Are you in need of a getaway? Do you want not only to feel the sand between your toes and hear the lap of waves on the shore, but also the feeling of seclusion and isolation that only comes from marooning yourself on a tropical island?
If you’re craving all of this, but don’t have the time to head too far from Bangkok, you need our pick of the best Thai islands within easy reach of the capital.
One of the most popular island getaways from Bangkok, in no small part thanks to its close proximity to the capital, come the weekend the squeaky white sand beaches of Rayong province’s Koh Samet get packed with throngs of escaping Bangkokians and international tourists. But if you come mid-week, or head to one of the island’s quieter and more secluded beaches, you’ll be in with much more of a chance of some peace and quiet. Promising options for quieter spots include Ao Tubtim, Ao Nuan and Ao Wai, while Saikaew beach is the busiest and most touristy drag, with plenty of bars and restaurants on the sand as well as nightly entertainment by way of fire puy shows. Across the island there’s plenty of accommodation of varying quality and price but, again, at the weekend it’s not uncommon for prices to double as availability shrivels up. To get to Koh Samet, take a bus or minivan from Bangkok’s eastern Ekkamai terminal; you’ll land in Ban Phe, from where it’s a short hop by fishing boat or speedboat until you’re deposited on the island. As Koh Samet forms part of a national park, there’s a 200 baht admission fee (40 baht for Thai nationals and residents).
Just a short ride offshore from the notoriously naughty mainland seaside resort of Pattaya, itself an hour or so out of Bangkok, lies the infinitely mote picturesque Koh Lan. But some unspoiled paradise this is not – huge numbers of tourists make the hop across on day trips, resulting in packed beaches lined with deckchairs and parasols, and the island’s fair share of unsightly rubbish. Still, if you stay overnight you’ll enjoy much more tranquility once the daytrippers have gone back home. Koh Lan certainly has its share of white sand beaches, and the water offshore is clear and blue. Besides sunning yourself on the sand, the island is worth taking a motorbike around – either your own rented bike, or a taxi – in order to make the most of the impressive views both out to sea and back towards the mainland. A Buddhist shrine lies at the island’s highest point, and Koh Lan’s two villages have accommodation options and less touristy spots for eating and drinking. Boats travel to and from Pattaya’s Bali Hai pier throughout the day for the 45-minute journey; to get to Pattaya itself, take a bus or minivan from Bangkok’s eastern Ekkamai terminal.
Thailand’s third largest island after Phuket and Koh Samui, Koh Chang nonetheless offers a pleasing level of quiet and seclusion, helped out by the fact that it’s that little bit further afield from Bangkok than many of the other options on this list. Set out in eastern Thailand’s Trat province, in the direction of the Cambodian border, Koh Chang forms part of a national park and has a bounty of waterfalls and untouched inner jungle to discover. But accommodation, eating and drinking options are plentiful, particularly along Sai Khao (White Sand) Beach, the most popular spot on the island for visitors. Getting here involves a 5-6 hour journey to Trat town by bus or minivan from Bangkok’s eastern Ekkamai terminal, followed by a songthaew transfer to Laem Ngop pier for the 30-minute ride to the island. Alternatively, if you’re short on time, it’s possible to catch a one-hour flight from Bangkok to Trat, and then continue onward.
Less heard of in talk about Thailand’s best islands, Koh Kut has been described as having Maldivian qualities and, until fairly recently, wasn’t all that heavily visited by independent travellers at all. Long a mainstay of package groups, Koh Kut still isn’t the easiest to explore on your own – there is little in the way of transport to get you around once you’re on the island, and many of the accommodation options can still be on the pricier luxury side. But if you can see through these potential flaws, you’ll discover an island that serves up beauty and serenity by the bucket load. Truly white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters await and, for now at least, you’re unlikely to have to share it with too many others. The other trade-off is a location relatively far from Bangkok, and further than any of the other options we’ve given – but we reckon it’s worth the journey. Bear in mind, too, that the island’s very close proximity to Cambodia means it suffers particularly badly during the annual monsoon season that runs from May to October, when we would recommend against making a trip here (and indeed many of the accommodation operations close down completely during this period). From Bangkok to Trat, take either a 5-6 hour bus or minivan ride from Ekkamai terminal, or a one-hour flight from Suvarnabhumi airport. You’ll then need to connect to the pier at Laem Sok, around 30km outside of Trat town, from where the boat ride takes around an hour.
Low-key Koh Si Chang’s appeal lies in the fact that it is arguably the closest island to Bangkok, and it’s possible to have your feet on it less than two hours after leaving the capital. It’s not somewhere that’s geared up to be an idyllic paradise destination, partly because – unlike many tourism-oriented islands – it has a village of locals who live here and thankfully help keep the vibe more down-to-earth. As a result, things here also close up pretty early of an evening, particularly in the village itself – but if you’re looking for somewhere to relax with a foot massage, some cheap seafood and pretty views on a decent enough beach, Koh Si Chang could be your bag. Some rubbish gets washed up onto the beach at high tide, as a result of the island’s location in the shipping lane on the way up to Bangkok, but you could do far worse this close to the capital. Away from the beach, a Chinese temple, King Chulalongkorn‘s former summer palace, and a number of waterfalls all wait to be explored. To get to Koh Si Chang, take a bus or minivan to Sriracha town from Ekkamai terminal in Bangkok, then hop on a tuk-tuk to Koh Loy pier to catch the 30-45-minute boat ride to the island.
At Expique, we’re experts at showing you the unique parts of Bangkok that most tours don’t take you to – and which you probably won’t discover on your own. Joining one of our tours or experiences (or having us create a custom tour for you) is a great way to make the most of your time in bangkok and ensure you leave with a memorable experience.
Are you visiting Bangkok on the way to the beach? Take a look at our expert recommendations for:
Where is your favourite Thai tropical island getaway? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by smalljude; Leo Fung; Caroline Keyzor; Mike Behnken; Chris Wotton.
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UPDATE – 25 April 2017: References to minivans departing from Bangkok’s Victory Monument have been deleted, since these have been relocated by authorities to the northern, eastern and southern bus terminals.