Do you also dream of island vacations with wide sandy beaches, turquoise waters and exotic cocktails? On my last trip, I more than fulfilled this dream by island hopping in Thailand through the southern Andaman Sea and the Trang Islands. I’ll tell you here which islands I particularly liked and which island is still a real insider tip.
- Island hopping in Thailand: From Krabi from island to island
- Ko Siboya
- Koh Jum
- Koh Mook
- Koh Ngai
- Koh Kradan
- Koh Lanta
- Koh Phi Phi
- Helpful tips for island hopping in Thailand
Island hopping in Thailand: From Krabi from island to island
Krabi is the perfect starting point for island hopping. From Bangkok, you’ll land in a fairly unexciting Thai coastal town after a good hour’s flight, but it’s also worth a little stop. Many vacationers even spend their entire Thailand stay here, because just outside is the popular Ao Nang Beach with many hotels and tourist infrastructure. The party crowd tends to stick to Railay Beach, a stretch of beach enclosed by high karst cliffs with a small town that can only be reached by boat.
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Krabi Town, the town itself, is less crowded, but if you have to make a stopover here, e.g. because the plane landed so late and the last boat has already departed, you can relax, for example, in great cafes, with a climb on the Tiger Cave Temple or a stroll over the atmospheric Night Market pass the time.
Tip: Organize your own excursion to Tiger Cave Temple or join a tour*.
“How many times have you been to Siboya?” my cab driver asks me curiously, and it seems like this is the standard question for all tourists heading there. The island Ko Siboya is namely unbelievably still like a black spot on the tourist map around Krabi. Either you don’t know the island at all, or once you’ve discovered it for yourself, you’ll keep coming back.
And indeed, in the only little-visited resort on the island, you will find almost only repeat offenders, from older Thailand veterans, some of whom have even built their own cottage on the grounds of the complex, to individual tourists who have been stranded here at some point and have become accustomed to the Charm of sweet idleness succumbed on the edge of civilization. In any case, I was very surprised that this insider tip in Thailand has not yet spread!
Must-do: plunge into the sea right in front of the resort at high tide at noon, explore the island by scooter or on foot, and sip iced tea with the locals at the roadside.
Tip: SiBoya Bungalows*, the only resort on the island
Koh Jum (also called Ko Jum or Ko Pu) used to be known more as a pure backpacker island. Most visitors who still know the island from that time rave about the simplicity and authentic island life of that time, when there were not even paved roads. In the meantime, this has changed a bit, the main road across the entire island is well passable, more expensive resorts are now also here – but the village charm has still been preserved Koh Jum.
Must-Do: Get infected by Mr. Boy’s good humor at the quirky pier restaurant & lose yourself in a walk on the endless beaches
Tip: Luboa Hut*, a Tiny House in the middle of the jungle & cozy coffee shop right outside the door
Advertising / *affiliate links
On Koh Mook, you can still find the authentic, rural Thailand. Unlike Koh Jum, however, Koh Mook is a bit livelier and even has a small shopping area in the main village. Somehow the whole island is terribly charming and the locals are really warm. Although Western tourists are no longer a rarity here, you are greeted with a smile at almost every corner when you pass the simple residential houses or whiz along the partly still unpaved streets on a scooter cab.
Koh Mook unfortunately has problems like many other islands: waste and sewage are a problem that is noticeable once you turn your gaze in other directions. However, Koh Mook has one of the most impressive beaches in the region, Sivalai Beach, and if you want to distract yourself a bit, just book yourself into the Sivalai Beach Resort* for a few nights in a cottage right on the white dream beach and let yourself be pampered.
On Koh Ngai I stayed longer than planned, because the island is just too beautiful! Apart from snorkeling and lazing around on the beach, there’s not really anything to do, but that’s exactly what makes Koh Ngai so special. Here you can really relax and just enjoy the nature around you.
Every evening hornbills gather in the high trees directly at the beach, cicadas screech and even a small gecko got lost in my toilet bag once. Not to mention the underwater world right on your doorstep: On Koh Ngai, you can snorkel right from the beach.
Tip: Coco Cottage*
Once voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand by the British newspaper “The Guardian”, the dream beach of Koh Kradan is an absolute island paradise. Similar to Koh Ngai, everything here is concentrated on one beach, and leisure activities are limited to snorkeling, basking in the sun, or simply staring at the unreal panorama.
Unfortunately, the island’s enjoyment is somewhat dampened by the invading day tourists, whereby Koh Kradan is even more popular than Koh Ngai. Basically, I would recommend spending at least one night on the island here as well; but if you have to choose between Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai, I would personally choose the quieter Koh Ngai.
Tip: Kradan Beach Resort*
Are you looking for arelaxed atmosphere, a bit of nature and reggae vibes, then you should check out Koh Lanta. Koh Lanta is also well connected to the nearby mainland with several ferry services, so it’s a good option if you don’t want to do quite as much boating or have less time.
Koh Lanta is especially popular with Swedish families, but curiously also with cannabis lovers, even before legalization in Thailand. The long beaches are dotted with laid-back reggae bars.
Koh Phi Phi
One of Thailand’s most popular islands should not go unmentioned here: Next to Koh Lipe, Koh Phi Phi is one of the big tourist hotspots. Unfortunately, the island itself is all the smaller, and is overrun with tourists, especially after Maya Bay, located on the neighboring island of Ko Phi Phi Leh, rose to fame through the film adaptation of the novel “The Beach”.
I think Koh Phi Phi is beautiful, of course, but I personally don’t want to see the negative effects of the overflowing tourism on the island, so a short visit was enough for me. But if you’re in the area for the first time, you might want to take a side trip to Koh Phi Phi as well.
Just don’t expect a lonely dream island! The density of 7Elevens (the almost ubiquitous chain of small convenience stores in Thailand is always a good gauge) is shockingly high, and you sometimes can’t see the beach at night because of all the fire shows.
Tip: You can also book day trips to Koh Phi Phi*, for example from Krabi or Phuket.
Helpful tips for island hopping in Thailand
When is the best time to travel to Thailand’s islands?
When is the best time to travel in Thailand to hop from island to island depends first of all on which region you are staying. You should avoid the rainy season with monsoon-like rainfalls. The ferry and boat connections are then severely limited anyway, and squatting on a small island in the constant rain (if you get there at all) is no fun. In the Gulf of Thailand, where for example the islands of Koh Phangan, Ko Tao and Koh Samui are located, the rainy season is somewhat shorter and lasts only from about October to December.
The best time to visit the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand is from around December to April, although it gets hotter from March/April onwards. In addition, the speedboats that connect most of the islands from Phuket through Koh Lanta down to Koh Lipe only operate from November to April due to weather conditions.
How do I get from island to island?
During the peak tourist season, the best way to get from island to island is by speedboats, which usually transport only tourists. For less developed islands such as Ko Siboya, you simply travel like the locals with longtail boats or slightly larger boats, which transport pretty much everything you need on the island. This is much cheaper and also a little more exciting!
You can book tickets for the speedboats in advance on 12go.asia*(then I’m glad you support this blog with your booking!), but also on the spot as needed. Most accommodations also sell tickets for ferries, speedboats, buses and intercity transfers. Also, on islands with a bit of tourist infrastructure like Koh Jum or Koh Mook, you can find small travel agencies where you can book everything.
Which boat providers are safe?
Popular boat companies in the southern Andaman Sea are Bundhaya, Satun Pakbara, Phuketferry or Tigerlinetravel. Many ticket sellers do not work with Tigerlinetravel, because this provider has a very bad reputation for punctuality, but I could not notice any significant difference on my trip. Everyone was a little unpunctual at times, whether due to the weather or unplanned stops along the way.
In any case, everyone is well organized, even if it looks like chaos at first. Transferring to other boats always goes smoothly; Koh Lanta often serves as a sort of hub, and from some small islands you first have to take a longtail boat to the speedboat and then transfer somewhat adventurously on the water. Luggage is always loaded by the crew (as is so often the case when traveling in Southeast Asia, backpacks are much more practical here) and unloaded again when disembarking. For my camera equipment I had an additional small suitcase with me, which was always treated with special care when I let them know – really great.
However, it is better not to insist on German safety standards. The speedboats are filled to capacity in the high season. Once I bought my ticket online, so I didn’t have a paper ticket to exchange at the pier for the obligatory sticker with my destination on it. So no one really checked, and every time questions came up, I pointed out that I bought my ticket online and then everything was okay. However, I still had the impression that I somehow stowed away with the online ticket, because the speedboat was hopelessly crowded and other passengers and I had to stand partly on the narrow boat.
How to best survive the speedboat ride
Unfortunately, island hopping in Thailand is often imagined to be more romantic than it really is. The speedboats take you relatively fast from one small island to another, but the rides are not pleasant. On the one hand, you sit so low that you have nothing of the beautiful panorama outside with the many small islands and karst rocks jutting out of the water, and on the other hand, the volume of the engines is deafening. And the stench of diesel doesn’t make it any better. In somewhat rougher seas, it can also rock from time to time.
So if you get seasick quickly, better take some travel tablets and for the really bad case also a spit bag (there is nowhere on board). Don’t drive with a hangover or an empty or too full stomach. I don’t get seasick quite as quickly, thankfully, but I’m pretty sensitive to noise when it comes to engines, and was more than once grateful for my earplugs, which were always floating around somewhere in my purse. It’s also helpful to have music on your ears, so make sure you have headphones and a charged cell phone (mobile network is unbelievably available even on the water, the network coverage in Thailand is simply a dream. I recommend you to get a SIM card for your stay in Thailand anyway).
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Alternative: charter longtail boat
An alternative may be to charter a smaller longtail boat yourself. With a larger group or family, this can be worthwhile, especially since you can then decide for yourself when you want to go. Maybe you’ll find some other travelers who want to go! Just talk to the people at your accommodation or ask at the pier or travel agencies. By the way, you can also charter longtail boats for local excursions, e.g. to beautiful places for snorkeling. In busy places, this can be an advantage if you want to avoid larger outing groups!
What do I need to take with me
On some of the islands mentioned, such as Koh Ngai or Koh Kradan, there is really nothing except the resorts. Some facilities have small sales corners where you can find necessities like toothpaste, cookies or mosquito repellent. However, it’s better if you bring everything you need. Equipment for snorkeling can be rented everywhere. There are no ATMs even on larger islands like Koh Jum, but you can change money in many small stores or get cash on presentation of your credit card. However, you will be charged a fee of approximately 6% for this.
In most resorts on the smaller islands like Koh Ngai or Koh Kradan you can also only pay with cash; even if you book online in advance. In exceptional cases, credit cards are also accepted, but this requires more effort and prior notification – someone must then come specifically or be informed. Cash payments are simply easier. So it’s best to remember to withdraw enough cash while you’re still on the mainland. I always use my DKB credit card for this purpose, which is relatively inexpensive and hassle-free at any ATM worldwide.
How much time do I have to plan for island hopping in Thailand?
In general, Thailand has super many beautiful islands. You will hardly succeed in seeing all of them on one trip. I also advise you to focus on a single region. For example, if you want to see Koh Phi Phi and at the same time Koh Phangan, which is off the other side of the country, you will spend quite a bit of time on buses, at best on planes to Koh Samui, and on ferries. Especially if you only have 2-3 weeks, this is rather counterproductive.
Smaller islands like Koh Ngai or Koh Kradan can also be visited by day trip. Of course, this has less Robinson Crusoe vibes in a large group, but it might be more practical to have a base on an island like Koh Lanta for a few days longer.
But two weeks are the absolute minimum – also because a direct long-haul flight to Bangkok or Phuket from Germany already takes over 10 hours. And maybe you want to see Bangkok for a few days? (Here you can find my tips for Bangkok.) In any case, the more time you have, the better!
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