The islands near Pattaya date back to the Ming dynasty when trader junks anchored in their sheltered waters. Today, Koh Si Chang, Koh Larn, and Koh Samet are thriving tourism destinations known for heavenly sands and crystal waters.
You can lounge on paradisiacal, powdery white-sand beaches, visit gilded Chinese shrines, devour sweet and spicy local dishes, or rent a scooter and ride across the islands. Even if you travel from Bangkok to Pattaya, the best islands near Pattaya are within easy reach and suitable for day trips.
Marvel at a century-old Chinese temple, chillax on the beach and gather your thoughts at the viewpoint in Koh Si Chang
The least-known of the three islands, and not to be confused with Trat’s Koh Chang, Koh Si Chang’s appeal is the remote feel and lack of tourist masses. That’s not to say it’s difficult to get to Koh Si Chang from Bangkok or Pattaya, which is 30 minutes away from Sriracha, the nearest town to Koh Si Chang.
The bus from Bangkok drops you off in Sriracha after some two hours, usually at Robinsons Department Store. From there, you can take a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi ride to Ko Loi Pier and buy a Koh Si Chang ferry ticket. The ferry ride to the island takes about 40 minutes.
One of Koh Si Chang’s attractions is the San Chao Pho Khao Yai Shrine – the Shrine of the Father Spirit of the Great Mountain – believed to have been founded by Chinese traders dropping by.
Climbing the 500+ steps embellished with mythical Naga serpents, stopping at several platforms to catch your breath, you’ll smell incense. Hearing monks chanting or firecrackers bursting, you may feel the presence of the spirit to which the shrine is dedicated. It resides in the shrine caves.
Built into the side of a cliff at the northern end of the harbor, this Chinese temple is adorned with ornate dragons. High up on the hill near the shrine, you’ll find a replica of a Buddha footprint housed in a Sala, a Thai-style open pavilion. And a gilded Buddha statue overlooks Koh Si Chang Port, the surrounding islands, and the Gulf of Thailand.
Just as mind-blowing as this outlook are the vistas from the Chok Khao Khat viewpoint in the island’s northwest. Relishing the salty wind that swirls through your hair, you can listen to the waves crashing into craggy cliffs and collect your thoughts. This place is exceptionally peaceful when the moon is out, perfect for meditating or chatting with your travel partner.
You can also soak up Koh Si Chang’s relaxed atmosphere at Haad Tham Phang, the island’s only sandy beach. Suitable for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking, the west-side beach in a sheltered cove entices visitors into lazy afternoons with sun recliners and umbrellas aplenty. And if your stomach rumbles, order some fresh fish at the restaurant. Haad Tham Phang is quiet except on weekends and Thai public holidays.
Lounge on a beach, and snorkel or swim in crystal waters in Koh Larn
This island is all about working on your tan and snorkeling in transparent waters. Also known as Coral Island, Koh Larn boasts coral-fringed coasts and turquoise waters that draw the crowds, especially on weekends. Most of this four-kilometer-long island’s beaches are on the west coast behind the hill.
Samae, Haad Tien, and Tawaen Beach, with its Koh Larn White House right on the beach, sun recliners, restaurants and shops, are tourist magnets, for good reason. Offering the amazonite waters that Pattaya lacks, it’s here that fun-seeking travelers get their money’s worth. Whether it’s riding a jet ski or banana boat or enjoying bird’s eye views of the island while parasailing, Koh Larn has it all.
Night owls will like the Koh Larn nightlife at Na Baan Pier, where concerts are held, and a couple of bars close at around 1 or 2 am. You can stroll around two small villages in Koh Larn’s east: Ban Ko Lan and Ban Krok Makhan. It’s here that you find most restaurants and hotels. There’s also Wat Mai Samraan near Na Baan Pier, a glistening mosaic-encrusted temple with gilded Buddha sculptures and a golden, human-sized statue of Quan Yin, the most popular deity used in Feng Shui. And the viewpoint on top of the island offering unbroken views of Pattaya city is worth visiting, too.
If you’re looking for quieter beaches, check out Ta Yai in the north or Nual Beach in the south. But Koh Larn is never deserted. Be sure to book your hotel in advance if you’re visiting on the weekend, or else you’ll be struggling to find a room. With people keen to explore the island on two wheels, weekends and Thai holidays are when scooters for rent are difficult to find, too.
Getting to Koh Larn from Pattaya is easy. Speedboats from Pattaya to Koh Larn run several times daily. If you’re not pressed for time, you can also hop on a slow Koh Larn ferry at Pattaya’s Bali Hai Pier, which takes you to the island in about 40 minutes.
Enjoy water sports, beaches and deep-sea fishing in Koh Samet
An 80km, one-hour drive east from Pattaya, Koh Samet in the province of Rayong is popular with Bangkokians and foreigners alike. Weekend after weekend, people travel to Koh Samet from Bangkok and Pattaya in droves. The drilling machine-shaped island offers Koh Samet beaches and water sports galore. But white sands and heavenly waters aside, you can also resort to unusual activities like deep-sea fishing.
Koh Samet is home to groupers, dorados, trevallies, and lots of other exotic fish. If you’ve had your fill of tanning on powdery beaches and getting pampering massages, getting in touch with a fisherman and stepping aboard can give you the kick you need.
And once the sun is about to set, you can enjoy sunset cruises, fire juggling shows, and barbecue parties. Besides, whether it’s biking, ATV riding, windsurfing, or kayaking – Koh Samet is not just an island for beach bums but also adventure fiends.
Whichever island suits your fancy, you’re bound to leave with so many great photos you’ll be wondering how to free up storage space.