Thailand is usually the first stop for many backpackers starting the famous Banana Pancake Trail of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. From Bangkok, you have the option to head north toward tranquil nature or head south for some island hopping and beach bopping. With Thailand being home to over 1,000 sun-kissed islands, it can be difficult to choose which islands to spend your time on. Read on for the ultimate southern Thailand route to help you on your way to those lazy beach days and fun-filled nights.
Bangkok to Koh Tao
Most international travelers touch down in Bangkok. As it’s the hub of Southeast Asia, international flights are relatively cheap in comparison to heading to nearby countries. After spending a few days checking out some off the beaten path things to do in Bangkok, it’s time to head south for some sun, sea and sand. Our first stop is Koh Tao, the island famous for some of the most affordable scuba diving training courses (PADI) and the array of colorful coral and sea creatures. The 21km² (8 mi²) island is the perfect place to start this southern Thailand route and maybe even get PADI certified. Aside from scuba diving, take time to put your feet up and relax whilst enjoying the tropical vibes.
Koh Tao to Koh Phangan
Next up, it’s time to cruise 44.6 kilometers (27.7 miles) across the ocean to Koh Tao’s neighbor. The island best known for hosting the famous Full Moon Parties: Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan has something to offer everyone, whether that be boogying the night away whilst slurping down cocktails on the sandy shores, motorbiking to the endless waterfalls and viewpoints or scoffing down grub at the popular market. With plenty of things to do on Koh Phangan, you could easily spend a week here, so make sure to dedicate enough time to this gem of an island.
Koh Phangan to Koh Samui
When you finally tear yourself away from Koh Phangan, hop on a ferry over to Koh Phangan’s bigger sister: Koh Samui. Koh Saumi is the biggest island of the three in this area and is a popular paradise for backpackers and holiday makers alike. With such an international influence, Koh Samui is a melting pot of cultures. You will find all sorts of world cuisines just a stone’s throw away from popular places such as Chaweng Beach and Lamai Beach. The beauty of Koh Samui is that you can opt for some relaxing “me time” in one of the mountainside condos or get down with the lively bunch in one of the many hostels.
Bonus stop: Koh Samui to Khao Sok
It’s time to move on from the east and head over to the west, but not before making a stopover to soak up the jungle hues of Khao Sok. Khao Sok is a nature lover’s haven, with lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails and options to go tubing; it’s the perfect place to break up your beach time. It’s also one of the oldest rainforests in the world, so it’s totally worth stopping by, if not just to break up the long journey from Koh Samui to Krabi. However, if you’re strapped for time and prefer to stick by the ocean, then you can skip Khao Sok and head straight to Krabi from Koh Samui.
Khao Sok to Krabi
Time to wave bye-bye to the greenery and say hello to the white sands and blue oceans again. Next stop is Ao Nang, Krabi’s vibrant tourist corner. Ao Nang is dotted with shops selling pretty floral dresses and Indian restaurants galore offering cheap meal deals. It’s not only the perfect place for a spot of shopping, but it’s also close proximity to the famous Railay Beach. Whilst beach-seekers can opt to stay on Railay Beach for a night or a few, budget backpackers will tend to stay in Ao Nang as the cost of accommodation is much cheaper. But that doesn’t mean you will miss out on Railay Beach altogether. Just hop on a longtail boat at the pier and jet over for the day.
Krabi to Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta is probably the least visited place on this southern Thailand route. With plenty of long, white sanded beaches to choose from, in favour of the limited nightlife options, it makes for the perfect place to detox and rest up. You may even be the only settlers on the beach for the day.
Koh Lanta to Koh Phi Phi
It’s time to discover the heavenly beach of Koh Phi Phi. The beaches here are truly spectacular. The most popular beaches being Monkey Beach and Maya Bay that was made famous the 2000 movie “The Beach”. Unfortunately though, Maya Bay, with the limestone hills surrounding it, has since closed to the public to allow for restoration of the coral. As of yet, the Thai authorities have not stated when the beach will reopen again. Aside from the heavenly beaches, take time to get lost in the charming alleys and streets filled with shops, eateries and bars. The best thing about Koh Phi Phi is that there are no cars, exhaust fumes or noise of revving bikes in sight. That’s right, Koh Phi Phi is a no vehicle zone.
Koh Phi Phi to Phuket
To wrap up this southern Thailand route, head to Phuket. Phuket sometimes gets a bad reputation for its seedy atmosphere; lines of clubs with young Thai women swinging around on poles and massage shops that persist at dragging men inside their parlors. However, Phuket isn’t all doom and gloom. Once you get away from Bar Street in Patong, there are some nice areas and hotels. There are also plenty of night markets where you can tuck into some delicious Thai cuisine. Make sure to try the pineapple fried rice, which is actually made in a pineapple, and then tuck into mango sticky rice for dessert. Finally, Phuket makes for the perfect place to end your trip. Aside from Bangkok, flights out of Phuket to other parts of Asia are as cheap as chips.
Phew, what an epic time in southern Thailand! By following the above route from the east to the west, you’re sure to get a mix of everything from scuba diving in Koh Tao, partying in Koh Phangan, lazing on the beaches surrounding Krabi, to tucking into delicious Thai foods in Phuket. Just don’t forget to pack your swimwear and sunscreen.