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I’ve been lucky enough to visit Thailand twice and on both those occasions, I have had the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful islands in the south of Thailand. The south islands are popular for those who enjoy partying (I’m talking about you full moon party!), like to relax on the tranquil beaches or enjoy watersports.
If you find yourself taking a trip to Thailand, then here is your guide to island hopping in Thailand, as well as my suggested route to take.
This is my actual route, and it’s how I am going to structure this post:
Bangkok > Hua Hin > Ko Samui > Ko Phangan > Koh Tao > Krabi> Phi Phi islands & Phuket.
I’ve started the route in Bangkok since the majority of people land in Bangkok then make their way down to the islands from there. One, because it's the cheapest airport to fly into on most occasions and two, some people like to spend a night or two discovering just how crazy Bangkok is! Your other options are to start in Phuket or fly directly to Koh Samui. The choice is yours.
It’s worth noting that it is possible to get a ‘direct bus and boat” combo ticket from Bangkok straight to Koh Samui from Ko Sahn road on a night bus, but I always think it's worth making your way to Hua Hin, since it’s a beautiful seaside city with opportunities to visit an elephant sanctuary (rescue centre- you can’t ride them, but you can clean them!), hike beautiful mountains and eat ridiculous amounts of food at the brilliant night market there.
Thankfully, Hua Hin is only 4 hours from Bangkok, which makes it the perfect destination to begin your island hopping itinerary in Thailand.
Depending on your party size, you could get a taxi (it should cost you around $40,) or get a local bus which is around £4-8 depending on what you go for. On my first time to Hua Hin, I opted for a taxi ride (it’s cheap when you’ve got a full car), but on my second trip, I went on the bus.
The bus leaves from the main bus terminal in Bangkok and you can easily get a cheap Grab or Tuk Tuk there. The ride was comfortable, took around 4-5 hours and we even got a free snack and a bottle of water.
You only need one or two nights in Hua Hin, but then it’s time for your journey to the Thai islands.
There are different options for getting to the islands with different companies, but I have always traveled with Lomprayah High-Speed Ferries, simply because they are safe, convenient and not the most expensive thing in the world. You can buy your tickets online right here.
As of 2019, there are still two options timewise. Departing at 08.30 am which will get you to the islands at 16.10 or an overnight bus option of 23.20 and you will arrive at the islands at 11.20 the next day. On both occasions, I have done the day option, and I would recommend it. (The buses are not built for sleeping on). Honestly the excitement of what’s awaiting for you in the Thai islands is enough to make the time go quicker.
You can choose whether you want to go to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. You can check out the different times and prices on their website, but it’s generally 1,400 baht.
Regardless of whether you go to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koa Tao, it’s all the same bus and boat, you will just be given a “coloured” sticker that will indicate what island you are heading too. You will take a bus journey and then head on the high-speed boat. Koh Samui is the furthest away so it will take the longest to get too. Be aware that if the sea is rough….you will be sick. But, we weren’t! Take some anti-sickness tablets an hour or so before you board and you should be fine.
I recommend starting in Koh Samui. It’s a beautiful island and the perfect place to rent out a moped and take a day to drive the full way around it. It only takes an hour. The seas are glorious and it’s also got some wonderful waterfalls to check out. We visited Na Mueang which requires a 30-minute hike in a forest before you find it...which FYI isn’t a great idea if it’s monsoon season and it’s raining like crazy…. it gets muddy extremely quickly and it’s suddenly freezing, so be prepared (I wasn’t).
There are other waterfalls including, Hin Lat, Khun Si, and others. You can even check out Big Buddha, but he may not be the biggest, depending on what other Buddhas you’ve seen!
Koh Samui is also great for another thing….partying! There are plenty of bars and clubs that offer themed nights, cheap drinks and lots of dancing and if you’re looking for a great place to stay then I can recommend Sirinsamui Boutique Hostel. It’s cheap, clean, high quality, amazing pool and it encourages interaction between guests, i.e get drunk and head out!
In order to get from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan, you just need to get the ferry. There are lots of ticket sales shops on the island that sell a variety of tickets for different choices and companies. You can go high speed (which will cost more, but always worth it in my opinion) or slow and steady (for the locals- cheaper but PACKED!) It’s about a 20 minute journey and it can cost as little as £6 quid. I would use get 12Go Asia to get an idea of prices and times.
Koh Phangan is a beautiful island, but it’s renowned for its full moon party held every month: 2020 dates are:
If you like to party then head to the full moon a couple of days before the party starts to celebrate the jungle experience party, “pre-moon” also held on the beach, and then, of course, full moon! There are plenty of other parties going on if you give it a quick google search.
If you don’t like to party, then Koh Phangan is still a beautiful place to visit and it's actually pretty quiet when the full moon & half moon party isn’t on and the perfect place for an escape. The most common areas occupied for the full moon are Haad rin (where it’s held) and Ban tai, so if you’re going during the full moon week, then avoid these areas and head to the north of the island for more peace.
Be aware that most hotels offer a 4-night minimum stay on the island, so some people opt to get the boat back over to Koh Samui once the party's over! It’s up to you, but you can check out my full guide to surviving the full moon party to help give you more advice.
Other than the full moon- Koh Phangan is the perfect place to relax, catch some sun, get a Thai massage, indulge in water sports, night markets, cooking classes and more.
Getting from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao is simple. There are lots of options, and you’re the best bet is to ask and search around book online. The ferry takes between 1 hours to 2 hours depending on what speed you choose.
So I’ve never actually stayed in Koh Tao, so I can’t give you specific experience on what to do there, but I have spoken to lots of people who have been and the one thing I keep getting told is that it is brilliant for its scuba diving and snorkelling. (Check out this awesome snorkelling tour)
So, if this is something you want to experience, then this is the island for you. It’s smaller than the other islands, so it’s perfect if you want to “escape.” If you have any tips on things to do in Koh Tao, then do comment them below! I kept running out of time to visit.
Also, be sure to check out this post to find out any snorkelling gear you might need!
This is another boat journey (I hope by now you don’t have sea sickness :P),but it also is a bus journey to drive you to the other side so you can check out the NEXT set of islands. This full journey will take around 7-9 hours and will cost around £24 pounds and upwards. You should book in advance online to take advantage of “super sales”, but if you’re being spontaneous and hopping as you go, then just look around for the best price.
Krabi is a wonderful place and many people opt to head to Railay beach, or to Krabi old town. I visited the former and it’s the perfect place to spend a day or two. You can stay on Railay beach or get a return finishing boat over for around 300-350 baht. It’s cheap to rent out kayaks and go around the caves, sunbathe, drink and eat or hike to the “secret lagoon”.
I did the lagoon, it’s an incline hike in MUD, just pure mud and it’s got dodgy ladders that have been built into the rocks which are falling apart that takes you to the lagoon. It’s a nice area, but it certainly wasn’t worth the walk. (I love hiking, this was just mud).
Krabi itself has lots of good shops and cheap massages, so if you want to pamper yourself, then you can do it here. Other than that, we didn’t stay long and it was onto Phi Phi!
Krabi is literally bursting with people selling boat tickets to everywhere, so you will have no issues finding a ticket. They do vary in price, however, so it’s worth walking up and down the street. You get a minivan to Krabi town, then a boat to Phi Phi.
When you get into the station to get your ticket validated, the guy or girl will ask you if you want to add on an onwards ticket to Phuket and it’s really cheap (like 4-5 quid): do it. They aren’t scamming you, it’s just easier and cheaper and they get you on their boat again! It’s more expensive to wait until you’re in Phi Phi and finding the boat from there. Plus it’s an open return/onward ticket, so you don’t have to leave after a night! The journey from Krabi to Phi Phi is around 2 hours.
These islands are well known because of two things: James Bond island (speaks for itself) and Phi Phi Leh, ie The Beach island, famous for featuring in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, the beach (which if you haven’t seen, is pretty great). From Phi Phi, you can take day trips out to these locations and they are just as serene and as beautiful as they are on tv.
Phi Phi itself is a small island, with one purpose...to party. I don’t see families on this island, nor do I think they’d have anywhere to escape to because it is PACKED with bars and drunk young adults. It’s cheap, cheery and worth one or two nights (depending on your party level). There is a bar in which two people can go into a boxing ring and fight each other for real...the winners get a bucket of cocktails...that pretty much describes Phi Phi :P
If you want to party hard, then this needs to be a stop on your island hopping in Thailand itinerary, it's not for those who want to sleep!
There is also a little hike you can do to the “viewing point” which will give you the beautiful images you see when you type Phi Phi into google. It’s lovely!
Phuket is the final part of our destination guide...since it has an airport :P The boat from Phi Phi to Phuket isn’t long, but when the seas are rough, you will be sick,I did and it was horrible. I entered the boat and the guy handed me a sick bag and I thought " I won't need this"...how wrong was I.
You do need to get a minivan from the terminal in Phuket to wherever in the island you wish to stay. Phuket is a “holiday” destination. It’s got beaches to sunbathe and parasail, jet ski etc, it’s got a strip of bars that rivals Bangkok's nightlife which goes by the name of “Bangla” walking street and if you are not comfortable with guys leering at you, or shouting “sex sex?” “ping-pong show” or half-naked Thai boys, then you may find it a little uncomfortable. If you like to party, then it's cheap and ready to go!
If you're looking for another great destination that I haven't yet been to myself, I recommend checking out this awesome post on Koh Lipe.
So there you have it! My guide to island hopping in Thailand! I hope you’ve found some of these tips useful and comment below we any other tips.
For help planning the rest of your Thailand adventure, be sure to read ...