Most countries can only dream of a single magnificent coastline. However, this is different in Thailand. This southeast Asian country is perfect for budget travellers so be sure to check out the best islands in Thailand for backpackers.
The top islands in Thailand for backpackers include Phuket, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Samui. Each has it’s own charm, idyllic beaches, crystal clear waters and plenty to see and do.
Thailand offers a bevy of island chains distributed all over the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, each distinct from the others with its unique characteristics. Having lived in nearby China for many years, Thailand’s islands were my go-to for a bit of winter sun.
Here are the top 5 best Thai islands for backpackers that will leave you wanting to see more the next chance you get.
Boring stuff: I have visited each of the places I recommend and give you my honest opinion, warts and all. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission. Affiliate links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
Best Islands in Thailand for Backpackers
1. Phuket (One of the Best Thai Islands for Backpackers)
Phuket is one of the best islands in Thailand for backpackers and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Asia. Freedom beach, Kata beach, Bang Tao beach, and Banana beach are all idyllic stretches of white sand and azure waters.
Many have been taken over by well-kept international resorts and outfitted with stylish loungers and exquisite beach bars.
So you won’t find any shortage of luxury stay here, that’s for sure. However, if you’re looking for somewhere more laid-back, head to stunning little Kata Noi further along the coast for some excellent budget options perfect for backpackers.
Popular spots: to experience Phuket’s best nightlife, visit Bangla road. For cultural exploration Big Buddha Statue, Thalang National Museum, and old Phuket town
2. Koh Pha Ngan
If three-day beach parties are your perfect vacation idea, Koh Pha Ngan is the Thai island famous for hardcore partygoers and backpackers. Many consider it one of Thailand’s best nightlife spots.
So if you are looking for a lively vacation destination to let loose after a year of hard work, this is your destination. And before you start your trip, make sure you go through Thailand Nomad’s Koh Phangan guide to plan the perfect vacation.
Nearby Koh Tao is also a great spot for diving. Read here about how to travel from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao.
Popular spots: The most popular tourist attractions include Phaeng Waterfall, Kuan Yin Chinese Temple, Wat Pho, and Khao Ra peak. The best beaches on Koh Pha Ngan are Haad Rin, Baan Tai, Baan Kai, Srithanu, Thong Sala, and Haad Chao Phao.
3. Koh Lanta (One of the Best Islands in Thailand for Backpackers)
This beautiful Thai island is just a mere 30-minute’ boat ride from Krabi town. Koh Lanta is the place to go if you want to do it all – sunbathing on beautiful beaches, scuba diving, lively beach bars, feasting on delicious seafood, and kayaking through mangrove forests.
With so much to do on this picturesque island, it’s no wonder Koh Lanta is one of the best Thai islands for backpackers.
Popular spots: the most popular tourist attractions includes Klong Dao Beach, Klong Khong Beach, Bamboo Beach, Khao Mai Kaew Cave, Old Town, Mu Koh Lanta National Park, Oasis Yoga, and Sand Ga U village
4. Mu Koh Phi Phi
Mu Koh Phi Phi is also an island near Krabi, perfect for backpackers. Koh Phi Phi has a vibe that attracts a young, stylish, energetic, and sophisticated crowd ready to relax and chill.
Typical days can be spent sunbathing, swimming, and exploring, with evenings shopping, hanging out at the many beach bars, watching Thai fire dancers, and dancing until the early hours with new friends.
Popular spots: you can visit amazing beaches like Maya Beach, Long Beach, Monkey Bay, Laem Tong Beach, & Phak Nam Bay, and Vikings Cave.
5. Koh Samui
Known as the original Thai island, Koh Samui has become the go-to place for backpackers. Tourists can dine at exotic beachfront restaurants, chill out at the many beach bars and clubs, visit waterfalls in the jungle, and enjoy the excellent nightlife.
I spent a week on Koh Samui and loved exploring the beautiful beaches, waterfalls and nearby island archipelago of Angthong Marine Park.
Popular spots: Kamalaya Rainforest Spa, Lipa Noi beach, Namuang Waterfalls, Wat Plai Laem, and Wat Khunaram are some of the best attractions of the island.
Whether you want to kick back and relax, party ’til dawn, see some amazing temples or spend time diving and exploring Thailand’s beautiful reefs and coastline, there is something for everyone to do.
You can also spend time immersing yourself in the fascinating culture and learning about the traditions and customs in Thailand. If you learn Thai language before you head off on your backpacking adventure, you will be able to benefit from an even more exciting and enriching experience.
So, the only question now should be which of these five best islands in Thailand for backpackers will you choose to visit first?
You might also like these other articles:
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.
Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲