Guide to Thailand Island Hopping
Thailand is one of those quintessential countries that are incredibly touristy, but in some ways a right of passage when it comes to your first trip to Southeast Asia. Over the past few years, it has become super crowded and it might be hard to find a spot to yourself, but in my opinion, it is still worth checking out.
I started my trip to Thailand by heading to the crazy city of Bangkok. If you’ve never been to a city in Southeast Asia before then prepare to be overwhelmed! It’s a city that’s beyond bustling and veering on hectic. That being said, I loved its endless buzzy energy. I only spent a day in Bangkok, but during that time I tried to pack in as much as possible. I’ll write a separate Bangkok blog post, but on this one, I’m going to focus on the Thai islands.
From Bangkok, we took a short flight to Aonang/Krabi. Krabi itself is super touristy and busy, but I still loved it! We stayed right on the beach strip for the first few nights, which was lively with bars and restaurants. As my first time in Southeast Asia, looking out at the gorgeous beach was a novelty! Even more of a novelty is that the ocean is the temperature of bathwater.
Where to Stay
For the first few nights, we stayed at the L Resort, which was right in the center of town. I found the location to be prime and everything was super clean and new! However, after a few nights, we moved to the Tubkaak Krabi Boutique Hotel. This is the hotel that I would highly recommend when staying in Krabi. It’s a bit out of the main town so it’s a lot quieter and more peaceful. I’ve stayed at dozens of hotels and to this day this is one of the most beautiful. We had a villa with a private pool and were just in heaven.
If you’re more of the adventurous type, then I recommend taking a long-tail boat across the way to Railay Beach! We only spent a night there and I regret not being able to spend more time! The vibes in Railay are much more laid back, chill and a little hippy-like. There are plenty of really nice hotels to stay at there and some really pretty hikes! This area definitely feels more rural and “in the jungle” than Krabi town.
Where to Stay
Luxury Stay: Rayavadee// $350-400
If you’re looking for a five-star luxury stay in Railay, this is the only hotel that you’re going to be thoroughly satisfied. It’s the perfect resort to feel disconnected in nature while also reveling in total luxury. There’s a real paradise feel of being in the middle of a jungle down to frequent monkey spottings in the trees. Nevertheless, amenities are kept to high standards with four amazing restaurants on premise, a magnificent pool and the best part is it’s surrounded by white sand beaches.
Budget Stay: Railay Rapala// $30-35
This is a simple Air BnB homestay that is ideal for younger travelers. You’ll find a relaxing place to chill out and even make new friends with a common area, swimming pool and book exchange. The location is also great, close to the beach and many restaurants.
How to Island Hop
Getting from island to island is extremely easy to do and doesn’t take much pre-planning. The costs range from $10-50 depending on the distance and type of boat you take! We simply booked our ferries online a few days in advance and never had a problem.
Koh Phi Phi
I personally really enjoyed Koh Phi Phi, even though it may be the most touristy island of the bunch. This is known as a party island and there are tons of young people running around, drinking and having fun. That doesn’t mean you can’t find privacy, as there are resorts that you can stay at that are away from the hectic center. Some even have their own private beach to enjoy the gorgeous water without a ton of people around. I found the water itself to be the most beautiful on this island, even though the main beach was definitely a little trashed.
I would highly recommend doing a boat tour while here to see some iconic Ko Phi Phi sites like Maya Bay, the beach made famous in Leonardo Dicaprio’s movie, “The Beach”. This tour avoids the crowds by leaving early, which I highly recommend getting the most out of your experience!
Where to Stay
Surprisingly for how popular this island is, your choice of accommodations are limited. Unfortunately, if you want a flawless stay, you’re looking at a heavier price tag than other islands. This is because of Phi Phi’s party island mentality. Most of the hotels are smack dab in the middle of the chaos with very few hotels that you can get away from it all. Anything less than the $150, and you’re looking at hotels that have some complaints associated with them such as needing renovations or being too noisy. Here are two options, I’d recommend. Both have excellent reviews, which is a rarity on this island.
Luxury Stay: Zeavola Resort// ($150-200/night):
This is the ideal stay for those wanting to get away from the crowds. It’s the perfect resort for honeymooners and situates you in the Koh Phi Phi jungle with a gorgeous view of the water below.
Budget: AirBnB Bungalow// ($30-50/night):
This AirBnB is a gem for its cheap price tag and location. It has amazing reviews and is situated away from the center meaning away from the crowds.
Compared to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta is the sleepy sister. This is a great island to head to on your honeymoon, but not for those who want a more active trip. I spent a few days here and it was nice to get away from the hectic islands for a bit. I didn’t find that there was too much to do on this island besides laze at the beach or resort and relax, but there’s nothing wrong with that! The sunsets here were also some of the most beautiful I’ve experienced in Thailand.
Where to Stay
There are quite a few beautiful luxurious resorts to stay as well at, as well as many reasonable villas. As far as prices go, Koh Lanta was one of the cheapest islands we stayed at.
Luxury Stay: Pimalai Resort and Spa ($150-200/night):
Pimalai is located with the tropical forests of Koh Lanta, while also in walking distance to the white sandy beaches. For those who want a vacation away from the crowds, this resort will deliver in relaxing peace while also providing five-star amenities.
Budget Stay: Lazy Days Bungalow ($25-35/night):
This bungalow is newly built on Relax Beach, which is a beach known for its turquoise water and pristine conditions. This small boutique hotel has 9 bamboo bungalows and so you really get a personal experience when staying here. The best part is the price point for the value you get!
If you’re after some top-rated spa treatments combined with a fun, but not overwhelming nightlife scene, Koh Samui is definitely worth a visit. It’s an island that seems to hold an older crowd compared to Koh Phi Phi without being too sleepy. I really enjoyed the town in Koh Samui, which had a ton of cute restaurants and stores. On top of that, if you’re after a famous Thai massage, Koh Samui is world renowned for their spas.
Tamarind Springs Forest Spa: Going to this spa was an unforgettable experience. It started with a few hours soaking in different temperature pools, scrubbing down with a coffee scrub, steaming up in their steam caves and then followed by a massage, which was given at the top of the property with a view of the jungle below.
Where to Stay
Koh Samui has so many five star hotels that the choices are pretty endless when it comes to where you can stay. Here are two great choices in accommodations:
Luxury Stay: Bayan Tree Samui ($400-450):
Bayan Tree Samui is synonymous with Koh Samui luxury. Its made a name for itself as a true respite with 88 villas nestled on a beach. It’s a true tropical getaway and the perfect way to enjoy the sapphire water that Lamai Bay is known for. This is the perfect way to enjoy Koh Samui and its natural beauty while also enjoying some privacy.
Budget Stay: Baan Sukreep Zen Garden Cottages ($35-40):
This place really is value for your money. Baan Sukreep has its own private beach giving their visitors all the elements of a tropical getaway. It’s made up of traditional-styled bamboo Bungalows, as well as modern villas. On-site is a beautiful pool, jacuzzi, as well as a restaurant and cocktail bar.
Last, but not least is my favorite island- Koh Phangan. You may have heard of it from the infamous Full Moon Party, but for those who aren’t interested in having a wild few nights, I wouldn’t write off this island yet. If you’re interested in an absolutely crazy night, then by all means, check out the full moon party. However, be warned, it’ll be chock full of drunk leap year kids, bad techno music and dangerously strong drinks.
That being said, I found Koh Phangan to offer way more than just a crazy party. Its natural beauty is like no other and I found it to be one of the more spiritual islands. Here’s a little secret: avoid the main beach of Haad Rin -- it’s usually cluttered with trash from the Full Moon parties, super crowded and not the most aesthetic.
Instead, take a longboat around the corner to Haad Yuan! Make sure that you bring enough cash with you since there aren’t any ATMs on that side of the island. The longboat only takes about 15 minutes, but you enter a whole new world!
It’s a gorgeous part of Koh Phangan that’s rugged and still holds its natural element. There’s some beautiful villas to stay at and quite an interesting crowd to interact with. There’s also fun bars and day clubs that are attended by locals and visitors alike.
Speaking of locals: there’s quite a lot of expats that call Koh Phangan, and Haad Yuan in particular home. I had such a good experience in Haad Yuan particularly because everyone was so warm and open to becoming friends!
Where to Stay
Luxury: Wonderland Healing Center ($120-150)
The Wonderland Healing Center isn’t just a hotel, it’s a spiritual experience! This hotel is located on Had Yuaan. From sound baths to yoga and meditation classes, this resort is set up to allow you to have a deeper connection with your mind and body. You can also enjoy a fully vegan restaurant, herbal steam sauna, and an outdoor pool while spending time here.
Budget: Tatawan Bungalow ($15-20)
For $15 a night this bungalow gives you great value! It has great reviews and all the typical villa amenities like a pool and its own restaurant. If you’re traveling on a budget, I highly recommend this villa.
From Koh Phangan, take a quick ferry back to Koh Samui! We took a flight back to Bangkok from there, but if you have enough time you can easily make your way to exploring other parts of Thailand!