The postcard islands of Thailand offer the paradise of our imaginations. Yet alongside the coconut trees and squeaky white beaches, expect to find hordes of tourists. Thanks to direct flights from Bangkok, the crowds, and the businesses that compete for them, can be somewhat overwhelming. If you’re looking for alternatives to hotspots like Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, put these less-known islands on your radar.
With no roads, motorbikes or cars, Koh Ngai is a small island on Thailand’s west coast, surrounded by coral and known for its long sandy beaches and turquoise sea water. It’s an ideal spot for relaxing on less-crowded beaches, sea kayaking, snorkelling along the coral, or enjoying a coconut cocktail in the rustic thatched beachfront restaurants. Inland from the beach are some great jungle hikes in pristine forest. There are a few good resorts on the east coast of the island, overlooking jagged limestone outcrops that make for spectacular sunrises. The must-see island excursion is popping on a boat to the nearby Emerald Cave, known as one of the seven wonders of Thailand.
This long, narrow island, located in the Krabi Province off the Andaman Coast, is known as a quieter, more relaxing destination for sun and sand seekers. Its white sandy beaches and outstanding snorkelling and diving, coupled with affordable guesthouses and hotels make it one of the Thailand’s kept secrets, although in recent years it has been getting more popular. Koh Lanta is made up of an archipelago of some 50 uninhabited islands (a boon for marine life), culminating in the Mu Ko Lanta Marine Park located in the southern end of the island. The local population is known to be more conservative than on other islands, and together with their conservation-minded outlook, and the calm, tranquil seas, Koh Lanta radiates a peaceful ambience and family-friendly vibe.
Koh Tao’s past is as colourful as its turquoise waters and emerald jungles. Long a fishing post, it was also pirate hideaway, and later, a prison for political prisoners. Today, it’s a prison most visitors will be sad to leave. Koh Tao literally means Turtle Island, and it’s the abundance of marine life that makes this southern Gulf Coast island one of the best diving spots in Southeast Asia. Keeping the environment pristine is taken seriously, which is why you’ll find no plastic bags on the island. Rent a scooter to explore some of the fantastic beaches and viewpoints around the island, or explore various trails and sea kayak routes. An important breeding area for marine turtles, Koh Tao’s diving reputation makes it the ideal spot to get your PADI certification, or simply snorkel out from its many white sandy beaches.