtail noise on Ko Mak. Nor at Long Beach on Lanta (come to think of it, most Lanta beaches have not offended), Had Salad on Phangan, Thong Ta Kien on Samui. I don't think I heard a longtail anywhere on Ko Kho Khao's 20km of ocean beach.
The bungalows at Ton Sai next to Railay don't get a lot of longtail noise because they are up the track away from the beach.

All the sea-traffic to Samet's beaches seems to be quiet speedboats or chug-chug ferries


PLACES I COULD SPEND A LOT OF TIME - (if I had to pick an island to stay on for several months) - Ko Phangan, Ko Lanta, Ko Tao, Ko Lipe. The first two are big and have lots of different areas to move to each week or so. Tao aint big but has lots of interesting little bays etc. Lipe is tiny, but I just like the place and would enjoy watching the turnover of tourists over time).

I don't have a favourite island or beach in Thailand, but if you ask me when I'm away from the country to pick one LOS place I'd like to be right now, I always picture Viewpoint's southern beach on Lipe. That higher rock at left meets the sand at a perfect backrest angle, a real nice spot to sit with a cold Chang from Viewpoint's rustic restaurant and check the scene. Beach is popular with people from around the island but never super-crowded.

My favourite holiday place ANYWHERE is Noosa Heads in South East Queensland.


The island I've enjoyed most in the past 10 years is Pulau Kapas in north-east peninsula Malaysia.

ISLANDS TO RETIRE TO - (I have had several PMs re this - I figure you want something big for variety, with good transport links including an airport not too far away, good services, good health facilities and reasonably cheap long term accommodation) - Ko Phangan, Ko Lanta, and even if they aint my personal picks - Ko Samui and Phuket.

Okay, what about the BIG KAHUNA of questions?
LAID BACK, NOT TOO TOURISTY BUT WITH A BIT OF NIGHTLIFE.
Hell, how many times does this get asked?
Okay, if you are talking islands maybe Lanta and Lipe away from peak-peak would get the gong. And even at busiest times on Lipe you could stay at Sunset or Sunrise Beach and walk across to Pattaya after dark for some laid back beach bars and restaurants.
I reckon it is easier to pick a beach than a whole island. Thong Nai Pan on Phangan. Long Beach, Khlong Khong and Khlong Nin on Lanta.
But there are plenty of other places with just one or a few bars/restaurants where if there is the right mixture of travellers/locals things can get real mellow. Hell sometimes this can happen at your bungalow’s restaurant.

Nice all-rounder. Long Beach on Lanta - plenty of accommodation, restaurants, bars - close to shopping - but still large areas undeveloped. Deep water low tide most areas, no rocks except at far southern end, not far from ferry or main Sala Dan town. Great sunsets. Not fabulous for snorkelling.

ISLAND HOPPING

Tao to Phangan to Samui has been the old favourite - for years these have been linked by several ferry operations. Thesy tend to run all year except in periods of very bad weather.
Coming from Bangkok, the logical mainland departure is Chumpon with day and night ferries - from the south or the Andaman, Surathani (also day and night ferries although most day ferries run from Ban Don pier about an hour east) is usually best. Both places have bus and train connections to Bangkok. You can also fly into Surathani and Samui.

In the Andaman a logical high season circuit is Phuket-Phi Phi-Lanta-Jum-Krabi town (or to nearby Railay/Ton Sai/Ao Nang) by fast ferry. You can cut any of these out of a planned circuit. At present wet season cuts Lanta and Jum out of the circuit, but surely this is just a matter of time.

It is possible to do Phuket-Yao Yai-Yao Noi-Phuket. Or continue on from Yao Noi to either Krabi via the slow ferry to Ao Thalen or the speedboat to Ao Nang - or continue on to Phi Phi by the new speedboat service started high season 09/10 (UPDATE - not sure if this has survived).

Lanta has been linked to the Trang islands of Ngai, Muk and Kradan for years in high season by the Trang Island daytrip ferries out of Ban Sala Dan, and by longtails from the Lanta town pier. From southern beaches it is possible to hop down to the Trang islands on daytrip longtails and of course you can charter one.
Daytrip speedboats also run out of Lanta to the Trang islands and will take travellers shifting between islands.

Naturally it is also possible to hop between all the Trang islands including using some of these daytrip boats or local longtails. 

But the BIG DADDY of island hopping is now possible - the new high season Tigerline Travel ferry service out of Phuket via Phi Phi via Lanta/Ngai/Kradan/Muk/Hat Chao Mai-Hat Yao, Lipe and then Langkawi in Malaysia means you can now island hop all the way from Phuket or Krabi/Railay to north-west Malaysia. Actually there is another fast ferry joining Langkawi with Penang further south.
You can join the Tigerline service at the Ban Chao Mai/Hat Yao pier on the Trang coast after the company's minibuses have brought you from places like Trang airport or city, Krabi and others.

There is also a speedboat service operated by SPB from Phuket to Lipe which will drop in at other islands including Ko Bulon Lae.

A Satun area mini-loop is ferry/speedboat out of Pak Bara to Tarutao and then on to Adang/Lipe, speedboat to Bulon Lae and then ferry back to Pak Bara.

In the eastern Gulf, big Chang, Whai, Muk, Kham and Kut are joined in high season by the Island Hopping Service and Bang Bao Boat plus quite a few other speedboat operators.
Bang Bao Boat's biggest ferry. They have smaller ferries and speedboats (image http://bangbaoboat.com/)
Can you island-hop from the big Chang area or Samet across to Samui/Phangan/Tao?
This question is often asked on the forums. The answer is no, there is no ferry service.
A few years back you could fly from U Tapoa not too far from Samet and close to Pattaya to Samui on Bangkok Air, so this might be worth checking. And you can fly from Trat airport near big Chang to Bangkok and then onwards to Samui or Surathani. Otherwise it's the bus to Bangkok and then train or bus/ferry routine.


WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY?

The Andaman Coast Islands and Beaches

Starting in the north near the Burmese border are the Ranong Islands - little Ko Chang and Ko Phayam

Ko Kho Khao is about 30 km north of Khao Lak near Takua Pa.

Ko Phra Thong is immediately north of Ko Kho Khao.

Khao Lak is a series of beaches on the mainland not too far north of Phuket.

The Similans
are east of Lak and the Surins north-east.

Islands/beaches north of Phuket. I did this map before I visited Ko Kho Khao - it is directly north of Khao Lak's place-marker and left of that small rectangle very close to the coast. And Ko Phra Thong is the next island north, immediately below that darkish inverted arrow of an island which is Ko Ra - one I haven't checked yet.

Ko Yao Noi (and Yai) are just to the east of Phuket.
Ko Raya/Racha is directly south of Phuket.
Krabi/Railay/Ao Nang/Ton Sai are on the mainland south of Ko Yao.
Ko Phi Phi is a Krabi area island to the south east as is Ko Lanta to the south.
Kos Siboya and Jum are between Krabi and Lanta.

Phuket area islands + Krabi/Railay. Ko Raya/Racha is that dot very bottom of map under Phuket.


The Trang Islands start just south of Lanta - Kos Ngai, Kradan, Muk, Libong, Sukorn and Laoliang.

The Trang islands


Near the Malaysian border are the Satun area islands - Kos Bulon Lae, Tarutao, Lipe and neighbours like Adang .

Satun area islands
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The Southern Gulf Islands and Beaches
Starting east of Surathani is Ko Samui and then heading north is Ko Phangan and then Ko Tao.
Northwards on the Gulf's west coast are the largely domestic holiday beaches of Hua Hin* and Cha Am*.

The southern Gulf islands
----------------------------------------------------------

The Eastern Gulf Islands

Ko Samet is more central Gulf, not too far from Bangkok. Further east, near the Camobodian border are big Ko Chang and then to the south, Ko Wai, Ko Mak and Ko Kut.

The eastern Gulf islands

Pattaya* is a mainland beach area a bit closer to Bangkok than Ko Samet.

Okay, there are others but I think I've covered the main ones.
* This denotes islands/beaches which don't appear on this blog, either because I haven't visited or haven't for some time. I'm taking Lady Tezza to Samui in August 09 so should have a page up on that in September, plus some updates on Phangan and Phuket.


If you have extra information or see mistakes, please post below. I don't get to check individual pages too often so if you have questions, please post them on the FORUM page accessed via the INDEX top right of this page. I try to check that one daily when I'm not travelling

You can find some real nice scenery at Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley

--------------------------------------------------------------

IF YOU SEE ANY MISTAKES OR HAVE EXTRA INFORMATION, PLEASE POST IT BELOW.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, PLEASE ASK THEM IN THE FORUM WHICH CAN BE ACCESSED VIA THE LINK 75% DOWN THE INDEX - I DON'T GET TO CHECK EACH INDIVIDUAL ISLAND PAGE VERY OFTEN.

21 comments:

david said...

This is a great resource, thank you. I was curious if there were islands that would qualify for "best forest wildlife" the largest abundance and variety of birds, monkeys, etc.....

Iris Matilda Smith said...

brilliant website, am just poring through all the info on here. last time i went to koh phangan it was to do the full moon parties, but now i have a small baby in tow so am seeking somewhere laid back to chill out with the small one. did you see any beaches on your travels that looked popular with families?

tezza said...

Whoa, I neglected to post the above "QUESTIONS ON THE INDEX PAGE PLEASE" when I first did this page. Sorry folks, I just saw your questions.

Probably way too late for DAVID'S question but for others interested I'd say it would have to be one of the bigger National Park islands - Tarutao, Adang, Similans, Surins - of the non NP islands probably Big Ko Chang and maybe Ko Kut.

For Iris, I think the island I've seen most families on is Lanta (that's away from the more commercial places like Phuket and Samui). Lanta has its share of laid back beaches.
But there are a bunch of other laid back islands I'd consider okay for kids - Adang would be one of the best because it's a short jump over to Lipe for more widespread services.
Jum would be good - not too far to Krabi for big regional town services.

Iris said...

Thanks Tezza, I'll investigate those options (and will post any other comments on the index page :P )

C├ęcile O. said...

Wow, thanks for this very helpful list of information! It's presented exactly in the way I was looking for!

allison said...

Great site -- I am going on a last minute trip next week - 6 days starting & ending in Bangkok --- looking for a balance between adventure (i.e. bike ride or elephant tour) and relaxing beach - flexible on budget (<200 USD per nite) --- don't really need night life - just good eats

patrick said...

KOH LANTA MI AMOR ...
FOR THE REASONS YOU MENTIONED ALREADY ...
FOR MY OWN SANITY ...
GREAT BLOG
THANKS

Andrew Strikis said...

Awesome blog! Really really helpful!

carini46 said...

Killer resource. Holy shit, you rock

Micke1980 said...

Thank you so much for this awesome website! You gave me lots of ideas and lots of new options to think about.

ChaM_My said...

You've made a perfect profile of what to expect in Thailand. I love the cool beaches. How much should be an expected budget for a 3-day tour? Hope you could give me some estimate.

Flights to Singapore

remain said...

Thanks a lot! This was exactly what i was looking for.

. said...

Hi. I live in north Thailand and in mid June I am going to travel down south. I have read most of your posts, but I still can deside where to travel to? My favorite thing to do while traveling is to snorkel. I have been snorkeling on koh poda and koh ngai. On koh ngai I saw a seaturtle, lionfish, clownfish, seasnakes, etc. - snorkeling is very new to me so I was pretty pleased with what I saw on koh ngai :) But now I want more! Where do i go? :)

Caroline

Marilinne Cooper said...

tezza, love your blog! I will be travelling through Thailand on a world tour next year and you have totally inspired and informed me. thanks!
Marilinne

Holidaysinsiam said...

Great blog with great info and resourse, simply awesome :)

keep it up :)

Kayla said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! :D

mert said...

Hi Tezza how could i reach you to talk you about your blog? I really like the content. Could you write an email to me? "mertpolat@gmail.com" so i can contact to you.
Please
thank you.

mert said...

Hi Tezza how could i reach you to talk you about your blog? I really like the content. Could you write an email to me? "mertpolat@gmail.com" so i can contact to you.
Please
thank you.

Athanasios Dimitriadis said...

Lovely beaches really and stunning photos. Brilliant work and make everyone want to travel to the same places. There are many beaches in this article that are a paradise. Some of the best beaches are shown here for some travelling ideas. Have a nice summer and vacations to everyone. See you...

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Fab said...

Hi Tezza,
thank you for all these precious informations !
We (french family, 2 adults and 2 children 12 and 15 y/o) are planing our trip in Malaysia next summer (july).
We are sure to go to Perhentian Island (Besar), but we desperatly hesitate between Kapas and Tioman.... I think that you went in Tioman (even if I don't see any post on it).
What's your opinion on Tioman ? Do you think that kapas is a best choice ? (less busy / expensive ?)
Thank you for your advices !
Fab