A Three-Week Itinerary to Island Hopping Through Thailand

One of my all-time favourite books to read while travelling is Alex Garland’s The Beach. My copy, dog-eared and worn, was cracked open long before I made the trip to the Land of Smiles.

If you’re unfamiliar, it was made famous by DiCaprio and the gang on a secluded beach in the Gulf of Thailand. I’ve read the book and seen the movie too many times to count, but was under no illusions of encountering deserted lagoons and empty beaches while in Thailand.

As Garland says in his famous page-turner: “Set up in Bali, Ko Pha-ngan, Ko Tao, Borocay, and the hordes are bound to follow”. And that they did.

Island Hopping in Modern Thailand

Thailand is no longer that illusive, exotic destination, only frequented by barefooted backpackers. Nowadays, the Thai islands are loud and obnoxious with buckets of booze and strips of bars so long they spill out onto the sand.

I was slightly apprehensive booking my flights into Bangkok. Not a big drinker and far from a party animal, I wanted a trip full of adventures and good memories, and was unsure Thailand would produce.

How wrong could I have been! Yes, the Thai islands are now more famous for their beach bars than their once secluded stretched of sand. Yet, they still have so much to offer those who don’t want to base their entire trip around bars and buckets.

Here on Sun Scribes, I’ve outlined my itinerary for island hopping around Thailand. I’ve tried to maintain a balance between the infamous Thai party lifestyle and that sense of relaxation and solitude many seek while escaping reality!

Bangkok

As this is an island-hopping itinerary, I’m focusing on Krabi and the Gulf of Thailand. Vast majority of travellers exploring Thailand are on a time schedule, and if you’re main reason for visiting Thailand is to discover its islands, I’d suggest giving Thailand a miss. Sure it’s fun to discover Bangkok in all its lunacy, but if you’re restricted for time, one night is enough.

A lot of tourists scold themselves for wasting time in Bangkok when they arrive on the islands and see what they’ve been missing.

In my case, I flew into Bangkok, never left the airport, and hopped on a connecting flight to Krabi.

Ao Nang – Krabi

What a way to begin my Thai adventure. Though not an actual island, Krabi is used as a gateway to the Thai islands. A lot of backpackers use this province to launch their island hopping adventure. This is definitely one of the more family-friendly places of Thailand, with the grubby bars kept at a minimum.

Getting there

Wrecked from my connections from Cairns, Australia, I was eager to get some good grub in my belly and have a good night’s kip. From Krabi airport, we shared a taxi with other backpackers to Ao Nang and checked into our homestay. The taxi cost about TBH150/€4 each.

Where to stay

On a tight budget after a year full of travelling, we opted for some cheap accommodation. For less than €10 a night, we booked into Krabi Homestay. I still argue this is THE best homestay I’ve ever stayed in in all of my travels through Asia!

How long to spend here

Including our arrival day, we spend three days in Ao Nang and left on the fourth. That gave us to full days of excursions and exploring.

What to do here

The main attractions here are the Hong Islands Tour (which I recommend) and the Four Islands Tour. If you have the time and money, I definitely recommend doing both on separate days, there’s nothing like the islands on the west! Keep in mind you will be required to pay an additional THB300 to get onto Hong Island as it is a national park.

Just off the coast of Ao Nang lies the famous Railay Beach. A great alternative to the hectic beach parties in the Gulf of Thailand, Railay is super chilled and hippy. If you’ve time to spare, a night or two on Railay is worth it. If not, hop on a longtail boat to the beach and explore all it has to offer. If you’d like to know more about Ao Nang, read on here. 

Phi Phi Island

Reluctant to head to Phi Phi form all the bad reviews, I was pleasantly surprised. It is touristy, it is dirty and the beaches are less than idyllic. But it’s still fun; real fun!

Less crazy than Phuket and Koh Samui, Phi Phi is the perfect mix of party and adventure.

How long to stay

I would recommend four full days on Phi Phi. While you want an jam-packed itinerary, there should be room left for a bit of downtime.

How to get there

Purchase a ferry ticket from any one of the tour operators in Ao Nang, or ask for help at your hotel reception. A ticket from Ao Nang to Phi Phi will cost about THB350-400. The ferry operator will most likely collect you from your hotel or tell you a meeting point, where you will be transferred to the ferry.

The ferry is under two hours and is an easy ride to your next island. Once you land in Phi Phi, most hotels are in walking distance from the port. Pre-download your route on google maps and ignore those looking to take you to your hotel.

Where to stay

 

We stayed in a crappy little homestay in Phi Phi. One night during a huge thunderstorm we stayed in watching TV with the Thai family and their cats, it was such a funny experience! The next day however, we opted for some luxury and booked in to the Phi Phi Maiyada Resort.

What to do

The main attraction for me while in Phi Phi, was not what the island had to offer, but what lies just off the island in the Andaman Sea. When visiting Koh Phi Phi, Maya Bay was still open to the public. With it now closed off there are still plenty of other options to fill your time around this little island.

We spent our days exploring the smaller islands around Phi Phi, lying on the sand of Monkey Bay (Not Monkey Beach! This place is gross and crowded) and snorkelling off the waters of Bamboo Island. To read more about things to do and how to beat the crowds in Phi Phi click here.

Koh Lanta

Just off the coast of Krabi, lies Koh Lanta. A large island, with zero traffic, Koh Lanta is a welcome break from bustling Phi Phi. If you’re in search of a local feel of the Thai islands, Koh Lanta is definitely authentic.

How to get here

From Koh Phi Phi, travelling to Lanta is quick and simple. The ferry departs from Phi Phi’s main port and the journey takes approximately 30 minutes. Tickets again, can be bought at any tour agency that line the streets of Phi Phi.

How long to stay

Any backpacker who makes the journey to Koh Lanta is in serious danger of falling in love and never leaving! This place is bliss, but is very laid-back. Two nights I think is enough to get your bearings of the island and recharge your batteries. If you’re schedule is tight, a quick one-night stop is also doable; get the early ferry from Phi Phi and make the most of your day on paradise.

Where to stay

 

Long Beach is the place to stay on Lanta. It’s an exquisite beach on the north of the island, backed by palm trees and home to beautiful golden sand. It’s about a ten minute drive from the pier and there are plenty of restaurants and accommodation to choose from.

What to do

No trip to Lanta is complete without a visit to the Koh Lanta Animal rescue Shelter! Take the stray dogs for walks, play with the puppies and cuddle the kittens!

I always find the best way to discover any new island is to rent a moped and set off exploring. The southern beaches are to die for. Spend an afternoon visiting Kantiang Bay, Waterfall Bay (Ao Klong Jark) and Bamboo Bay (Ao Mai Pai). You can combine a trip to Waterfall Bay with a hike to the nearby waterfall.

Koh Phangan

Not wanting to be a cliché and travel to Koh Phangan solely for the Full Moon Party, we decided to give it a miss. After fretting for far too long over travel itineraries not lining up with the FMP, we said screw it, and put our energies into finding other unique things to do on this beautiful island.

The infamous FMP had only taken place about a week before we arrived, but the carnage was long gone by the time we stepped foot on Phangan. I still say missing the Full Moon was one of the best decisions we made during our Thailand trip. The island was empty, accommodation was a quarter of the price and with a wide open schedule, we were free to roam Koh Phangan and discover the nooks and crannies oh Phangan.

How to get there

From Phi Phi, you will have to dedicate a day to travel. Book your trip in any of the tour operators in Phi Phi, they’re all more or less the same. This trip will involve a “combo-ticket”, involving a ferry from Phi Phi to Krabi, a coach from Krabi port to Don Sak Pier in Surat Thani, and another ferry from Surat Thani to Phangan.

How long to stay

You will be forced to surrender a whole day to reaching Phangan, which is frustrating but necessary. No counting your day of travel, I would recommend three/four full days on this island.

Where to stay

IF staying close to Haad Rin beach is for you I would suggest Sunrise Resort Koh Phangan. It’s right on the beach and for about €25 a night you can get a huge deluxe room overlooking the beach (less than half the price you would pay the week of the Full Moon).

If you have some cash to spare, I would recommend Salad Beach Resort in Phangan. This place is pure paradise with a beach to die for and a low-hanging palm tree for your Insta-worthy snaps. The only catch is, it is located at the top of the island, a far drive from Haad Rin Beach. But if you’re not visiting for the FMP, not much happens at Haad Rin.

What to do

With the roads empty of Full Moon partiers (seriously the island was EMPTY!), we rented a scooter for three days and hit the dusty trails of Koh Phangan. Some of my most favourite memories from travelling around all of SE Asia are zipping through the hills of Phangan, with no clue where we were going.

We took a wrong turn one day and ended up on a local farmer’s land, who let us bottle-feed his sheep and play with his dogs, we took a nosy into all the secluded yoga retreats in the hills and we explored every beach up and down the island.

Some of my favourite were Haad Salad, Haad Mae, Koh Raham an Malibu Beach. We watched the sunset at Amsterdam Bar and in the evenings chilled on the beach with a guitar and some beers.

There are also plenty of island hopping trips from Phangan, for when you’ve exhausted the island of all its secrets.

Koh Tao

I have a very good friend who lives on Koh Tao, and with her local knowledge we made the absolute most of our time on this stunning island. Koh Tao has recently earned a disconcerting reputation in the media, due to “mysterious” backpacker deaths. During my time in Koh Tao, the tiny island was under huge public scrutiny.

While we were wary visiting, I have only positive things to say about Koh Tao. I spoke to a lot of ex-pats who now called Koh Tao home and were eager to tell visitors that their little island did not deserve its bad rap.

How to get there

A simple trip from Koh Phangan, the ferry across to Koh Tao takes just under two hours. Ferries leave regularly from Phangan, so you can easily book your tickets from any tour agency on the island.

How long to stay

Depending if you’ve come to Koh Tao to complete your scuba diving course, your stay will vary. I stayed six nights to fit in my SSI course and all my diving trips. I would suggest at least three nights, but stretch to four if your timetable allows.

Where to stay

Koh Tao was once considered a destination off the beaten track. Nowadays, Koh Tao is likened to a mini Phi Phi with its fire shows on Sairee Beach every night.  There are hotels and homestays on every inch of Koh Tao now. If you’d like to stay near the nightlife, Sairee Beach is the place to be.

If you’re looking for luxury and a little bit more seclusion, I’d recommend Aow Leuk Beach Resort. With some of the most amazing snorkelling spots I’ve ever seen, this place comes equipped with its own private beach.

What to do here

As I’ve already mentioned, Koh Tao is famous for its diving. We also rented a moped here and drove up into the hills of Koh Tao, where we stumbled upon Aow Leuk. It’s not easy to find so make sure you have a Google maps route pre-download. Explore the lesser known beaches of Chalok Baan Kao and take a visit to Freedom Beach.

A visit to the Koh Tao sign is also worth a look, the views from the hill is stunning from sunrise to sunset. There is a famous “pub crawl” in KT, it’s a bit over-rated if I’m being honest, but a good way to meet some new people. Sairee Beach is home to the “Insta-famous” diagonal palm tree, get a snap here for some good memories!

If diving isn’t your thing, do not miss out on a snorkel trip in Koh Tao! All the other islands snorkelling is a bit so-so, often crowded and a bit dirty. Koh Tao by far has the best snorkelling spots!

And finally, do not miss the chance to hike to the top of Koh Nang Yuan, which holds one of the best views on all the islands!

Advice

This itinerary is roughly 18 days long, leaving a few days free to amend yourself or maybe add in another island.

After travelling through Thailand my advice would be to skip Phuket and Koh Samui. With the huge party theme and stripper poles everywhere, these two destinations feel very far removed from the idyllic Thailand people dream about at their office desks.

These islands are good for partying, but offer no cultural experiences or authentic Thai feel. This is just my opinion though, as is the way with travel, what suits one, may not suit the other!

I always find structure and planned itineraries to work best, but with Thailand, it’s all about preference. Keep your island itineraries somewhat open in case you fall in love with an island and wish to stay longer.

Although remember, it’s always best to leave wanting more!

Follow:
Keelin Riley

Keelin is an Irish travel writer with a degree in journalism and a background in the Irish media. Based in Sydney, Australia she loves to blog about all things travel-related specialising in budget travel, ethical travel and off-the-beaten-track itineraries!

Find me on: Web | Facebook

Share:

Leave a Reply