10 Islands of Thailand — The Unexplored Beaches
Finding gorgeous beaches on Thailand’s many islands is easy. But ﬁnding the most idyllic, tranquil, and unspoiled beaches where you can wander alone and swim in crystal clear turquoise waters is becoming more challenging. We searched many of Thailand’s islands to ﬁnd beaches to satisfy even the most discerning intrepid beach lovers. These beaches have their good and bad times—so visit during the right season and at the right time of the day, and you will be in paradise!
ARTICLES + PHOTO ESSAYS
Ecuadorʼs Capital, Quito
Quito, the capital of Ecuador in northwestern South America, lies at a high altitude in a narrow valley of the Andean Highlands. e city is the second highest capital in the world and the capital closest to the equator. e region is worthy of a stay of several days.
Journey Through Chinaʼs Sichuan
China’s Sichuan Province is famous for its lantern-lit streets, temples, gardens, teahouses, spicy food and adorable giant pandas. South of the capital, Chengdu, are Mount Emei with temples high on its summit, and Leshan Giant Buddha, carved into a cli by the river.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
We discover why Australia’s 3rd-largest island is an amazing destination for travellers who love spectacular beaches, coastal scenery, wildlife, great food and a unique island vibe. Its stunning natural attractions make it one of South Australia’s best kept secrets.
Climbing Nicaraguaʼs Active Volcano
Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua has two almost-symmetrical volcanoes. e highest, Volcán Concepción, is an active stratovolcano while its neighbour, Volcán Maderas, is dormant. Come along as we climb to the hostile summit of Concepción. A day to never forget!
Meet the Photographer
Maltaʼs Islands of Surprises
A Greek Island Odyssey
Postcards to Mommy
Traveller in the Spotlight
10 Best Beaches on Thailandʼs Islands
10 Photo Spots on Kangaroo Island
9 Incredible Untamed Island Escapes
IN THE NEXT ISSUE
Icelandʼs Ring Road
Iceland is a place that impresses every visitor beyond expectation. Even the most seasoned travellers promise themselves to return and discover more. It would be impossible to experience all of Iceland in one lifetime! Join us on our journey around the island via Route 1, popularly known as the Ring Road.
THE FRONT COVER:
Sunrise at Koh Mook, ailand Photographer: Peter Steyn
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“Not all those who wander are lost”. J.R.R. Tolkien John Tolkien (3 Jan 1892 — 2 Sep 1973), was an English writer, poet, philologist, university professor and author of The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In this 17th issue of GlobeRovers Magazine, we are pleased to present a variety of exciting destinations for your reading pleasure.
e feature destination is ailand’s world-renowned islands. We have visited most of the islands with accommodation and selected the very best beaches. Once Covid-19 is under control, you can discover these islands and beaches for yourself.
We also journey through China’s Sichuan Province and explore the city of Chengdu with its spicy cuisine, and spend time with the giant pandas. en we head south to hike Mount Emei and take a boat to Leshan to see the world’s largest stone Buddha carved into a rock face next to rivers that merge into the mighty Yangtze.
From China, we travel halfway around the world to Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua to climb the smouldering Concepción Volcano, and barely live to tell the tale!
Next we go to Kangaroo Island in South Australia to see nature regenerate a er the recent devastating bush res. Also in this issue we visit Madagascar and Malta, then join a private cruise around some of the Greek islands.
e photo essay in this issue showcases Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
A special thank you to our sponsors and to our wonderful contributors who we feature on page 5.
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We travel so you can see the world!Peter Steyn PhD Editor-in-Chief and Publisher
A very special thank you to our awesome contributors in this issue. Without you, GlobeRovers Magazine just wouldn’t be the same!
Peter Steyn, Hong Kong (pages 10, 56, and 132)
Peter is an avid explorer who always tries to travel off the map to unexplored destinations. He has photographed over 122 countries and is totally in love with Japan, Russia, Iceland, Central Asia, South Africa, and other exciting places. He is the Editor-in-Chief of GlobeRovers Magazine
Keith Lyons, Auckland, New Zealand (page 68)
Keith is an award-winning writer based in Asia, writing about people and places, specializing in eco-tourism and off-the-beaten-track soft adventure. He was named one of 10 travel journalists in “Rock Star Travel Writers”. Keith (keithlyons.net) blogs at wanderingintheworld.com.
Marion Halliday, Adelaide, South Australia (page 88)
Marion is “Red Nomad OZ”, author, blogger and Aussie traveller who loves discovering naturebased attractions and activities—and scenic loos—all over Australia. Her Aussie travel blog and published book Aussie Loos with Views provide inspiration for other Aussie explorers.
David Van Driessche, Bangkok, Thailand (page 104)
David—also known as David Dennis—is a professional photographer specializing in travel, with passionate eye-catching photographs of places and people. Combining his profession with a love of travel and a background in tourism and hospitality, he offers photography services and tours.
Steven Kennedy, Kent, United Kingdom (page 124)
Steve is a PR professional and founder of the World Complete travel blog that documents his attempts to visit every corner of the globe... eventually. Through his accounts he hopes to pass on a few helpful hints and tips for other travellers along the way.
Gaverides, Syros, Greece (page 142)
Gaverides is an Australian now living in Greece. Over the past 20 years he has travelled extensively throughout Greece, and enjoys writing about his adventures, especially the journeys that take him there.
Ric Gazarian, Chicago, USA (page 162)
Ric is an avid traveller, travel blogger, professional photographer, drone pilot, author, podcaster, documentary producer and industry speaker. He is on a quest to visit every country in the world, has visited all seven continents and has travelled to over 140 countries.
Linda Ballou, Topanga Canyon, California, USA (page 166)
Linda is the adventure travel expert for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women. You will ﬁnd a host of travel articles on her site LostAngelAdventures.com. For more about her novels and her media offerings go to LindaBallouAuthor.com. All of her books are listed on her Amazon Proﬁle.
Ben Goode, Adelaide, South Australia (page 168)
Award-winning professional photographer Benjamin Goode’s ﬁne art images showcasing the beauty of nature have appeared in many publications worldwide. He has produced two books highlighting the natural attractions in his home state of South Australia where he lives with his wife and two sons.
The GlobeRovers‛ World
GlobeRovers Magazine was created by Peter Steyn, an avid explorer who is constantly in search of the edge of the world. He will always hike the extra mile or ten to get as far off the beaten track as he can.
It is his mission to discover and present the most exciting destinations for intrepid travellers. He has visited over 122 countries and is poised to explore East Africa and Mongolia in the near future. Peter’s home is wherever he lays down his cameras.
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DESTINATIONS IN THIS ISSUE
Use a QR Reader App on your phone (older models) or just your camera (newer models) to read these codes ECUADOR Page 56
AO SI BEACH, KOH JUM, THAILAND.
Ao Si Beach is located on the central east coast of Koh Jum near the village of Ting Rai and Jungle Hill Beach Resort. It is an ideal place from which to watch a spectacular sunset with a beer in hand.
Islands of Thailand
Unexplored Beaches for Intrepid Travellers
With mass tourism on the rise, it is getting di icult to find an undeveloped beach on Thailand’s islands. However, some unspoiled beaches still remain for those who are willing to seek out that special piece of paradise!
Thailand is world-renowned for its beautiful islands. e country’s year-round pleasant weather, temperate oceans, palm-fringed islands, and white sand beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters make it a dream vacation spot for many people around the world.
Combine these idyllic features with ailand’s delicious food, rich history, colourful traditions, a ordable costs, top-notch accommodation, and friendly, beautiful people, and you have the ultimate holiday destination.
free enterprise, some islands are fully or partially protected, and managed by the Department of National Parks, which may provide basic bungalows and campsites. A few islands are privately owned and o er accommodation, while a small number are outposts for the Royal ai Armed Forces, some of which allow limited day visits but no overnight stays.
Every island has its own charm and the intrepid traveller will be rewarded with a paradise beach where few have ventured.
During Pre-Covid 2019, ailand welcomed almost 40 million international arrivals. Domestic tourism is even more signi cant as the country is a much-beloved travel destination for its 69 million residents.
e vast majority of ailand’s 1,430 islands are uninhabited and some are merely a few rocks and trees. While it is technically possible to pitch a tent on any island, except for those strictly o -limits due to ailand’s military presence, less than 50 islands have established accommodation. is varies from camping and basic bungalows to super-luxurious resorts t for kings and queens.
While most of ailand’s islands with accommodation are government-owned and open to
For most of us travellers, the convenience of booking accommodation online is an important driver for where we will spend our next holiday. Even with a choice of fewer than 50 islands, however, choosing the best place for a special holiday is a daunting task. No wonder that the vast majority of visitors to ailand’s islands, particularly rst-timers, book at the most wellknown islands such as Phuket, Samui and Phi Phi.
Even when less popular islands are chosen, many head to the developed beaches. Experienced travellers know that the best places are the least visited, so avoiding the tourist hot-spots is the secret to having paradise all to yourself.
Here we uncover some of the lesser-known beaches of ailand’s islands where it is possible to get away from the masses and enjoy unspoiled nature.
We focus on islands with accommodation for easy access to the beach.
THAILAND’S ISLAND REGIONS
Thailand’s islands are located in the Andaman Sea to the west and in the Gulf of Thailand to the east. The islands can be grouped into seven regions based on their proximity to each other:
Region 1: Southern Andaman (Koh Lipe area)
Region 2: Lower Central Andaman (Koh Mook area)
Region 3: Upper Central Andaman (Koh Lanta area)
Region 4: Northern Andaman (Koh Phayam area)
Region 5: Central Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui area)
Region 6: Eastern Gulf of Thailand (Koh Chang area)
Region 7: Northern Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samet area)
NOTES WHEN READING
1. In Thai language, “koh” means “island”, so the correct way to refer to the island of Phuket, for example, is “Koh Phuket” rather than “Koh Phuket Island”. “Ao” means “bay” or sometimes “gulf”, so “Ao Nang” means “Nang Bay”. “Haad” means “beach” so “Haad Rin” is Rin Beach. “Laem” means “Cape”. “Mu koh” means “archipelago”, so “Mu Koh Ang Thong” means “Ang Thong Archipelago”.
2. Some of Thailand’s islands have the same or similar names. Some examples include Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand, and Koh Chang Noi along the northern Andaman Coast; and Koh Ngam Yai and Koh Ngam Noi near the town of Chumphon, which is far from Koh Ngam at the southeastern tip of Koh Chang near Cambodia.
3. Covid-19 is decimating the tourist infrastructure on Thailand’s islands. Most tourist services, including accommoda-
tion and transport services, available pre-Covid are not currently accessible, and may not be restored for a while.
4. While some islands can be reached by public ferries, speedboats and long-tail boats, some are only accessible by private boat rental.
5. Much effort has been made to provide information that is as accurate as possible, but please do your own extensive
research to get the latest information.
6. This article focuses on the best beaches on islands with accommodation, though islands managed by the National Parks offering tents for rent are also included. We also include noteworthy islands and beaches of interest with no accommodation.
7. This article is not intended as a comprehensive guide to all islands of Thailand.
Southern Andaman Coast REGION 1
1. SOUTHERN ANDAMAN COAST
Unspoiled beaches with great camping, and snorkelling among ﬂourishing coral reefs.
e Southern Andaman Coast o ers some of the best unspoiled islands, beaches, jungle and marine life in ailand. Most visitors stay at Koh Lipe which has ample tourist facilities, though generally at premium prices. From here, day trips can be made to the nearby islands.
LOCATION & GATEWAY
e Andaman Sea along the southwest coast of ailand’s Satun Province is dominated by the Mu Ko Tarutao National Marine Park. Covering an area of 1,490 square kilometres (575 mi²) immediately to the north of the border with Malaysia, the park is unquestionably one of the gems of Asia!
ree archipelagos lie within the Tarutao National Marine Park: Tarutao, Klang and Adang Archipelagos—the latter also known as Butang Archipelago. e 51 islands within these archipelagos can be divided between the Tarutao Group to the east and Adang-Rawi Group to the west.
Lying closest to the mainland is the Tarutao Group with Koh Tarutao, Koh Khai, and a few other small islands of interest to travellers. e Adang-Rawi group farther away from the coast o ers the idyllic islands of Koh
Located to the north of the Tarutao Archipelago is Koh Bulon Leh and its sister island, Koh Bulon Don.
e two gateway cities to the region are Trang, the capital of Trang Province, and Hat Yai in Songkhla Province. Roads from both cities lead to the pier in the small village of Pak Bara from where various types of boats depart, almost all of which head to the ever-popular Koh Lipe.
NOTABLE ISLANDS WITH LODGING
Of the many islands in this region, only Koh Lipe o ers a wide array of accommodation while Koh Bulon Leh also has a few places to stay. On Koh Adang, Koh Rawi, and Koh Tarutao, the local National Parks o ce provides basic bungalows as well as campsites with tents for rent.
Koh Tarutao is by far the largest island in this region and the 4th largest in ailand. Measuring 26 kilometres (16 mi) long and 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) wide, it is known for its limestone cli s, former prison sites, unspoiled beaches, dense jungles and mountain peaks that reach up to 713 metres (2,339 ) high. As the island forms part of the Mu Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, it has remained almost completely untouched over the years and has some excellent hiking trails through the dense jungle.
e best beaches are located along the north-western side and include Ao Pante, Ao Mo Lae and Ao Son. While no resorts are allowed on the island, the National Parks o ce, located at Ao Pante on the north-western tip, manages the bungalows and tents at all three beaches. While bungalows can be pre-booked through the National Parks website, tents are available on a rst-come- rst-served basis. To save money, bring along your own tent.
Once home to the semi-nomadic “Sea Gypsy” boat-people, also known as the Moken or Chao Le, Koh Lipe has now become one of the most sought a er destinations in all of ailand, attracting hordes of locals and foreigners alike for a very good reason—Koh Lipe and its surrounding islands are simply extraordinary!
e island has all the ingredients of an idyllic paradise: white sand beaches with palm trees, crystal clear waters, a laid-back vibe, great sunrise and sunset beaches, and a variety of accommodation, restaurants and bars. It also serves as the ideal base from which to visit several islands across the region’s three archipelagos.
Due to its distance from the mainland and its newfound popularity, it has become one of the most expensive and over-developed islands in all of ailand. Cheaper, and less inspiring, accommoda-
tion is available, but like most lodging on the island it must be booked well in advance, in particular during peak times. Koh Lipe’s best beaches are on the eastern and northern sides of the island, as well as a few hidden coves around the southwestern end.
A short distance north of Koh Lipe lies Koh Adang, the second biggest island in the Tarutao Archipelago with its highest peak at 690 metres (2,264 ). Unspoiled and untouched by mass tourism, this is how most islands in ailand used to be 20 to 30 years ago. Adang o ers several beaches with clear water, an abundance of o shore coral reefs, a hilly interior covered in dense jungle, the Pha Chado panoramic viewpoint, and the Namtok Chon Salat waterfall. ere are no roads on the island so the best way to reach its beaches is to charter a long-tail boat.
e only hotel is the Adang Island Resort located right on the beachfront in the south of the island. e National Parks ranger station, which has a few bungalows that can be pre-booked through its website, also rents out tents and sleeping mats, and has a restaurant, although you can bring your own tent and food.
Koh Rawi’s beaches on the north and western sides are among the best of all islands in the Adang Archipelago. e island has a few jungle trails and waterfalls and is uninhabited except for a campsite on a gorgeous stretch of beach, Haad Sai Khao, in the island’s south-eastern corner. is beach is home to the National Parks ranger station which o ers fairly rudimentary services. Availability of tents is not guaranteed, so check before heading out, or bring your own tent and food.
e only other island in the region that o ers accommodation is Koh Bulon Leh which lies 20 kilometres (12.4 mi) west of the La-Ngu district of Satun Province. is tiny island, home to a small community of Urak Lawoi living in modest wooden houses, is a little-known gem o ering a laid-back island atmosphere and a brilliant white beach with aquamarine water. Measuring only two kilometres (1.2 mi) long and on average 700 metres (2,296 ) wide, walking is the best way to get around. Only the inhabited eastern half of the island is
accessible by a few paths as much of the western side of the island is covered in thick jungle, and has two caves, “Bat Cave” and “Nose Cave”, which are only accessible by sea.
Koh Bulon Leh’s only beach is located on the south-eastern side of the island, and while the beach strip is only 1.3 kilometres (0.81 mi) long, its beauty over-compensates for its lack of length. A small school near the beach provides its uno cial name of “School Beach”. e Casuarina trees
along the beach provide ample shade.
e two recommended bungalow operators are the Pansand Resort and the Bulon Resort along this beautiful white sand beach. Further away from the beach, a few basic bungalows are available for budget-minded travellers.
Its nearby sister island, Koh Bulon Don, has a long sandy beach and an Urak Lawoi village. ere are no tourist facilities or accommodation but daytime visitors are more than welcome.
THE UNSPOILED BEACHES
e region has no shortage of beautiful white sand beaches as well as clean, turquoise waters. It is also arguably the best place in ailand for snorkelling day trips. Among the best beaches on islands with accommodation are:
Located at the northernmost tip of Koh Lipe, and an extension of Sunrise Beach on the east side, this small beach has ne white sand and clear turquoise waters. e rustic Heaven Bar on the beach o ers a welcome escape from the midday sun and is particularly pleasant around sunset and a er dark. e beach can be noisy with passing longtail boats en route to Sunrise Beach in the east and Pattaya Beach in the south.
Located in three coves near the southwestern end of Koh Lipe are Secret Beach, Svedo Beach and Patai Galah Beach. ese beaches can be reached by hiking through the jungle on a small path that o en disappears in the thick bush, or by taking a long-tail boat from Pattaya Beach.
e star of the three is the easternmost Patai Galah Beach, with beautiful sand, lots of shade, and clean waters anked by rocks that o er protection against the small waves.
e only drawback of these beaches is the constant stream of roaring ferries and noisy long-tail boats between Pattaya Beach and Pak Bara Pier. Be here early in
the morning, and sometimes for the rest of the day, and you may have the entire beach to yourself
3) Western Beaches, Koh Adang
e western side of the island has the most beautiful beaches and can easily be reached on day trips from Koh Lipe.
However, it is best to stay on Koh Adang to enjoy the island’s beaches, pristine jungles, waterfalls and sunsets; and to hike up the hills for panoramic views over Koh Lipe to the south.
4) School Beach, Koh Bulon Leh
Stretching from Pansand Resort past the school to Bulon Resort, this is one of the whitest sand beaches in the region.
When the wind is not blowing too strongly, the water is beautifully clear and the swaying palm trees o er plenty of shade.
Located about halfway between Koh Tarutao and Koh Lipe is tiny Koh Khai with no accommodation. e beach and water are spectacular, and the island is famous for a rock arch on the beach. Some ferries have a short (and free) stopover here between Pak Bara Pier and Koh Lipe.
Other gorgeous beaches on islands without accommodation can be found to the north and north-west of Koh Lipe. Koh Hin Ngam, which means “Island of Beautiful Stones”, has an exceptionally rare coloured stone beach.
e snorkelling and diving in this region are among the very best in ailand.
Getting there: Access from the mainland is mainly via the public pier at Pak Bara, 100 kilometres (62 mi) directly south of the town of Trang, capital of Trang Province. Pak Bara can also be reached from Hat Yai in Songkhla Province, 210 kilometres (130 mi) to the east. Both Trang and Hat Yai have domestic airports, as well as long-distance train and bus stations.
From Pak Bara, the most frequent ferries are to Koh Lipe, some of which o er a quick stop at Koh Tarutao and also at Koh
Khai. Direct ferries also operate to Koh Tarutao.
Koh Bulon Leh currently has no regular ferry service so visitors must rely on infrequent long-tail boats from Pak Bara Pier. Private speedboats and long-tails can be boarded at Pak Bara Pier to several islands in the region.
Getting around: e only island with roads t for a motorbike or bicycle is Koh Lipe. As this island is so small, wheels are more of a convenience than an essential. Only some islands have hiking trails and these may involve a bit of climbing.
Sleep, eat and drink: Koh Lipe is by far the most developed island in the region with a wide range of accommodation, restaurants and bars. Pattaya Beach in the south and Sunrise Beach in the east are packed with tourist facilities while the northern side of the island o ers more upscale accommodation and is less crowded.
Koh Adang, Koh Rawi, and Koh Tarutao o er accommodation at the National Parks’ bungalows and campsites while Koh Bulon Leh has a couple of resorts, of which only Pansand and Bulon Resorts are on the beautiful white sand beach.
2. LOWER CENTRAL ANDAMAN
Where gorgeous beaches and quaint ﬁshing villages are the focus.
e Lower Central Andaman Coast is a subdued region where crowded beach parties are virtually non-existent. Either relax in an upscale resort on the northern islands speci cally developed for tourists, or experience island life and the shing villages on the southern islands where tourism is an a erthought.
LOCATION & GATEWAY
e Lower Central Andaman Coast region stretches from Koh Sukorn in the south all the way north to Koh Ngai—a distance of about 60 kilometres (37 mi).
e region’s islands can be divided into three sections based on which mainland pier they use: e south (Koh Sukorn, Koh Phetra and Koh Lao Liang), central (Koh Libong and Koh Rok), and the north (Koh Kradan, Koh Mook, and Koh Ngai).
Koh Libong is by far the largest island, followed by Koh Sukorn and Koh Mook.
is region is primarily accessed from the town of Trang, which has a domestic airport, as well as train and bus stations. Alternatively, the towns of Phuket, Krabi, and even Hat Yai in the south-east are gateways to the region.
NOTABLE ISLANDS WITH LODGING
e islands with accommodation are Koh Sukorn, Koh Libong, Koh Kradan, Koh Mook, and Koh Ngai while others, such as Koh Lao Liang, have only camping facilities. Only Koh Sukorn, Koh Libong, and Koh Mook have local shing villages.
e other islands remain rather unspoiled as in the absence of local communities, the jungle has not been slashed and burned to make way for agriculture and livestock.
On the southernmost island in this region, Koh Sukorn, tourism is an a erthought as the local villagers go about their daily lives of shing and working in their coconut and rubber tree plantations.
e island is also known for its succulent watermelons and cashew nuts. During crab season some locals freely share their daily crab curries with passing travellers.
e island is quite at with only two hills, one of them o ering a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the Andaman Sea and the island itself. It has long stretches of beach along the western side, although they are not as picturesque as beaches elsewhere. e attraction here is the island life, and wide unspoiled beaches which are great for long walks.
Koh Libong is likewise not known for its idyllic beaches, though it is ideal for experiencing the lives of the islanders. Almost the entire west coast is undeveloped with long stretches of golden beaches only interrupted by rocky outcrops.
Among the many natural attractions here are the unusual rock formations and, in particular, the rocks at Libong Stone
Bridge north of the island’s scenic Tung Yaka Beach. In the south is Fisherman’s Cave at Point Dugong where an opening in a limestone tower with impressive caves looks out over the bay.
Endangered dugongs, protected as part of the Libong Archipelago Wildlife Reserve, can be spotted in the waters and mangroves. e dugongs can also be seen from a high purpose-built tower at Ban Ba Tu Pu Te village or by taking a boat tour.
A few resorts are clustered along the southwestern side of the island at Haad Lang Kao Beach where the northern part of the beach, near Dugong Resort, is quite lovely.
Located north-west of Koh Libong and much further away from the mainland, Koh Kradan has a few resorts along its eastern shores and no local villages.
e rest of the island is a thick jungle that forms part of the Hat Chao Mai National Park. e only reason for coming to this island is for its stunning postcardbeautiful beach with turquoise waters, aptly named Paradise Beach.
e nearby coral reefs o er great snorkelling directly from the beach. Koh Kradan is o en described as the “hidden gem of the Andaman Sea” and “the ultimate paradise island of ailand”.
As resorts here are quite pricey with no option of eating cheaply in a local village, those on a tight budget are better o staying on Koh Mook and visiting Koh Kradan on a day trip.
LOWER CENTRAL ANDAMAN REGION 2
Koh Mook (also written “Muk”), has a good mix of tourist facilities and local villages as well as great hiking, excellent beaches, good snorkelling, reasonable accommodation, and even an open cave with a hidden entrance! Nearly half of the island is part of the Hat Chao Mai National Park while the remainder has shing villages with some stilted houses perched above the sea.
On the east side, the large Koh Mook Sivalai Beach Resort is anked by the stunning Pearl and Sivalai Beaches. Across the island on the south-western end is the wide Farang Beach and further north is the hidden Sabai Beach.
Just a few hundred metres south of Sabai Beach is Koh Mook’s star attraction, the Emerald Cave (also known as Morrakot Cave). e cave is best reached by a long-tail boat. Be here halfway between low- and high-tide to take a 10-minute nerve-wracking swim through the pitch dark bat- lled cave to reach the lovely white sandy beach and its emerald-green water surrounded by high cli s overgrown with lush vegetation.
Koh Ngai, pronounced “Koh Hai”, is the closely related sister island of Koh Kradan. Koh Ngai also has no local village life, no roads, and no independently owned restaurants and shops as the island
is dedicated to upscale tourism. e island has lots of tranquillity, unspoiled jungle, and just a couple of resorts along one of ailand’s most gorgeous beaches. Most visitors rarely leave the luxury of their beachfront resorts where everything is provided.
Snorkelling o the beach is good, though it is much better at nearby Koh Chueak, Koh Waen and Koh Ma. ese small rocky islands also make the perfect backdrop for photos from the beach.
Koh Lao Liang, which forms part of the Mu Ko Phetra National Park, consists of two islands. Koh Lao Liang Nong, or “little brother island”, is located north of the narrow channel that separates it from Koh Lao Liang Phi, or “big brother island”.
Both are covered in thick jungle, huge banyan trees, and have tall limestone cli s rising dramatically over their magni cent beaches. Koh Lao Liang Nong is home to the Laoliang Resort which o ers tents by the beach.
THE UNSPOILED BEACHES
e most beautiful beaches and clearest waters in this region are at the northern islands—Koh Ngai, Koh Mook, Koh Kradan and Koh Rok—and at the southern islands that are further away from the mainland, including Koh Lao Liang and Koh Phetra.
e islands closest to the mainland— Koh Libong and Koh Sukorn—are more popular for their tranquil villages with friendly locals rather than the beaches. While not the most beautiful, each beach has its own special charm.
e best beaches on islands with accommodation are:
1) Sabai Beach, Koh Mook
A rugged jungle trail leads from Koh Mook’s northern pier north-west along the rocky coast to Lo Dung Beach, which is not spectacular but has great views of the cli s towering above the sea. It is possible
to get here by motorbike or bicycle, though the dirt trail is narrow and fairly rough.
Continue west on this overgrown trail through the lush jungle until you reach the beach. Flanked on both sides by impressive limestone cli s, this is one of the most scenic locations in the region. e sand is slightly coarse and the water is brilliantly clear.
2) Tung Yaka Beach, Koh Libong is long and undeveloped beach with lots of palm trees is located along the central west coast. Without a boat, this beach can be reached on two wheels.
From the resorts in the south-west, a 15 kilometre (9.3 mi) ride on a tiny paved road passes the small Muslim shing village, Ban Ba Tu Pu Te, in the south and then continues north past Baan Maphao village to Tohkay Bay. Here the road turns west and then south, past the famous Libong Stone Bridge (locally known as “Saphan Hin”), and on to Tung Yaka Beach.
With no tourist accommodation on this part of the island and few locals living here, the beach is empty most of the time. e broad expanse of golden sand is great for long walks with only nature as your companion.
3) Pearl Beach, Koh Mook
e east side of Koh Mook forms a sharp point facing the mainland. Around this point Pearl Beach is one of the most scenic beaches in the region at low tide, as during high tide much of it disappears under the waves.
From the southern side of the beach at the Koh Mook Sivalai Beach Resort, thousands of star sh can be spotted during low tide, along with the occasional appearance of huge colonies of tiny red crabs that roam over large patches of the beach at sunrise.
4) Sunset Beach, Koh Kradan
Located directly across from the
southern part of Paradise Beach in a small bay on the west side of the island, is Sunset Beach, accessible by a well-marked jungle trail. Sadly, a thick pile of old plastic garbage has built up behind the beach. Look towards the sea, away from the unsightly rubbish, and enjoy this secluded beach, especially at sunset. It is unquestionably one of the most beautiful beaches in the region.
5) Beaches of Koh Rok
e sister islands of Koh Rok Yai and Koh Rok Noi are over 30 kilometres (18.6 mi) west of Koh Libong. e islands have no local villages or resorts other than a National Parks o ce that rents out a few bungalows and tents along the beach. e beaches are picturesque with crystal clear water.
6) Beaches of Koh Lao Liang
Koh Lao Liang’s two islands have some of the best beaches in this region. At Koh
Lao Liang Nong vertical limestone cli s tower over the beach on three sides and while it is relatively small, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Koh Lao Liang Phi has even larger cli s and a beach twice as long as its smaller brother.
With no accommodation, Koh Phetra boasts a sweeping white sand beach with spectacular limestone ridges and jungle-fringed cli s, honeycombed with caves and overhangs. e steep walls on both sides of Koh Phetra are home to thousands of sea swallows.
Getting there: Koh Sukorn in the south is served by Ta-Se Pier, while centrally located Koh Libong is served by Hat Yao Pier. Khuan Tung Ku Pier provides access to the northern part of this region which includes Koh Mook, the closest island, as well as Koh Ngai to its north and
Koh Kradan to its south.
Pak Meng Pier also services these three northern islands, particularly Koh Ngai. All four piers are best reached from the town of Trang. Alternatively, the towns of Krabi to the north-west, and Hat Yai to the south-east, have airports but are much further away than Trang. Hat Yai also has a train line connected to Bangkok.
Getting around: Only Koh Mook, Koh Libong and Koh Sukorn have small roads t for bicycles or motorbikes. All three islands have local villages so it is a pleasure to drive around and explore the islands while meeting the friendly locals.
Sleep, eat and drink: e islands with villages—Koh Mook, Koh Libong and Koh Sukorn—have restaurants targeted at the locals where ai food is served at incredibly reasonable prices. e islands with resorts but no local villages have restaurants with in ated tourist prices
Upper Central Andaman REGION 3
3. UPPER CENTRAL ANDAMAN
Easily accessible from Phuket and Krabi Town, this region is ﬁlled with surprises.
e Upper Central Andaman Coast is dominated by the much-developed Koh Phuket, less-developed Koh Lanta, and the ever-popular Koh Phi Phi, all of which are ideal bases from which to explore the region. Fortunately, some islands o er shing villages, unspoiled lonely beaches, and a more laid-back island vibe.
LOCATION & GATEWAY
e region stretches from Koh Lanta in the south-east all the way to Koh Phuket in the north-west. Phuket is ailand’s largest island while Koh Lanta is the eighth largest.
Among the many islands in this region that o er accommodation are Koh Lanta Yai, Koh Phi Phi Don, Koh Jum, Koh Sriboya, and the sister islands of Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi.
e main access points are Koh Phuket to the west, giving access to Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi; and Krabi Town to the east which is closer to Koh Lanta, Koh Jum, Koh Sriboya and even Koh Phi Phi.
NOTABLE ISLANDS WITH LODGING
Most travellers to the region head straight from Phuket’s international airport to one of the island’s many beaches. As most of Phuket’s beaches are well developed, we will leave the island for more tranquil destinations on several of the region’s less developed islands.
Koh Lanta is actually two islands— the much less visited Koh Lanta Noi to the north and the popular crescent-shaped Koh Lanta Yai in the south. Koh Lanta Yai is well developed, in particular along its 20 kilometres (12 mi) of west coast beaches. Further south, the resorts become fewer and the beaches, such as Klong Nin Beach, Nui Beach, and Bakantiang Beach, are more unspoiled. At the northernmost tip of the island, north of the Laem Kho Kwang Beach isthmus, a large white sandbank is exposed during low tide which is a pleasure to explore. Koh Lanta Yai has a variety of accommodation catering to all budgets.
Koh Phi Phi, a small archipelago northwest of Koh Lanta, is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and has become a ai island celebrity with its spectacular beach photos splashed all over travel media.
Koh Phi Phi Don, the largest island in this archipelago, is the only inhabited island with most accommodation located at its isthmus.
Nearby is Koh Phi Phi Leh with its famous Maya Bay. Currently closed to tourists so the beach can recuperate a er
years of abuse, Maya Bay is expected to reopen soon.
Koh Phi Phi Don has some of the most popular and beautiful beaches, such as Ton Sai, Loh Dalum, Viking Beach, and Long Beach, all of which o er numerous resorts. However, a few less-visited beaches can be found tucked along its indented coast. While most conveniently reached by
private long-tail boat, put on your hiking shoes and head into the jungle in search of these hidden gems, which include Nui Beach and nearby Laem Tong Beach at the island’s northern tip. South of Laem Tong Beach lies the beautiful Ba Kao Bay.
Further south is Phak Nam Bay, also known as Relax Bay, with its long white sand beach and two resorts, which is best reached by boat as this trail is quite challenging.
Koh Jum, located to the north of Koh Lanta, is perhaps one of the quietest and most laid-back islands in this region. e island has a couple of shing villages and a road suitable for a motorbike or bicycle. Koh Jum, the southern part of the island, is fairly at, while Koh Pu, the northern part, has more hills.
Much of the west coast consists of long stretches of beach fringed by coconut trees where about 20 basic resorts are spread out along an eight-kilometre-long (5 mi) coast. e roads are mostly tiny unpaved paths t only for experienced bikers, so some beaches are more conveniently reached by boat. Among the best beaches from south to north are Freedom Beach, Andaman Beach, Golden Pearl Beach, Ao Si, Magic Beach, Ting Rai Beach, Sunset Beach, Coconut Beach, Banyan Bay and Rocky Beach. While not the most spectacular beaches in the region, they o er tranquillity, great sunsets, and long peaceful walks.
Koh Sriboya, located directly north of Koh Jum, is quite similar but is even less visited by tourists. e island is home to shermen and rubber-plantation workers, with dirt roads and footpaths connecting the small communities. While the island’s beaches are appealing, visitors come here to relax and become acquainted with the friendly islanders. A handful of basic resorts and homestays cater to the few travellers who venture here.
Koh Yao Yai or “big long island” is the larger of the two main islands in the Koh Yao Archipelago and measures almost 30 kilometres (18.6 mi) in length. A few resorts are located along the best beaches which are in the north-east and southwest, in particular Laem Had, Loh Jak, Loh Pared, and Ao Muang. Head to the far
south to visit the photogenic Laem Laan shing village.
Located less than a kilometre to the north, Koh Yao Noi, or “little long island”, is quite similar in that the sea is not turquoise and pure white sand beaches are scarce. While the west coast has mangroves and rocky beaches, much of the east coast has wide sandy beaches including Pasai, Klong Jark and a Khao.
e most beautiful beaches are at the northeastern tip but are the private property of two resorts: TreeHouse Villas and the Paradise Resort. A tough hike further north leads to Mankei Bay which is anked by impressive limestone karsts. e ever-vanishing path goes further to the “big tree” which, according to local beliefs, houses the spirit of a woman named Nang Da Kian in its broad trunk. Ao Kian Bay is at the northern tip of the island.
Around Koh Phuket are several small islands such as Koh He, Koh Lon, Coconut Island, Koh Rang Yai and Koh Rang Noi, some of which o er upscale resorts.
THE UNSPOILED BEACHES
When it comes to the most beautiful unspoiled beaches on islands with accommodation, Koh Phi Phi has it all, though it is not the only island with a special sandy spot for the discerning island enthusiast:
Nui Beach, Koh Phi Phi
is pristine beach is nestled in a tiny cove west of Lana Bay, in the north-west of Koh Phi Phi Don. e hiking trail from the island’s main beach, Loh Dalum, leads north-west past three viewpoints through the jungle until it reaches Lana Bay’s large, un nished and abandoned resort. From the west side of the bay, follow an almost invisible path along the rocks, mostly underwa-
ter at high tide, to a small shing community clinging to the narrow, rocky shore.
A short but steep path leads over the isthmus and down into a bay. e white sand beach is framed by tall limestone karsts and several impressive tall, rocky islands nearby. e water is crystal clear and great for snorkelling from the beach. Nui Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in ailand!
Laem Tong Beach, Koh Phi Phi
To the north-east of Nui Beach, a 2.6 kilometre-long (1.6 mi) narrow strip of land juts north-west into the sea. Along the east side, a small paved road follows Laem Tong Beach, a long stretch of white
sand and clear water. Although partially lined with high-end resorts, it remains one of the most beautiful spots in this region.
Loh Moo Dee Beach, Koh Phi Phi
Near the southeastern tip of Koh Phi Phi Don, and easily reached by footpath from the main ferry pier at Ton Sai via Viking Beach and Long Beach, lies Loh Moo Dee Beach. is 360-metre-long (1,190 ) beach has no accommodation but is one of the region’s most impressive beaches lined with large shady trees and forests at both ends.
Near the beach, a rustic restaurant and bar o ers refreshments but signs on the trees forbid visitors to enjoy their own food and drinks.
4) Laem Had Beach, Koh Yao Yai
Also known as the Koh Yao Yai Sandbank, the sparkling white spit of sand is located on Koh Yao Yai’s northern peninsula and stretches out towards the southern bay of its nearby sister island, Koh Yao Noi. Fringed by a thick grove of coconut trees, the sandbank is best explored during low tide when it is possible to walk over 400 metres (1,312 ) out into the sea. If you visit around sunrise, you may be accompanied by thousands of tiny red crabs!
5) Mankei Bay Beach, Koh Yao Noi
Located on the far northeastern tip of the island lies the very secluded Mankei Bay and its beach. Getting here overland is quite a rewarding adventure. From a Khao Pier on the central east side of the island, follow a small road on motorbike or bicycle for about 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) to the high-security gates of the Paradise Koh Yao Resort. Just before the gates, a smaller path turns le then heads straight north. As this path is very small, it is best to walk the remaining 1.1 kilometres (0.68 mi) to Mankei Bay. Flanked by massive limestone rocks, it is a sight to behold!
6) Sunset Beach, Koh Jum
e island’s most scenic beach—and also one of the least visited—is located on its north-western side, with lots of white sand and clear water. e beach trees provide ample shade while the Sunset Beach Bungalows has a restaurant with cold drinks.
6) Nui Beach, Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta’s best beaches are on the southern half of the west coast. e jewel in the crown is Nui Beach, not to be confused with Nui Bay a kilometre further south. With only one place to stay, the Diamond Cli Beach Restaurant at the northern end, this gorgeous beach is mostly deserted.
is region has many fabulous beaches on islands without accommodation, including the spectacular beaches at Bamboo Island (Koh Pai) and Moskito Island north of Laem Tong Beach at the northern tip of Koh Phi Phi Don.
Koh Haa means ‘ ve islands’ and unsurprisingly consists of ve limestone islands located about an hour by boat to the west of Koh Lanta. e main island, Koh Haa Yai, was once a shelter for sea gypsies and local shermen as its tiny natural harbour provided a safe haven from the monsoon storms. e islands are known for their white sand beaches, stunning karst formations, crystal clear water, and a shallow lagoon. e island has no accommodation but can be visited on day trips.
Getting there: Almost the entire region can be reached from Phuket Town on the southwest of Koh Phuket, which has several piers o ering fast ferries, slow ferries, long-tail and speedboats.
Boats to Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi leave from Bang Rong Pier, 23 kilometres (14 mi) north of Phuket Town.
Koh Lanta, Koh Jum, Koh Sriboya, and mainland beaches such as Railay Beach and Ao Nang, are located closer to Krabi Town. Both Phuket and Krabi have
airports and long-distance bus stations. Neither has a train station, though Krabi’s nearest train station is at Surat ani, some 150 kilometres (93 mi) to the north. Buses, minivans, ferries, speedboats and private long-tail boats are plentiful across the region.
Getting around: As the only island linked by road to the mainland, Koh Phuket has highways and byways where car rental is common, while Koh Lanta requires a very short car crossing by ferry.
Koh Lanta has good roads along both the west and east coasts. e other islands
in this region have mostly paved and unpaved paths t only for motorbikes and bicycles. Koh Phi Phi is mostly inaccessible by wheels.
Sleep, eat and drink: e islands of Phuket, Lanta and Phi Phi are the most developed with plentiful accommodation and restaurants catering to all budgets, from inexpensive to super-luxury.
Tourist facilities are less abundant or grandiose on the other islands. Koh Sriboya is the least developed island, with just a few budget places to stay and eat.
4. NORTHERN ANDAMAN COAST
A less-developed area with the most beautiful beaches and great snorkelling
ailand’s Northern Andaman Coast lies south of the pristine Mergui Archipelago of Myanmar. Enjoy the region’s abundance of marine life at the Similan and Surin Archipelagos. Closer to the coast, the islands are laid-back and beaches unspoiled.
LOCATION & GATEWAY
e Northern Andaman Coast lies north of Koh Phuket and stretches from Koh Similan, 60 kilometres (37 mi) west of Khao Lak on ailand’s west coast, all the way north to the Myanmar border.
Northeast of Koh Similan, close to the mainland near the town of Kuraburi, lie the three sister islands of Koh Kho Khao, Koh Phra ong, and Koh Ra. Although these three o -the-beaten-track islands are close to the mainland, their west-facing, long beaches of golden sand with turquoise waters are pristine.
To the west, 55 kilometres (34 mi) from the mainland, is the idyllic Koh Surin Archipelago which consists of two large islands—Koh Surin Nuea and Koh Surin Tai; and three small islands—Koh Ri, Koh Kai, and Koh Klang. Nearby Richelieu Rock is regarded as one of the best dive spots in the world.
Near the ailand coast and just south of mainland Myanmar’s southernmost point, are the laid-back islands of Koh Phayam and Koh Chang Noi.
Koh Similan can only be visited on day trips from Koh Phuket or Khao Lak Beach.
e town of Kuraburi is the gateway to the central part of the region (Koh Surin, Koh Kho Khao, Koh Phra ong, and Koh Ra) while the town of Ranong near mainland Myanmar is the stepping stone to Koh Phayam and Koh Chang Noi.
NOTABLE ISLANDS WITH LODGING
e saying “the best is in the west” is very true for ailand’s westernmost Koh Similan and Koh Surin archipelagoes. Both o er crystal clear emerald-green water with white sand beaches, and some of ailand’s best coral reefs for diving and snorkelling.
While Koh Surin o ers accommodation in the National Park’s bungalows and tents, this is no longer possible on Koh Similan where only day-trippers are allowed.
Koh Surin is an archipelago of ve islands within the Mu Ko Surin National Park, covering an area of 135 square kilometres (52 mi²), of which 76% is ocean.
e two largest islands, Koh Surin Nuea
and Koh Surin Tai, are just 200 metres (656 ) apart.
On the largest island, Koh Surin Nuea, the National Parks o ce rents out bungalows at Chong Khat Bay. A bit further north at the more scenic and tranquil Mai Ngam Beach are several standard and a few glamping tents, set up right by the beach. Pitch your own tent for a small fee.
e smooth, pristine waters with aquamarine hues at Mai Ngam Beach are among ailand’s nest. ere are several beautiful beaches across the archipelago but other than those with accommodation, all beaches are o -limits to tourists as they are home to breeding turtles and other wildlife.
e smaller of the two big islands, Koh Surin Tai, has a small Moken village.
e Surin Archipelago’s wildlife includes mouse deer, ying lemur, pig-tailed monkey, and rare birds such as the Nicobar pigeon and the pied imperial pigeon.
Diving and snorkelling are worldrenowned, in particular Richelieu Rock, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the south-west of Koh Surin Nuea.
Nearer to the mainland, limited accommodation is available on the three sister islands: Koh Kho Khao, Koh Phra
ong, and Koh Ra.
e at landscapes of Koh Kho Khao and Koh Phra ong were devastated during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which is partly the reason why they are still quite undeveloped with limited roads and tourist infrastructure.
e southernmost island Koh Kho Khao, with its long, beautiful beaches, is the most developed of the three islands with decent roads and good accommodation due to the proximity of its southern tip to the mainland.
Northern Andaman Coast REGION 4
Koh Phra Thong, the middle link in this chain of three islands, is mostly at with extensive inland savannah and a few small brackish lakes. It has long, uninhabited beaches lined with coconut palms.
e two small shing villages are inhabited mainly by the Moken people.
Koh Ra, the northernmost of the three islands, is a mostly mountainous island covered in rainforest. It is the least developed, and its mostly untouched forest is rich in mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, including several species of hornbills.
With the exception of two upscale resorts on Koh Phra ong and another on Koh Kho Khao, accommodation on these islands is limited to local-style huts.
At the northern end of this region are the islands of Koh Phayam and Koh Chang Noi. e long beaches, laid-back atmosphere, a ordable accommodation, and ease of reaching the islands all contribute to their solid following among loyal visitors.
Both islands have a good network of small paved roads, ideal for exploring on two wheels. e lack of large resorts and pedestrian-only streets o ers a truly authentic island experience, little a ected by the few tourists who know how to appreciate these islands.
Koh Phayam’s beaches include the most developed Ao Yai (Long Beach) situated on the western side; Ao Mook which is south of the village and pier on the east coast; Ao Kao Kwa (Bu alo Bay) in the north-west; and the secluded Ao Kwang Peeb at the northernmost tip. While none of these beaches can compare with Koh Similan or Koh Surin, each beach has its own charm and is worth exploring.
Lying closest to mainland Myanmar, Koh Chang Noi is even less developed than Koh Phayam to its south. Its dark sand beaches, basic hillside bungalows, birdlife, and cashew orchards o er the ultimate in tranquillity to those who want to experience an island where tourism plays only a minor role in the local economy.
THE UNSPOILED BEACHES
Among the islands in this region with accommodation, Koh Surin is the closest to paradise with its clear emerald-green waters, white sand beaches, and dense, tropical rain forests.
While the other islands in the region can’t match Koh Surin’s beauty, they are all pristine in their own way, with their key attraction being that they are unspoiled and undeveloped.
While the Koh Surin Archipelago offers some of the most beautiful beaches, few are open to tourists as they are protected for breeding sea turtles. Mai Ngam
Beach, where tents are allowed on the beach, is one of the very best beaches on the islands.
At high tide, the water almost slaps against the tents, while at low tide it is possible to walk almost a kilometre into the shallow waters. While the coral here is not in as good condition as at the many snorkelling locations around the islands, it is still quite impressive.
Watch out for clown sh and sea anemones in the shallow waters, and don’t be surprised if you get face-to-face with reef sharks in the slightly deeper waters.
rough the National Parks o ce near the beach, snorkelling excursions to several locations around the archipelago can be booked.
e variety of reef sh and vibrantly healthy coral reefs is among the very best in ailand.
2) Golden Buddha Beach, Koh Phra Thong
On the western side of Koh Phra ong is a 10-kilometre-long (6.2 mi), unspoiled golden beach with rolling waves that is perfect for swimming, romantic
walks and dazzling sunsets.
Here you can easily spend an entire day sitting under a palm tree watching the fast running ghost crabs without seeing another soul.
While Koh Similan no longer allows overnight stays, it is well worth visiting on a day trip to enjoy the beautiful beaches and brilliant waters.
Getting there: Koh Similan can only be visited on day trips and is most conveniently reached by speedboat from Khao Lak Beach, 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Phuket International Airport.
For Koh Surin, head 90 kilometres (56 mi) north of Khao Lak to the small town of Kuraburi from where regular speedboats make the 60-minute journey to Koh Surin Nuea.
Kuraburi is also where long-tail boats leave for both Koh Phra ong and Koh Ra while their southernmost sister, Koh Kho Khao, is reached by a short boat ride from Baan Nam Kem Pier north of Khao Lak Beach on the mainland.
e two northernmost islands in this region, Koh Phayam and Koh Chang Noi, can be reached by long-tail boat from the harbour at Ranong which lies 110 kilometres (68 mi) north of Kuraburi
Getting around: Motorbikes can be rented on all the islands discussed, except for Koh Similan and Koh Surin, which has only limited hiking paths.
Sleep, eat and drink: is is not a region known for luxury resorts or a wide variety of accommodation and restaurants.
Except for a few higher-end resorts, mainly on Koh Phra ong, Koh Kho Khao and Koh Phayam, accommodation and restaurants are fairly basic but more than adequate. On Koh Surin, the National Parks restaurant prepares quite decent ai food, but you can bring your own food from the mainland.
5. CENTRAL GULF OF THAILAND
A popular tourist area where ﬁnding a lonely beach is still not too difﬁcult.
e Central Gulf of ailand is dominated by the popular and developed Koh Samui. e region is also a favourite among backpackers, and full-moon parties thrive. Even so, these beautiful islands, known for their crystal clear waters, have many laid-back coves where life seems to stand still.
LOCATION & GATEWAY
From the Andaman Sea in the west we move east to the Gulf of ailand. While the southern gulf north of Malaysia has no islands of note, the central gulf near the towns of Surat ani and Chumphon has some extraordinarily beautiful islands.
is region is dominated by the popular Koh Samui, ailand’s second-largest island with a land area of 229 square kilometres (88 mi²). Development has been rapid over the past 20 years, so today’s Koh Samui is very di erent from what it was 30 years ago.
North of Koh Samui lies Koh Pha Ngan, with Koh Tao even farther north. To the west of Koh Samui—and the closest group of islands to the mainland—is the Mu Koh Ang ong National Marine Park, a pristine archipelago of 42 islands covering 102 square kilometres (39 mi²).
e gateways to this region are Chumphon for Koh Tao, and Surat ani for the remaining islands. Inter-island ferries connect all the main islands.
NOTABLE ISLANDS WITH LODGING
While Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao nowadays have a variety of tourist accommodation and a mind-boggling number of restaurants and bars, Koh Ang ong remains undeveloped due to its protected status as part of the national
park. Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao are both known for their backpacker scene and rowdy parties, though both islands have several o -the-grid beaches with a more relaxed atmosphere.
Koh Samui, with its international airport, o ers an endless number of luxury resorts and spas complete with yoga retreats, cleansing fasts, tai-chi camps, and chakra-balancing treatments. While over-developed and crowded with tourists, expatriates and locals, the island is known for its palm-dotted beaches and coconut groves.
To get a feel for what Koh Samui was like 30 years ago, head south to Koh Taen, a small island o its southern tip. Koh Taen has a tiny shing community,
Central Gulf of Thailand REGION 5
ong Krut, as well as deserted white sandy beaches, a restaurant or two, and fan-cooled accommodation at Koh Tan Village Bungalows.
To the east lies the even smaller island of Koh Mat Sum (also written as Koh Matsum and Koh Mudsum) with a lovely white sandy beach, and great snorkelling and kayaking. e only accommodation is the Treasure Koh Madsum Resort.
North of Koh Samui lies Koh Pha Ngan, the h-largest island in ailand and the second-largest in this region. Popular with backpackers who attend the full-moon parties at Haad Rin Beach and late-night beach parties that involve re dancers, the island also o ers lush jungles, granite boulders, and beautiful beaches.
While the western beaches are the most developed, the far north and a few small eastern beaches are a lot more laid-back. e island has a good network of roads, mostly along the western side, which makes it easy to get around on either two or four wheels.
Koh Tao (Turtle Island) lies to the north-west of Koh Pha Ngan and is one of ailand’s island gems, especially the nearby Koh Nang Yuan.
Koh Tao is particularly popular for its diving spots and its scuba dive schools. Just like Koh Pha Ngan, the most popular beaches are along the west coast, while the northern and eastern sides have only a few smaller beaches. e island has a good network of paved roads t for cars, though most travellers get around by motorbike.
e island is very hilly, in particular on the eastern side, so unless you are a condent biker you had better not take on these roads. While nearly every bay and cove on the east side has some accommodation, the beaches are generally laid-back.
e Ang Thong National Marine Park is an enchanting archipelago that features towering limestone mountains, lush tropical jungles, ruggedly steep limestone cli s, sinkholes, deserted white sand beaches, lagoons, waterfalls, hidden coves, and submerged caves. Its biodiversity is rich, and it is home to long-tailed macaques, gibbons, Oriental hornbills, herons, paci c reef egrets, and thousands of fruit bats.
Koh Mae Ko features an emeraldgreen saltwater lagoon called ale Nai, surrounded by limestone cli s and connected to the sea by a series of underwater caves. e island also has two lookout points with sweeping panoramas overlooking many islands in the archipelago.
e island of Koh Wua Ta Lap, immediately to the south, is known for
its spectacular viewpoint, which can be reached by a very challenging 500-metrelong (1,640 ) steep trail starting from the National Parks headquarters.
e park’s islands are mostly uninhabited except for shing villages on Koh Wua Ta Lap and Koh Phaluai.
Accommodation is available at the National Parks o ce on Koh Wua Ta Lap where tents and a few simple bungalows are available for rent. e facilities here include a restaurant, visitor centre, rst aid tent and kayaks for rent.
Bookings can be made in person at travel agencies on Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Pha Ngan, Surat ani or directly through the National Parks online reservation system.
THE UNSPOILED BEACHES
e region’s islands are popular among locals and foreigners alike, though it is not di cult to nd gorgeous beaches o the normal tourist trails.
While most take some e ort to reach, the journeys are much rewarded. Among
the best beaches on islands with accommodation are:
1) Nang Yuan Island, Koh Tao
Located just 550 metres (1,800 ) o the north-western end of Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan is one of the most photogenic spots in ailand. Koh Nang Yuan consists of three islands, with the two smaller islands sporting a 90-metre-long (295 ) white non-submersible sandbar connecting them
Sadly, this pristine island has become
a very popular tourist attraction and now has a string of bungalows, a dive shop, restaurant, and even requires an entrance fee. e water on both sides of the sandbar, in particular the west side, has brilliantly clear aquamarine hues. A footpath leads to the high rocks above the bungalows from where the view over the islands is spectacular.
2) Tanote Beach, Koh Tao
Koh Tao has many beautiful beaches and the best are located on the eastern side of the island. Tanote Beach, one of the best snorkelling spots on the island, has
clear water, golden sand, and many large boulders to swim around.
A big boulder near the beach is ideal for adrenaline junkies who use a metal chain to climb up, and gravity to splash down into the water several metres below.
3) Koh Mae Ko, Koh Ang Thong
e Ang ong Archipelago of 42 islands is blessed with many beautiful beaches, though one of the most striking is on Koh Mae Ko.
Here the beach is spectacular with exceptional snorkelling and imposing rock formations towering over it.
4) Haad Yuan, Tien East, and Haad Wai Nam, Koh Pha Ngan
Haad Rin Beach is infamous for its rowdy full-moon parties, and is best visited during the new moon by those who wish to avoid them.
While Haad Rin Beach is beautiful, the three secluded coves along the southeast of the island have the most unspoiled beaches.
While a long-tail boat can reach these coves in about 10 to 15 minutes from Haad Rin Beach, leave the beach on foot via the jungle path for an exhilarating adventure.
e small, scenic path has many challenges as it crawls up and down the hills and eventually descends onto Haad Yuan Beach. From here the path continues north to Haad Tien and then to Haad Wai Nam Beach.
Much further north are the hard-toreach beaches of Haad Yao East, Haad Yang, and Haad Nam Tok, all best accessed by boat.
e east coast o ers ample opportunities for determined hikers to reach the island’s most hidden beaches.
5) Mae Haad, Koh Pha Ngan
While the entire west coast of Koh Pha Ngan is lined with cosy bays and superb beaches, Mae Haad Beach at the northwestern tip is one of the very best.
Wang Sai Resort has lovely bungalows and a restaurant on the beach near the water. A walk along the beach leads to the small island of Koh Ma, connected by a sandbank.
Getting there: Ferries and speedboats depart from northeast of Surat ani at Donsak Pier and nearby Raja Pier to all these islands. Koh Tao is best reached via Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, or if coming from Bangkok, by taking a boat from the Lomprayah Pier south of Chumphon.
Both Chumphon and Surat ani are on the main railway lines from Bangkok and can also be reached by overnight bus from Bangkok. Surat ani Airport is located 94 kilometres (58 mi) west of Donsak Pier.
e best way to reach Koh Ang ong is to take a shared boat or day tour from either Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan. ere are no regular boat services to Ang ong