Unlike most travelers who hit Bangkok first on their trip to Thailand, Mark and I skipped the big city and flew straight to Thailand’s renowned islands and idyllic beach towns. Escaping winter to chase hot weather was the best decision we made in the middle of December.

Our island escapade led to two straight months of living in our swimsuits. Not bad for our first time in Thailand! We stayed in various popular beaches of Phuket and Krabi provinces. Each beach had its own noteworthy qualities, making them all unique from each other.

Here are the islands and beaches we visited and what we thought was best about them, as well as some others that are on our list for next time:

Ko Phi Phi in Thailand

THAI ISLANDS

BEST FOR BACKPACKERS — KO PHI PHI DON

We spent a few days on Ko Phi Phi Don and found ourselves in the busiest backpacker party town we’ve been in. On the outskirts of Ko Phi Phi are very nice secluded resorts on more private beaches, but we stayed in the downtown village, which was loud with clubs and bars. The daytime was nice for going to the beach where it was quiet since jet skis and parasailing aren’t allowed. In the evening, there are entertaining fire dancing shows all along the beach. We recommend hiking to the viewpoint, which has a great view of the strip of land connecting the island. Ko Phi Phi is the best place for backpackers who like to watch other backpackers box each other at the Reggae Bar, witness drunk people in the daytime, and most likely get flashed.

BEST SNORKELING — KO PHI PHI LEH

This is where the popular film, The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. It is part of national conservation area so there are no places to stay here. Although we heard a rumor that they were building cottages there for future stays. From Ko Phi Phi Don we took the afternoon longtail boat tour which promised less crowds at Maya Bay. There were still quite a number of people when we arrived, but it wasn’t overwhelming. What we actually enjoyed most on the tour was snorkeling in another bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh. We swam right next to some great sea life such as colorful Rainbow Parrot Fish, Yellow Box Fish, Needle Fish, purple coral and more. In the evening we were taken back near Ko Phi Phi Don and as soon as it was completely dark. Our movement in the water would light up the plankton and also created small electric shocks. It wasn’t as bright (or romantic) as shown in The Beach, but still pretty cool.

James Bond Island in Thailand

MOST PHOTOGENIC — JAMES BOND ISLAND

The infamous James Bond Island was one that I had seen on Pinterest so often that I just had to go and see it in person. Besides being a star on Pinterest, it’s also known for its iconic backdrop in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun. This was the most photogenic island because you can’t go wrong with the unusual lone rock spire jutting out of the water. Unfortunately, this was also the smallest island we visited and was crowded with hundreds of tourists and long tail boats. Most everyone there was on a tour, so were just sightseeing for a quick visit and not actually swimming or laying out at the beach. Despite the crowds, it was still lovely to see and take pictures of such an iconic rock formation.

CLEAREST WATER — RAYA ISLAND

The clearest water we’ve seen on this entire trip was at Raya Island, a 30-minute speed boat ride away from Phuket. It’s perfectly white beach was quaint with plenty of sea life to be seen in the clear water. We snorkeled about a few hundred feet from the beach and saw a lot of fish as well as some jellyfish! Our tour guide said they weren’t a problem, but Mark ended up with a few small stings on his knee. They went away within an hour or so, so it wasn’t a big deal. We also noticed a lot of divers in this area, so that’s something we might try if we come back. We were here for just the day, but saw that there were plenty of places to stay overnight that we wouldn’t trying out in the future.

BEST SMALL ISLAND — CORAL ISLAND

Coral Island is just a 10-minute speed boat ride away from Phuket. As far as we saw the island features just one long stretch of beach with a lot of activities going on such as parasailing. Mark and I opted for the snorkel gear again and saw sea urchins, large needle fish, and colorful fish. Many bungalows line the beach that would make for a lovely stay on a small island. This is the best small island for those looking for a quick escape from the crowded Phuket beaches, but still have access to the various beach activities.

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

THAI BEACHES

MOST WESTERN — PATONG BEACH

There’s a reason why we chose to live in Patong Beach for a month. It was the most western town we’ve been in Asia so far, yet provided cheap prices and a great beach. A mix of home comfort was just what we were looking for at that time. Patong Beach features a long stretch of white sandy beach, great for swimming, jet skiing, and parasailing. Part of the beach is next to the road and the lively part of Bangla Road. There are other nearby sections with resorts and restaurants blocking the road, making for a quiet atmosphere at the beach. At Patong Beach we saw lots of crabs, needlefish, and small clear fish. The water was usually calm, but there were a few days where large waves were crashing that we enjoyed playing in.

PRETTIEST BEACH — AO NANG BEACH

Located in the Krabi Province, Ao Nang was a small beach that looks like the typical Thai beaches we’d imagined with tall cliffs and palm trees. We spent New Year’s Eve here, which was really lovely with $6 hour-long massages, setting off sky lanterns and watching fireworks shot off along the beach. Ao Nang is a small town with a main street leading towards the beach that is lively with shops, restaurants and massage parlors.

BEST SEASHELLS — KLONG MUONG BEACH

Klong Muong Beach is north of Ao Nang where we stayed in a bungalow at Pine Bungalow on a secluded beach. The water was kind of murky, not the typical clear Thai water, but it was still nice to swim in. The beach is also not the traditional white smooth beach, but was full of seashells…really amazing seashells. It was really fun to search up and down the beach for the best seashells. We ended up with quite the collection of beautiful, colorful seashells that we couldn’t help but keep to bring home with us!

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

OTHER ISLANDS & BEACHES WORTH MENTIONING

We didn’t get to these ones, but heard they are lovely as well and are on our list for the next time we visit Thailand: Ko Lanta, Chicken Island, Hong Islands, Ko Poda, Railay Beach in Krabi, Ko Samui, Phah-Ngan, and Ko Tao.

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