Known the world over for sun and fun, Thailand’s beaches (‘ao’) come in two varieties: the high-end beach resort and the rustic ‘village’ island (‘ko’), a distinction that has blurred towards the upmarket. Regardless, each burns bright in traveller lore, enticing visitors to come on beach-hopping binges.
1) Ko Phi-Phi
Phi-Phi is heartbreakingly beautiful, with flowing ribbons of cerulean sea massaging the craggy forested cliffs of the twin islands. It’s a famous resort playground for the well-to-do but backpackers can sneak into a few budget crevices.
A city by the sea, Phuket pioneered Thailand’s position in sun-worshipping circles. The island has all the mod-cons (an airport and bridge connections) for time-crunched travellers seeking 21st-centry rest and recreation.
3) Ko Samui
Eager to please, Samui is a civilised beach-resort island for the vacationing masses, who can fly in and out with hardly a care for cultural adaption. But beyond the Chaweng crowds are sleepy spots reminiscent of Samui’s old moniker, ‘Coconut Island’.
4) Ko Pha-Ngan
Be a hammock hanger at this bohemian beach retreat that’s still far away enough from modern towers to be idyllic. In one corner are the sloppy Full Moon parties, while the rest of the island remains peaceful and drowsy from sun-soaked days.
5) Ko Adang
Deep in southern reaches of the Andaman, this small island is known by most as merely a snorkelling spot, but wilderness seekers can pitch a tent or rent a longhouse to commune with nature.
6) Ko Tao
The dive-master’s island, Ko Tao is the cheapest spot around to strap on a tank and explore the deep. Little ‘Turley Island’ doesn’t have star-power sand but it does have scenic rocky coves filled with brightly coloured fish.
Sand and seas re not Krabi’s claim to fame. The limestone mountains that protrude out of the ocean are all the bait this coastal peninsula needs for novice and veteran rock climbers looking for a vertical scramble with stunning views.
8) Ko Lanta
The west coast of Lanta is a long expanse of sand once famous for its sleepy, hippie demeanour, now a rarity amongst the Andaman beaches. Times and tides have washed ashore a party scene but quite spots can still be found.
9) Khao Lak
One of the few mainland beaches, Khao Lak survived a beating from the 2004 tsunami and has since recovered its favoured reputation amongst accomplished divers. Popular live-aboards set off for the famous Suring and Similian dive sites.
10) Suring & Similian Islands National Marine Parks
Explore above and below the water at these two Andaman reserves, famous for clear seas, whale sharks and coral gardens. Live-aboard trips set out from the mainland, giving their crews plenty of time to explore the far-flung islands.
*Special Mention: Ko Samet
A wonderful little bohemian beach located just a two-hour drive south-east of Bangkok, this quaint island is the closest to Bangkok and definitely worth a visit. Otherwise, head further east till Ko Chang and Ko Khud, they are also very nice but require five or more hours of driving each way. Ko Samet has great bungalows available for as little as Bht 500 and the whole island is permeated with a laid-back and casual vide. You can get there by direct speed boat or local ferry from the mainland (Ban Phe).