Southern Thailand is gifted by the presence of an astonishing number of islands off its coasts. From tiny rocks to inhabitable larger pieces of land emerging from the surface of the Andaman Sea, islands – and above all, tropical islands – have always been perceived positively in our collective imagination. The sensation of freedom, escaping from the crowd, and exoticism are some of the reasons why tropical islands are so popular nowadays. Phuket – the largest island in Thailand – still offers the sensations mentioned above, but its fast development through the last 20 years undoubtedly made it lose some of its idyllic atmosphere; nevertheless, many smaller islands around Phuket still offer a real feeling of evasion from our modern world. Discover below the best islands around Phuket, each of which has its own personality and is certainly worth a visit if you come by Phuket.
1. Phi Phi Islands
Phi Phi Island is Thailand’s island-superstar. It’s been in the movies. It’s the topic of conversation for travelers all over Thailand. For some, it’s the only reason to touchdown in Phuket. Even with all the hype, it doesn’t disappoint. Phi Phi’s beauty is a large chunk of the allure. The islands, when approached by boat, rise from the sea like a fortress. Sheer cliffs tower overhead, then give way to beach-fronted jungle. It’s love at first sight. The second part of the why-we-love-this-place story is attitude: few places on the planet are this laid-back. Of the two islands located near Phuket and Krabi, one is completely free of human inhabitants (Phi Phi Leh), and the other is without roads (Phi Phi Don). There’s no schedule, no hustle-and-bustle, no reason to be in a hurry. Read More …
Similan Islands are located just 84 km northwest of the bustling crowds of Phuket. Koh Similan is one of the best-known island groups in the Andaman Sea, largely because of the wonders that wait beneath the clear blue waters that surround it. Generally counted among the 10 most interesting dive areas in the world, this little archipelago has also become a favourite destination for yachts and tour boats. “Similan” is derived from the Malay sembilan, and means “nine”. Each of the Similan Islands has a number as well as a name. These are, running from north to south: Koh Ba Ngu (No. 9), Similan (No. 8), Payu (No. 7), Miang (No. 4, No. 5 and, in some opinion, No. 6), Payan (No. 3), Payang (No. 2), and Hu Yong (No. 1). Hin Pousar, or “Elephant Head Rock”, is alternatively designated No. 6 by some. Koh Bon, lying 17 nautical miles north of Ba Ngu, is part of the Similan National Park and may be granted honorary status as No. 10. Please note that the Similan islands are officially open to the public from 15 October until 15 May, but dates may vary each year.
3. Racha Island
The Racha islands (or Raya Islands), some 12 km south of Phuket, are best known as excellent diving and snorkelling daytrip destinations. Racha Yai, however, is quickly developing into a place to stay on for a while with a number of bungalow and resort operations springing up in recent years. Racha Yai reveals itself in splendid fashion, with most arrivals landing onto a strip of fine white sand tucked deep into the long, U-shaped main bay, called Ao Tawan Tok or Ao Bungalow. The water here is clear and perfect for snorkelling, though the bay gets quite busy with visiting boats in the afternoons. Racha Yai is home to The Racha, a splendid geteway resort. The other large bay, Ao Siam, is a pretty place where lonely strolls in solitude are possible. Racha Noi is uninhabited and has no services or accommodation, but there’s some great diving in the area.
Coral Island, known locally as Koh Hae, is a beautiful getaway destination located three kilometres southeast of Phuket. The island features two main beaches, Long Beach and Banana Beach. It’s not called Coral Island for nothing; the snorkeling off Banana Beach is thrilling and if you go out far enough from Long Beach you will also have a lot to discover, at its impressive coral reef. At night this location is beautifully calm; by day it is quite busy with day trippers but peace and quiet can be found at the extremities of both beaches. Deck chairs and sun loungers can be rented and come free (at the resort) with the day tour. Both beaches feature a range of eateries ranging from rudimentary to buffet to impressive cuisine. Of course, Coral Island Resort includes lunch with their day tour but people who come with their own arrangements will have no problem finding a restaurant and toilet facilities.
5.Koh Yao Islands
Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai are a pair of large islands in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, equidistant to Phuket and the Krabi mainland. While the pace of development is accelerating on Koh Yao Noi in particular, the islands remain a quiet refuge that feels far removed from the crowds of Phuket. In 2002, Koh Yao Noi gained worldwide attention after receiving the World Legacy Award for Destination Stewardship from Conservation International and National Geographic Traveler magazine for the eco-friendly homestay programs offered by its local residents. Other activities available on the island include agricultural demonstrations (rubber and fishing), kayaking, hiking, snorkelling and swimming. Neither of the islands have banking facilities, but Internet service, restaurants and some shops can be found on Yao Noi, including a brand new 7-Eleven with a very powerful air-con, a good chance to cool down and get some sugary drinks and ice creams. So if you plan to stay over, remember to withdraw some cash money before you go, even though there are few opportunities to spend it! Note that the islanders are keen to preserve their traditional ways, so it’s important to respect the local culture by dressing modestly and refraining from drinking alcohol outside of the restaurants/resorts catering to visitors.
6.Koh Khai Island
Koh Khai Nok is a small island tucked away in Phang Nga Bay. It’s only 30 minutes or so away from the east coast of Phuket but ask anyone on the island if they’ve been there and you will probably draw a blank stare. Still, a hidden gem is sometimes all the more precious for being so and when we discovered a half day tour was going there we leapt at the opportunity to try it out. It’s a sunny morning at Royal Phuket Marina. Inside one of the side offices a large LCD TV shows previews of tours in Phang Nga Bay and the smell of fresh coffee wafts in the breeze. Souvenirs and candies are stacked high and above the cheerful din Cooper, our guide, informs us that it’s time to move out. We traipse past multi-million dollar cruising yachts, powerful speedboats and an antique wooden rice barge to our double-engine speedboat.