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8 Thai islands locals keep to themselves

If you’ve spent much time on Thai islands, then you’ll understand our sentiment when we say that sometimes, it feels like half the international world is on the same island as you. Kind of opposite to what you’re trying to achieve, if peace, tranquility and seclusion were your end goals for an island vacay, right? Understandably, whether you’re a local or not, you want to have a quiet and authentic experience in Thailand, but it’s kind of hard when the country boasts some of the most magnificent geographical masterpieces of the world, that draw in millions from all over.

So, is it really the case that in this day and age, we now need to escape to a completely private island to truly get away from the world? Sometimes, but not always. There are still a number of less-visited gems that the locals of Thailand keep to themselves, for good reason. Because when you have a good secret, naturally, you want to keep it all to yourself. We use the word “secret” in the most flexible of manners, as with google nowadays, there isn’t a section of the globe that hasn’t been mapped out.

Some of these islands are so untouched though, that they are without the accommodation that befits our standards – nothing short of five-star. With that said, you don’t need to stay on an island to receive the island experience. Take a boat, spend the day there, pig out on freshly caught seafood and live it up, local style. Because if you’re local, or trying to grasp the local experience, you should drop all expectations and just ride with it. Without further ado, we bring you 9 Thai islands or “kohs” locals keep to themselves.

Hero image: Wojciech Portnicki, Featured image: Koh Chang, photo by Ragnar Vorel

Koh Chang

Okay, so most locals and many tourists know of Koh Chang – translated from Thai as “elephant island” because of its elephant shaped headland – but the island has still retained a rugged and remote charm that makes it different from other tourist destinations such as Koh Samui or Koh Phi Phi. Located in the Gulf of Thailand – nearest Airport is Trat – there is something so endearing about the island that will make you feel like you’re in your own world. And did you know, there are still parts of the island and the archipelago that are still relatively untouched by tourists? Head to the eastern side which is less developed and more isolated from the west to experience true local life on the island around the fishing villages; alternatively, get a song taew or ride a motorbike to the lush green countryside to explore the jungle and majestic waterfalls tucked away in its interior. Or, head out by boat to the islands nearby, such as Koh Wai, a small and even more remote experience. Visitors of Koh Chang also shouldn’t miss the party scene on Lonely Beach which features white sands, good drinks and great music.

Lonely Beach, Ko Chang, Thailand. Photo by Ragner Vorel

Koh Kood

Koh Kood is Thailand’s fourth largest island but its least populated, home to wild jungle, pristine beaches and fishing villages, with about 2,000 residents living on the island. There area myriad of reasonable to six-star resorts dotted along its densely forested coastline with many resorts having their own almost private beach. Relatively underdeveloped when compared to its more popular neighbour Koh Chang, Kod Kood receives less visitors yearly as it requires quite a bit of travel, which is what keeps the island an exclusive hidden amongst locals and travellers willing to make the effot. For most people, Koh Kood is simply the perfect place to get away from everything and look up to the night’s sky, yet active travellers may enjoy plenty of opportunities from diving and snorkelling to hiking and more.

Soneva Kiri, Koh Kood

Koh Lipe

Known for its white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and bounteous marine life, Koh Lipe is the most Southern island in Thailand and on a clear day, you can see Langkawi island in Malaysia, a mere 30 km away. What we love so much about Koh Lipe is that it’s so close to other gorgeous islands, Thai and Malaysian, from Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi in Phuket to Langkawi and other islands in the Andaman Sea. Part of the Adang archipelago, a group of 10 uninhabited  islands, day trips to the surrounding islands are the norm. But you need not leave either as Koh Lipe has everything you need for the perfect holiday, from bungalows, five-star villas and luxe resorts to restaurants, bars and coffee shops. White sandy beaches are the standard, with three main beaches and a handful of private beaches to choose from.

Koh Lipe, Photo by @adangislandresort

Koh Lan

Why go to Pattaya when you can go to Koh Lan? Ok, you have to pass through Pattaya to get there, as it’s about 7km off the coast of Thailand’s most touristy seaside city. But with Koh Lan so nearby, it’s so worth it. This wonderful little island is surrounded by clear azure blue waters and features six white sand beaches – the most popular being Tawaen beach – that offer an array of water sporting activities. Enjoy a delightful variety of foods either in any one of the island’s many restaurants, or straight from your sun-chair if you’re feeling super chillazy. Without all the noises of Pattaya city, all you can hear is the gorgeous sounds of the ocean and the island’s vibrant wildlife. There are a number of luxury resorts to choose from if you decide to stay on the island, with prices generally higher than what you’d find in Pattaya; but as the standards here are higher too, it’s well worth it. If you’re feeling super low-key, see if you can catch a boat out to Koh Pai, the largest island in Mu Ko Phai, a small uninhabited archipelago about 21km from West Pattaya.

Koh Lan, Photo by Russ Thorne

Koh Si Chang

12km from the shores of Si Racha in Chon Buri province – about half an hour from Pattaya – there’s an island that is really, really local. To the extend that when you’re on it – last time we checked – you won’t see a farang in site. Getting there is somewhat dubious as you’ll only reach it by a boat that’s at least 15 years old, so we highly recommend hiring your own speed boat and perhaps not going during the rainy season. But this is the true local experience. It’s a cute little beach with crystal clear waters, some temples and a local community living there. The island is actually home to the a Royal Palace built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1892. At its pinnacle, the palace boasted 4 mansions, 14 halls and a magnificent pavilion surrounded by gardens, ponds, walkways and a private beach. Sadly, the palace is no longer there, but sits in Bangkok. In 1900, after Koh Sichang was invaded by the French, the main royal residence was pulled down and re-assembled at the Dusit Palace in Bangkok – where it remains today as the Vimanmek Mansion – the largest teakwood building in the world.The octagon stone base of the main royal residence is still visible though, as are the buildings within the palace compound. The palace gardens have also been quietly tended to.

Koh Si Chang, Photo from www.kohsichang.net

Koh Mak

Located near the National Marine Park in Eastern Thailand, this beautiful tropical island, infested with nothing but 10,000 palm trees, is actually the biggest privately owned island in Thailand. Koh Mak is a relatively off the grid and a new island destination that’s only started gaining impetus in popularity in the last several years. It’s very much still a well-kept secret of island enthusiasts. About 40km away from mainland Trat, you won’t find much of the partying, Pattaya-like atmosphere here as there is very little nightlife on Koh Mak. It’s not untouched though as there are over 20 resorts to stay in and a local community too, with  temples, fishing villagesand a school. Also, it did make it onto the list of the Sunday Times’ top 10 beaches of the world, so it does attract international travellers; with that said, we’re surprised by how relaxing, unspoiled and quiet it is. One of our favourites!

Koh Mak, Photo from www.kohmakguide.com

Koh Kret

Okay, this one doesn’t have a beach, it’s a river island and it’s still technically in Bangkok too. A lot of you probably already know it but can we just say, when you’re here, you really feel immersed in the local culture and river life of the Chao Phraya. This island is well-known for its pottery and is home to many shops that have been in operation since the last century. A perfect way to spend the day on the island is to rent a bicycle (roughly THB40 for the whole day) and cycle around the main train that runs around the perimeter of the island. You’ll cycle past shops, coffee shops, beautiful farms, local restaurants and the houses of the inhabitants on the island. Or, if you’re into craft beer, there is actually a microbrewery named Chitbeer next to the pier itself which boasts some fantastic live music and of course delicious home brewed Thai craft beers; non-alcoholic ones are also available! Grab the boat from Saphan Thaksin and head to Nonthaburi pier for a day trip that will truly immerse you in some authentic Thai culture.

Pottery on Koh Kret, Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya

Koh Yao Noi

Situated in Phang Nga Bay and right between the country’s two most visited islands, Phuket and Krabi, Koh Yao Noi is one of Thailand’s most untouched retreats, with clean shallow bays, pristine tropical forests and wealth of limestone cliffs jutting out of the waters of the Andaman Sea. Koh Yao Noi is surrounded by a cluster of serene islands nearby including Koh Lao Lading, Koh Nok, Koh Khai Nok, Koh Pak Bia, Koh Khai Nai and Koh Hong, ideal for snorkelling. Enjoy a gorgeous stay at super luxurious Six Senses Yao Noi which features one of the most breathtaking swimming pools of Thailand, or get stuck in a range of adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities, from rock-climbing, snorkelling and kayaking to jet-skiing, hiking and island-hopping.  Koh Yao Noi presents you with nature at its most stunning.

Six Senses Yao Noi, Koh Yao Noi

Catherine Napalai Faulder
Catherine is Bangkok born and bred and knows the angles of the city and its people very personally. You'll often catch her writing about the upsides of Thainess, the richness and diversity of Bangkok's third cultures and the true meaning of wellness.