When it comes to beautiful beaches in southern Thailand, many people instantly think of Phuket, Krabi, Ko Phi Phi Le (where The beach turning is forever imprinted on the earth), or the general west side of the coast around there. The east side of the peninsula is less known but more adventurous. Here you will find three main islands – Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan – surrounded by many smaller islands.

The trick here is to hit each of the main three, spend the night there for a day or two, then do day trips to the smaller ones as you go. That’s right, we’re talking island hopping in an island hopping trip. For this reason, you may want to leave some wiggle room in your schedule for that last-minute desire to extend the trip and stay a bit longer.

Most travelers begin their trip by flying from Bangkok to Koh Samui, known as one of the most beautiful airports in the world. Without the occasional plane taking off, you would hardly recognize this oasis as an airport. A river runs through this open-air layout, which looks more like a quaint shopping mall with parks, swings, shops, Thai food stalls and beach bars where passengers can sit and enjoy their last Singha before returning home.

Once in Koh Samui, the island-hopping adventure begins, which is as laid back and easy as taking the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island or Seattle to Bainbridge Island, except for the obvious: you you are in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. world. You’d be surprised how much a quick 50-minute flight from Bangkok changes the landscape, as you enter an oasis where traffic lights are non-existent and Starbucks cups are replaced by fresh coconuts. Here’s what to do on each of the three islands.

Overlap Stone offers rewarding views. | Bangprikphoto/Shutterstock

Celebrate in Koh Samui

After being a ghost town for the past two years, Koh Samui’s “party district” Chaweng Beach has made a comeback. Although this area leans more towards a touristy vibe and backpacker culture, it’s great for enjoying drinks on the beach, listening to local DJs, and meeting other travelers who are here for both relaxation and exuberance. . You can post for free at most shoreline resorts if you buy a drink, enjoying your fresh fruit smoothies and cocktails in the floating daybeds on the beach.

Many places, like The Stay Chaweng Beach Resort, offer kayaks and SUP boards for rent, so you can bask in the blue water between intermittent siestas and mojitos. You’d be remiss if you didn’t treat yourself to the best Thai massage of your life (for only around US$7) at one of the pop-up tables that line the beach. At night, places like Ark Bar transform into seaside nightclubs with impressive fire shows.

Wat Plai Laem
The temple of Wat Plai Laem is an eye catcher. | Sandro Bisaro/Moment/Getty Images

For a more laid-back beach day, head north of the island to Maenam or Hat Mae Nam Beach. In this area, you’ll find laid-back tiki bars, the Fisherman’s Village, and a bustling night market. Fairy lights and music will draw you in as you browse stalls selling curries, handmade dumplings, fresh uni, mango sticky rice and even fried scorpion skewers if you’re feeling daring. The one you loaded up on the best dining experience on the island, reserve a bag of beans on the beach in front of Coco Tam’s. The two-story bar and restaurant features one of the most impressive DJ sets and fire shows on the island that boats line up to see.

While the beach is constantly calling your name on these islands, you won’t want to miss cultural landmarks like the Big Buddha Buddhist temples and Wat Plai Laem. And don’t leave without immersing yourself in the island’s jungle life with an ATV tour, a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary, a hike to Na Mueang Waterfall or Overlap Stone Viewpoint ( which is a steep walk and not for the faint-hearted), see cheeky rock formations nicknamed Grandpa and Grandma’s Rocks, and sneak up to hidden Crystal Bay Beach.

Koh Tao
Mounted on or under water in Koh Tao. | sittitap/Shutterstock

Scuba diving in Koh Tao

The next stop is Koh Tao, which is the smallest of the eastern islands of Thailand and is known for its world famous scuba diving spots. While lying on the beach may never get old for many of us, this island will immerse you in the depths of the ocean. Depending on the level of adventure you’re looking for, companies like Goodtime Adventures offer a plethora of activities ranging from snorkeling cruises to scuba diving. Sign up for one of their day trips, which will take you around the island (so you won’t have to arrange your own water taxi) and show you some of the most sought-after places to get closer to the underwater fauna.

The Snorkel Party cruise is perfect for those who want a relaxed atmosphere and a chance to explore Koh Tao under and above the water. Enjoy a day of snorkeling, swimming, laying on the top deck of the boat with an icy Leo, and a stopover on another island, Koh Nang Yuan, where you can laze on the beach or rock climb at the viewpoint for an incredible view of Koh Tao from the sea.

snorkeling in thailand
Feel like a mermaid in these waters. | good time thailand

Want to go further? The company, along with many others on the island, also offers introductory, advanced and open water scuba diving courses and day trips. Get certified (for a much better price than in the US) and swim among the most incredible fish and reefs in the world. And if that’s not daring enough, check out Shark Bay on the island to swim with baby sharks or a more remote spot like Tanote Bay, filled with rocks to spot hidden marine life or jump off cliffs.

If your sea legs aren’t up to snuff, that’s okay; there are also many entertaining activities on land. Climbing will take you to the top of the mountains of Koh Tao, or you can use the day in town to explore the windy lanes filled with local restaurants, surf shops and beach-side bars.

For a great meal, Sang Ka Koh Tao is a beloved family restaurant that offers delicious whole fish and Khao Soi (an appetizing northern Thai dish with noodles, coconut curry broth and juicy chicken ). But our favorite hidden gem was a food stand, up the street from the pier and across from 7/11 that cooked drool-worthy satay skewers. If you’ve eaten too many spicy Thai chilies or just want to add variety to your meals, Thaita offers amazing Italian cuisine, such as tortellini topped with prawns and calamari or blue cheese gnocchi. Places like Koppee and Natural High are great for enjoying the view with a coffee or cocktails, and an evening at Fish Bowl is a must for karaoke and partying alongside any tourist on the island.

Ko Pha Ngan
Koh Phangan has more than just a full moon party. | Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Escape to quieter parts of Koh Phangan

Before saying, Wait, isn’t this a well-known party island?— listen to us. Yes, Koh Phangan hosts the monthly Full Moon Party which takes place on Sunset Beach. And while you probably haven’t traveled the world drinking buckets of gin with backpackers and study board students, it’s definitely a sight to behold if you find yourself on the island for a . The nightly extravaganza consists of face painting, DJs, fire shows, dancing along the beach, and a unique sunrise, if you make it to the end.

But what many tourists don’t know about Koh Phangan is that the north coast is much quieter, filled with white sand beaches, beautiful rooftop restaurants, lush mountains, rocky cliffs and secret waterfalls. If you’re looking for respite from the party scene, visit the fishing village of Ao Chaloklum, the golden sands of Haad Khom (also known as Bottle Beach), the surrounding rainforests of Thong Nai Pan Beach and Secret Beach. A reservation at Tomorrow X High Life Villas is a must for rooftop dining, tropical cocktails, lounging in the infinity pool and catching an epic sunset.

full moon party
So many other islands to explore. | Boat trips in Phangan

And finally, like the others on this list, island hopping doesn’t stop once you reach your destination. Companies like Orion Boat Trips offer full-day trips that take you offshore to the famous islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park. One of Thailand’s national parks, this famous 42-island archipelago is teeming with wildlife, hidden caves, crystal-blue lagoons, and serves as the backdrop for several films, including James Bond Island from The man with the golden gun.

Orion’s local guides organize a fun day out with several stops for snorkeling, kayaking, a visit to Ta Le Nai Lagoon (known as Emerald Lake or Blue Lagoon) and a hike to the point of view of Wua Ta Lap, which offers a spectacular panoramic view of all the islands. Back on the boat, you’ll sample local cuisine and watch a breathtaking sunset from the upper deck on your way back.

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Abby Maddigan is the Social Media Manager at Thrillist, who recently moved to Denver and accepts all recommendations from local coffee shops. Follow her on instagram.

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