Thailand’s lesser known islands and almost unspoilt
Experience Thailand as it was 30 years ago. Authentic and unspoilt.
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Thailand has far more islands than most might even realize. Especially for first-time visitors, it can be really difficult to choose which islands to travel to.
If you dream of visiting the “real” Thailand – to find small bays and beaches that you get for yourself, to taste Thai food that hasen’t been Europeanized and to stay in small traditional bungalows – then here you get some good suggestions to Thailand’s lesser known Islands.
Coral & Raya (Racha) islands
Off Phuket’s south coast are several of Thailand’s lesser-known islands. Most of them are uninhabited with the exception of the Coral and Raya Islands – also known as the Racha Islands.
On both islands you will find wonderful clear water with coral and beautiful fish. The islands, most of all, offer peace, quiet and a good laid-back atmosphere.
Coral Island, the smallest of the 2 islands, is privately owned by Coral Island Resort (affiliate link), which is also the island’s only resort.
Most tourists come on day trips and leave the island again in the afternoon.
The snorkeling on Coral Island is top notch and you do not have to go far to see beautiful colorful coral fish.
The long white beach, the clear water and the good snorkeling close by are therefore a good place for children to learn to snorkel.
In addition to snorkeling, the island offers scuba diving, banana boats and parasailing, etc.
Along the beach you will find restaurants and souvenir shops. If you need a Thai massage or a cold drink, this can also be served on Coral Island.
Transport: By longtail boat or speed boat from Chalong Pier or Rawai Beach – Phuket.
Duration: Approx. 15-20 min.
Raya (Racha) Island
The island, Raya Island, also called Koh Racha is larger than Coral Island but it’s far less developed.
The island is an attractive destination for Yacht guests, who for some days go ashore and stay at the expensive resorts. The island is also attractive for divers, who typically book cheap resorts in advance.
Between yachts and diving boats, you will also find speedboats with day tourists. They only come to enjoy Raya’s crystal clear waters and beautiful bays. At the end of the day, they leave the island again.
During high season, there may be plenty of people during the daytime.
Snorkelling and scuba diving are definitely the biggest activity on this island.
The eastern and northeastern coast of Ter Bay & Lah Bay is a great place to snorkel and is a must visit. Here you can experience giant starfish, ballfish, rainbow trout and sea turtles.
Other activities at Raya include mountain biking and hiking in the beautiful nature. Most resorts offer fishing trips and horseback riding – but it’s not cheap.
A small, mostly Muslim, population of farmers and fishermen lives on Raya. There is even a small mosque. Therefore, you won’t find pork in any of the island’s restaurants and it must not be brought to the island at all.
Transport: By longtail boat or speed boat from Chalong Pier or Rawai Beach – Phuket.
Duration: 45-60 min. depending on boat
Koh Bulon Lae
Surrounded by warm clear water, tropical flowers, butterflies and local Thai people who cherish the ancient island, Bulon Lae (also called Bulon Leh) is something very special.
Koh Bulon Lae is extremely peaceful with white beaches, soft sand and crystal clear water.
The island is small and it does not take more than 15-20 min. to go from one side to the other. As you walk, you pass a bar 100% dedicated to Bob Marley. It is a must to pop in and have a cold beer or drink served by the sweet proprietor.
The island is mainly visited by backpackers, as most of the island’s resorts (affiliate link) are also characterized by. The small bungalows are primitive and at remarkably low prices for an overnight stay.
On the west side you will find a small local fishing village, but the rest is only pristine rainforest. On the southern end of the island, with the island’s best beach, are some slightly better resorts (affiliate link).
The beach at Pansand Resort (affiliate link)
At the north end you’ll find a village and a small handful of cheap resorts.
A small path connects the areas of the island and as you go south, you can smell the many rubber trees. The rubber trees are a very important source of income for the island.
In the evening you sit on the beach and enjoy the view. Be aware that roads and paths on the island are not enlightened.
It’s a good idea to bring shoes and flashlight when you go to the beach in the evening. Not least due to Bulon Lae’s reputation for a large number of large lizards.
Bulon Lae is highly seasonal. The best time to visit the island is from late November to mid-April. In low season most resorts and restaurants are closed.
Transport: Boat from Pak Bara Pier in Pak Nam (La-ngu district of Satun).
Duration: Approx. 60 min – on arrival you are dropped off at the best beach on the island.
Koh Chang Noi
Koh Chang Noi, must not be confused with the far more well-known island, Koh Chang, located in Trat Province.
Unlike Koh Chang, Koh Chang Noi is definitely one of Thailand’s lesser known islands. An absolutely stunning island and probably one of Thailand’s quietest, most relaxing and least developed island.
The island has a wonderful laid back atmosphere that you won’t find in many other places.
Don’t expect to find luxury resorts or buses packed with day tourists. Instead, you’ll find small authentic bungalows, most of which are spartan and built in either wood or stone.
On the island there is a unique community of artists, writers and musicians who return every year to work for a long period of time.
Koh Chang Noi is definitely the island to go to if you love nature, reggae music and just want to get away from it all.
The island’s name, Chang, does not refer to the elephants that actually live on the island, but more because of the island’s elephant-like shape.
An island with several kinds of plantations
Koh Chang Noi isn’t a small island. Large parts consist of dense rainforest with fantastic wildlife. Impressive cliffs and steep hillsides. Beautiful and almost pristine beaches and countless plantations with rubber trees, acacia nuts and fruit trees.
If you’ve never seen how acacia nuts grow on a tree, come to Koh Chang Noi.
Although the island offers scuba diving, fishing trips and kayak rentals, the mentality of the island is mostly not to move far away from the hammock.
Snorkelling is possible, but the water is mostly sandy so there is not much to look at.
Other activities at the beach – when staying at Cashew Resort (affiliate link) – include daily yoga, beach volleyball and guitar playing in the evenings.
Koh Chang Noi’s slightly yellowish sandy beaches are large and with very few people. The longest beach is Long Beach, which stretches along the middle part of the island’s west coast.
From Long Beach you can experience a fantastic sunset while in the distance you can see Burma.
Be aware that Koh Chang Noi is a seasonal island. The island must be visited between November and April. During the rainy season, the island is one of Thailand’s wettest areas and occasionally with heavy storms.
Transport: By ferry from Ko Phayam Pier in Ranong city
Duration: Approx. 2 hours
In Trang province, south of Koh Muk and Koh Ngai, you will find the island of Koh Kradan. The island is one of the most isolated, but still with the opportunity to spend the night (affiliate link).
The beach at The Sevenseas Resort in Kradan (affiliate link)
Koh Kradan is a small, long and narrow island with a fantastic sandy beach that runs along the entire east coast of the island.
Over the last 20 years, some resorts have gradually emerged, but the island is primarily a national park. If you move a little outside the beach area you can run into a park guard.
You can easily risk that the park guard asks you to pay approx. 200 bath to move around the national park AND maybe also to go back to the beach.
The Trang province’s best beach
Staying only on the beach is certainly not a bad choice and most people who visit the island usually do not leave it.
Koh Kradan’s beach is one of Trang’s best beaches with crystal clear blue-green water perfect for swimming.
Due to the isolated location, most people choose to visit the island on day trips from Koh Muk and Koh Ngai, which is why the island is pleasantly quiet in the evening.
The main activity on Koh Kradan is to lie on the beach or in a hammock and enjoy the views of Koh Muk and Koh Ngai.
The beach at Koh Kradan Beach Resort (affiliate link)
If you are a bit more active you can snorkel to the nearby corals and maybe catch a glimpse of sea turtles and / or a dragonfish. However, it must be said that it’s predominantly fish rather than great fantastic corals to look at.
In Kradan you’ll find no towns – not even a village. The only residents on the island are those who work at the various resorts (affiliate link) and park guards.
There are some small isolated beaches on the west side of the island, most of which can only be visited on a kayaking trip.
Bonfire and underwater wedding
Sunset Beach can be reached via a small path from Paradise Lost Resort (affiliate link). Sunset Beach is a small and quiet beach with fine coral in the sand. In the evening, the beach is known for cozy guitar playing around a bonfire while watching the sunset and not least (to some annoyance) nude bathing.
Koh Kradan is also known for the “underwater weddings” that are organized each year by the Thai Tourist Organization (TAT).
Transport: By boat from Pak Meng Pier or Hat Yao / Ban Chao Mai pier in Trang.
Duration: Approx. 30 min.
Koh Lao Liang
If you are looking for isolation then go to Koh Lao Liang.
The beach at Laoliang Beach Resort
Koh Lao Liang is so small that you can kayak around it in half an hour. There is only one beach, but beautiful with rocky sites shrouded in tropical rainforest.
Koh Lao Liang is definitely among one of Thailand’s lesser known islands and the few who visit it most often come as part of an organized package. For a few days, they go snorkeling and / or diving, kayaking and / or climbing the cliff walls. Then they head on to the next island.
There is only one resort on the island, Laoliang Beach Resort (affiliate link) and there is no room for more.
Laoliang Beach Resort (affiliate link) is very special. You stay in relatively large tents, located directly on the beach in the shade of the tropical rainforest.
Inside the tent there is a bedroom with floors of bamboo mats and thick mattresses with white sheets and soft blankets.
Bathroom is shared with others and is located in a separate beautiful thatched building, with several toilets and showers. Cold water only.
When booking a “room” the price includes 3 really good meals, free use of kayaks and snorkeling equipment.
Koh Lao Liang is a wonderful bounty island with a great atmosphere. Here you will have an unforgettable experience, unlike anything else you find in Thailand.
With a little luck you can lie on the beach and watch dolphins swim around and in the evening you can “hang out” at the cozy beach bar.
Koh Lao Liang is only open during the high season.
Transport: By longtail boat from Ko Sukorn or Ko Libong (the nearest islands), or by boat from Tasae and Haad Yao in Trang.
Duration: From 30-45 min. to 2.5 hours depending on which boat you use.
A few kilometers south of Koh Chang (Trat) you’ll find this amazing and very little touristy gem. A tropical paradise for those who want to enjoy the quiet exotic life.
Although the island is famous for its nature, in fact so famous that the island is used in several films, due to its authentic, tropical and unspoiled nature, it’s very little visited.
A few years ago, The Sunday Times named Koh Mak one of the top 10 beaches in the world. It’s a mystery that no more tourists visit the island.
A single road leads through the island, which makes it easy to find your own little deserted beaches or explore the rainforest.
Coconut and rubber plantations cover a large part of the island and the population of the island is mostly landowners and their employees. The island has approx. 600 permanent residents.
→ See the selection of resorts on Koh Mak (affiliate link)
Most activities on the island are mainly to explore the nature, snorkel and / or dive in the nearby marine park, or to laze on the beach or in a hammock.
Nightlife is as good as nonexistent, except for a few bars and restaurants. If you’re into partying, then you better stay at Koh Chang.
How long Koh Mak can remain among Thailand’s lesser known islands – or at least less visited islands, is unknown. But if you want to experience something really authentic, then you should visit the island soon.
Transport: From Trat by speedboats or from Koh Chang by wooden boat
Duration: Approx. 1.5 hours from Trat and approx. 2 hours from Koh Chang
Koh Phayam consists of long relatively deserted beaches, many trekking routes, fantastic bird life, roads without cars and a small village.
The island is close to the Burmese border and was, until a few years ago, almost unknown to tourists. The island is still not overcrowded compared to many other islands, but tourism has really grown in the last 5 years.
Half the tourists on Koh Phayam are backpackers. The rest is a mix of more mature couples and families. In high season, you can advantageously pre-book the resort (affiliate link), to be sure to get a bungalow.
Most bungalows on the island are small original and quite simple bungalows with fan, mosquito nets, cold water and hammock terraces.
Rabbit Bungalow Resort (affiliate link) on Koh Phayam
New resorts are opening all the time and the old ones are constantly busy building more bungalows to meet the growing demand.
If you stay for several weeks (which some do) you can negotiate good discounts – even in high season.
The peak season on Koh Phayam is from November to May. It is not recommended to go to Koh Phayam during the low season as the island often receives heavy amounts of rain. Even the electricity supply gets a lot worse in the off-season and most resorts and restaurants choose to shut down completely.
Transport: By boat from Ranong
Duration: Approx. 2 hours with longtail and 30-40 min. with speedboat.
The Koh Surin Islands are visited by most people on a day trip. However, the islands are worth spending a few days on.
The area is of magnificent nature on land and below water.
Koh Surin consists of 5 small islands – Koh Surin Nuea (north) and Koh Surin Tai (south), Koh Ri, Koh Khai and Koh Klang.
The islands are best known for their fantastic diving, snorkeling, hiking and fishing.
Along with Koh Tao, Koh Surin is considered one of Thailand’s best dive and snorkeling sites. Often, whale sharks are spotted off the northern coast of Koh Surin.
On more regular visits are butterfly fish, butterfly fish, moray, sharks, sea turtles and much more.
On land you’ll find the best white sandy beaches, with the most beautiful emerald green water in Asia. And if you are into wildlife then you can see monkeys, snakes, varans and numerous crabs and birds.
The Moken people
Surin is home to the sea gypsy “Moken”. They live on their boats called “Kabang”. Some of them are currently Thai nationals, but many of them are still stateless.
They mainly live by collecting seafood and snails, which is officially illegal, due to Surin’s national park status. But the authorities and UNESCO have chosen not to do anything about it, as Moken’s population of only approx. 150 are insignificant and their situation complicated.
Illegal fishing and in somewhat the careless behavior of snorkelers and divers as well as boat owners pose a far greater threat to the island’s ecology than the presence of the Mokens.
On the southern island, there is a small Moken “village” where you can see small thatched boats and colorful wooden pillar figures built with respect for the ancestors.
If you visit the Moken village, which has become a major tourist attraction in recent years, it must be with respect of their traditional culture. Donations of both food and clothing are very welcome.
Apart from the Moken village, the entire area of Koh Surin Tai is closed to tourists. On Koh Surin Nuea it’s not allowed to set foot on most of the island, except for Mai Ngam and Kong KHAD camping areas.
On the southern island, the sea turtles lay their nests and eggs.
Overall, Koh Surin is truly a paradise for plant and animal life, therefore all restrictions are made solely to protect the ecosystem.
If you break the rules just the least, you can look forward to a pretty big fines and will immediately be kicked out of the island.
Despite the many rules, there are still good opportunities to explore the waters around the islands and enjoy Koh Surin’s beaches, bays, cliffs and mangrove forests.
Transport: By boat from Khura Buri Pier near Si Phangnga and Khao Sok National Park (Khao Lak)
Duration: Approx. 1-1.5 hours
If you have any tips for other of Thailand’s lesser known islands, please comment below.
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This article was updated on March 20, 2020