Phuket, the largest island in Thailand, makes a great base for visiting other smaller islands nearby. Did you know that there are many hidden gems, each with its own personality and charm, besides the overcrowded Phi Phi Island? The best part of all: they can easily be reached from Phuket! So complete your island experience in the southern part of Thailand by visiting these stunning little-known places:
1. Koh Racha (Raya Island)
Koh Racha or Raya Island is my favourite of all. This island is especially famous for its amazing diving and snorkelling sites. It is made up of two islets, Racha Yai and Racha Noi, and its surrounding waters are teeming with corals and fishes. Racha Noi is uninhabited but Racha Yai is home to a beautiful, private, white sand beach accommodation called The Racha. This is a luxurious accommodation that perfectly complements the private retreat vibe of the island. The resort makes for a great getaway from busy Phuket and is ideal for a one- or two-night stay. The long strip of fine white sand and clear waters is perfect for snorkelling. It can get quite busy in the afternoon with visiting boats that make a stop for a day trip.
Getting there: Long-tail and speedboat transfers may be arranged from Chalong Pier or Rawai, and the trip takes from 45 minutes to more than an hour depending on the boat. All-inclusive day tours are also available from tour operators in Phuket.
2. Koh Khai Nok
If you prefer a short boat ride, head to Koh Khai Nok. One of two islets, Koh Khai Nok is just a 20-minute boat ride away from Phuket. The island offers a great getaway for some sunbathing and snorkelling without the hassle of long hours on the boat. Popular among sunbathers, the island has all the facilities needed for a good day out at the beach. You will see the long strip of beach dotted with colourful sun-loungers and umbrellas. There are bars and restaurants for you to quench your thirst and fill your tummies too. Do take your Thai Baht with you as the island also has several stores selling local merchandise from T-shirts to sarongs and souvenirs.
The best part about this island is that you will find about twelve different types of tropical fish swimming near its shores, not the least bit afraid of people. Take the chance to wade in the clear, shallow waters with them.
Getting there: Only 20 minutes away from Phuket, a half-day tour is all it takes to experience this island.
3. Koh Yao Noi
Koh Yao Noi is more developed for tourists in that there are several accommodation options on the island, from budget to five-star. However, the charm of the island lies in the fact that despite the creature comfort that this island affords, its island-vibe is still much preserved. It remains a great refuge from the hustle and bustle of Phuket. Home to a small community of Muslim farmers and fishermen, Koh Yao Noi allows visitors to feel as if they travelled back in time. There are many restaurants and shops on the island so do have your cash with you. It is useful to note that the islanders are determined to preserve their traditional ways so do respect the local culture by dressing modestly and refraining from drinking alcohol outside the restaurants or resorts that serve them.
Getting there: Long-tail boat ferries make daily trips to Yao Noi from Bang Rong Pier on the east coast of Phuket. From the airport, a taxi will take you to the pier in 25 minutes. The journey is 1 hour, with daily departures from Phuket. The boat will make a short stop on Koh Yao Yai, then cross to Koh Yao Noi, only 8 minutes away. Long-tail boats can also be hired at Ao Po pier for charter to Koh Yao.
4. Koh Hae (Coral Island)
Koh Hae or Coral Island is easily the most accessible island from Phuket. Just 15 minutes by speedboat, this island is a popular choice for many travellers as it is almost hassle-free to get there. Like most of the other islands, it offers great opportunities for snorkelling and diving. There are a few restaurants and bars on the island and similar to Koh Racha, you will find many day-trippers here in the afternoon before it regains its peace and quiet in the evening. At night, the island is beautiful and serene. The only accommodation on the island is called Coral Island Resort. You can go for scuba-diving classes starting off in the resort swimming pool or opt for the more cultural experience of a batik painting class. To ease that tired and sore muscles, go for a massage at the open-air pavilion at the end of the long beach.
Getting there: You can rent a longtail boat at either Rawai Beach or Chalong pier. Alternatively, book a snorkelling day trip and you will be taken on a 15-minute speedboat ride from Chalong.
5. Koh Bon
Koh Bon is a small rocky island directly opposite Rawai Beach. Its proximity and calm waters make for a perfect short getaway from Phuket. The tranquillity of the island makes it ideal for a picnic, or for swimming and relaxing under the sun. If you are a seafood lover, this is the island to go as the island is home to Bon Island Restaurant, a huge, renowned restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine and fresh seafood. The restaurant is open every day of the year from 10am to 5pm. What better way to spend your day at the beach than feasting on great food?
Getting there: The easiest way to get to Koh Bon is to hire a long-tail boat at Rawai’s jetty or along Rawai Beach. The trip does not take more than 10 minutes each way.
6. Similan Islands
Similan Islands is a group of nine islands that make up the Marine National Park. “Similan” is derived from the Malay word sembilan, and means “nine”. These islands are totally unspoilt and its teeming marine life easily puts it among the top ten diving sites in the world. The islands are a little further to reach and its remote location makes it more worth the trouble if you scuba dive. I myself went there on a scuba-diving trip. That said, it is also possible to visit the islands on a short day trip.
The Similan Islands are not your typical Andaman Sea islands; you will not find the signature limestone formations but instead, you will find low-lying rock formations covered in lush vegetation. The islands’ most striking feature is what lies beneath the water: the most spectacular coral growths in the world.
There are tents and small bungalows for rent on the island, allowing visitors to spend longer than a day there. If falling asleep to the sound of the waves and the whispering of the sea breeze is your cup of tea, then it is an ideal place to spend the night as you will find ultimate serenity on this rugged island.
Getting there: You can take a day trip from Phuket with a travel time of 2 hours by minibus and another 1.5 hr by speedboat. The whole journey would take about 3-3.5 hours, depending on the boat used. A popular way to go, especially for divers and game fishers, is by joining a liveaboard boat trip from Phuket, which usually runs for 4 days.
7. Maiton Island
Used to be home to a luxury resort, Maiton Island is a small idyllic spot just 15 minutes south of Phuket. The hotel no longer operates but the pristine white beach is still accessible to visitors and makes for a great day trip from Phuket. You can swim in the clear waters with thousands of fishes and have a relaxing picnic under the swaying palm trees, away from the crowd. There is not much to do on the island but this is one island that will win you over with its unspoilt beauty and stunning vista of the ocean. If you are looking for a quiet day on a beautiful beach, then this island would be right up your alley.
Getting there: You can choose to go on your own by speedboat which will take you there in about 20 minutes. The speedboats operate twice daily at 9am and 1pm from Dolphin Pier in Phuket. Or you can simply book a day tour with any of the tour operators in Phuket.
First published on TripZilla on Jun 7th, 2017