It’s the ultimate backpacker’s holiday: island hopping around the Land of Smiles. If you fancy this epic adventure, you’re in for a treat. There are hundreds of different island hopping routes, depending on whether you want to focus on the Gulf of Thailand or the Andaman Sea and what you’re looking for: scuba diving, trekking in nature, full moon parties or just blissful relaxation on a white sand beach. Luckily, we’ve got the full scoop for you. Read on for all you need to know about your island hopping adventure…

The big one: Phuket

This is the largest island in Thailand, and it’s where the whole island hopping dream originally started. You might roll your eyes if you’re thinking of Phuket as an over-touristed island ruined by too many hotels, but it still has plenty of hidden beaches off the beaten track. We love Banana Beach, which is one of those secret coves that you’ll need a map or some seriously good luck to find. If you’re up for a challenge, try hiking up to the Black Rock Viewpoint. You’ll need to be in good shape to make the climb, but you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views on the entire island.

Phuket is also known for its elephant sanctuaries. It’s important to do your research before you go, as sadly, some continue to follow rather less-than-ethical practices. However, the animal rights movement is on the rise in Thailand, and it has led to some elephant-friendly reserves like the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Here, you can take a treetop walk down an elevated walkway, watching the gentle giants eating, bathing and socialising below. It’s a magical place dedicated to the rehabilitation of Thailand’s elephants and is well worth a visit.

green and brown rock formation on the blue sea under the blue sky during the day

The party capital: Koh Samui

For decades, the name Koh Samui has been synonymous with wild full moon parties. If you want to tick this quintessential backpacking experience off your bucket list, then be sure to add Koh Samui to your Thailand island hopping itinerary. You’ll find great beaches and budget-friendly accommodation, popular with young travellers from around the world.

There’s more to Koh Samui than just the parties, though. The island also has some spectacular temples where you can immerse yourself in Thailand’s native Buddhist culture. Be sure to dress modestly, or you won’t be allowed inside the Big Buddha Temple or Wat Plai Laem. Always keep in mind these are still active houses of worship, not just tourist attractions.

boats ashore during the day

The diver’s dream: the Similan Islands

You’ll need to head out to the Andaman Sea to visit the remote Similan Islands, which are renowned as a paradise for scuba divers. Here, you can visit world-famous dive sites like Richelieu Rock. You’re almost guaranteed to see plenty of sea turtles in the Similans, while at certain times of the year, you can also have the chance to spot mantas and whale sharks.

The Similans are quite far from the mainland, and they are a protected natural area, so there’s no accommodation on the islands. The best way for dedicated divers to see them is on a liveaboard multi-day boat trip. Here’s some good news for divers on a budget: while liveaboards in other parts of the world are often eye-wateringly expensive and require a long time commitment, there are short, wallet-friendly options here. Some companies even operate hop-on, hop-off liveaboards where you might just spend one or two nights at sea. These are a great option if you don’t have much time for your Thailand island hopping trip.

rocks in the sea

The movie buff’s choice: the Phi Phi islands

While Koh Samui is full of wild party-goers, the beautiful Phi Phi Islands offer a quiet getaway. That makes them great for romantic holidays. There are two main attractions here, both ideal for film fans: James Bond Island, which became famous as villainous Scaramanga’s lair in the classic 1974 film The Man with the Golden Gun, and Phi Phi Leh, the setting for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, which tells the story of backpackers in Thailand.

Another spot worth visiting in Phi Phi Island is Monkey Beach. Don’t carry any food if you’re heading here, or you’ll be swarmed by greedy primates as soon as you step out of your kayak. If you don’t have anything interesting in your bag, the monkeys will probably leave you alone, but be careful! Monkeys are cute but always unpredictable. Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with the little critters, or your holiday in paradise could end in disaster. This may be a sign of friendship for humans, but monkeys will interpret it as an aggressive move.

aerial photograph of body of water

The quiet one: Koh Lanta

Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands are popular with families. Looking for something a little more sophisticated and, dare we say it, grown-up? Then Koh Lanta is the island for you. Dense mangrove forests, mysterious caves and beautiful lagoons are just a few of the highlights here on an island that feels a little more unspoiled than the others.

This is quieter than its neighbours and still has some of that wilderness vibe that will make you feel like you’ve stepped off the grid entirely. In fact, Koh Lanta only got electricity for the first time in 1996, and many hotels still only turn on the power for limited hours each day. If you’d like a taste of the wild as part of your Thailand island hopping holiday, don’t miss it.

aerial photograph of the beach

The Maldives of Thailand: Koh Lipe

Koh Lipe’s nickname is hard to live up to, but this tiny island punches well above its weight. Nestled far away to the south, close to the border with Malaysia, Koh Lipe is very far off the beaten track. In fact, the fastest possible routes will take you at least six hours to get here from Bangkok, so this island is not on most travellers’ radars. It’s a good choice if you’re planning a larger Southeast Asian odyssey, as you’ll easily be able to hop across to the Langkawi archipelago, the gateway to Malaysia.

This is a good choice for anyone who wants a quieter island break. There aren’t many parties, and you won’t see a lot of families with kids, as the long travel time tends to put them off. Instead, you’ll be able to relax on pristine beaches and take a dip in the warm water, enjoying the feeling of paradise.

brown boat near the rocks that see the sea

The best for temples and waterfalls: Koh Phangan

If Koh Lipe is the Maldives of Thailand, then Koh Phangan might well be the Thai version of Bali. Like that famous island, it has some wild parties — yes, there are crazy full moon parties on the beaches, but it also offers some stunning scenery. If you want to add some culture to your Thailand island hopping itinerary, then this should be on your list. We love Phaeng Waterfall, Than Sadet Waterfall and Paradise Waterfall, all of which are easily accessible.

Wat Nok, Wat Khao Tham and Wat Pho are among the most beautiful temples in Koh Phangan. As always, make sure you are dressed appropriately for a house of worship. You’ll usually need to cover your shoulders and knees before you’ll be allowed to enter.

white boat dock on the seashore near the green trees during the day

The best for hiking in the wilderness: Koh Chang

Koh Chang is another gem of an island that rarely makes it onto travellers’ lists. That’s not because it’s tiny — in fact, this is the third largest island in the country. However, it is less developed than many of the other islands on this list, and its rugged, wild atmosphere doesn’t really appeal to the full moon party crew.

In fact, a full 70% of the island is all-natural. That means mountains with steep hiking trails, rainforests teeming with wildlife and, of course, the gorgeous beaches that you expect from a Thai island. This is the perfect island for hikers or birdwatchers, so if you’re looking to get back to nature, add it to your list!

Aerial view of green trees beside the water mirror during the daytime in Thailand

The best for snorkelers: Koh Yao Yai

The Similan Islands are ideal for serious divers, but what about the casual visitor who just likes to strap on a snorkel from time to time? You’ll find beautiful coral reefs all around Koh Yao Yai. It’s also easy to get to its sister island, Koh Yao Noi, so why not include both in your Thailand island hopping itinerary?

Inland, there’s also plenty to do on Koh Yao Yai. The interior of the island is still very natural, with free-roaming water buffalo and hidden waterfalls. In fact, the gorgeous landscapes are why it’s known as one of the most romantic islands in Thailand, and it has become popular with couples on honeymoon. Even if you’re travelling alone, though, you’re still bound to fall in love with this tropical paradise.

people on the beach during the day

The best for a weekend getaway: Koh Samet

Island hopping usually requires a lot of time, but if you can only squeeze a few days of paradise into your holiday plans, then take a look at Koh Samet. It’s just four hours from Bangkok, so many Thais come here for a weekend getaway.

Koh Samet is very much an island of two halves. The east side is the party zone, with lots of beach bars and budget-friendly accommodation. If you want something quieter and more upscale, head to the west. You can enjoy spectacular sunsets from the unspoiled beaches here, but be warned — the accommodation on this side of the island is clearly targeted at people with cash to flash!

The best for thrills on the water: Koh Larn

Koh Larn is close to Pattaya, Thailand’s legendary party city. However, it doesn’t have the wild nightlife that you might expect from its location because most tourists from Pattaya come here for a day trip and return in the evening. If you decide to stay overnight here, you’ll find a surprisingly quiet, chilled-out island that is worthy of a place in your Thailand island hopping itinerary.

By day, Koh Larn offers plenty of fun with various watersports that will get your heart pumping and are suitable for beginners. Parasailing, banana boats, jet skis and snorkelling are all popular activities here. You can also hike up to the Big Buddha viewpoint or meet some friendly primates at Monkey Beach. Generally, daytrippers leave the island at around 4 pm, and you’ll find a blissful slice of paradise with quiet beaches where you can watch the sunset in peace — as long as the monkeys don’t pester you, that is.

brown and green island on the blue sea under the white sky during the day

Which are your must-see islands in Thailand? At WeRoad, we’ve got two great itineraries to show you the best of the country, with the route changing depending on the season. In fact, we don’t want the wet season to leave you soaked through! In winter, our two-week adventure will take you from Bangkok to the dense jungles of Chiang Mai before heading south to Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands. Join us this summer for a trip through some of the best islands in the Gulf of Thailand, as well as the chance to see more of the mainland. Either way, you’re in for a treat. Get ready to discover the magic of the Land of Smiles!

Want to know more about Thailand’s climate? Read our guide here!

WeRoad Team
Written by WeRoad Team