Islands in Thailand
Ko Chang is only two hours from Bangkok and is in the Trat province on the south-east coast near Cambodia. The name, Chang, means elephant. Parts of the archipelago have protected status as a marine national park.
Koh Samet - this island on the east coast has been rapidly developed due to its proximity to Bangkok and is popular with Thais wishing to escape the city so it can get packed on public holidays. It is considered a malarial area so take precautions.
East coast, Surat Thani Province
Koh Pha-Ngan is famous for full moon parties at Hat Rin beach. Mainly cheap backpackers' accommodation is available but more upmarket accommodation is starting to appear. There are beautiful beaches with good diving and snorkelling. It is very quiet apart from Hat Rin on the south-east tip.
Koh Samui is the third largest island. It was once a backpackers' haven but is now becoming home to spas and health centres.
Koh Tao on east coast is good for scuba diving - it is very cheap to learn how to dive there. The name means Turtle Island. It can be hard for non-divers to find accommodation as it is completely overrun with divers. It is a pleasant, quiet island.
Andaman Coast (South-West Coast)
The islands on the Andaman coast have national marine park status. These islands offer fantastic diving and snorkelling. It is often possible to camp on the islands but they are protected from excessive development. Between November and April is the best time to visit, avoiding the rains.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and was the first place to be developed for tourism. It has an airport and is also accessible by rail via a causeway attaching it to the mainland. Phuket has Chinese and Portuguese influences and is well-known for its excellent cuisine, particularly the seafood. There are several main beach towns as well as less-developed areas in the north and the interior. There are many very good dive sites accessible from Phuket. Liveaboard trips to the Burma Banks or the Similan Islands are arranged from here.
Koh Surin are a small group of islands in the Andaman Sea which are excellent for snorkelling.
Tarutao Marine National Park is collection of islands in the far south near Malaysia. Koh Lipe has been developed and has dive shops, restaurants, bars. You can camp on Koh Adang - the other islands in the group are uninhabited.
Koh Similian has some of the best diving in Thailand. It is possible to stay on two out of the nine islands. You can rent bungalows or tents to stay in. There are liveaboard diving trips out of Khao Lak on the mainland, or Phuket. It is cheaper to go from Khao Lak. Koh Similan has impressive varied dive sites with swim-throughs, rocks, a wreck, big fish such as sharks and beautiful soft corals.
Koh Lanta is more laid back. There are two islands and Koh Lanta Yai (Yai meaning big) is the one travellers mean when they refer to Koh Lanta. Koh Lanta Noi lies just of the north-eastern tip of Koh Lanta Yai but has no appeal for travellers. Ban Sala Dan at northern tip of the island is the main town. The ferries come here. You can do scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking and horse trekking.
Koh Phi Phi is the island where the Beach was filmed. It is beautiful but expensive and very busy at high season.