Phuket, Thailand is a destination in its own right. Beautiful beaches, cultural sites and a thumping nightlife make this a popular destination among people of all ages. While the Andaman Sea’s Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, it by no means its only island. Actual numbers vary, but most sources put the number of islands in Thailand at well over 1,000. Island hopping from Phuket is a simple and exciting way to spend some time in southern Thailand’s tropical lushness.
Koh Phi Phi
At just under two hours by regular ferry from Phuket, and less time by private speedboat, Koh Phi Phi is a very popular and very beautiful tiny gem of an island. Possible most well known for the devastation wrought by the 2004 tsunami, Koh Phi Phi has come back with a vengeance and is back on the top of the list of great island destinations. Accommodations here range from backpacker guesthouse to luxury resort, with plenty of mid range options. Dance the night away at one of its many beach bars, SCUBA and snorkel at nearby Bida Nok and Bida Nai, or just relax on the beautiful beaches. You may even find a hammock that you’ll never want to leave.
Just over an hour by ferry from Koh Phi Phi, or four hours from Phuket, you’ll find Koh Lanta. Consisting of several islands, Koh Lanta generally refers to Koh Lanta Yai, or Big Lanta Island. Again, snorkeling and diving are popular here, but Koh Lanta is less developed than nearby Koh Phi Phi and you can still expect to find a variety of accommodation and activities. Nearby Koh Lanta Noi has no tourist facilities, but many visitors hire a scooter on the main island, then make the short ferry ride to explore a more local aspect of Thai life. Additionally, Old Lanta Town on the main island houses a small community of local Thai fishing families and sea gypsies, and is well worth a look.
About three hours by ferry from Koh Lanta you’ll find Koh Lipe, and you’ll notice that as you go farther from Phuket, things become very different. While accommodations are plentiful and places to eat and drink boundless, there are a conspicuous lack of things like ATMs, but most establishments take credit cards. However, Koh Lipe offers gorgeous, uncrowded beaches and a more authentic tropical atmosphere. The waters around the island are clear, which makes for great snorkeling and SCUBA. Koh Lipe also boasts a sailing school, as well as other activities. A clinic has recently been opened on the island, and is staffed by four doctors, one of whom speaks English. Supposedly.
If things weren’t feeling rustic enough yet, welcome to Koh Tarutao National Marine Park, an hour’s ferry ride from Koh Lipe. Well known as one of the best, most unspoiled islands in Thailand, Koh Tarutao is famous amongst divers as one of the best dive sites in world. Also famous for its use an island prison in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as the location for the television show Survivor:Thailand, Koh Tarutao is teeming with jungle wildlife and history. Hike inland to see some overgrown ruins, relax on the beach, or take a peek at what’s below the water’s surface. Simple accommodations and restaurants can be found, but this is a cash only island, and that means Thai baht. No credit card machines, money exchangers, or ATM’s are in use anywhere on Koh Tarutao.
So the next time you’re in Phuket, consider leaving behind the cabaret shows and bar-laden streets behind. It’s easy and wonderful to hop on a ferry and make your way through the Andaman Sea to visit some of Thailand’s other islands. As the crowds begin to thin out, you just may find an entirely different Thailand waiting to greet you.
Ferry times and durations vary according to the time of year and local weather conditions. Please enquire locally when planning a trip that includes a journey by ferry.