The islands off the coast of Southern Thailand are famous for a reason. From the pristine beauty of the crystal clear water, the untouched limestone islands, the peaceful private beaches, to the Scuba Diving and Snorkeling, the islands off Thailand really are worth your time, money and effort to get there. We’ve put together this comprehensive Thailand island hopping guide to help you plan your island hopping adventure. We have made sure to include everything you need to know: where to go, how to get there and how much it will cost. We have also included a budget breakdown, hostel recommendations, a few Thailand island travel tips, and some personal recommendations.
Which are the famous islands everyone talks about?
A beautiful island known for its famous snorkeling and diving sites.
A larger island perfect for families looking for all-inclusive resorts.
Koh Phi Phi
Quite possibly the most famous islands in Thailand. This is island featured in The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
(Photo Credit: hotels.com)
James Bond Island
A backpacker favorite. How can you not be in awe of the giant limestone formations?!
(Photo Credit: kkday.com)
A popular island to visit with the famous Long-tail boats.
Ko Poda Island
A breathtaking, secluded, crystal clear, untouched, and clean uninhabited island.
A very large island with many, many beaches to choose from.
Getting To & From All The Islands
Getting to Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, & Koh Samui
From Suratthani - From here you can catch any number of ferries from varying companies. You can buy ferry tickets in person in Suratthani or from the websites of the companies: Lomprayah, Seatran Discovery, or you can visit trusted 12go.Asia or Transport Co. for purchasing tickets to any of these islands, anywhere in Thailand.
*We took an overnight boat when we visited these islands. If you want a cheap travel/accommodation combo and a uniquely Thai experience, head to the dock around 19:00 to buy your overnight ticket to any of these islands.
There is also boat service to these islands from eachother. I.e. you can travel to Koh Tao or Koh Samui from Koh Phangan, or visa versa.
From Ko Samui Int'l Airport - Koh Samui Airport is the most convenient airport, with Bangkok Airways flying in over 40 times in a day from Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, Pattaya, Singapore, Penang, Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong. The last boat leaves for Koh Phangan from Big Buddha Pier at 6:30pm, so for flights arriving later than 5pm you may have to hire a private speedboat or stay in Koh Samui; during FMP there are boats all night from Samui 300 Baht per person.
From Bangkok - Most travel agencies will be able to sell an all-in-one ticket from Bangkok to Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, & Koh Samui which includes the bus and ferry ticket for about 650 Baht per person. The price is low because the journey takes all night and is the least comfortable way to travel. Buses depart from Bangkok at around 7pm, arriving early morning in Suratthani in time for the first ferry to the islands. Coming back, there are numerous ferries, but for the bus you will need to depart no later then 1pm. Usually a shuttle bus will drop passengers off in Suratthani to wait until about 7pm at which time the bus will depart to Bangkok.
Taken from www.kohphanganthailand.com
Getting to Phuket Island:
Via Phuket Int'l Airport - The third-busiest airport in Thailand - Phuket International Airport (HKT) is located in the northern part of Phuket Island, about 20km from the city center. It serves as a hub for Thai AirAsia with more than 50 flights from Asia, Oceania, the Middle East and Europe flying into HKT daily.
From Bangkok, Suratthani, or Krabi - Dozens of buses per day leave from these two cities, heading to Phuket. Because there are so many options, it is not necessary to buy tickets in advance as you can just walk into a bus terminal. However, if you are a planner, or are visiting during a Thai holiday, visit trusted 12go.Asia or Transport Co. for any ticketing needs.
Getting to Krabi/Ao Nang:
From Bangkok, Suratthani, or Phuket Island - Dozens of buses per day leave from these two cities, heading to Phuket. Because there are so many options, it is not necessary to buy tickets in advance as you can just walk into a bus terminal. However, if you are a planner, or are visiting during a Thai holiday, visit trusted 12go.Asia or Transport Co. for any ticketing needs.
*Getting to Ao Nang from Krabi, you can take the local bus every 10 minutes for 60 baht ($1.90).
*You can also a take a 15 passenger van from Krabi to Suratthani, every hour starting at 07:30 for only 180 baht ($5.75).
Staying in Ao Nang? Check out Pop-in Hostel for a relaxing and atmospheric stay just ten minutes from the beach.
Getting to Phi Phi and/or James Bond Island:
From Krabi/Ao Nang or Phuket - As these two islands are the most sought after by tourists, there are numerous boats from numerous companies that leave every hour. You can buy a one-way or round-trip ticket from any of these companies while in Krabi/Ao Nang, or Phuket. Or visit Go Koh Phi Phi or Transport Co. for boat schedules and ticketing needs.
Getting to Ko Poda, Chicken, and similar surrounding islands:
From Krabi/Ao Nang - While is Ao Nang, you will notice there are two ticketing offices (at either end of the beach) that handle all the ticketing to these islands. From here you can book whichever kind of 'tour' interests you the most. Additionally, you can rent your own long-tail boat and driver for as many hours as you'd like and create your own tour, or find a fisherman with a boat and offer him money to take you out on your own. There is a $10 national park fee you have to pay if going to any of these islands.
How To Choose Between
Koh Tao, Koh Samui, or Koh Phangan
Koh Samui (Samui Island) is a cosmopolitan melting pot, attracting budget travelers staying for a month or two in simple beach side bungalows, to the wealthiest holidaymakers dropping in for a weekend at one of the many luxury resort or villa on the many white sand beaches of Koh Samui. From the hustle and bustle of Chaweng Beach to the lively yet relaxed atmosphere of Lamai Beach to the timeless feel of Bophut's Fisherman's Village to the tropical beach paradise of Maenam, Koh Samui is unique among Thailand's islands in maintaining a broad appeal for everyone. This helps to give the distinctive relaxed atmosphere that sets it apart.
Read more at: www.kosamui.com
Koh Phangan, with an overall area of 167sqkm, is Thailand’s fifth biggest island. Predominantly made up of granite, Koh Pha Ngan almost unspoiled beauty is accented by a hilly, lush tropical jungle interior, many idyllic, long white-sand beaches and over 20 nearby dive sites. Phangan’s main claim to fame is largely due to its many Full Moon Party, ‘Black Moon’ and just about any other moon beach parties, with the Full Moon celebrations attracting from 10,000 to 30,000 revelers at New Year’s Eve.
Read more at: www.kosamui.com/ko-phangan/
Koh Tao – meaning ‘Turtle Island’ – lives up to its name, being the scuba diving destination of choice in Thailand. The perfect white-sand beaches which ring the hilly 21 km² island are surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The vibrant coral reefs there are home to a wide range of exciting and colorful sea creatures, including turtles, naturally. The choice of restaurants and nightlife establishments has also been constantly growing, to the point that there is now something for almost every taste. So far from civilization while still being relatively easily reached, it is the idyllic tropical island paradise.
Read more at: www.kosamui.com/koh-tao/
Thailand Island Tips & Tricks
Flying to the islands is more expensive than flying out of the islands. It is cheaper to fly north, out of the islands than it is to travel south to the islands. If you can, we recommend buying your airline ticket into Koh Samui or Phuket.
Koh Tao has amazing dive spots and cheap PADI certification. Costing around $400 for your diving PADI certification, this makes it an average of $100 less than a lot of other spots around the world. It may not be the cheapest in the world, but a good deal is a good deal and the diving here is totally worth it!
Phuket's Patong Beach sucks. Patong Beach is riddled with trash, a sad reality, and the ocean is full of unpredictable garbage. One lady came out of the ocean with a table knife she had stumbled upon while wading in high tide. There was a characteristic beauty about Patong, but it was hidden in the house boats, night markets, and ping-pong shows rather than the water or beach.
The 7/11 Ham & Cheese Toasties are more expensive on the islands than on mainland. You'll know what we mean when you're there. These are famous in the backpacking community.
Renting a moped in Thailand is easy but proceed with caution. Unfortunately there is a scam concerning foreigners renting motorbikes anywhere in the country. The scam: The company asks to hold your passport as collateral while you have their moped. When you bring it back, they accuse you of damaging the bike (they will show you dents, scratches or broken plastic that has always been there) and demand money for repairs. They will not give you your passport back until their demands are met. So, rent through a trusted company or directly through your hostel to ensure a scam-free experience.
Poda, Chicken, Phi Phi, and Bond islands have a National Park fee. This is a one-time $10 fee that you will pay upon your arrival at your first island destination. This ticket that you will receive is good for one-day only but includes all the islands. So pick a day, and hit as many islands as you can if island hopping on a budget.
There have been growing safety concerns over the last couple years about Koh Tao Island. Here is an interesting read about the safety of the island of Koh Tao from an expat who lived in Thailand for a few years. Here is another interesting article about the disappearances and homicides troubling the island, now dubbed "Death Island". Though we never saw anything like this happen when we were there, bad things can and do happen. It is important to educate yourself about the problems a country, city, or island is facing before traveling there.
Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan Island are a mess. Being one of the most sought after experiences by backpackers traveling Thailand, during a Full Moon, accommodation books-up rather fast and tickets for the ferries can also sell out. Plan in advance for your trip. If you want to visit this island but have no desire for an all-night party, check the full-moon schedule so you can enjoy the beaches and nightlife without a mass crowd of well over 1,000 people.
So What's It Going To Cost?
Food in Thailand is relatively cheap. Whether you are eating from street carts, having a 7/11 Ham and Cheese Toastie three times a day, or seeking out the fancier options, it will be hard to spend over $20/day. On average, we spent $8/day on three meals.
Yes please! On average, we spent $8/day on booze.
So many options everywhere you go. We choose to stay in some of the better rated, higher reviewed hostels, spending an average of about $8/night.
This can vary depending on where you book your boat trips from, where you want to go, and the company you choose to book with. We recommend waiting until you are in the the city you want to depart from before purchasing boat tickets. Anywhere you want to go (even the most popular Phi Phi Islands) have more than enough boats to accommodate every tourist. Ask around for prices, research reviews of companies on TripAdvisor and clarify with whomever you book with the details of your journey. If you want to head to Poda Chicken, or other similar islands off the coast of Ao Nang, see photo above. For Phi Phi and James Bond, we saw an average cost of about $13 one-way leaving from Phuket. Leaving from Suratthani for Koh Samui, Koh Tao, or Koh Phangan a one-way ticket cost about $10.
National Park Fee
This is a one-time $10 fee that you will pay upon your arrival at your first island destination. This ticket that you will receive is good for one-day only but includes all the islands. So pick a day, and hit as many islands as you can if island hopping on a budget.