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Where to Go In Thailand: Andaman or Gulf Islands?

Where To Go in Thailand?

Should You Choose Islands on the Andaman Sea or Gulf of Thailand? (or Both!)

Thailand has so many beautiful islands to choose from that it can be hard to narrow down which to visit first. If your trip is 10 days or less, I’d recommend picking two islands – any more and you’ll be rushing from island to island taking overcrowded catamarans and won’t leave enough time to relax. Plus Thailand’s islands are all quite varied and you’ll have plenty to explore and do on each, 3-4 days is the perfect time to allocate per island.

Andaman Coast or Gulf Islands


The first step to deciding where to visit in Thailand is to choose a coast. Thailand has two long coastlines – the Andaman coast islands, located on the outside of the Thai peninsula in the Andamen Sea (nearest Burma) and on the opposite side, the Gulf islands to the right of Thailand’s peninsula sheltered by Cambodia.

The Andaman coast is one of those postcard perfect turquoise fantasies where the beauty actually lives up to the hype – soft white sand beaches at Phuket, jagged limestone cliffs in Krabi, crystal blue waters at Ko Phi-Phi and karst climbing in Railay. Phuket is no ugly step sister – you’ll be hard pressed to find better diving in Ko Tao, more luxurious comfort than in Ko Samui or a crazier night of your life than at a wild moon party in Ko Pha-Ngan. The Andaman has more variety and perhaps the best seascapes in Thailand but the islands are spread farther apart and you’ll have to allocate time to move around. The southern Gulf islands (Tao, Samui and Pha-Ngan) are quite close together and Tao especially is THE place to learn to scuba dive.

When To Go to Thailand


Here’s a quick guide to the best times of the year to visit Thailand.

High Season (Nov – Mar) cool and dry temperatures create a lush landscape and manageable heat. This is the best time to visit the Andaman islands with sunny temperatures and clear diving conditions. Christmas and New Years brings terrible crowds and high prices.

Shoulder Season (Apr – Jun) Generally quite hot and dry in Bangkok but there’s a nice sea breeze for relief in the north and coastal areas. This is the best time to visit the Gulf islands.

Low Season (Jul – Oct) Both the Andaman and Gulf coasts take turns getting pummeled by heavy monsoon rains. Some islands shut down completely and boat service to and from the islands is limited.

Getting Around


You can fly from almost all major airports in the region by connecting through Bangkok. Ko Samui has its own airport with direct flights to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. For connection between the islands, buy a ticket to the Catamaran. You don’t need to buy before you go, but arrive about an hour before the ferry leaves to ensure you’ll get a ticket as they can sell out quickly in the high season. The boats themselves are huge and allow you take luggage on board, but can get topsy turvey on the journey.

Thailand Classic Gulf Islands


Ko Tao

Ko Tao is the scuba training island king, with the highest concentration of quality dive shops in one place creating the world’s easiest and most affordable spot to learn how to dive. The water is warm and gentle and the waters hold abundant coral reefs frequented by all sorts of fish to make for an excellent and exciting first time learning ground.

Chill out on a yacht and lounge on Tao’s beautiful beaches

Ko Pha-Ngan

Famous for the all out crazy sloppy fun Full Moon parties, Ko Pha-Ngan is a party pit stop for the wild backpacking crowd. What was once a sleepy bohemian paradise is now more commercialized, but hammock hangers can grab some peace and relaxation on the northern and eastern coasts and live out their modern castaway fantasies.

Want to party it up?

Koh Samui

Samui is for the luxury vacationers seeking to hop in and out of their paradise without bothering with any of the local culture. Chaweng, closest to the airport, is the liveliest section of the island with bars, restaurants and sandy beaches. For a secluded paradise, head around the island and stay in one of the many 5 star private villas carved into the cliffs – most come with your own infinity pool.

Experience the energy of southern Thailand and bask in the beachside sun.

Thailand’s Andaman Coast Islands


Hua Hin

Hua Hin was the ancient island getaway of Thai kings. You’ll find plenty of buddhist shrines, Thai culture and delicious Thai eats.

Relax on the deck of a yacht and swim and snorkel in Phi Phi’s quietest bays

Ko Lanta

Penetrate the interior of Ko Lanta to witness beautiful jungle scenery and Muslim fishing villages. Ban Lanta has artsy shops while Ko Lanta Marine National Park has gorgeous natural cafes and endless beaches to hop through. Nearby feeding stations for manta rays and whale sharks make this island a must for diving.

Railay

Railay’s rock climbing scene is legendary, with over 500 routes of limestone walls overlooking crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches. Climbing beginners have nothing to fear while seasone pros will want to try deep water soloing, where the climb ends with a splash into the waves.

Experience the energy of southern Thailand and bask in the beachside sun.

Ko Phi Phi

Perhaps Thailand’s most famous spot, this iconic island will live up to all the hype. Stunning turquoise waters, gorgeous beaches and beautiful limestone cliffs make it a paradise for all water sports – diving, snorkeling, even rock climbing. When the sun goes down, the party starts. Tons of bars all over the island and perfect for those seeking sunshine and nightlife.

Relax on the deck of a yacht and swim and snorkel in Phi Phi’s quietest bays

Khao Lak Similan Islands

For the dive enthusiasts, take a liveaboard (that’s a boat where you dive and sleep on board) from Khao Lak and head out to the Surin and Similan Islands Marine National Park to dive all day. Head all the way north to Richelieu Rock to see the manta ray and whale shark feeding grounds.

Another island on the Andaman side worth checking out is Koh Lipe.

Phuket

Luxury in Phuket is all about extreme pampering. A mirror sister to Samui on the opposite coast, you can also dive, hike, kayak and enjoy the waves.

Day trip to James Bond island and see the famous Simon’s Ladyboy Cabaret

For my Thailand trip in June, we stuck to the Gulf islands as the weather is best on that side. We visited Koh Samui and Ko Tao and had an amazing time. For a guide to the best of Thailand, you can check out my two week itinerary here.

I get a lot of questions about visiting Southeast Asia on a budget – a great guide to fund your travels is here!

Did I miss your favorite Thai island? Let me know in the comments below!

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HanhMarch 17, 2016 - 6:39 am

Ahh this takes me back to my trip to Thailand :) We traveled around Phuket and Kho Phi Phi. Would love to go go back and explore more around Koh Sumai and Krabi. xx

JoyceMarch 17, 2016 - 9:17 pm

This makes me miss Thailand so much…I can’t believe it’s already been almost 2 years since my trip there! I have to go back soon and will be bookmarking these guides for next time…thanks for sharing :D

Characters & Carry-ons

ElizabethMarch 18, 2016 - 2:02 pm

Ah Thailand :( has always been on my to go list but haven’t got the chance to go :((((

http://www.elizabethangelia.blogspot.com

Svet DimitrovMarch 19, 2016 - 6:01 am

I would love to visit all, but most probably Phi Phi. Looks absolutely divine with that climbing shot!

DominicMarch 20, 2016 - 5:50 am

I loved reading this and it has brought back great memories. I’ve been to Koh Phi Phi, Phuket and Railay. Next on the list is Koh Lanta and Koh Tao. Thanks for sharing.

SherMarch 20, 2016 - 11:57 am

Hey Svet – hope you get a chance to go! the islands are really something else

SherMarch 20, 2016 - 11:59 am

Thanks for the kind words Dominic! It seems like most people get a chance to visit one side of the coast or the other, and I’m definitely hoping to go back to see more islands myself!

SherMarch 20, 2016 - 12:05 pm

Hi Elizabeth – I hope you get a chance to go!! It’s so worth it, i had an amazing time and would go back in a heartbeat

nonsoloamoreMarch 20, 2016 - 2:59 pm

So interesting! But the pictures are absolutely stunning

[…] Andaman or Gulf Coast: Choosing the Best Thai Islands […]

SueSeptember 7, 2016 - 5:08 pm

Ah! Brings me back to great times on Koh Lanta and Similan islands! Thanks for sharing. Thailand is all about the genuinely friendly helpful people

ShaniSeptember 17, 2016 - 7:09 am

Hi,

Great read, thanks!

I’m planning a honeymoon trip to Thailand on the middle of Octoberand only have 10 days. I want to visit the islands and can’t decide which one’s to choose.
Please help! where do I get a better chance of good weather?

Thanks!!

SherSeptember 17, 2016 - 9:10 am

Hi Shani – unfortunately October is a bit of a difficult month for the islands, as it`s the end of the wet season on the Andaman coast side & the beginning on the Gulf side. have you booked your hotels yet? i would consider heading up north instead, chiang mai and chiang rai have some really gorgeous luxury retreats with views of the rice paddies, forrests, etc. you could do more of a jungle retreat honeymoon (think glamping) as opposed to a rain, wet beach one.

MyrtleOctober 6, 2016 - 6:49 am

Thank you so much for all of the tips and info you shared here – really helps!

[…] for more ideas on which Thai islands to visit? Krabi was another that I was hoping to get to but couldn’t fit in my itinerary. Check out […]

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