a BUDGET TRAVELLERS GUIDE TO THE LAND OF SMILES
Every year millions of travellers head to Thailand looking for sun and fun. Many tourists make Bangkok a priority when visiting the country and fail to visit some of the other cities and regions. By overlooking them, it is to their detriment.
Thailand has hundreds of islands and many are the prototypical tropical beach paradise. It is the type paradise dreamt about where it is only you, a deserted beach and waves crashing on to the shore. Some of the islands like Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Phi Phi are famous, and attract visitors to their beaches each year. Some are not quite as well-known, but offer gorgeous coastlines to those that travel to them.
The best islands in Thailand are the ones that give visitors ample opportunity to enjoy their stays. This often means providing some kind of infrastructure and activities, so visitors can fully relax during their island visit. However, these aren't the only reason for a Thai island to be highly valued. As some of the best are those that allow you to escape the hordes of tourists that descend on Thailand's beaches.
Koh Pha Ngan
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Pha Ngan is one of the most famous Thai islands in budget traveller culture. Ko Pha Ngan's Haad Rin Beach is where the Full Moon Party originated in Thailand. Thanks to the history and the aura that surrounds the party, budget travellers from all over the globe have flocked to the island. The all night dance music fuelled party has become a staple of the island. Its popularity and the Full Moon Party's continued growth has inspired other places to adopt their own full moon events.
Although Ko Pha Ngan is famous for its party atmosphere, it also provides visitors the chance to see serene Buddhist temples and relaxing spas. Its ability to combine the party atmosphere with authentic Thai culture makes it a desirable place to visit.
If you are heading to Ko Pha Ngan during a Full Moon Party, be sure to book accommodation ahead of time. Rooms, no matter what kind they are, go fast.
Koh Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi is a group of islands with two main attractions when it comes to budget travellers. However, visitors can hop rom one island to the next during their voyage to Phi Phi.
The two main islands are Ko Phi Phi Don – the largest in the group – and Ko Phi Phi Leh – the second largest. Ko Phi Phi Leh was the site of 2000 film, The Beach, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Meanwhie, Ko Phi Phi Don is the only island in the group with permanent residents.
Phi Phi Don is easily accessible from Phuket and thanks to its proximity, receives day trippers throughout peak tourist season. While the island's main hubs can become quite crowded, it is a perfect time to retreat to the beach or boat over to one of the other islands in the group.
Phi Phi offers a great time to tourists when it comes to the active holiday it offers. When the sun goes down, there is plenty to do and it won't stop until the sun comes up. However, when the sun is in the sky, Phi Phi is a great destination for hiking, biking and watersports. If you find a hidden piece of beach on Phi Phi, don't tell anyone as once you do, everyone will seek it out.
The province of Phuket is the second most visited area of Thailand after Bangkok. Many visitors hit up Phuket once they have finished with Bangkok, and expats living in the Thai capital head to the island province during national holidays or on weekends.
Nightclubs, bars and pubs dot the beach areas of Phuket island. These venues offer plenty of late night parties to budget travellers looking for sun and fun. There are plenty of cheap bars to keep you going throughout the night and accommodation is plentiful. However, during certain points in the year, it is important to book ahead. The problem with Phuket, however, is it can be far more expensive than other Thai islands. Of course, it is a must-visit island, but if you want to avoid spending cash think twice about Phuket.
If you want a more relaxed holiday to Phuket, there are also golf courses, museums and temples to check out. But where is the fun in that?
Ko Lanta has become a holiday destination of Europeans travelling through Thailand. Near Ko Phi Phi, Lanta is an island capable of exploring thanks to its miles of roads. Rent a motorbike or car, and hit the blacktop to see the entire island.
While other Thailand islands like Phi Phi and Phuket are swarming with tourists and beach bums, Lanta is still devoid of the masses. You can sit on the beaches without being harassed and head out into the quiet ocean for a swim. The island also offers visitors a taste of authentic Thai island culture, which is completely rare when visiting Lanta's contemporaries.
If sitting on the beach and drinking cocktails isn't your idea of fun, then Ko Tao's watersports just might be. Hiking, climbing, diving and snorkelling are all on the menu in Ko Tao. New bars and nightclubs are popping up all the time on Ko Tao as the island's reputation continues to grow.
Once considered an island only for beer drinking and diving, Ko Tao now attracts families to its shores. Diving is still its No. 1 pastime as people from around the world descend on Ko Tao to get scuba diving certified.
During peak season, Ko Tao is filled with people participating in watersports and packing out the bars. If you want something a bit quieter, it may not be the place for you. But if you are a social butterfly that wants to get to know new people and other budget travellers, by all means get to Ko Tao.
Located near Cambodia, Ko Chang is a massive island with rugged mountains and serene beaches. Ko Chang is the third largest Thai island and it continues to see new tourist establishments pop up every day.
The picture-esque White Sand Beach is ideal for spending long days lounging upon. Palm thatched roof huts line the beach and offer solace from the sun. Diving is a popular pastime on Chang and getting your feet wet won't be a problem when staying on the island.
If you are looking for upscale resorts and wine bars, Ko Samui is the place to go. This isn't for the basic budget traveller, so if you are looking to spend a little bit more on luxury during your holiday, by all means make your way to Ko Samui.
The cool part about the accommodation on the island is the way it varies. You can stay in deluxe villas or small bamboo bungalows. Samui has over 1,000 places to stay while on the island, so you won't be without choice.
Unlike other Thai islands, Samui has strict codes on building. These codes prevent tall hotel or apartment blocks. It gives the island a more romantic island vibe and allows it to feel more open than Phuket.
The island has beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Although it sees its fair share of tourists each year, you will be able to find empty stretches of beach to lie down on.
The island has a variety of festivals throughout the year along with the Samui Triathlon. If you find yourself there during April, be sure to cheer on the athletes.
Tired of the overdeveloped and overly filled touristy islands of Ko Phi Phi? Not interested in the prices on Phuket? Might we suggest the quiet, laidback island of Ko Phayam?
Located in the Andaman Sea, Phayam has empty beaches and quaint bungalows waiting for you to visit. The island has long been visited by budget travellers, but it has remained off of the radar of most holidaymakers. Thanks to still being relatively unknown, the island is far more laidback and budget-friendly.
If you happen to be travelling on your own, Phayam is very affordable and getting around the island is made easy thanks to the roads. Visitors that stay for weeks on end will find a bicycle or motorbike handy; and thanks to the network of roads, it won't be difficult to move about the island.
Although considered underdeveloped, Phayam has bars for you to enjoy. But just as simple as bellying up to a beach bar, so is plopping down into a hammock with a cold beer. Clear starry nights sitting in a hammock while the sound of waves crash onto the shore are not uncommon on Phayam. Yes, life on Phayam is just a little bit more laidback and easy compared to other Thai islands.