I saved the islands of Thailand for the end of my 3-month trip through Southeast Asia because I had a feeling they were going to be my favourite part. Turns out I was 100% correct in my prediction. I had such a fantastic time hopping around from one gorgeous island to the next.
Here’s a little highlight reel of the islands I visited!
The first stop on my island-hopping tour was the small island of Koh Tao. My favourite thing that I did while staying here was to take a longtail taxi boat over to the tiny nearby island of Koh Nangyuan and climb the stairs up to the viewpoint. Koh Nangyuan is only a 15-minute boat ride from Koh Tao (300 baht for a return trip). This island is one of those incredible places you can’t believe is real. The view from the viewpoint is breathtaking. I would have sat and stared at it a lot longer than I did if only it hadn’t been so crowded and there hadn’t been a long line of people awaiting their turn on the viewing rock.
There are also a few really nice viewpoints in Koh Tao that you can hike to. The best one is probably the John-Suwan Viewpoint, but be aware that the path up to it is extremely strenuous. It’s not a long hike to the top, but I literally had to climb uphill on all fours, squeeze through narrow crevices, scramble over rocks on a path that was barely there, and pull myself along using ropes that were dangerously frayed, all while somehow holding a 1.5-litre water bottle in one hand.
I think the view was worth the struggle though.
The path up to the John-Suwan Viewpoint begins at Freedom Beach. It’s supposed to cost 50 baht to go up, but when I went there was nobody there collecting money. Sweet!
My biggest disappointment in Koh Tao was that the famous Koh Tao Pub Crawl had been indefinitely discontinued shortly before I arrived on the island. I had been really looking forward to taking part in what is supposedly one of the world’s best pub crawls. Luckily Koh Tao still has great nightlife every night of the week. I went out by myself, met some cool people, and had a lot of fun. The Fishbowl is definitely the most popular bar on Sairee Beach, Koh Tao’s main party beach. I constantly heard people talking about it, and it was always packed with fun-loving partiers when I was there.
Koh Tao was good times and good vibes!
Stop #2 was Koh Phangan, a party animal’s island paradise. The main reason I wanted to go to this island, of course, was to attend the infamous Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach. Actually, the biggest bucket-list item of my whole trip was to not only make an appearance at the party, but to stay there until sunrise. I’m happy to report that although I required a half-hour power nap on the beach, I successfully stayed out until 8:00AM. At that point I walked back to my hostel and immediately headed straight for my bed, which I did not leave again even once until 6:00PM. I finally managed to drag myself out of bed to eat dinner and take a shower, and by that point it was just about bedtime again. That day was the only real hangover I had throughout the whole trip, but the Full Moon Party was so worth it! I had a blast there.
A word of warning about Haad Rin beach: Theft is rampant there. I found that out the hard way when my phone got stolen on my second night in Koh Phangan, two nights before the Full Moon Party. Actually, BOTH of my phones got stolen — I always travel with one phone that takes decent photos but doesn’t have GPS, and one phone that takes shitty photos but has functioning GPS. Normally I only take the latter phone with me on a night out, but for some reason I had decided to take both phones with me the last two or three times I went out. It was late at night — probably 2:00 or 3:00AM — and I was drunk (surprise, surprise). I was at one of the bars on the beach when I happened to look down at my handbag and notice that the zipper was wide open. I immediately panicked and looked inside. Sure enough, both phones were gone. The next day was spent travelling to the police station to file a report, and then wandering around town trying to find the supermarket where the lady at my hostel advised me to go to buy a new phone.
I’m a very frugal person (some would call me cheap), so I bought the second-least expensive smartphone at the store. (The absolute least expensive didn’t look too promising.) It was called the Wiko Sunny2 Plus, which is something I had never heard of before. The box said that the phone’s camera was 5 megapixels. Now, I know absolutely nothing about phones or cameras or megapixels, but a lot of the phones at the store had cameras with 5 megapixels, so I figured that would be okay.
Well, as soon as I got home, I took the phone out of the box and snapped a photo with it. The picture quality was absolutely horrendous. I’m pretty heartbroken about it because having decent photos of the places I visit is really important to me. Serves me right for being cheap, I guess! (Anybody want to buy me a GoPro?)
What’s also unfortunate is that I kind of missed out on all the beautiful sights that Koh Phangan has to offer. Since I was staying so close to Haad Rin beach, I spent all my nights drinking and partying at the bars there, which meant that I never had enough energy to do much during the day. It’s such a shame because I know there’s so much to see and do on the island, and I hardly saw or did any of it. I did manage to go for a walk to a lovely, deserted viewpoint one day, but sadly most of the photos I took that day were lost when my phone got stolen. I guess that means I’ll have to come back someday, right?
After Koh Phangan, it was back to the mainland to spend four nights in Ao Nang. I would say the #1 thing to see if you stay in Ao Nang or Krabi is Railay Beach. It’s one of the most famous beaches in Thailand for good reason. The combination of the emerald water and those majestic limestone karsts makes for some strikingly beautiful scenery.
(Sorry about the poor quality of the photos. I wasn’t kidding when I said that my new phone takes the shittiest pictures ever!)
It’s super easy to get to Railay Beach from Ao Nang. Just walk to Ao Nang Beach and buy a longtail boat ticket for 200 baht return. I recommend taking the longtail boat past Railay all the way to Phra Nang Beach (same price), then walking from there to Railay and from Railay to Tonsai Beach. I believe you can take a longtail boat from Tonsai Beach back to Ao Nang, but if not it’s a short walk between Tonsai and Railay. (Just be prepared to get wet, as you have to wade through waist-deep water in order to reach the sand at Railay Beach.) You can then take a longtail boat from Railay Beach back to Ao Nang Beach.
If you’re in the mood for a day trip, there are lots of little islands nearby Ao Nang that are easy to get to via longtail taxi boat or organized tour. I chose to visit Koh Poda, only about 8km away from Ao Nang, after seeing some gorgeous pictures online of its pristine white-sand beach. I bought a ticket for a longtail taxi boat ride to the island, and then waited over half an hour before enough like-minded travellers showed up for the boat to leave. I paid 300 baht for the return boat ride and another 400 baht for entrance to the island, which is part of a national park.
Koh Poda certainly is gorgeous, but there is literally nothing there except the beach. You can’t wander off and go hiking around the island; you can only wander the length of the beach and back. The place is not completely deserted, but it’s far less busy than anywhere in Ao Nang, and there were definitely moments when I was on the far side of the beach and there was not another human in sight. I’m not sure that my short trip to Koh Poda was worth the 700 baht that I paid for it, but I’m glad I went because I got some beautiful photos out of it. (Or at least as beautiful as my awful, awful camera can manage.)
Koh Lanta was such a breath of fresh air after all the partying I did on the other islands. It’s a place where people come to just chill out, and I can’t imagine a better place to do so. You probably won’t find any nightlife as wild as what you’ll find on islands like Koh Phangan and Koh Phi Phi. One night, there was supposed to be a Half Moon Party on one of the beaches, so I decided to go with a few people I had recently met. We walked and walked along the beach but couldn’t find a party anywhere. We did come upon a bar where live music was being played and quite a few people were listening. But the strange thing was that not a single person was dancing or partying. Everybody was just sitting down on the ground in front of the bar, watching the musicians and just chilling out. It was a nice atmosphere, but we were disappointed because we were looking for a party.
What Koh Lanta lacks in terms of nightlife though, it makes up for with its abundance of beautiful, almost-deserted beaches. I stayed at Blanco Hostel, which is only a couple minutes’ walk from Phra Ae Beach (also known as Long Beach.) Long Beach is a beautiful, white-sand beach that stretches for almost 4km. Its considerable length means that it’s never crowded, so it’s easy to find a nice place to lay out your towel.
On my second day in Koh Lanta, I went swimming at a lovely little secluded beach close to Relax Bay with a couple of new acquaintances. We laid on the beach from 2:00PM until sunset and saw probably fewer than 25 people all day.
Koh Phi Phi
While conducting research for this trip, I kept reading over and over that Koh Phi Phi is over-crowded, over-rated, and good for nothing but partying. I didn’t find any of that to be true. Okay, so I guess I was there at the tail end of the high season or even the beginning of the low season, but I didn’t find the island over-crowded at all. I mean, yes, there were a lot of people there, but certainly not so many that it was annoying or inconvenient. Furthermore, I think Koh Phi Phi might be the most beautiful of all the islands I visited in Thailand. If you want to snap a photo of that quintessential Thai scenery — brightly decorated longtail boats floating in clear turquoise water — Koh Phi Phi is the perfect place to do so.
Of course, Koh Phi Phi’s main tourist attraction is Maya Bay, which became internationally famous in 2000 when it starred in the aptly-titled Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach. It seems that most people visit Maya Bay as part of a group tour, but since I hate tours I decided instead to hire a longtail boat with three other people from my hostel. We each paid 450 baht (plus the 400 baht entrance fee for Maya Bay) to hire the boat for three hours. We decided to leave at 6:30AM in order to reach the bay before the massive crowds rolled in. Unfortunately, I had been partaking in Koh Phi Phi’s wild nightlife the previous evening and I overslept (oops!), so we didn’t end up leaving until about 7:15. By the time we arrived at Maya Bay around 8:00, there were already lots of people there, but not so many that it seriously detracted from my enjoyment of the place. Crowds or no crowds, The Beach is definitely a sight not to be missed.
At 9:00 we left Maya Bay and our boat driver took us to another beach called Monkey Bay. It was a lovely beach, but unfortunately we didn’t see a single monkey. We stayed at Monkey Bay for 20 or 30 minutes, then our driver took us back home. (After a quick breakfast with my dorm mates, I went straight back to bed.)
If you’re looking for an easy but highly rewarding activity to do in Koh Phi Phi, I wholeheartedly recommend hiking up to the famous viewpoint. Actually, there are three viewpoints (appropriately named Viewpoints 1, 2, and 3), and each one is more spectacular than the last. They’re all connected by a single trail, so that you have to walk past Viewpoints 1 and 2 to get to Viewpoint 3. Getting to the last viewpoint is not a long or strenuous hike by any means, and the views at all three points are absolutely killer. The natural beauty of Koh Phi Phi is something I won’t soon forget.
Out of all the places I visited during my 3.5 weeks of island-hopping in Thailand, I liked Phuket the least. (I’m not alone in that feeling — every single person I met who had been to Phuket told me they didn’t like it.) It’s not that the place isn’t beautiful or that there’s a shortage of things to do there, it’s just that it’s so much more expensive than anywhere else in Thailand. Phuket is a huge island, and all of its sights are well spread out, so there’s no way you can walk between them. Since I don’t drive, the only way I could get around was by taxi or tuk-tuk, and the prices they charge are outrageous by Thai standards.
For example, I wanted to visit the Big Buddha, which is one of Phuket’s most popular attractions, and it turned out to be the most expensive taxi ride I’ve ever taken. For the 30-minute drive there and the 30-minute drive back to Patong, I paid a whopping 1,000 baht. That’s $40CAD! Insane. There were so many other attractions in Phuket that I wanted to see, but I just couldn’t afford to go to them. If I could drive I would have rented a scooter for 300 baht a day and driven myself around, but alas! I’m a wimp and would never attempt to drive a motorized vehicle here or anywhere else for all the tea in China.
As for the Big Buddha though, it’s definitely worth visiting. (And entrance to it is free, which made my 1000-baht taxi ride a little easier to take.) I spent a decent amount of time wandering around the huge statue, taking pictures of the magnificent views, and trying my best to avoid the monkeys that were always attempting to steal people’s food.
On my second-last day in Phuket, I joined a full-day group tour of the islands in beautiful Phang Nga Bay. As I’ve said before, I hate group tours, but I couldn’t possibly leave Thailand without seeing Khao Phing Kan (more commonly known as James Bond Island), and a tour was the easiest and cheapest way to do so. The lady at the tour agency where I bought my ticket gave me a great deal on the tour. The price in the brochure was 3,400 baht, but she only charged me 1,000 baht! (To be honest though, I don’t think the tour was worth anywhere near 3,400 baht, and I wonder if anybody else ever actually pays that.)
Our first stop was the main attraction of Phang Nga Bay and the sole reason I came on the tour: James Bond Island, home of Thailand’s most famous rock. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of pictures of it before, but here are a few more. Doesn’t that rock look like it’s about to topple over?
After that we went to Hong Island, where we all got into kayaks and had an expert boatman paddle us around through limestone caves and hidden lagoons. It was pretty cool to get up close and personal with that amazing scenery.
After Hong Island we stopped at Naka Island to go swimming. I definitely could have done without this part of the tour, as Naka Island wasn’t even picturesque enough for me to bother taking a single photo. All in all, it was a pretty decent day, but I would have been happy if I had just seen James Bond Island and then gone home.
Saving the Thai islands for the last part of my three-month trip was a great decision. I enjoyed them more than any other place I visited in Southeast Asia. It was with a heavy heart that I left Thailand and flew back home to reality. The three months that I spent in Southeast Asia were probably the best three months of my life, and I fully intend to find myself back in this magical corner of the world one day!