Traveling through the islands of southern Thailand is one of the best routes to explore. The key points on this route, logistics, how to get there, route features, accommodations, the best time to travel through Thailand’s islands, and other important information about Thailand’s islands.
This route is perfect for you if you want to experience Thailand as an independent traveler and are visiting Thailand for the first time. It will show you a different side of Thailand if you’ve previously limited your visits to Pattaya, Phuket, Chang, Samui, or Phangan.
Logistics may seem a bit complex at first, with many transfers and flights, but, it’s a straightforward and incredibly interesting route. You’ll get to see all of Thailand’s best coastal and beach locations and resorts independently, without relying on travel agencies.
Why is this the best route in Thailand? It’s because this route takes you to Thailand’s best beaches with white coral sand that’s not far behind Seychelles or the Maldives. You’ll visit small and tiny islands with beautiful bays, a leisurely local lifestyle, and jungles.
Most of the islands in southern Thailand are national parks, so there are no package tourists, no massive hotels; everything is small, one-story, and well-integrated into the islands’ landscape.
The route goes through the Andaman Sea, starting from the coast in Krabi province and stretching to Koh Lipe at the border with Malaysia.
Entry into Thailand Now
In the fall of 2022, Thailand lifted all coronavirus restrictions. Entry into the country is unrestricted, and no visa is required. In 2023 we will get 30 days of stay in the country upon arrival.
Useful Information for the Route
We have personally traveled the entire route, visited Thailand several times, and spent more than a month here at various times of the year. Below are some important tips that will come in handy if you are visiting this country for the first time.
The best time to travel through the Andaman Sea islands is from December to late April. During this time, there are almost no rains or storms, plenty of sunshine, and the most beautiful water colors.
The ideal duration of the trip is two to three weeks. This is the optimal time to explore the most beautiful locations on the Krabi coast and spend at least a couple of days in Bangkok.
Moving between the islands on the route, in order of increasing cost, can be done by ferry, speedboat, or long-tail boat.
Tickets for ferries or speedboats can be purchased on-site at hotels or directly at the pier. If you like to plan and arrange things in advance, you can book tickets on the 12go.asia website, the best site for Southeast Asia, including Thailand.
Important! Regardless of the season, bring a waterproof bag for your belongings and camera; it’s always a good idea. Thailand is a tropical country, and you can easily catch a cold or a mild fever, so medical assistance might be needed. We’ve experienced this ourselves – Tanya had a fever for three days, thanks to local doctors and insurance.
Getting between the islands is easy by speedboat, ferry, or long-tail boat. Tickets are available not only on-site but also online, for example, on 12go.asia.
Brief Description of the Island Route
I will provide the names of all the towns and islands in both Latin and Cyrillic script to make it easier to find them on the map and in the navigator. You can visit some of the islands and locations on the Krabi coast as day trips from Ao Nang, returning for an overnight stay there.
In general, it is assumed that you will arrive at Krabi Airport from Bangkok or Phuket or any other airport in Thailand and then continue the route mainly by boats, ferries, or speedboats to Koh Lipe.
You can also start the route from Phuket Island, with only the starting point changing.
By the way, the prefix “Ko” means “island.” So, “Ko Lipe” means “Lipe Island.” I mention this just in case you didn’t know.
You will return home from Koh Lipe. First, take a ferry or speedboat to the mainland, then a bus to Hat Yai Airport, and from there, a flight to Bangkok.
You can buy tickets for the entire route in advance on the 12go.asia website. For example, Koh Lipe – Hat Yai Airport, ferry plus bus. This is a very convenient option, ensuring you will leave without any issues.
Don’t be afraid of transfers; logistics in Thailand are well organized, often better than in Western Europe, surprisingly.
Krabi Airport – Krabi Town (Krabi Town) – Ao Nang (Ao Nang) – Railay Beach – Koh Poda (Ko Poda) – Koh Jum (Koh Pu) – Koh Lanta (Ko Lanta)– Koh Ngai (Ko Hai) (Ko Hai) – Koh Mook (Ko Muk) – Koh Kradan (Ko Kradan) – Koh Bulon (Ko Bulon) – Koh Lipe (Ko Lipe) – Pak Bara Pier (Pakbara Pier) – Hat Yai Airport (Hat Yai) departure – arrival at Don Mueang Airport (DMK) Bangkok
Next, I will provide detailed information about each island and the Krabi coast.
Krabi is not an island, as it is sometimes described in travel brochures. Krabi is a province in Thailand, encompassing both the coastline and the islands of southern Thailand.
The starting point for exploring the Krabi coast is Krabi Town, located 13 km from Krabi International Airport and 4 km from the ferry port.
The excellent transportation hub with an international airport, a ferry port, and a bus station is the main reason why Krabi is the best starting point for a trip through Thailand’s islands.
Krabi Town doesn’t have beaches, but there are several worthwhile locations and a night market. From Krabi Town, people often go to the Tiger Temple and the Emerald Pool.
Where to Stay in Krabi?
I recommend a small, cozy, and budget-friendly the Family Tree Hotel.
Ao Nang is a village on the Krabi coastline. When people refer to Krabi, they often mean Ao Nang.
Ao Nang itself is typically a package tourist destination and not particularly interesting for independent travelers. So, why do people come here?
Ao Nang offers both budget guesthouses and decent resorts. The area around Nopharat Thara Beach has a pier from which you can easily travel to Phuket, Lanta, and other islands in southern Thailand.
Ao Nang is a tourist hub, making it easy to reach almost any place in Thailand from here.
Near Ao Nang, there are many stunning postcard-worthy islands in the national park and the Railay Peninsula. Small boats and ferries depart from the central Ao Nang Beach several times a day, and tickets can be purchased in the morning at the ticket booth right at the pier.
Railay Beach is a picturesque peninsula separated from the mainland by dense jungles. Due to its isolation, access to Railay Beach is only possible by water, via boats from Ao Nang Beach pier, as mentioned above.
Because of its seclusion, Railay Beach exudes an island atmosphere and is often referred to as an island in travel brochures. It’s the signature destination in Krabi province and is a must-visit.
Due to its popularity, it’s the busiest place on this route. It’s better to arrive early in the morning and spend half a day here.
Apart from Railay Beach, if you walk further along the coast, you’ll reach Phra Nang Beach. Here, the breathtaking rock formations combined with white sand and emerald sea will leave you in awe.
Where to Stay in the Railay Beach Area?
If you’d like to avoid the package-tour atmosphere of Ao Nang (where there’s not much to do), I recommend the beautiful Bhu Nga Thani Resort & Spa on the Railay Peninsula. It’s located in a romantic spot right by the sea, and the resort features a pool.
From Railay Peninsula or Ao Nang Beach, you can take a one-day tour called the “4 Island Tour” to visit the most beautiful islands around Ao Nang Beach and the Railay Peninsula.
You can visit each island individually or combine all four in one trip, which will take up your entire daylight hours. The most beautiful of these islands is Koh Poda. One part of the island features a picturesque sandbar, while the other part boasts a luxurious sandy beach and a small rock formation. You’re guaranteed postcard-worthy photos, rivaling even the Maldives.
Koh Jum (Koh Pu)
Koh Jum is situated on the west coast of Thailand, between Ao Nang (Krabi) and Koh Lanta. It’s worth visiting if you’re looking for tranquility, want to experience local life, and take a break for a couple of days after the active part of your journey.
The island offers beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets, and bungalows right by the sea. What could be better?
The northern part of the island is inhabited by Muslims, and it’s called Koh Jum, while the southern part, predominantly Buddhist, is called Koh Pu. Dual names are quite common in Thailand, so don’t be surprised.
All the beaches are on the west side of the island, while the east side is covered in mangrove forests.
Where to Stay for 1-3 Days?
It’s preferable to stay in the southern part of the island, at Sun Smile Beach, where you’ll find budget-friendly bungalows. I can also recommend the luxurious Koh Jum Beach Villas as the best value for your money.
Koh Lanta is a fairly large island, so if you have only one day, it’s better to skip it. We stayed here for three nights, which is optimal for seeing all the highlights.
To explore the island, you can rent a scooter or use local taxis called “tuk-tuks” or “songthaews.”
One part of the island is a national park, offering beautiful, long, yellow-sand beaches and stunning sunsets. There are many Rastafarian or hippie bars here, which are a unique feature of the island. In the evening, there are plenty of interesting restaurants right on the beach, so there’s no shortage of things to do after sunset.
I’ve already covered Koh Lanta in detail, including its pros and cons.
For accommodation, I recommend the affordable Lanta Casa Blanca, not far from the beautiful Long Beach.
There are many other options on Booking.com, and I suggest looking around the Long Beach area.
Koh Ngai (Koh Hai)
Koh Ngai is a bit further south of Koh Lanta and can easily be called a dream island. Here, you’ll want to be a modern-day Robinson Crusoe and get lost for a while. The island is small, with no roads, no shops, and no cars. You can spend just a few hours here or stay overnight in a beachfront tented resort, which is both inexpensive and romantic.
On the east coast, there are a few good hotels. For example, Koh Ngai Resort, which is located on the most beautiful beach on the island.
Ideal stay: 1-2 nights.
Next up is Koh Muk, located very close to Koh Ngai. It’s a must-visit destination. You should definitely stop here for the night if you love untouched jungles, beautiful beaches, and tiny fishing villages.
In addition to all this beauty, this island is home to the region’s most famous attraction: the Emerald Cave, which leads to a hidden lagoon.
We are getting closer to the final destination of our route – the island of Lipe, but there are still a couple of gems in the Andaman Sea along the way, and one of them is Koh Kradan.
Don’t miss it – this island is like a postcard, a dreamy visual paradise. White beaches against a tropical backdrop and turquoise sea – isn’t this what you expect from Thailand? There’s also a reef near Koh Kradan that offers a rich underwater world for snorkeling enthusiasts.
You can take a day trip to Koh Kradan if you’re staying on Koh Muk or Koh Ngai – it’s nearby. So, you can choose one of the three islands to stop at and visit the others on long-tail boats.
However, it’s definitely better to spend the night here – there are plenty of beautiful guesthouses and small hotels on the island. It’s advisable to book in advance because there are more people looking for overnight stays than there are accommodations available.
I recommend a hotel with its own reef – The Reef Resort.
When you think you’ve seen all the beauty on the route, think again. The further south in Thailand you go, the more beautiful the islands become. That’s why it’s worth traveling from Krabi to Koh Lipe, rather than the other way around, to build up the excitement.
Koh Bulon is another stunning island and an absolute must-visit on the long list of Thai islands. It offers the same picturesque views, white-as-flour beaches, sand that doesn’t heat up in the sun due to its coral origin, tranquility, and Instagram-worthy moments at every turn.
The island is really tiny, and you can walk around the whole thing in 20 minutes. It’s the smallest island on the route. Many people skip it and head to the famous and popular Koh Lipe, but they’re missing out. Making a stop here for a couple of hours is a must on the route.
The most famous island on our route. It served as a location for the Hollywood action movie “Mechanic” starring Jason Statham.
Koh Lipe also doesn’t have cars, but it boasts the famous Walking Street, which turns into one big street cafe in the evenings. It’s home to the whitest beaches in Thailand, and there are quite a few tourists for such a small place.
I’ve already written a detailed review and mini-guide to Koh Lipe – we spent a full five days there and explored every bay without exaggeration.
People say that Lipe is an expensive place. Not quite. Yes, it’s a bit pricier than the mainland, but not excessively so. The best beach on the island is Pattaya Beach, and that’s where you should look for accommodation. The second-best beach, Sunrise Beach, has some excellent bungalows at Ten Moons Lipe Resort.
Koh Lipe is a must-visit on the route and can be planned as a separate destination for beach relaxation, especially if you don’t want to move from place to place every day.
The Way Back Home
As I mentioned earlier in the first paragraphs, the route doesn’t loop back on itself. To return, we take a speedboat to the mainland, specifically Satun at Pak Bara Pier, from there to Hat Yai Airport, and then on to Bangkok.
You can adjust the logistics to your liking and change it up. For example, from Pak Bara Pier in Satun, you can take a minibus to Krabi and then on to Bangkok or Phuket. There are endless options.
Koh Lipe is the furthest island not only on the route but also in Thailand. Beyond it lies Malaysia and its most famous islands like Langkawi. So, if you feel like it’s not enough, you can continue your journey.
Be sure to leave 2, or even better, 3-4 days for beautiful and never-tiring Bangkok.
Do not forget!
Choose travel insurance for your trip to Thailand (for Ukrainian citizens).
Rent a car if you plan to explore Phuket or northern Thailand.
Find and book a hotel within your budget.