Thai island hopping for grown-ups
Full moon parties may take the limelight, but Thailand doesn’t have to be about banana pancakes and trying to adjust your camera exposure to snap a fire dancer. Island hopping is easy and means you can stay in one über-luxury hotel after another. Think less Havaianas® and more high-end flip-flops, a cool Tom Collins over Tiger beer.
With enough time on your hands, it’s possible to see the ‘big five’: Phuket, Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.
1. Koh lanta
If you’ve got an adventurous spirit, but your travel companion is craving time on a sun lounger, try sophisticated Koh Lanta – with spectacular beaches and dive sites in equal measure. For PADI pros, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang give you a good chance of seeing whale and leopard sharks. Or take the short boat ride south to Koh Mook Island to swim in the Emerald Cave.
Peppered with boutique hotels, Phuket is the perfect starting point for island hopping. The rule of thumb here is the harder to reach the beach (think Ao Sane or Banana Beach), the less crowded it’ll be. Off the beaten beach path, Khao Phra National Park is splashed with waterfalls such as Ton Sai and Bang Pae. If seeing caged animals has bothered you while in Thailand, go and see the work of the tiny but terrific Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, also in the park.
3. Koh Samui
With its own airport, Koh Samui is easy to reach from the mainland. So resorts fringe the blissful beaches and there’s plenty to occupy night owls. Break from the norm and visit traditional fishing village Hua Thanon for net-fresh seafood. While high up at the aptly named ‘Secret Buddha Garden’, butterflies outnumber tourists. The hills here hide statues too, so you can Buddha-spot as you walk. Just steer clear of the pungent durian fruit trees.
4. Koh Phi Phi
It may be popular with partygoers, but there are tucked-away, tranquil spots on Koh Phi Phi. Try Pileh Lagoon or slip on walking shoes and trek to Viewpoint. If you’ve been dreaming of picture-perfect turquoise sea, this island has it in (buckets and) spades. You could even do a mini island hop while here, taking a boat and snorkelling gear to Koh Raya for underwater adventures.
5. Koh Phangan
An hour by ferry from Koh Samui, it makes sense to finish in Koh Phangan. Shun the southerly tip of the island (especially Haad Rin Beach) if you don’t like the idea of full moon partying. The eastern coast is quieter and the island’s tropical interior is a dream for hikers – particularly the walk up Khao Ra Mountain. Or take a traditional longtail boat over to Koh Ma to go chasing waterfalls.
People talk about the May to October rainy season, but Thai weather is a little like Britain’s: impossible to predict. If you don’t mind the odd tropical shower, it’s worth considering the bookends of this season.
Don’t just think about the climate though. For an adults-only trip, the ideal time to visit is outside of both UK and Thai school holidays. School’s out in October, March and April in Thailand, when you’re likely to find families hitting the beaches. Avoid those periods if you’re looking for sun-worshipping over sandcastle-building.
Backpackers sweat it out on busy buses and bumpy boats. But if you’re looking for a way to travel that tugs on the heartstrings – rather than doing it on a shoestring – there are more romantic ways to island hop.
A handful of helicopter companies offer private transfers. You get from island to island and have a seabird’s eye view of the swoon-inducing scenery. Mix it up with shorter speedboat trips for an up-close-and-personal look at the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. Some islands are even close enough to warrant a ferry ride. Speak to your boutique hotel concierge about the best – and most luxurious – way to travel.
If you’re stopping in Bangkok and think an island may be too far from reach, try Koh Samet. A couple of hours of driving and Bond-esque speedboat ride away from the capital, it’s favoured by local city-dwellers needing a weekend break. Ao Phrao boasts the more upmarket places to stay.