The Islands of Thailand
This article was kindly contributed by The Golden Lotus, travel advisors to independent travellers to the Far East.
To a tourist, the islands of Thailand mean more than
just white beaches, coconut trees and tropical fruit. It
seems like the names 'Phuket' and 'Koh Samui' have
become synonyms for hedonism and pleasure.
Hundreds of islands are scattered along the southern shores of Thailand, on the cusp of Siam Bay and the Andaman Sea. Most of them are too tiny to accommodate strangers, but dozens of them serve as a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. The islands are generally divided into three geographic and climatic areas: the largest and most impressive collection of islands can be found in the Andaman Sea in the South-Western part of Thailand, around the island of Phuket. The second collective lies in Siam Bay, near Surat Thani province. The island that stands out most in this group is Koh Samui. In the North-Eastern part of the bay, near Cambodia, is the final group of islands, the most prominent of which is Koh Chang.
By the way, the word Koh in Thai means 'island', so there is no point in saying "Koh Samui Island"; rather, you should say either "Samui Island" or just "Koh Samui". Thailand has many other famous beaches such as Pattaya, Krabi and Hua Hin, but as those are part of continental Thailand they will not be further mentioned in this article.
It is wise for people travelling to Thailand to take
into consideration the major climate differences between
the Koh Samui area and all the islands. While the
Monsoon winds affect all of Thailand and bring heavy
rain with them between the months of May and October, in
Koh Samui these months are filled with sunshine with
nary a cloud in sight. On the other hand, during the
best months for the rest of the country -- October to
January -- Samui experiences heavy rains and stormy
seas. February and March are good for every island,
The island of Phuket is 543 square kilometres and is the largest of Thailand's islands. It seemed ridiculously over-optimistic to believe at the end of December 2004, right after the Tsunami disaster, that Phuket could recover from the ordeal in just two years and continue attracting tourists. But it did just that, and is now considered the most popular holiday destination in Asia. An international airport connects Phuket through direct flights to Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai. Forest hills take up a large part of the island. The small city also named Phuket is the sole urban centre in the area.
The sandy South-Western beaches are the main attraction here. Three magnificent beaches are spread from South to North: Kata, Karon and Patong, the latter of which is the most prominent of Thailand's beaches. Hotels of varying standards are lined up all across the shoreline. The cost of rooms changes according to season, but in any case, the prices here are much higher than those of similar hotels in Bangkok. Among the relatively cheaper hotels, the lovely little Hotel Patong Seaview is worth your attention. Near it is the unique, high quality Amari Coral Beach Resort, which costs upward of $150 per room in season. Further up the level of standards is Le Meridien Resort. The wealthiest of the wealthy can experience a stay in Amanpuri Resort, one of the most luxurious hotels in Asia. Here you should calculate the cost of your stay in thousands of dollars... Travellers who wish to distance themselves a bit from the commotion of Patong can stay in Cape Panwa on the threshold of a bay with the same name.
Besides the must-do activities of lounging on the beach, swimming, getting a massage, eating fresh pineapples and lying in a hammock, Phuket also offers many tours. There are rainforests and waterfalls, excellent viewpoints, and the option to take a boat ride to nearby islands. Among Phuket's attractions, two are particularly interesting: One is the Phuket Fantasea, which is a sort of circus-entertainment centre-amusement park combination. The other is Simon Cabaret, which is a fantastic cabaret show performed by pretty ladies who are actually pretty ladyboys.
Ko Phi Phi, 50 kilometres away from Phuket, is made up of two islands, and also bears scars from the tsunami. Travellers who come here are usually those looking for calm, relaxation, and getting away from their busy lives back home. Romantic couples are also frequent visitors. The bigger island, Phi Phi Don, has lost some of the paradise glow it once had. It is still blessed with great peace and calm, and a feeling of comfortable disconnectedness touches all visitors (and they are many); but the fast-paced construction of more and more hotels and resorts --especially near the Ton Sai bay area -- hurts the "Robinson Crusoe" feel of the place. Steep cliffs covered in wild vegetation make up the shoreline of Ko Phi Phi Don. Between cliffs are beautiful stretches of sandy white beaches, shaded by palm trees. The smaller island is Ko Phi Phi Ley. Here, on the famous Maya Bay, the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.
The archipelago of Koh Lanta is slowly taking Ko Phi Phi's place as the best exotic and refreshing destination. Arrival at the harbour of Ban Saladan, the biggest town there, is by ferry from Krabi or Phuket. Trang city, which has an airport, also serves as a gateway to Ko Lanta. The island relevant to vacation-goers, Koh Lanta Yai, is long and narrow, with all its great beaches on its western side. Lodging in Koh Lanta is mostly straw huts and guest houses best suited for backpackers, but there are some decent hotels here and even a five-star hotel, Twin Lotus Resort, in the centre of the beautiful Klong Dao beach.
Similan islands to the West of Phuket attract the divers. These are nine granite islands covered in tropical vegetation and surrounded by coral reefs. Similan islands have been declared a national park. The preferred months for diving are December to February, though some say that in March and April the underwater world is richer and wilder.
Also in Phuket's area: Koh Yao and Koh Racha. In Koh Racha, which is only 20 kilometres south of Phuket, is one of the most wonderful resorts in Thailand -- The Racha. Those who want to forget their troubles (and also forget about several hundred dollars for a holiday only a few days long) should come here. The turquoise waters, the powder-thin sand, the gorgeous sunsets and other such kitsch can be experienced in Koh Racha at their best.
Koh Samui is the island that has everything for everyone. Backpackers will find themselves on this island, as will the nature lovers, the surfers, the divers and every other kind of tourist. Samui is a destination that is developing at an incredible rate, and not far is the day in which the row of hotels along the beach will block out the sun. The main beach is called Chaweng and it is close to the airport, in North-East Samui. A bit off to the South is Lamai beach; not as busy as Chaweng, but you can be sure you won't ever be alone there either. Despite all the development and construction, coconut trees still densely cover the land, and the coconut is the symbol of the island. In the centre of the island are several beautiful waterfalls, and in the less touristy South side one can travel peacefully. For those seeking cheaper lodging, I recommend checking Samui Park Resort. on a slightly higher step on the scale is First House Samui. Recommended first class hotels are Imperial Samui Hotel and Amari Palm Reef Resort. The best hotels in Koh Samui are Anantara Resort and especially the legendary Tongsai Bay.
Full moon nights in Ko Pha Ngan are famous all over the continent. On these nights there are Full Moon Parties, or Had Rin Nok, parties with many participants which tend to draw young travellers and party lovers.
Koh Tao is the final tourist destination of the Southern Siam Bay area. It is far and not easily accessible. It is nice, but nothing more. Koh Tao is good for divers and those who have fallen in love with it. A traveller's liking for one beach or another depends on his or her personal experience there and not necessarily the objective beauty of the place.
Koh Chang in Trat
province is a large island, second only to Phuket. In
fact, it is the biggest in an archipelago of over 50
islands. Most of the mountainous terrain of the island
is covered in rainforests. The rich plant life and the
huge number and variety of animals there make Koh Chang
a destination which allows a combination of beach-side
lounging and nature trips. It may be long since the days
when the island had no electricity and paved roads, but
Koh Chang still manages to keep its virgin looks and
only a short distance from the tourist destinations
there are tiny, authentic fishing villages. You can also
go on a fascinating trek through the forests, ride
elephants and catch butterflies. The heart of the island
is crawling with snakes.
A little bit farther away, Koh Kood is also worth your attention. Good for those who like to go against the flow.
For those short on time who want an island relatively close to Bangkok, Koh Samet is an excellent solution. This small island, which is shaped like an elephant's head with a long thin trunk, was one of Thailand's most popular tourist destinations in the 80s. Along the years it gained a reputation for being too touristy, so many people have taken it off their potential destination list. But aren't Phuket, Pattaya and Samui just as touristy, if not more? Koh Samet is surprising in its beauty. Its beaches flaunt beautiful white sand, and you can still sleep in lovely bungalows and wooden huts here. It's unnecessary to mention that the island offers high-class hotels and resorts as well.
More Thailand articles:
Animal Encounters for Families
The Jungles of Bangkok and the surrounding
Special Guided tours in Thailand
Family Vacation in Phuket
Vacationing in Koh Chang
A Trip from Bangkok to Khao Yai Reserve
Family holiday in Northern Thailand with Private Guide
Family Holiday in Koh Samui
Vacations Trips and Luxurious Hotels in Khao Lak