The Ultimate Guide to Island Hopping in Thailand
Here in the UK winter seems to have dragged on forever. You think it’s almost over, spring is on the way, the sun is just starting to – Bam, snow. For me, two weeks in Thailand could not come fast enough. Back in 2015 my partner and I spent 4 months travelling around South East Asia, but we didn’t really get a chance to explore the Thai islands. So, when it came to planning this trip (the word ‘plan’ is used in the loosest sense possible) I had a good idea of what I wanted to do.
Plenty of people have island hopped through Thailand and we normally shield away from the typical touristy stuff, opting instead for more authentic, barely-trodden paths…but sometimes the allure of a place is too overwhelming to be missed. Millions of backpackers may have ridden the boats, trekked the hills and lazed on the beaches before us, but now it was our turn. We soon realised these millions of backpackers were on to something!
Whether you’re planning a trip to the Land of Smiles for a backpacking adventure or just trying to decide where to spend your well-earned break with a cocktail in your hand, this Thailand island hopping guide will give you a great insight.
We arrived in Bangkok with 1 night booked in a hostel and a flight to Ranong the next day. Our planning started and ended here. Most travellers begin their journey here, so if you can spend a day in this wonderfully chaotic city, I say do it! It’s overflowing with culture, history and brimming with excitement. Not forgetting the food! Head to the backpacker capital, Khao San Road to pick up everything you need for your trip. Forgot your sunglasses? No problem. Want to eat a scorpion on a stick? They’ve got it. Need some garishly gorgeous hippy pants? Course you do, it’s a backpacking essential. Spend the day exploring the temples and markets to get your first taste of Thailand.
Where to stay
Chern Hostel is tucked away on a quiet street near Wat Suthat. It’s superbly clean, wonderfully cheap and the walls are covered in Thai proverbs. Plus it’s within walking distance of many attractions like the Grand Palace.
Diva proof hostel
Need a little more bang for your baht? The Printing House Poshtel is an industrial chic boutique hotel near Wat Mahan Pharam. You can walk to Khao San road in 10 minutes, or if you don’t feel like venturing out, relax on the rooftop bar.
This small island in the Andaman Sea is wild yet relaxing compared to some of the other islands. It seemed like the perfect place to start. On the boat from Ranong we were among a small handful of tourists with the main travellers being locals. There are no cars on the island, so you will need to either rent a bike at the pier or be prepared to take your luggage on the back of a scooter taxi. (let’s just say I was very grateful for my backpack). Koh Phayam is the ideal place to relax with mesmerising beach sunsets and intoxicating local food. Just be aware that, although there are many lovely bungalows and guesthouses, very few places have air conditioning and even if they do it only works in the evenings. Be prepared to go right back to basics.
Koh Phayam is great for
Relaxing into island life is easy here. It’s impossible not to get drawn in by the laid back vibe.
Kayaking through the mangroves. Get up early, rent kayaks and spend the morning exploring the mangrove forest. Follow the river at high tide into the heart of the island and be on the lookout for amazing wildlife.
How to get to Koh Phayam
Flights from Bangkok to Ranong are fairly cheap if you book them in advance, or you can opt for the more budget friendly (but more time consuming) bus for around 500 baht. You can then get a 45-minute boat from Ranong pier, which run from 8am – 4pm.
Where to eat in Koh Phayam
The Peacock Tree is a gorgeous little Indian restaurant with an effortless atmosphere and plenty of vegetarian options.
Baan Nam Cha is the place to go for Thai and western vegan dishes. Relax with a bottle of Chang, under twinkly lights in a hammock in this artsy bar and restaurant. Ask yourself if it gets more chilled.
Want to feel a little bit adventurous, but also just want to lounge by the pool taking selfies with a coconut cocktail in hand? Do it for the ‘gram in Koh Samui and find your happy medium. It’s definitely the ‘everything island’ and has all you could want from a Thai vacay. From backpacker hostels and local food markets to beach resorts and yoga retreats, there is something to suit all levels of adventure. It’s also close enough to neighbouring islands to explore their best parts on day trips, perfect if your strapped for time.
Koh Samui is great for
Exploring! Rent bikes and drive all around the island, the best way to enjoy a place like Koh Samui is to go out on your own and find what makes you scream “I’m living my best life!”
Chasing waters. Don’t just stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to, hike through the trees and find the most awe-inspiring waterfalls. There are 4 on the island, but the most popular is Na Muang Waterfall towards the south.
How to get to Koh Samui
You can get direct flights from Bangkok or Phuket to Koh Samui airport, however these can be pretty pricey. If you still want to fly, you can get a flight to Surat Thani Airport and then a transfer to Donsak pier. From here you can get the ferry to the island, which run every hour and take ninety minutes.
Where to stay in Koh Samui
The Tiki Tiki beach hostel is close to the pulsating main town, perfectly suited for party animals. It also has its own outdoor pool and is located right on the beach. Plus, part of its profits from the bar are donated to children’s orphanages.
Diva proof hostel
Us Hostel is on the quieter side of the island, close to the Fisherman’s village and next to the picturesque Bophut Beach. It boasts comfy beds, air conditioning and a pool.
Where to eat in Koh Samui
The Fisherman’s House Cafe is a must if you need a caffeine fix. The coffee here isn’t just a hot drink, it’s a work of art.
Chaweng Night Market consists of plenty of street food stalls, bars shaking up fruity cocktails and an abundance of freshly-caught seafood to gorge on.
Koh Pha Ngan
Renowned for its fabulously fluorescent nightlife, Koh Pha Ngan is of course the home of the Full Moon Party. Yes, I know it’s cliché, but I could not resist being aglow with UV paint and covering myself in glitter to dance on the beach under a full moon. Besides who can resist a bit of party sparkle? Following the lunar calendar, the south side of the island hosts this famous party once a month, along with a Half Moon party and a Full Moon lead up party. Any excuse for a party really. If that’s not your thing then there is also a much quieter, peaceful side to be explored. It’s a big island, so there’s plenty of room for everyone! For postcard perfection head to the north of the island to Chaloklum Bay. Close to a little fisherman’s village, the water is calm, the sand soft and there’s not a DJ or glow stick in sight!
Koh Pha Ngan is great for
Partying, obviously. This is the night owl’s playground. Grab a bucket cocktail, whip out your inner Beyoncé and let your hair down.
How to get to Koh Pha Ngan
Being super close to Koh Samui you can get a ferry from the same pier in Surat Thani to Koh Pha Ngan. You can also get a speed boat from Koh Samui which takes about half an hour.
Where to stay in Koh Pha Ngan
La Casa Tropicana is positioned right on the beach, making it prime for laid-back lounging. It’s also close to the action on the south of the island.
Diva Proof hostel
Slumber Party is geared up to do everything except sleep…it’s a super-cool party hostel with a pool, air conditioning and free shots!
Want to experience the Full Moon Party without staying on the island? Places tend to book up quite quickly close to the party dates and it can get a little pricey. Stay on Koh Samui instead and catch a speed boat from Bangrak or Phu Yai Non pier. On party dates they run every hour to Koh Pha Ngan.
Where to eat in Koh Pha Ngan
Got a little headache, have we? Head to The Canteen for an Easy Kidney Cleanse juice or a Hangover Shake for 100baht.
This little island north of Koh Pha Ngan may be small, but it shouldn’t be forgotten. Well-known for its great dive sites, Koh Tao is a petite patch of paradise. (Try saying that after a few cocktail buckets!) In fact, it was my original inspiration for wanting to go Thailand island hopping. I discovered a photo on Pinterest and thought ‘that place doesn’t even look real!’ Seriously, it looks like it’s been photoshopped to perfection (#nofilter) Whilst your on the island take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan, a little cluster of stunning islands just off the coast of Koh Tao. You can stroll between them along the white strip of beach with idyllic, crystal water on both sides.
Koh Tao is great for
The diving is world class. If you haven’t tried it then this island is a great place to start. Join a discovery dive in the Gulf of Thailand, spot rays and sharks or just float along with the fishes and find your mermaid zen.
How to get to Koh Tao
Depending on where you are travelling from you can get a ferry from either Champhon or Surat Thani for between 500-700baht.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
Chill out in a hammock at Summer of ’69 Hostel or at the onsite Good Vibe Bar (clue’s in the name) with live music and a BBQ.
Diva Proof hostel
Bed and Ink is a cool modern hostel right by Mae Haad beach. Surrounded by diving schools, you’ll have no excuse not to give it a go.
Where to eat in Koh Tao
Fish and chips might not be the first dish you associate with Thai cuisine, but the caught-that-day portion at Breeze rivals any that I’ve had back home. With a good mix of Western and Thai cuisine, plus beachfront bean bags it’s catered to post-diving sundowners.
After making this island our home for three weeks back in 2015, I was keen to make this the last stop on our Thailand island hopping journey. Part of the Trat province in the north of the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Chang was my lasting memory of Thailand from our backpacking days. The entire west coast is lined with dreamy beaches and charming bungalows. Towards the end of your trip, it’s often hard to decide if you should spend your last few days relaxing or seeing as much as you can before you have to leave. Koh Chang gives you the enviable luxury of both.
Koh Chang is great for
Wet and wild waterfall swimming. This is still without a doubt the best waterfall I’ve experienced. Khlong Plu waterfall is in the heart of Koh Chang’s jungle. Take a short hike and follow the river, you’ll soon come across the gushing, breath-taking waterfall. Jump right in and cool off after your hike.
How to get to Koh Chang
You’ll need to make your way back up to Bangkok first, which is a bit of a pain but it is worth the trip. Get a flight back to Bangkok (best to book in advance to get a cheaper price). From Bangkok take a bus to Trat and then a short ferry to Koh Chang for around 350baht.
Where to stay in Koh Chang
Paradise Cottage has simple beach bungalows complete with an outdoor pool and hammocks lining the beach. Take a cheeky nap or relax with stretching sea views.
Diva proof hostel
Pajamas is a cozy, nautical-themed, beach house boutique just a short walk from Klong Prao Beach. Take a dip in the pool after enjoying your complimentary breakfast. I’d struggle to find a better way to start the day!
Where to eat in Koh Chang
Channel your inner Tarzan and Jane vibes in Oasis Koh Chang, a treehouse restaurant nestled in the heart of the jungle. Their jungle canopy terrace is also one of the best places to catch the sunset.
These are just a few of the incredible islands that Thailand has to offer. Hundreds of islands are waiting to be discovered, each with their own quirks and personalities. We didn’t have time to visit the more southern island like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lipe, so I’d get better get planning my next trip…