If Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is famously monikered as the “Jewel of the Andaman”, then the surrounding islands could very well be its “little gems”. Whether it’s lounging around on white sandy beaches, drinking cocktails, or simply taking in this halcyon atmosphere, here are the top islands surrounding Phuket that’ll let you do all that and more in perfect fashion.
The Racha Islands, consisting of Ko Racha Noi in the south and Ko Racha Yai in the north, lie approximately 22km south of Phuket. Though once an ideal day-trip destination, Ko Racha Yai is now seeing an increase in visitors due to the number of resorts being built offering fantastic accommodation.
Though many are still under construction, the Bungalow Raya is located on a hill and overlooks the sea while the Racha (above) and Rayaburi resorts are of a higher quality and sit only metres from the powdery white beaches and turquoise waters. By virtue of these idyllic conditions, the island’s most popular attractions include snorkelling, diving and fishing. Longtail boats departing from Chalong Pier take roughly two hours while speedboats, half the time. Transport costs between 900 and 1,300 baht. Though uninhabited, the southern island offers more privacy. It can be accessed by boat.
Nine islets, all numbered one to nine from south to north, make up the Similan Islands Marine National Park located about 80km north-west of Phuket. While Phuket may be too crowded for some visitors, the Similan islands – mostly because of their conservation status – have essentially been left untouched and unspoiled.
Considered one of the best dive spots in the world, islands four to nine offer great opportunities to espy marine life while islands one to three are essentially off limits. The islands are only accessible through dive tours from Phuket and transport, taking one to three hours depending on the type of boat, can be arranged with a tour operator from Chalong Pier and Patong as part of a diving package. Island number four, Ko Miang, is the entry point at which a park fee of 500 baht is charged. For diving, there is an additional 200 baht per day charge. No resorts or luxury – just tents and wooden bungalows here. You can pitch your own tent on the northern islands for roughly 80-100 baht per person per night.
Ko Phi Phi
For sun-seekers and beach-lovers, Ko Phi Phi is a love affair worth nurturing. You must’ve seen the pictures on Thai travel brochures: limestone cliffs, longtail boats with their bows tied with colourful cloth, and the surrounding waters a robin’s egg blue.
Located about 50km from Phuket, Ko Phi Phi can be reached by ferry from Ao Por Pier or by speedboat in 35-90min. Ferries depart twice a day, anywhere between 8-10am and 1-3pm.
On the narrow isthmus separating Ao Lo Dalam beach in the north and Ao Ton Sai beach in the south is where the island comes to life and where visitors arrive. Here, you could organise snorkelling, diving and booze cruising or even go shopping, partying or sailing. Accommodation, however, can be a bit daunting to secure as during peak season prices are double and availability limited. Expect to pay anywhere from 400-500 baht in the backpacker’s hub to thousands in one of the many nearby beachside hotels. A popular option on both ends of quality is the Tropical Garden Bungalows and Zeavola at 800-1400 baht and 14,000-26,000 baht, respectively.
Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi
Located between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay are the Ko Yao islands famous for their surrounding karst cathedrals, a fascinating rock pantheon, and a statuary of limestone. As development has been curbed for reasons of preservation, the area offers the an escape to nature among a refuge of bonnie beaches and evergreen forests.
Despite Ko Yao Yai being the “Big Long Island”, it is Ko Yao Noi, the “Little Long Island”, which is more populated. The biggest draws for tourists are diving, kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking. Renting a scooter or bicycle and exploring either island is possible, however most roads are made of dirt or unmaintained.
Accommodation options on Ko Yao Noi exist and range from cheap homestays and rickety bungalows to luxurious resorts. Sabai Corner Bungalows and Hill House are two popular places to rest, both of which offer a relaxing ambience. The price range for accommodation can be anywhere from 500-15,000 baht per night, or even more. Be sure to have sufficient funds prior to boarding your boat at Ao Por Pier (close to Phuket town) or Bang Rong pier as there is nowhere to withdraw money. In high season, there are up to seven boat trips per day between 8am and 6pm, at a cost of 100 baht per person.
Ko Hae (Coral Island)
The ideal day trip from Phuket is Coral Island, and for being only 15 minutes from Chalong Pier or Rawai beach via speedboat, it is well worth the time for its returns of the Banana and Long Beaches. Though at times overcrowded from the many tourists, setting towels and beach chairs at either end may prove to be more relaxing and less of a headache.
Activities available include scuba diving, snorkelling and parasailing. There is only one place to sleep, Coral Island Resort, at a price of 1,900-12,200 baht per person, depending on time of year. Full day tours to the island cost about 1,000 baht per person.
This story was first featured on SilverKris.