1 – Nang Yuan: This place is so perfect, it’s unreal. Nang Yuan is actually three small islands connected by thin strips of beach. The sand is pristine, in part due to restrictions to minimize erosion, and the turquoise water is a popular snorkeling spot. However, the best part of Nang Yuan is the viewpoint. The steps to this spot are worth it for the postcard views of the island.
Where to stay: There is only one resort on Nang Yuan, and it books up fast. Your best option is to stay on nearby Koh Tao instead and visit Nang Yuan as a day trip.
2 – Rok: This is everything a tropical island should be. Clear water, white sand and dense jungle make Rok an island paradise. The snorkeling is also superb and one of the main reasons people visit the island. The only downside is the island is quite small and is usually crowded with people at midday.
Where to stay: As with Nang Yuan, the most feasible option is staying on the larger Lanta Island and visiting Rok for a day. If you are determined to stay on the island overnight, primitive bungalows are available to rent or you can pitch a tent and camp near the beach.
3 – Tao: This island is one of my personal favorites. It offers plenty in the way of accommodation and dining, but Tao is still one of the least developed islands in the Gulf of Thailand. My favorite part was the snorkeling. “Tao” means turtle in Thai, and it is one of the many sea creatures you can spot just off some of the beaches. If you want to be more adventurous, Tao has a reputation for being on the cheapest places in the world to get a scuba diving certification.
Where to stay: If you are scuba diving, Sairee Beach is where most of the dive shops are based, so staying in this area is your best bet. This is also the island’s prime nightlife spot. If you are willing to sacrifice the nightlife, pick any bay, rent a bungalow and you’ll find yourself in paradise.
4 – Phi Phi: This island, while brimming with natural beauty, needs to come with a word of caution. Too many people started flocking to this untouched paradise, and the main portion of the island is now crowded and overdeveloped. Despite this, the island maintains its natural beauty, and there are plenty of more secluded beaches to be discovered, many with great snorkeling. In addition, Phi Phi has some of the wildest nightlife in Thailand. If you are young and looking for a good time, I definitely recommended coming to Phi Phi.
Where to stay: Whatever you do, avoid the center of town and Loh Dalum Bay. These are the prime party spots, and you will be kept up all night by the music. I suggest staying on the outskirts of the town. You will still be a short walk from the restaurants, nightlife and beach, but you will also be able to sleep at night.
5 – Lipe: When a Thai man told me Lipe is his favorite spot in Thailand, I knew it would be good. This island is truly a tropical paradise unlike anywhere else in Thailand. It’s nothing but white sand beaches and bright blue water. The only downside is that Lipe is one of the few pricey spots in Thailand, and it is hard to travel to this island on a budget.
Where to stay: The island is small and each beach is pristine, so stay wherever you can find accommodation in your price range. If you are traveling on a budget, consider renting a tent and camping directly on the sand.
6 – Lanta: This island is a perfect option for anyone wanting a laid-back beach vacation on a less developed island, while still having access to plenty of dinning and accommodation options. The beaches are beautiful with fewer people than some islands and a more relaxed vibe. Life on Lanta moves at a slower pace, so if you are looking to enjoy a few peaceful days on the beach, this is your spot.
Where to stay: Klong Dao Beach and Long Beach have the most options as far as accommodation. Both are great beaches, and staying in these areas will put you close to restaurants, shops and the island’s limited nightlife.
7 – Phangan: Here is an island that has it all, from less developed beaches with great snorkeling to the crowded, crazy Haad Rin beach. When you come to this island makes a huge difference. Once a month, it is the location of Thailand’s infamous Full Moon Party, a wild, all-night celebration with plenty of debauchery. The rest of the month, the island is fairly laid-back, though there are, of course, less extreme parties to be found. Make sure to time your visit right, depending if you want to party or relax.
Where to stay: Haad Rin beach is the party scene, but keep in mind that prices in this area shoot up during the full moon. Anyone who wants to go to a Full Moon Party but doesn’t want to pay the inflated prices on Phangan can stay on nearby Samui island. Many people take the ferry to Phangan for the party, stay up all night and hop on the morning ferry back to Samui to sleep away the hangover. If you want to avoid the party altogether, the northern portion of Phangan is much more secluded.
8 – Samui: This is one of two islands with an international airport, making it a popular tourist spot. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as it means Samui has a little bit of everything, from laid back beaches to crowded party spots. If you visit Samui, make sure to tear yourself away from the beach to check out the Big Buddha temple and the island’s many waterfalls. In addition, this is a great base point from which to visit Ang Thong National Marine Park.
Where to stay: I recommend Lamai Beach, which is much more relaxing than some of the island’s crowded beaches. However, Lamai still has plenty of dining options and some nightlife. If all night parties are what you are looking for, stay at Chaweng Beach, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when you realize this hectic beach is packed with people and bars.
9 – Phuket: As Thailand’s second island with an international airport, Phuket is very similar to Samui. Some spots are grossly overdeveloped and others are much calmer. The primary difference from Samui is that Phuket has quite a few options for snorkeling.
Where to stay: Phuket is a large island with many options for accommodation. The primary spot for restaurants, shops and nightlife is Patong. If you are looking for a more laid back spot, do some research on the many options available in other parts of Phuket.
10 – Samet: This island’s biggest advantage is that it is easily accessible from Bangkok. While Thailand’s southern islands are all nicer, Samet is your best bet if you need to pick somewhere you can reach from Bangkok without taking a plane. If this is your first visit to a Thai island, you will be impressed with the beaches. If you have already visited one of the other spots on the list, you will likely find Samet to be overdeveloped and lacking in natural beauty.
Where to stay: Ao Noi Na is a good option. This area is near the pier, a nice beach and the restaurants and shops of Samet Village. If none of the hotels and bungalows here fit what you’re looking for, there are plenty of other options on Samet, from the primitive to the luxurious.