Last December we decided we weren’t partial to a post-Christmas period of overpriced New Years Eve tickets and jam-packed gyms, so we booked three weeks in the tropical paradise that is Thailand. We managed to pack a lot into three weeks, visiting Bangkok, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi – all of which were pretty different with their own little quirks, stunning scenery and unique vibes.
People regularly ask me which island was my favourite and want to know which one they should pick if they only have a short amount of time in Thailand, so I thought I would write a blog post so you can discover the wonders of each of the Southern Islands and make your minds up for yourselves!
Home to the Full Moon party, Koh Phangan is often seen as a party island (which it is) but there’s a lot more to it than just partying. Some of the most stunning beaches in the Gulf of Thailand can be found in Koh Phangan, and it has a particularly relaxed, anything goes kind of vibe. We stayed in the Port Town of Thong Sala, which is the perfect place to stay if you want to be near enough (about 5 minutes in the back of a truck) the loud bass lines and glowpaint of Haad Riin, but also want to be able to relax too.
The beach in Thong Sala matched up to how you envision the islands to be, an abundance of palm trees, white sand and the tide drifting in as you watch the sunset and sip a beer (cocktail for me) and there’s plenty of cheap hotels along the beachfront. It’s probably best to have a few drinks in the evening before you catch a ride to Haad Riin in one of the pick up trucks, the drive is very hilly and the driving can be questionable at times!
Haad Riin by night is pretty buzzing, there are lots of cheap and cheerful restaurants and bars, along with people selling buckets of red bull and god knows what else to you on the street. You then of course have the crescent-shaped beach where the Full Moon party is hosted, which every night is filled with music and people generally loving life and up for a good time. The Full Moon party itself has to be experienced, I can’t recall too much of our New Years Eve experience there but I know it was a blur of dancing, the ocean and lots of hugs and love.
One of our best days in Koh Phangan was spent on New Years Eve at the ‘Slip n fly‘ water park. It’s slightly off-putting when you first get there and see the 40m water slides and have to sign a contract that says if you die it is not the waterpark’s fault… but once you get past that it’s a hell of a lot of fun! The boys in particular had a whale of a time acting like little kids and I don’t think they sat down once all day. Here’s some pics 🙂
Koh Tao is such a magical little island – we all said it was our favourite and we even ended up staying an extra 2 nights because we loved it so much! It’s only tiny, but the fact that it’s so small makes it feel like home as you get to know your way around pretty quickly. We stayed in the Lotus mountain view hotel which cost us 1500 thai baht for 2 nights (£34 pound between us so £8 each per night), it was a great room for the price, I would highly recommend it.
Most of our days in Koh Tao were spent lazing around on Sairee Beach which was a few minutes walk from our hotel. It has lots of cocktail bars and restaurants along the beach, there are some great places to have breakfast with a view as below.
Talking of eating, there is the most AMAZING Indian restaurant in Koh Tao called Shalimar, I’m not exaggerating when I say I had the best Tikka Masala I have ever tasted there – and I’ve eaten a lot of tikka masala.
Koh Tao by evening is beautiful, make sure you stay on Sairee beach late enough to watch the famous sunset. At around 5-7pm the atmosphere comes alive with tropical house music being played and lots of travellers coming together on the beach with drinks to watch the sun go down. Later on, the beach becomes a beach party with music and drinking, but it’s up to you whether you want to get involved or sit in one of the beach bars on a beach bag and soak up the atmosphere.
A must do whilst you are in Koh Tao is a boat trip out to it’s neighbouring island ‘Koh Nagnyuan’. There are plenty of day boat trips which head there, stopping to snorkel on the way. We saw lots of beautiful fish when we stopped at Mango bay, we managed to get some great photos by feeding the fish banana skin which they seemed to love!
Whilst you are in Koh nagnyuan, make sure you climb to the top of the viewpoint, and get your obligatory photo with the view! Make sure you also take it in though because it is spectacularly beautiful. It gets quite busy up there when the boat trip stops with people wanting photos so try your best to get there as quickly as possible!
Koh Phi Phi
One must do whilst in Koh Phi Phi is an island day tour. This will take you to Monkey Beach, the famous Maya Bay, and a few other bays along the way where you can jump out and snorkel. Monkey Bay was in particular a big experience for me. I wasn’t feeling great and had one bottle of water for the whole day, and this cheeky monkey jumped on the boat, took it out of my bag, screwed the lid off, made his way up to the top of the boat so everyone could see – and downed my whole bottle of water! Everyone on the boat trip was cracked up laughing, and it was such a good experience.
We then headed to the famous Maya Bay where the film ‘The Beach was filmed’ which is spectacular, I felt so tiny surrounded by the huge limestone cliffs.
Koh Lanta is what we liked to call the ‘hippy’ island. Everything is super quiet and relaxed, and everyone is just there to enjoy the amazing scenery. We arrived fairly late in the evening after a long journey from Koh Tao, and we managed to find a very cheap and cheerful but great place to stay, called Pitt Bungalow. I think we paid about £20 each for 3 nights, so it was super cheap, and even offered a free motorbike which Andy was particularly happy about! This was ideal for us as we had read online that motorbike is the best way to get around Koh Lanta, and we planned to drive the length of the island.
We stayed near to Klong Nin Beach, which was beautiful. There were restaurants and bars all the way along the beach, and it was a very relaxed, romantic atmosphere. One night we sat on the beach and listened to a live band play, and another night we had the most amazing 3 course meal with our feet in the sand sat on a table right by the ocean. I loved spending the evenings on the beach under the stars.
During the daytime, there is a lot of beauty to be seen in Koh Lanta. We took our motorbike up to the top of the island and back, and found the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen along the way. Long beach and bamboo bay are particularly nice, the sand is bright white and it literally looks like paradise. As Koh Lanta is quieter than the other islands, the beaches are less busy which adds to the tranquility. We also saw a lot of monkeys along the way, and a HUGE monitor lizard which stopped in front of our bike, we had to draw to a halt and let it cross the road as it was so big that it literally took up the whole road :O. I would thoroughly recommend getting a bike in Koh Lanta as it is the perfect way to explore the island.
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Have you been to Southern Thailand or planning to go? I would love to hear about it!