11 best islands in Thailand to visit for every traveller

Thailand’s diverse landscape attracts thousands of party animals, beach bums, newlyweds and adventure enthusiasts every year. The home of world-famous yoga retreats, beaches and Buddhist temples, it’s no surprise the country has become such a popular destination for travellers worldwide.

Island hopping is often a staple of a tourist’s Thailand itinerary, allowing you fully immerse in the broad range of Thai culture.

But with 1,430 islands to choose from, finding the one that best fits your holiday vibe can be more of a mission than the 12-hour flight. Straying beyond the well-known shores of Phuket to more isolated archipelagos is well worth the step out of the tourism comfort zone.

Whether backpacking on a budget or splashing out on a luxury golf holiday, all tastes are catered to – and not just in the bustling street food markets that dot the islands. Here’s The Independent’s selection of the best islands to explore for every variation of holiday in the Land of Smiles.

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Koh Phangan

The famous Full Moon Party takes place on Koh Phangan once a month

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Best for: Party holidays

If a holiday of crazy clubbing, raves and live music is on the cards for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Thailand, the wild nightlife of the otherwise idyllic Koh Phangan has a lot to offer. The popular island’s infamous monthly Full Moon Party just scratches the surface of the bustling bars, fire shows and beach clubs on Phangan, all wrapped up in heavenly sunsets and pristine white sands. Let loose and enjoy a few buckets on Haad Rin Beach or simply take to swinging in a hammock to relax the days away.

Where to stay

TropiCoco Beach Resort has direct beach access, an outdoor pool and a restaurant serving Thai dishes and waterfront cocktails. Comfy double rooms feature an en suite, balcony and view of the Haad Yao shoreline.

Koh Lipe

White sands and calm clear waters can be found on the shores of Koh Lipe

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Best for: Family holidays

The tiny island of Koh Lipe, in the Satun province near the border with Malaysia, is the only inhabited island in the Adang Archipelago. Despite its remote nature, it’s easy to catch a speed boat over from Pak Bara on the mainland to ths relaxed Thai paradise, abundant in welcoming locals and child-safe resorts. Family-friendly gentle seas, soft sands and great food await on a holiday with the kids, well-deserved after a long-haul flight with little ones – there are even cheap massages on offer on the shallow shores. Travel in off-peak season from May to October for the quietest crowds and comfortable temperatures.

Where to stay

If family suites with pool access, buffet breakfasts and evening entertainment are what you look for in a hotel, Ananya Lipe Resort is the perfect stay for the whole family.

Koh Mook

An aerial view of Koh Mook in Trang, Thailand

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Best for: Beach holidays

Emerald caves, secluded beaches and authentic local villages make Koh Mook the dream destination for a Thai beach break. Largely untouched by tourism, Mook, a sandy haven on the Andaman Sea, is a spot for kicking back, exploring the dense jungle and basking in old town charm. The popular Emerald Cave, a hidden lagoon on the island’s west coast, is a must-visit – swim or kayak through a tunnel to spend time among the vivid greens of the hidden beach.

Where to stay

Bargain beachfront stays at Mookies Bungalows offer guests a back-to-nature experience just a five-minute walk from Charlie Beach. Think cosy accommodation wrapped up with days spent on white sand, sunbathing, snorkelling and fishing.

Koh Lanta Yai

Relax on the romantic beaches of Koh Lanta

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Best for: Honeymoons

A honeymoon to Thailand has the long golden beaches, crystal clear waters and luxury resorts of the sought-after escapes to the Maldives and Bali, but Koh Lanta’s unforgettable tropical charm and vibrant landscape gives it an outstanding balance of history, culture and adventure. It’s also a more affordable option for blissful luxury with your new partner. Just off the coast of Krabi, the beach paradise boasts magical sunsets, idyllic viewpoints and endless opportunities to walk the pristine shoreline hand in hand.

Where to stay

The romantic Pimalai Resort, overlooking the Andaman Sea is rich in Thai decor, leisure facilities and exclusive accommodations. A stay includes airport transfers, dining at the three restaurants and an infinity pool.

Koh Yao Noi

Koh Yao Noi sits in the Phang Nga Bay

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Best for: Yoga and wellness retreats

One of the most popular yoga destinations in the world, Thailand’s spiritual shores offer a one-of-a-kind opportunity to rejuvenate in Buddhist temples, on dramatic mountain tops and beside blissful beaches. Steer away from the crowds of Chiang Mai in the north and take a retreat on Koh Yao Noi. The picturesque island in Phang Nga Bay offers a serene environment, with a pristine natural landscape just 30 minutes by speed boat from Phuket. Eco-friendly accommodation make the ideal base for fans of yoga workshops and days of meditation practice.

Where to stay

Molly Rose’s “The Beauty of Simplicity” yoga retreat offers time to slow down, move, breathe, and nourish your body on Koh Yao Noi. Daily yoga, sound ceremonies, boat trips and massages are among the highlights of the week’s itinerary; the six-night retreat starts from £1,598pp.

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Koh Phi Phi

The iconic Maya Beach was made famous by movie The Beach

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Best for: Backpacking

Popular backpacker spot Koh Phi Phi has a lot to offer solo, seasoned and group travellers exploring Thailand on a budget. Safe and sociable hostels, lively bars and endless clusters of natural beauty are right on the doorstep of Phi Phi Don – make the stop on your holiday to see if the signature social island is worth the hype. Indulge in local cuisine and the party scene with other tourists and spend slower days partaking in a range of activities, including swimming with sharks or cooking classes, with the latter ensuring you’ll return home a master in the art of pad Thai.

Where to stay

Sweed Dee Hostel is the ultimate backpacker’s stop on Phi Phi Don. Budget mixed dormitory rooms are fitted with a balcony, shared bathroom and free Wi-Fi less than 800m from Ton Sai Beach and nearby bars.

Koh Tao

Divers off of Ao Leuk Beach, Koh Tao

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Best for: Scuba diving trips

Thailand’s defining scuba island, Koh Tao, has underwater scenery and lively marine life that rivals some of the most spectacular reefs and shipwrecks in the world. Diving off the Chumphon Archipelago island attracts travellers from around the globe for half-day experiences and week-long open water certifications – diving schools such as Black Turtle Dive are plenty in the area. Everyone from beginners to professionals can head under to spot stingrays, barracudas and turtles, or explore the remains of the former US Navy ship HTMS Sattakut.

Where to stay

Boutique hotel Big Tree boasts vibrant interiors, lush outdoor areas and spacious balconies just a few minutes’ drive from dive sites, such as Sunken Ship and Chalok Viewpoint.

Koh Tarutao

The mountainous terrain of Koh Tarutao National Park

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Best for: Adventure holidays

The largest island in the Tarutao National Marine Park, Tarutao is an adventurers unspoiled paradise. As the 2002 setting of the US reality TV show Survivor and home to the remains of Koh Tarutao Prisonthe terrain is tough and the landscape exquisitely dramatic. A largely hidden gem, Tarutao offers ample opportunities for outdoor thrillseekers to mountain bike, hike waterfalls and kayak to Crocodile Cave. Keen campers can pitch up to take in the wildlife – and could even encounter some monkeys by the campfire.

Where to stay

There are no hotels or resorts on Koh Tarutao – that wouldn’t be true to the full adventure experience – however, as Tarutao is a National Marine Park, there are park accommodations to rent at three ranger stations and two campsites with tents available for hire. Doubles from £14; tents £5.

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Similan Islands

Anchor down and go for a dive at the archipelago of 11 islands

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Best for: Cruise holidays

For a unique perspective on everything Thailand has to offer, why not take to the sea and cruise through geological landmarks? Explore the azure waters of the isolated Similan Islands from the comfort of a liveaboard yacht at scenic moorings, peering overboard to glimpse the teeming marine life. Don a snorkel and take the plunge by the granite boulders and spectacular scenery of the Thai treasures in Mu Ko Similan National Park. Just remember that the islands are closed to the public from May until October, in order to safeguard marine life and encourage regeneration of the ecosystem.

Where to stay

Set sail and dive into the Similan Islands on an overnight charter yacht from Phuket. Eat and sleep on the catamaran cruise ‘Nakamal’ as you journey to Similan dive spots and white coral beaches. Sailing Phuket can provide prices and a sailing itinerary for a private charter

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Koh Bulon Lae

Indulge in delicious street food including pad Thai and moo ping

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Best for: Foodie roadtrips

No trip to Thailand is complete without indulging on increidble street food, and Koh Bulon Lae is full of culinary surprises. Seafood lovers will be in paradise at the fisherman’s village as they feast on the fresh catch of the day; beach restaurants dot the quiet coast. Bulon is home to a strong Muslim community so halal Thai food and western delights are all on the menu and, even better, in the 100 to 250 baht range (£2.30–£5.70).

Where to stay

Pansand Resort is one of the few accommodation options on the island and Koh Bulon Lae fishing village and Mango Bay are just a 15-minute walk away from the quiet bungalows. Doubles from £39, including breakfast.

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Koh Samui

Lush green palms line the holes of Santiburi Samui Country Club

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Best for: Golf holidays

When you think of Thailand’s second-largest island, golf may not be the first activity that springs to mind. But Koh Samui, known for its lush rainforest and palm beaches, is an oasis for exciting play. Famous courses such, as Santiburi Samui Country Club on the north coast and Royal Samui Golf in the Lamai mountains, serve up views out to Koh Phangan and mild breezes, making it easy for guests to tee off among palm-fringed terrain.

Where to stay

On Mae Nam Beach, Santiburi Koh Samui offers luxury villas, suites, tropical outdoor pools and an 18-hole championship golf course just a five-minute drive away.

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