It's hard to imagine a more dreamy holiday destination than Thailand. Stunning beaches, turquoise seas, beautiful azure skies, swaying palms, delicious freshly-caught seafood, peaceful welcoming people, pampering massages – the list goes on.
The Andaman Sea off the west coast and the Gulf of Thailand to the east of the mainland lay claim to some of the world's most idyllic tropical isles. And there's an island for everyone, whether you're a beach bum, lovebird, pleasure seeker or nature lover.
Even Thailand's most developed islands retain pockets of pure paradise. Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Phuket remain popular with travellers of all tastes and budgets for very good reason. But if you are on the hunt for a piece of unspoilt Thailand, then these five idyllic islands need to be on your itinerary.
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Koh Phra Thong
Set in the Andaman Sea around four hours from Phuket in southern Thailand, gorgeous Golden Buddha Island offers some of the world's best snorkelling and scuba diving. In the surrounding waters, nearby Richelieu Rock and the Surin Islands you'll find manta rays, whale sharks, coral, anemones and sea turtles among thousands of tropical fish.
Tourist tat is nowhere to be seen on kilometre after kilometre of deserted white sandy beach (where turtles nest as part of a conservation project). This undiscovered island with its unique savannah interior is home to an array of wildlife including tropical birds, monitor lizards and flying foxes – and Thai people going about their traditional fishing business.
Stay in beach huts and bungalows at one of three modest resorts including an eco lodge, or splash out at the luxurious Golden Buddha Beach Resort.
Koh Lanta Yai is the quieter, more genuine version of neighbouring showstopper Koh Phi Phi in the Andaman Sea, close to Krabi. As you would expect, the snorkelling and scuba diving are fantastic, as are the legendary sunsets. The pristine white sands are refreshingly uncrowded, and the island attracts an older, less raucous traveller than its partying neighbour.
Why not blow your budget on the gloriously indulgent grown-ups only Layana Resort & Spa for a taste of Thai hospitality and culture with an extravagant twist. Pack your finest swimwear and, if you're planning to use the onboard fitness centre, make sure you have your gym kit too.
A short speedboat trip from Koh Lanta are little-known natural beauties Koh Rok Nok and Nai – twin islands with an amazing coral reef that's perfect for snorkelling. Part of Mu Koh Lanta National Park, there are no private businesses here, just a park ranger and a campground. It's all about the nature.
Heavenly palm-fringed beaches with calm and shallow waters anyone? Maybe a spot of diving or snorkelling followed by some home-cooked seafood served fresh from an old beach shack? Or perhaps a kayak to explore the many hidden coves and tiny islands surrounding Koh Mak is in order.
This is the country's largest privately owned island, sitting in the Mu Koh Chang National Marine Park in the Gulf of Thailand, not far from the Cambodian border. It's quiet and family-friendly, with a good choice of low-key resorts and dive schools – which happily co-exist with the Thai community centred around fishing and rubber plantations.
Stay at the Koh Mak Resort, but watch out for the dreaded sandflies!
Yet another blissful tropical island destination, Koh Khai is a little off the usual Phuket/Krabi traveller trail. But it has the trademark karst rock formations rising out of the crystal clear Andaman Sea, and the same vibrant marine life. Then there's the dense jungle, dramatic cliffs and pure, pure sands...
You must make the most of Koh Khai (Egg Island) during the day. To protect the natural breeding ground of sea turtles, no one is allowed to stay overnight.Top