We pick six Thai islands which lie slightly in the shadow of their more popular neighbours, but more than make up for it with unspoilt beaches and a more relaxed pace perfect for holidays.
Turtle Island sits above package tourist favourite Koh Samui and backpacker party isle Koh Phangan and is famous for its diving scene. It’s where many people come to learn the sport and is a noted place to see whale sharks. Top spots for non-divers include Shark Bay, where you can snorkel among dozens of black-tip reef sharks, and Koh Tao’s highest peak, Two Views, which looks across Ang Thong Marine National Park.
Koh Yao Yai
Sitting in the Andaman Sea between Phuket and Krabi, this island has spectacular views of the limstone karst islands of Phang Nga Bay, which starred in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. The quiet island is home to rubber and coconut plantations, mangrove forests and secluded beaches. Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort & Spa offers a slice of luxury with its ornately carved teak wood villas.
So far south it’s often reached by speedboat from Langkawi in Malaysia, Koh Lipe is part of the Satun Province and lies within Tarutao National Park. Although it’s not the undeveloped haven it once was, the island is further from the madding crowd and has beautiful beaches. Boat trips to neighbouring uninhabited isles are a highlight and offer the chance to see mischievous crab-eating macaques, wild boars and mouse-deer.
Laid-back Lanta is much bigger than neighbouring Koh Phi Phi and absorbs its visitors, who come for the miles-long beaches, much more easily. For those that tire of lazing on the sand, there is a national park which protects 16 islands, including the southern tip of Koh Lanta where a steep road accesses hiking trails, twin beaches and a lighthouse. Old Town is worth a visit to see its old teak houses on stilts and eat in a lantern-lit restaurant.
The closest island to Bangkok, Koh Samet has long been adored by Thais escaping from the city. Somehow, it has managed to avoid over development and has relatively quiet beaches, only low-rise hotels and a green interior criss-crossed by bumpy roads. It’s more luxurious resorts, like five-star Paradee, have a beach to themselves or share their stretch of white sand with only one or two other resorts.
Lying south of larger Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand and close to the Cambodian border, exploring beaches, kayaking, snorkelling and cooling off under the waterfalls are the main activities on Koh Kut. The island’s stand-out resort is Soneva Kiri, a sustainably-focused resort which is famous for its Treepods, bamboo balconies hidden amongst the trees where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view while the waiter serves your meal via a zip line.