As you venture south beyond Bangkok, you’ll come to the narrow peninsula that is southern Thailand. Known as the Kra Isthmus, the region extends for hundreds of miles – and hundreds of tropical islands (koh in the Thai language) lie offshore. The area to the east of Bangkok, along the Gulf of Thailand, also features a number of tourist spots worth a visit.
The islands featured below are some of the lesser-known destinations, but are at times some of the best choices for a get-away when you’re visiting Thailand. It’s a good idea to consult a detailed map when you’re planning your island holiday.
Koh Sichang (Chonburi)
This is the closest island to the capital city. Sichang island is located just off the coast of the Gulf east of Bangkok, and can be reached by a short ferry ride from Sri Racha Pier. The island has a long-standing connecting with Thai royalty, in that three of the former kings of the Chakri dynasty came here for their holidays. In particular, King Mongkut (Rama IV) was fond of the fresh, clean air here, which he felt contributed significantly to the longevity of the residents. A number of royal structures can be seen, as can an important Chinese temple.
Koh Kood (Trat)
This is found at the southernmost end of the Koh Chang grouping of islands, off the coast of Trat. This is the closest island to the border with Cambodia – and you might notice that many of the island’s residents are of Indochinese descent.
It will take a fair bit of effort for the independent traveller to find their way here as the boat connections aren’t as straightforward as getting to Koh Chang. However, the effort is sure to be worthwhile as the island is a veritable mountainous paradise, edged with beautiful, white sand beaches that lead to crystal-clear blue waters.
Koh Mun Nork (Rayong)
Not often visited by foreign visitors, but is a favourite among many residents of Bangkok who find it a great place for a romantic weekend getaway and also for throwing parties. Weddings and private raves are the range of events that might occur on any given weekend; but if you’d like the place to yourself, try heading out there on a weekday, and privacy is almost guaranteed. Boat services are readily available from Rayong to this lovely and inexpensive hideaway.
Koh Surin (Phangnga)
For years this completely unspoilt group of islands off the Phangnga coast was a refuge for small sea gypsy communities. Of the five main islands, two are sizable: northern Surint island and southern Surint, separated by around 650ft of shallow sea. In fact, at low tide you could walk from one to the other. The remaining three islands in the group are known as ‘rock’ islands, having little more than dwarf trees for vegetation.
Koh Similan (Phangnga)
Located close to the Burmese border to the north of Phuket, the Similan islands rank as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. In all there are nine islands, all densely forested, and edged with both beautiful sandy beaches and rocky outcrops. The islands themselves comprise Similan National Park, but it’s actually the undersea wonders here that attracts so many visitors each year. You’ll encounter hard coral reefs that slope from the eastern side of the islands, and also coral gardens in the more shallow waters off their shores. On the western side of the islands, the scenery is completely different – comprising swim-through caverns and huge granite boulders. Closed in the rainy season (mid-May to late October).
Koh Sukorn (Trang)
This is a tiny island off the coast of Trang that’s home to four small villages, and about as many cars. There are a few low-key resorts on the island, which provide a great retreat for anyone seeking some time away from the crowds of tourists that seem to find most of Thailand’s beautiful beach resorts. The beaches here are typically long stretches of dark sand, which you’ll most likely have to yourself. In addition, the spectacular sunsets and friendliness of the people who live here make this a top island destination.
Koh Bulon Lae (Satun)
This is a small Andaman island off the Satun coast that’s quite popular with holiday-makers who return year after year. A number of bungalow resorts form the main type of accommodation here, and are scattered all around the island. You’ll find lovely hills, both sandy and rocky beaches, mangrove forests – and excellent snorkelling opportunities. Snorkelling or touring around the island by boat must be arranged through one of the bungalow complexes, and you’ll need to hire a longtail boat for the day.
Koh Tarutao (Satun)
A group of more than 50 islands that remains pristine, wild and largely uninhabited. This national park is a sanctuary for animal life such as langurs, lemurs, macaques, monitor lizards, a number of dangerous snake varieties and more than 100 species of birds that still live undisturbed by the few humans that share the environment with them.
The diving is superb, with one of the highlights being the very diverse coral reef off the Adang-Rawi islands in the western part of the marine park. Fully one-fourth of the world’s species of fish – and many sea mammals – are found in this area, including: dugongs, dolphins, rays and sharks.