Backpacking the Thai Islands – a quick guide to Thailand’s 15 most popular islands for backpackers
Backpacking the Thai Islands is so popular because Thailand holds some of the most popular tourist destinations and islands in South East Asia. It was independent backpackers and travelers that were backpacking the Thai islands in the 60s and 70s that really discovered the Islands and helped make Thailand the popular modern tourism destination it is today.
Thailand is surrounded with many beautiful islands, whether you’re looking for a place to relax and surround yourself with beauty whilst on holiday or vacation, or finding the best backpackers destination to party hard, we’ve got you covered with our quick Thai Islands guide for backpackers.
1. Phuket – Backpackers visit Patpong area for its nightlife
This popular and large island in the Andaman Sea is where you can find Thailand’s most renowned beaches and high-end seafront resorts. Phuket has smaller islands found offshore as it’s near mountainous and rain-forested lands.
Beyond the beaches, you can enjoy other Phuket attractions, such as exotic shows, a vibrant nightlife, museums, golf courses, monuments, shopping areas and more.
2. Ko Pha Ngan – The full moon party backpackers heaven
This island is known for its famous Full Moon Party, which is held every month at the world-famous beach Hat Rin. Not a wild party animal? You can still enjoy peace and quiet in the island’s secluded bays and inland jungles.
You can also enjoy motorbike tours and temple-hopping if you are feeling the need for a new adventure.
Located in Surat Thani Province, the island is part of the Samui Archipelago, and was featured in Alex Garland’s novel “The Beach.” The island was hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake in December 2004.
Even if you are not a wild party animal you can not really say you have been backpacking The Thai Islands until you have been to the full moon, you don’t have to drink, you can just dance!
3. Ko Si Chang – backpackers diving and nature destination
Ko Si Chang is not exactly beach island, but with the crystal clear waters, you can enjoy diving and snorkeling; or enjoy views of craggy coastlines.
Luckily Ko Si Chang is a small island off the Gulf of Thailand, making it a perfect destination for kayaking, although not always associated with backpacking the Thai Islands its certainly worth a visit especially if you are into your watersports.
You might also want to check out the remains of King Chulalongkorn’s summer retreat, significant temples, and shrines.
4. Ko Chang – Great for jungle exploring and backpackers ‘buckets’
Ko Chang is the second largest island after Phuket. Caled Ko Chang, or “Elephant Island,” it is located in Trat Province. The island is surrounded by a row of white sandy beaches and coves, dense rainforests, coral reefs, jungle-covered peaks, wildlife, waterfalls, and rivers; so it’s no wonder the island is a tourist paradise.
Here, you can also enjoy beer and bucket parties which are absolute must do’s when you are backpacking the Thai islands, after all, you can not say you have been backpacking until you have had a bucket!.
Ko Chang is very remote, and there are plenty of low-cost backpackers accommodations to choose from, so you can stay overnight. You can opt for the most modest beach hut or the most luxurious suite depending on your budget.
5. Ko Chang (Andaman Coast) – Romantic Backpackers Hangout
Yup, another island named Ko Chang, but instead this one is located on the Northern Andaman Coast in Southern Thailand. This small, quiet island is not exactly known for the beaches, but its tranquil vibe makes you want to sit back and relax.
The peaceful island is made up of dark-sand beaches, fine nature, and resorts. The island is perfect for private couples, families and super laid-back folks.
If you have picked up a new squeeze whilst you have been backpacking The Thai Islands and now want to see if they are suitable wife/husband or boyfriend/girlfriend material, a week on this island should be plenty enough for you to qualify them in or out of your potentials list.
6. Ko Phayam – Small intimate and authentic island for true backpackers
Here is another island known for its white-sand beaches and stunning coral reefs. Ko Phayam is kangaroo-shaped and inhabited by 500 people. It is the second largest Andaman Sea island, with two popular beaches: Ao Yai and Kao Kwai.
The Ko Phayam people make their living by growing coconut palms and rubber trees, crab, squid, prawn fishing, as well as cashew-and bean-growing.
This breathtaking and largely unexplored island is perfect for foreigners and some even stay for as long as half a year. If you think that backpacking the Thai Islands is more about finding the un-explored islands and less about quaffing buckets and full moon parties then this island should be for you.
7. Ko Jum – Relaxing chill out island with the best beach villas
Image courtesy of www.kohjum.com
Nestled between Ko Lanta and Krabi Town, the small island of Ko Jum has plenty of places for backpackers to explore. The island is another one of those sleepy, lazy, laid-back places; and is the best island to relax in a hammock or enjoy a book under a tree.
Ocean breezes are refreshingly cool, but there aren’t many activities here except for swimming, treks to Mount P and sightseeing. It’s important to note that this island is all about relaxation and not physical activities so if you are backpacking The Thai islands to seek adventure this may not be your best bet, if you want to hang like a sloth for a few days then you should head on over.
8. Ko Phi Phi – Leonardo di Caprios famous backpackers ‘beach’
Ko Phi Phi, a small archipelago of six islands in the Krabi Province located in Southern Thailand, is known to be one of the most accessible in the world. It was hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, but recovered and redeveloped.
If you’ve seen the movie “The Beach,” starring Leonardo di Caprio, it’s in Ko Phi Phi Leh, one of the small islands to the south where the filming it was done, this makes it a destination to hit if you are backpacking the Thai Islands and want to check off the authentic beach moment on your passport.
Meanwhile, the largest, Ko Phi Phi Don, is the inhabited island and the busiest—with restaurants, supermarkets and a variety of stores.
White coves and beaches can be found here with a busy nightlife that makes this island irresistible.
9. Ko Lanta Yai – Family backpacking destination
Ko Lanta Yai is another favorite island among tourists because of its shocking beauty; the sunset coast with white sandy beaches, mangroves, and rugged hills.
This island is the top choice for families because jet-skis and a busy nightlife is not entertained. While you won’t be able to find a party on the island, you can still enjoy a variety of activities here like snorkeling, cave-exploring, kayaking and trekking and of course you can grab a beer pretty much anywhere.
10. Ko Samet – Bangkok’s closest Island
Image courtesy of althaiman.ru
Ko Samet is a tiny, T-shaped island that is highly developed. The island is just 200km from Bangkok, so it’s definitely an oasis where you can escape to on a weekend.
The island has breathtakingly white, silky sand beaches and azure waters, with swaying coconut palms and samet (cajeput) trees in the background.
Because of the close proximity to the capital, and being a favorite getaway destination for locals and tourists alike, do not expect a quiet and private retreat, this makes it a great entry point if you are backpacking the Thai islands if so this is a handy first island to hit.
11. Ko Kood – Nature lovers Thai island
Untamed and widely undeveloped, the Island of Ko Kood, or Ko Kut, is known for its glittering white sand and stunning clear blue-green waters. Other areas include mangroves, palm groves, and virgin tropical rain forests.
It’s the fourth largest island in Thailand, and is located in Trat Province.
If you’re not much into nightlife or partying, and would rather relax and commune with nature, then Ko Kood is highly recommended.
12. Ko Ra – Eco warriors and green backpackers favorite
Image courtesy of www.crossingtravel.com
Ko Ra is a raw, underdeveloped island with only one place to stay for the night: the Ko Ra Ecolodge.
Drown in the untamed beauty of this island by exploring its freshwater streams, marshes, mangroves, seagrass beds, coral and rocky cliffs. Or explore its lowland tropical rainforest, virgin beaches and a variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife.
You can enjoy various adventures at the Ko Ra Ecolodge, such as kayaking and bird-watching. If you are backpacking the Thai Islands to enjoy nature and its hidden treasures then definitely go to Ko Ra.
13. Ko Tao – Backpackers diving island
Image courtesy of www.crossingtravel.com
Ko Tao— or commonly known as “Turtle Island” in English— is named because it’s shaped like a nose-diving turtle. This island, formerly a detention center for political prisoners, is off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand and is part of the archipelago of Chumphon.
If you’re a diver and you want to go backpacking the Thai Islands whilst keeping your PADI logbook stamps flowing then this is the best island to visit. T
here are hardly ever any currents, and the island is littered with dive sites, dive schools, and dive shops.
Kao Tao’s features also include secluded coves, beaches, dense forest, huge boulders and rough trails.
14. Ko Mak – Small unknown backpackers oasis nestled in azure blue waters
Ko Mak is another small island and is the more laid back and low-key of them all. The island is star-shaped and only has 400 people residing there.
The island includes powdery white-sand beaches where you can go snorkeling, kayaking or explore the island by renting a bike. Thai and Western restaurants are also found in the island.
If you need a rest from partying for a while then this is a great small and relaxing island for you to get your energy back.
15. Ko Kradan – The ultimate paradise Thai island for backpackers
Ko Kradan is the most remote and breathtaking island among the inhabited islands off Trang. The island lays between a thin strip of land, and includes a spectacular white-sanded beach flanked by steep, green hills.
The views from this island are stunning, so prepare to be mesmerized by gentle waves, rustling casuarina trees and a horizon painted with long-tail boats. One word that comes to mind? Paradise.
If you want to go backpacking the Thai Islands and really want to hold up somewhere for a while on a low key but active island where you have a few activities balanced with that quintessential island vibe then Ko Kradan is for you.
Helpful articles and blog posts for more information on Thailand and its islands.
We only recommend blogs that we read regularly and believe will deliver substantial value to our readers. The following is our top picks of current articles that we think can help you discover more of Thailand and/or Thai islands.
- Thailand: Which Thai island is right for you? – By Robert of Leave Your Daily Hell
- Ko Lanta: The Thai Island that remains paradise – By Nomadic Matt
- A guide to Thailand island hopping – by Friends of Rickshaw
- Thailand island hopping – by RussellAbroad
- Thailand travel tips – by Marek of IndieTraveller
- A quick guide to the best Thailand islands to explore – by Becki of Borders of Adventure
Do you have an awesome link to a relevant well-written article that should be included here? If so, hit us up on Twitter by following and messaging us the link. Looking for the best budget stays in Bangkok? Check out our guide to Bangkok for further information.
Other articles on our blog that may be of interest
- Stay safe (common scams in Thailand).
- Planning a trip to Cambodia, the country also has its share of beautiful islands
- Bangkok – Its best city center hotels and resorts
- Bangkok – The backpackers’ guide to Bangkok
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