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Thailand's Top Beach Destinations | Beach Resorts and Hotels

Phuket

Patong Beach
Patong is the largest beach on the island of Phuket. It has been Thailand’s number one beach destination for years. Once a fishing village, it is now one of the island’s two cities. Patong is the main tourist and entertainment district on the island of Phuket, with a large number of pubs, bars, and restaurants catering to every nationality. Patong Beach stretches 4 km in length and has a wide coastline with silky white sand and warm water. There are a number of water sports to be enjoyed here, including jet skis, windsurfing, wake boarding, water skiing, and para sailing. Hotels and accommodations here are significantly more expensive than anywhere else in Thailand, and there is a wide variety of budget to five star accommodations to choose from. The beach is lined with lounge chairs and sun umbrellas which are available for rent. Food, drinks, and clothing are all available from hawkers who sell their wares on the beach all day.

Karon Beach
Karon Beach is the second largest beach in Phuket. Despite the large resort complexes in the area, there is not a lot of development on the beach itself. However, the ongoing development of bars, nightclubs, and luxury hotels in the area has already begun to wreak havoc on the environment. Karon is less crowded than Patong and offers a full range of beach facilities and activities. There are also several fine dining establishments in the area. The sand here is a bit coarser compared to other beaches in Phuket. The southern point of Karon Beach has a gorgeous stretch of coral reef which is perfect for snorkeling. Sun chairs and umbrellas are also available for rent here.

Kata Beach
If you’re looking for a quiet beach in Phuket, Kata Beach is your best option. Palm trees, warm water and stunning scenery haven’t found juxtaposition alongside massive shopping malls and luxury hotels just yet. Kata Beach is well-known as an excellent surfing beach, but is less than ideal for families with young children, especially during the low season. There are a number of water activities on Kata Beach, including diving, banana boats, and jet skis. Kata also has several 4 star hotels, seafood restaurants, and shopping places located along the beach. It should come as no surprise that the best beaches in Thailand also rank as some of the best beaches in the world. For this reason, Thailand holds the number one spot for having some of the best beaches in Asia. Beautiful sandy white beaches dot almost every coastline on the islands of Thailand. With so many to choose from, picking the perfect beach for an island vacation might be more difficult than you think.

▶ Koh Raya
Only a 15-minute speed boat trip from Chalong pier, Koh Raya is a prime destination for yachties, who stay at the resorts, and divers, who typically book up all the island's cheaper rooms. Between the yachts, diving boats, and speedboats with snorkelling daytrippers, Raya's beautiful bays can get quite congested during the high season. The beaches and bays are connected by dirt roads in a state of perpetual bumpiness due to run-off during the rainy season. It is possible to rent a 100cc motorbike, but you're better off walking. A common sight is a cart loaded with divers and their gear being towed to the beach by a tractor or ATV.

Andaman Sea

Khao Lak
Beautiful Phang Nga, located just north of Phuket Island, is famous for its rugged limestone outcroppings jutting from the sea and its haunting landscape. One of Thailand’s most peaceful resort destinations, Khao Lak, can also be found here, and its gorgeous coastline is home to some of the best beaches in Thailand. This area also embraces three national parks, encompassing a tropical forest, wide white sandy beaches, and stunning beachfront accommodations. After the area was hit by the 2004 tsunami, refurbished hotels providing quality accommodations have sprung up all over the region. Visitors here can now enjoy infinity pools, lush green gardens and serene lotus ponds. Khao Lak’s proximity to a tropical forest draws nature lovers of all kinds. There are a number of eco-tours available here, as well as activities like rafting, hiking, elephant trekking, and exploring temple caves.

Krabi
With some 83 islands scattered within the area, all within short reach of each other, the islands of Krabi are an island-hoppers paradise. During low tides, some of these islands are accessible by sandbars and you can literally walk on water from island to island. Krabi Airport brought mass tourism to Laem Phra Nang, a breathtaking karst cape. Roadless and cut off by towering cliffs, the cape is getting ever-denser accommodation on the back-to-back bays of sandy West Railay and mangrovey East Railay. A trail leads past caves to the paradisical Had Phra Nang beach, home of sunbathers and full-moon rites to its cave’s fertility deity. Longtail ferries leave from humdrum Krabi Town, passing Susaan Hoi, a fossil shell beach, but most people reach it by boat from nearby Ao Nang, a laid-back hub of resorts, restaurants and internet cafés.

Railay Beach
Clear blue waters embrace Railay Beach. You might be surprised to learn that this tropical paradise, accessible only by boat, is technically part of the mainland. Railay Beach is nestled amongst towering limestone peaks and surrounded by lush jungle. Although the beach here is small, it, it is still quite popular during peak season. Throughout the rest of the year, beach lovers looking for a quiet beach vacation will be pleasantly surprised by the serenity of the area. Facilities here are limited, as are hotel rooms.

Phi Phi Island
Phi Phi Island is well-known for its silky fine white sand beaches, stunning limestone rock formations, natural cave systems, clear trurqoise water, and a rich variety of marine life. There’s no small wonder that Phi Phi Island is the most beach destination on the Andaman Coast after Phuket. Most visitors might be surprised to learn that Phi Phi Island is actually two islands. The larger of the two, Phi Phi Don, offers a variety of accommodations to choose from. Its clean, beautiful beaches are perfect for sunbathing and frolicking in the water. Phi Phi Ley, on the other hand, is popular for its cliffs, natural caves, and water-filled canyon. Phi Phi Island offers just about everything you could ask for in an island. If it’s adventure travel that you’re after, scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and rock climbing activities can all be found on this tropical paradise. The small stretch of sand at Maya Bay is the quintessential Thailand beach and might just have the best scenery of any in the country. Part of a little island adjacent to Ko Phi Phi, the beach is nestled in a small bay and surrounded by tall limestone cliffs. Maya Bay can only be visited on day trips by boat, since there are no accommodations here. Hordes of people visit during high season, but the beauty makes dealing with the crowds worth it.

Ao Nang Beach
Out of all of the beaches in Krabi, Ao Nang Beach is widely considered to be the best. Despite being the most developed beach in the area, Ao Nang also claims the cleanest environment, and it is generally less crowded and quite a bit quieter than other nearby beaches. This beach is also very kid-friendly, with a nice, long, shallow coastline for kids who love to play in the water. There is also a wide range of accommodations and facilities, including food, boat tours, and adventure hikes. When the tide is low, Pai Plong Beach is easily accessible on foot.

Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta consists of two islands: Koh Lanta Yai and Koh Lanta Noi. Most visitors head straight for Koh Lanta Yai, which harbors a number of tourist facilities and a wide range of accommodations. There are a number of beaches in the area, including Ba Kan Tiang, Khlong Khong, Khlong Nin, Khlong Dao, Kho Kwang, and Phra Ae. The headquarters for Mu Koh Lanta National Park are located at the southern end of the island. The eastern side of the island is also popular with visitors, who come to see the sea gypsy village and an old community of Koh Lanta. Koh Lanta Noi houses the district office.

Koh Jum
Small island with traditional Muslim village and a handful of backpacker bungalows. Beach is similar to Ko Lanta, calm waters, grainy yellow sand. Popular with island-hopping backpackers taking their islands slowly.

Koh Muk
Home to heavily touristy Emerald Cave. Fine range of budget to mid-range resorts. Lovely sunsets. Good swimming and sunbathing though snorkeling limited. Good base for day-trips to other islands.

Koh Kradan
Stunning island long blighted by a very average resort. Excellent snorkeling and lovely white sand beach. Better accommodation has sprung up over the last year or so.

Koh Tarutao
National Park status. Largely undeveloped. Camper and self-sufficient traveler's paradise. Sand flies can be a problem. Camping and Park bungalows available. Site of Thailand Survivor.

Koh Adang
The impressive tropical mountains of Ko Adang loom over Koh Lipe like a protective uncle, and its rugged jungle terrain makes for a refreshing break from the packed beaches of Lipe, or a quiet, nature-oriented experience for those who want to skip Lipe altogether. With its pristine old growth forests, plenty of hiking trails, ocean viewpoints, deserted whitesand beaches, excellent snorkelling and secluded waterfalls, Adang is well worth the trip.

Koh Lipe
A warm, windy island that offers something for most anyone, Lipe's range of accommodation options and fantastic marine life attract a healthy (and rapidly increasing) number of tourists each year. Still, it's easy to find tranquil surroundings here, even during peak season, with several coves and walks through the jungle from one beach to another. Rapidly increasing in popularity, see Lipe now while it still retains some of its beauty.

Simillian Islands
Some 50 km from the Thai western coast amongst open water in the Andaman Sea, the Similan islands are known far and wide to boast some of the most spectacular scenery and best snorkelling and diving of anywhere in Southeast Asia. With Malay roots, the word "similan" means "nine" in local Moken sea nomad language after the nine tiny islands of the Similan archipelago. Along with magnificent underwater scenery, the Similans boast some of the finest white sand, turquoise water beaches in Thailand, and even a few hiking trails and viewpoints.


 

The Gulf of Thailand

Koh Mun Nork - Desert Island
Beach lovers looking for a dream beach destination on a deserted island need look no further than this small private island in the Gulf of Siam. A 45 minute ferry ride and only one resort on the island guarantee a truly private and uninterrupted vacation.

Hua Hin
The Gulf of Siam is home to a number of gorgeous, flat stretches of beaches, making it a dream destination for beach lovers around the world. Hua Hin Beach, located in the beach town of Bang Saphan, is a popular beach destination for both locals and international visitors, and it is especially easy and convenient to reach from Bangkok. Being less than 400 km away from Bangkok, Hua Hin can be reached in under five hours traveling over land, making it a prime beach vacation spot for families. There are several hotels, resorts, guesthouses, and bungalows in the area, as well as a number of local and expat restaurants. Founded as a royal spa, Hua Hin retains palaces, a quaint railway station and traces of fishing village charm, having restrained pollution, prostitution and development. The king still lives at the art nouveau Phra Ratchawang Klai Kangwon (‘Far from Worries Palace’) in Hua Hin, but it’s tourable when he’s away. Its miles-long beaches stretch north past condos, resorts and the stunning teak Phra Ratchaniwet Marukhathaiyawan palace to Cha-am, a ho-hum resort catering to raucous Thai sanuk. South is Pranburi, a yachtie haven with designer hotels. Sand and water quality are middling, and weekends can get crowded. Hua Hin’s beaches are generally quieter south of the Sofitel towards Had Khao Takiap. The pace is picked up on Khao Takiap where a sandy beach ensemble of water sports, coconut palms and great Thai eateries has blossomed. Hua Hin has a walkable centre, but limited transport.

Koh Mun Nok - Desert Island
If it’s a true desert island experience that you’re after, head for this small, private island in the northern part of the Gulf of Siam. With only one resort on the island and a 45 minute ferry ride from the mainland, you’re pretty much guaranteed a quiet vacation away from the crowds. Bring a good book or two. The white sand beach here is surrounded by palm trees, providing the perfect escape from reality.

Koh Samui

Thailand's second most developed island. Everything from deserted beaches to Tescos. Heavily touristed, ongoing unregulated development. Waste and flooding an issue. Accommodation from backpackers through to five star resorts. Ever-smarter hotels, restaurants, spas and villas upgrade Samui, but impair its water supply and landscape of sweeping beaches, rugged capes and forested hills. Yet somehow its laid-back roots remain: fishing, coconuts, backpacker huts, New Age pilgrims. The commercial/official hub of Nathon port boasts Hainan-influenced teak shophouses, a market and great hawker food. Just south at Lipa Noi beach, Samui Dharma Healing Centre runs Buddhist fasts at simple beach huts. The North Coast water is less clear than in the east, but calm year-round. It spans Bophut, Samui’s most charming village, and Had Bangrak – called Big Buddha Beach for the 12-metre (39-foot) statue in Wat Phra Yai – which is tranquil despite the cutely rustic airport nearby. On the east, Chaweng’s crescent of fine sand, swimmable waters and arching palms is both party central and a vaguely sleazy lesson in non-planning, boasting Samui’s better shops. Over a ridge with giddying views, beautiful Lamai bay has crystal waters, lovely sands and boulders at the southern end. Two of these, Hinta Hinyai (‘Grandpa and Grandma Rocks’), resemble genitals and have become a tourist trap. Lamai town is a mess, with poor restaurants and hostess bars. Roads then fork inland to Nam Tok Ta Nim waterfall, with mountain views en route, or around the quieter southern beaches at Laem Set and Taling Ngam.

Koh Phangan | Koh Tao
Home to the Full Moon Party. Over a dozen bays and beaches, some of the cheapest guesthouses in Thailand. Some beaches very developed, others deserted. Extremely popular with backpackers. Koh Tao or ‘Turtle Island’ resembles a turtle diving south to Ko Pha-ngan and Ko Samui. Rocky and jungly, it has a long western strand facing Ko Nang Yuan, three islets linked by a tri-star beach. Non-divers can feel out of place, but relish 11 quiet beaches, notably Leuk, Jansom and June Juea. Tao is walkable, but has bike taxis and a few songtaew. Boasting good coral, swim-throughs and an abundance of large fish, the 24 dive sites have good visibility (late May-early Oct).

East of Bangkok

Koh Samet

A favoured retreat for Bangkokians, this dagger-shaped isle immortalised by poet Sunthorn Phu is actually a national park. Chic resorts are now gentrifying its shambolic fringe of resorts with minimal amenities and aesthetics, but pricing out its young regulars. Boats from Baan Phe dock at Na Dan, near which the squeaky white sand of Had Sai Kaew starts the string of pretty east coast bays. Overdeveloped. White sand beaches, particularly scenic. Some snorkeling. Full range of accommodation from budget shacks to full service resorts. Just three hours drive from Bangkok

Koh Mun Nork
Private island with one resort. Very clear water, pristine beaches. Accommodation poor value for the money. Has a bit of a Crusoe feel to it. Food gets mixed reports.

Koh Chang
Thailand’s second largest island is one of 46 national park isles bordering Cambodia. Since ex-PM Thaksin proclaimed it the ‘next Phuket’, a land-grab by developers has outpaced supposedly sensitive planning. Trucks shake and rumble the road around forested mountains, which contain three waterfalls. Ko Chang is named after an elephant-shaped southern headland. Though pachyderms aren’t indigenous, Thais don’t miss a trick, and there’s a refuge at Ko Chang Elephant Camp and Chang Chutiman runs elephant treks.Boats dock at Tha Dan Kao, while shops, bars and restaurants centre on north-western Had Sai Khao beach. Dive shops access the so-so reefs (October-April/May) and offer watersports, including dinghy sailing on Klong Prao. Some head south to islands (open in dry season only) such as Ko Mak, which boasts white sand and internet, and the larger, ever more exclusive Ko Kood.

Koh Maak
Medium sized, very flat island. Beaches and bays ring the island. Bungalows very good very and mostly budget orientated. Calm waters, low key destination. Popular with repeat visitors

Koh Kood
Very popular with Thai package tours, slowly becoming more popular with western independent travellers. Some spectacular beaches. Resorts are mostly mid ranged rather than budget.

▶ Pattaya
Pattaya has hosted raunchy mass tourism since US troops came for R&R during the Vietnam War. Uneven clean-ups of both pollution and the sex trade have resulted in crude contrasts: eyesores scar a potentially fine corniche; few swim in waters that are no longer dirtied by sewage; watersports and attractions draw families, go-go bars remain top of many visitors’ must-see lists. As if in a counterfeit Elmore Leonard novel, guys in vests pose with bikes, babes and Ray-Bans. Menus come in English, German, Arabic and Russian – nationalities that recur in lurid reports on underground activities in the Pattaya Mail. Yet mainstream tourists face little risk and some stay to open businesses, hence pubs called Rosie O’Grady’s, Scot’s Bar and Pat’s Pies. Morphing into a town, Pattaya now boasts malls, 15 golf courses and a largely artificial culture. The centre is walkable, or you can flag down a songtaew anywhere. The next bays south, longer, cleaner Jomtien Beach, has sparser boutique resorts, delectable seafood and fewer Pattaya-esque mistakes.

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So what are you looking for ?

  1. Robinson Crusoe Style: If it's deserted beaches and few tourists, then you're going to need to wander further than you'd have needed to ten years ago. Don't make the mistake of assuming the entire island needs to be deserted -- both Ko Samui and Phuket have totally deserted beaches that run for miles after miles, but for a real island experience, consider Ko Rok, Ko Phra Thong, Ko Ra, Ko Lipe, Ko Chang (the other one) and Ko Tarutao.
  2. Hot Full Moon Parties: Everyone knows about Thailand's infamous Full Moon Parties -- easily the biggest party in Thailand, and it happens every single month. So if you're after the party, Ko Pha Ngan should definitely be on your itinerary, Ko Phi Phi also has a pretty lively single's party scene, while if you're after throbbing clubs, Ko Samui is hard to beat. Consider Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Samui.
  3. A Family Vacation: Thailand's islands can be pretty good with kids, though the range of distractions you want for them will play a part in picking where you stay. Phuket and Ko Samui lead in this area with everything from mini-golf and go-karts through to water-sports and child-care. If you kid's idea of a beach holiday is more sedate -- a few buckets and a sand castle perhaps, then both Ko Lanta and Ko Bulon Lae are excellent choices, as is the southwest coast of Ko Pha Ngan.
  4. Pampering in Spa & Wellness Resorts: There's been an explosion of spa and "lifestyle resorts" across Thailand, and again Phuket and Ko Samui are the premiere destinations for these types of self-contained resorts. Some particularly tasteful ones have also appeared on Ko Lanta, and, more recently, Ko Chang.
  5. The Local Touch: If you're tiring of hanging out in tourist ghettos, there's an ample supply of islands where tourism is but a small part of the local economy. Ko Yao Noi is an excellent choice, as is Ko Jum, Ko Libong and Ko Kut. Ko Kut in particular attracts a lot of Thai weekenders, so as a foreigner you'll often be in the minority -- a refreshing change from most Thai islands.
  6. The Best Beaches: You've read the book, seen the movie and now you want to swim in the waters. You're looking for Ko Phi Phi.
  7. Diving: Ko Tao issues more PADI Open Water Certificates than anywhere else in the world except Cairns, Australia. It is, for better or worse, Thailand's diving mecca. Phuket is also popular with divers, but mainly for its live aboard cruises and trips out to the Similan Islands. Diving is also possible from Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui, Ko Chang and Ko Lipe.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019