Since this was our first time in Thailand we wanted to see it all, from the big cities of Bangkok and Phuket, to some of the hundreds of islands in the country. In this post you will find tips on the 5 islands we visited: Koh Yao Yai, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan.
Koh Yao Yai
Koh Yao Yai was the first one we visited and it set a very nice standard. This is a fairly large island close to Phuket. We spent 3 nights there in the Hillside Resort which was beautiful! Our one bedroom villa had it’s own infinity pool and outdoor jacuzzi and shower! We would highly recommend this spot. The restaurant is really good, and they can do everything you want there like scooter rentals and massages (we did both).
If you’re a little nervous to try a scooter, this is a good island to practice on! They are so much cheaper to have for a full 24 hours than just one taxi ride. And this is a very quiet, undeveloped island so it is not too crowded with traffic. Most of the transportation you will see are other scooters. We went all the way from one end of the island to the other on the one main road and did some stops along the way, and it only took a little over an one hour.
The Thai massage we had there was organized through our hotel was amazing. It was the equivalent of about $15 USD and they come to your room for one hour! The Thai massage is a little different from a traditional oil massage. It involves more stretching and cracking of your back, fingers, etc. but feels great. Also, these ladies were so sweet, they even did a French braid in my hair after with flowers – so pretty!
As far as things to see on Koh Yao Yai- there isn’t too much. It’s definitely the island to choose if you want to get away from the tourists. There are lots of day boat trips you can take from there, but we just wanted to relax. Our advice: choose a nice hotel and take advantage of some down time.
Koh Phi Phi
The next island on our list was Koh Phi Phi, a very popular one. Unfortunately you can’t go straight there from Koh Yao Yai in the slow season so we went back to Phuket, went to a different pier close by, then took a 2 hour ferry from there. You can go for one day only, but we recommend at least a night. We stayed here 2 nights so we had one full day to explore. We stayed within walking distance of the pier at Panmanee Hotel. We would recommend this for a good price and good spot, but don’t expect anything too fancy or relaxing. This is definitely the party/active island.
We arrived in the afternoon and had lunch then did the hike up to the viewpoint. There are a lot of stairs but we definitely recommend this for great views!!
For dinner the first night we went to Acqua Restaurant and really liked it! Plus the happy hour drinks were only 80 baht ($2.40 USD)!! The second night we had dinner at the Grand PP Arcade and really liked that spot too. This island is so busy with tourists that there are a ton of restaurants and bars to choose from all within walking distance.
The next day we spent a full day tour doing the boat trip to the nearby islands. Yes this is very touristy but it was our first time here so we wanted to see it all! If you want a less crowded option, the early morning boat tours leave at 6:30am and are the least crowded. They also have evening tours that include the plankton viewing which we didn’t do but sound fun. We did an all day tour from 10am-5 and we saw monkey island, “The Beach” film location, shark cove (sorry no sharks), and many more gorgeous spots. We would definitely recommend this to get the most out of your day, but if you are prone to sea-sickness, make sure a take a pill before you go because it can get rocky!
We stayed for 4 full days on Koh Samui and we really enjoyed our time here! The hotel where we stayed was called Coco Palm Beach Resort. It was really nice for a good price, but it is not in the main town area if that is important to you. Taxi rides can be expensive, so renting a scooter all day is cheaper.
We spent one full day doing a Scuba dive excursion through Discovery Dive Center and we loved it! This was only our second time ever scuba diving, our first time was in Rarotonga, but it definitely convinced us to get certified! The boat took us out about an hour away from Koh Samui, to Koh Tao, another small island close by with diving. They also provided a delicious lunch, and plenty of drinks.
When we came back we decided to venture out for a fun night in the main town area, Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village. Here we had dinner at Smile House Resort Restaurant, outside on the sand. The atmosphere was great, but the food and service were average. The real highlight was going to Coco Tam’s after dinner. This fun bar has swings and giant cabanas for seating and really delicious (but pricey cocktails). The kiwi cocktail is sweet and yummy! Then around 9-10pm the free fire show will begin! Get there early for a good seat on a bean bag chair up front, you will be right in the middle of the action!
Then we also did a full scooter exploration day tour around the whole island! We went to see the Mueang waterfall where they’ve built a whole park around it with slides, zip lining and other attractions. They do have a zoo/elephant park at the entrance but do NOT go here bc the elephants are being ridden and treated very badly, including the small babies.
Then we went to see the classic Mummified Monk. It’s very unusual but fun to see and free!
Then we drove to see both the Big Buddha and the Chinese Buddha. Everything is about a 20 min scooter ride apart, but beware of torrential rain! We did a big loop around the island so it was great to be able to see so much of it! We also had a lovely dinner at a small restaurant by our hotel. Koh Samui has so much to offer, if you can only do one island, we’d definitely recommend visiting this one!
Koh Pha Ngan
The last island on our Thai island bucket list might be the most obvious one. Every month thousands of tourists visit Koh Pha Ngan to attend the Full Moon Party on the beach. Even though it is usually not our favorite scene, we knew we had to check it out to see what all the fuss is about. The island itself is really beautiful, and the main beach where the party happens, Haad Rin is a gorgeous long stretch of white sand with warm, shallow ocean water.
We rented a scooter here too and explored the island a bit. We only stayed here 2 days so we could experience the full moon party and then continue our Thailand exploration. The party was very fun and very crowded! If you’re reading other blogs about it you will likely find all the warning signs, but just in case here are some things to look out for. Make sure not to accept any drugs, these are often Thai police officers in disguise who will bribe you so you can stay out of jail. Beware of any drinks made for you where you cannot see what is added. And of course, beware of the fire jump rope!!
Other than that, we were happy we added this island to our list. Every night we had an amazing sunset. It really was the perfect Thai island to conclude our island hopping adventures. We hope you visit not just the big cities on your next trip to Thailand, but the small islands as well. What is your favorite Thai island? Tell us in the comments!