Thailand’s enticing and intoxicating islands have drawn travellers for decades. Hopping between pristine white beaches and clear warm waters is one of Southeast Asia’s must-do experiences. Doing so amongst the 550 islands on Thailand’s Andaman Coast has become a quintessential activity in the country.
However, the real challenge here is for budget or solo travellers, as the islands are increasingly known for their exclusive resorts perfect for romantic couple getaways. This guide will help any traveller go island hopping in Thailand’s Andaman Coast, especially those who are on a tight budget or plan on visiting the islands solo. Shoestring, solo travel in Thailand has been a long-standing trend and it’s still alive and well on the country’s west coast.
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Why go to the Andaman Coast?
When people think of Thailand’s beaches, the real debate lies between the Andaman Coast (west) and the Gulf of Thailand (east), with picturesque islands on both sides of the country.
There are a few differences between the east and west coast, which might sway you either way if you have limited time. The Andaman Coast on the west side is considered to have more fluorescent blue waters from its shallow sea, as compared to the deep blue of the Gulf side. The weather is also slightly different as the Andaman experiences a pretty strong tropical monsoon from the months June to November.
Although the Andaman Coast also boasts some of Thailand’s most famous and popular islands, like Phuket and Phi Phi, the large expanse of the Andaman Sea means that there are still plenty of smaller islands where you can experience a true castaway feeling.
Is it good for solo travellers?
Long ago Thailand’s Andaman Islands were hippy hangouts and budget traveller havens. However, now you’ll more likely find luxury accommodation and couples wandering the beaches hand in hand for sunset happy hour. As a result, many people have began to disregard the islands on the west coast as not ideal places for solo travel in Thailand.
However, in saying that, some of the original infrastructure for solo travellers like quality hostels, beach parties and group day trips are still available pretty much everywhere, just perhaps less utilised as they once were.
So although the Andaman Coast is certainly not the solo traveller retreat it was back in the day, there’s certainly still some fun to be had if you choose the right island/s.
Where to base yourself for island hopping in Thailand
In southern Thailand, most people aim to spend as little time as possible on the mainland and prefer to go off the coast. However, where you base yourself for island hopping in Thailand depends largely on which islands you want to visit.
The main cities tourists head towards to begin their island-hopping adventure on the west coast are: Krabi, Trang and Phuket (an island itself).
Krabi is the capital of Krabi province, which covers most of the Andaman coastline. Further south is Trang province which is in close proximity to some incredible islands and is much less crowded than Krabi.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and is certainly more of an extension of the mainland and does not give the impression that you’re on any sort of tropical island. Still, it’s one of southern Thailand’s biggest tourist drawcards. I have more on Phuket below.
For the east coast, Surat Thani (for Ko Samui) and Hat Yai (further south, towards Malaysia) are popular cities for exploring the Gulf Of Thailand.
Islands to visit
There are literally endless choices when it comes to islands to visit and it really depends on the amount of time you have, your budget and what you want to do. In this post, I will just cover the islands where it’s possible to stay overnight and where accommodation exists. There are plenty of other islands which can be seen on day tours from Phuket, Phi Phi and Lanta, usually offered by companies and hotels.
The most popular islands to stay are:
- Phuket – the largest island in Thailand, more on this below.
- Ko Phi Phi – actually a group of small islands, that have long been known for two things: upmarket resorts and an extraordinary nightlife.
- Ko Lanta – this laidback island is where people get caught up in island life and seem to never leave. It has more of a hippy vibe but still has regular beach parties. More on this below.
- Ko Lipe – this slice of paradise is quite far away from Phuket and Phi Phi, yet it draws plenty of people for its dreamlike beaches and diving.
Some less popular but still easily accessible islands include:
- Ko Muk – it’s hard to understand why this heavenly island is not more popular, but this peaceful place is a must for anyone wanting to relax on beautiful beaches. More on this island below.
- Ko Ngai – small, pristine Ngai is known for its expensive resorts and as a honeymoon favourite, but it’s also blessed with incredible coral reefs off its coast.
- Ko Jum – not far off the mainland between Krabi and Lanta, this island is an underrated and laidback haven where people tend to return again and again. More on this island below.
- Ko Libong – Trang province’s biggest island and yet somehow not that popular, Libong is a quiet island where you can explore local fishing villages and interesting flora and fauna.
- Ko Bulon Leh – further south and just above Malaysia, this island flies completely under the radar and yet it has pristine beaches and small, local villages. It’s also known to have a more sustainable approach to tourism as compared to the other, usually overcrowded islands in the Andaman.
top picks For solo travellers
As I said above, many of Thailand’s Andaman Islands have become more upmarket and crowded with resorts pegged to honeymooners and busy with day tours catering to families and large groups. However, there are, of course, still plenty of islands where solo travellers can avoid feeling lonely, left out or bored.
If you’re into energetic parties, I would recommend Phi Phi, which although overly popular, still has some of the best nightlife on the Andaman coast.
For relaxation and ultimate suntanning locations, I recommend Ko Muk, Ko Lipe or Ko Bulon Leh, with Lipe being the busier and more popular of the three. The best all-round island for solo travellers, however, would be Lanta, which is perfect for anyone wanting to party at night, relax during the day or join day tours to other islands. It also has a co-working space for digital nomads and plenty of good accommodation options for all budgets.
The second half of this post includes an extensive guide to four islands on the Andaman Coast (Phuket, Lanta, Muk and Jum), so keep reading!
How to get around the islands
The main way to get between islands and the main land is by ferry or long boat. Ferries vary between fast, express boats and slower, local ferries. Prices also vary depending on company and timing, but many tickets include a drop off and/or pick up from the pier, which avoids an otherwise expensive taxi ride. For less visited islands, long boats are often the best or only option and they seem to be either empty or completely overcrowded, depends on your luck.
It’s best to book boat and ferry tickets through your accommodation or a travel agent. Surprisingly, the tickets are often cheaper this way than if you buy them directly at the pier and they often include drop-offs and pick-ups from/to your accommodation. Shop around though, because prices can vary quite largely.
Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island and doesn’t exactly have an exotic feel with its overdeveloped towns and crowded beaches. However, it’s certainly one of Southern Thailand’s biggest drawcards and still boasts plenty of sights and activities to keep you entertained.
Even if you plan on avoiding Phuket, it often pulls people in by it’s well connected transport network. It’s connected by bus to most major cities in Thailand and its international airport also has plenty of cheap flights to far and wide destinations. Australia, in particular, is even better connected to Phuket than it is to Bangkok in high season.
Phuket airport bus
If you fly in or out of Phuket then the cheapest option to get in and out of Phuket Town is the efficient airport bus. It’s certainly not the quickest option but it’s definitely the cheapest. It costs 100 baht (AUD$5) per trip and it leaves hourly between 5am and 7pm from the main bus station in Phuket Town. They say the journey takes up to 90 minutes, but I took the 5pm bus and it took two hours to reach the airport, so it depends on traffic. They have a website which you can see here.
What to do
Phuket has enough things to do to keep you busy for days and many people stay longer than they planned. From Sino-Portuguese history and architecture in the Old Town, to laidback beaches on the south and western shorelines, to the trendy shopping laneways and markets and party central Patong, there is literally something for everyone on Phuket. Here’s a few of my top things to do on the island.
Phuket Town is the capital of the island and its picturesque old town neighbourhood is what entices most tourists. The old streets with Sino-Portuguese buildings, colourful street art and pretty boutique shops are enough to entertain you for a few hours of window shopping. It’s classy shops and trendy restaurants are a little on the pricey side for Thailand standards but there’s something about the streets that will make you walk back and forth along the same sidewalk multiple times.
Some of the graffiti and bright buildings have become hotspots for selfie stick toting tourists and insta-obsessed travellers, and so the best time to wander the streets is early in the morning before the crowds and day trippers have arrived.
Phuket has plenty of options for souvenir shopping and it’s not all Chang beer singlets and I Love Thailand handbags. The Old Town neighbourhood has a laneway called Walking Street where you can find trendy clothing and good quality gifts. Phuket Town also has an incredible weekend night market with food stalls and all sorts of souvenirs and antiques.
For more typical and cheap souvenirs, there are countless shops and stalls around Patong beach plus a night market with plenty of food options as well.
The infamous Patong beach and the tourist hub of Phuket. It’s a long, sandy beach front and congested neighbourhood full of Western restaurants, dirty bars, dodgy tattoo artists, sleazy massage parlours and crazy night clubs. It’s the epitome of cringey tourism and yet, it’s still relentlessly busy every year.
You’ll never be bored here, whether you plan on partaking in any of the numerous activities on offer or prefer to sit back and watch the mayhem. During the day, you’ll find most people down at the beach, where it’s sometimes hard to find a spare spot of sand to lay down your towel. As soon as the sun sets, however, people return to the streets to drink their weight in Chang beer and party until the sun comes up again.
Nai harn beach
Arguably Phuket’s most beautiful beach, Nai Harn is on the far southern shore of the island. It’s a cove with soft, white sand and far less crowds than Patong. It’s especially popular for sunset, where locals claim you can witness the best sunset on the island.
There’s less facilities here than at Patong, but you can still find a few restaurants and cafes a bit back from the beach, plus a couple of exclusive resorts on the cove’s fringes.
Take a day trip
There are countless day trip options around Phuket. The most popular ones take you to Phi Phi islands and Phang Nga Bay where you can find James Bond Island. Tours can be booked practically anywhere on Phuket, including at travel agents, restaurants and accommodation desks or right here through Viator.
How to get around
Getting around Phuket is actually very easy and affordable. There are shared trucks and buses that leave from Phuket Town and service most of the beaches and towns around the island. They tend to run on some sort of schedule but it’s not generally published anywhere. The driver’s and ticket sellers are very helpful and can answer any questions about timings for buses though.
They congregate along Ranong Road, west of the Suriyadej roundabout and near the main local market in Phuket Town. It’s marked on Maps.Me. You will find them parked up, with clear signs as to where they go, including main stops along the way. Coming back into Phuket Town they drop everyone at that same roundabout as the last stop.
The bus from Phuket Town to Patong Beach takes around 40 minutes and costs 30 baht (AUD$1.50).
The bus from Phuket Town to Nai Harn takes around one hour and costs 50 baht (AUD$2.50).
In both Patong and Nai Harn, the last stop is at the beachfront, where they stay until returning to Phuket Town.
The only down side to using these trucks and buses is that they tend to finish early at around 5pm depending on the route. So for any late night escapades you’ll have to use a taxi instead.
Where to stay
The two main hubs for accommodation on the island are Patong and Phuket Town. Depending on how much partying you plan on doing, staying in Patong is recommended if you plan on hitting the nightclubs and don’t care too much for crowds and noise. On the other hand, Phuket Town is much quieter and quainter and is more for those looking for a laidback visit.
I stayed at Goodnight Hostel in Phuket Town and I highly recommend it. It’s a 5-minute walk to the main bus station and Old Town neighbourhood, which is perfect for a convenient visit. It’s relatively new, and had clean facilities, with the dorm beds being more like personal pods with good privacy and light-blocking curtains. Plus, the staff were fun and nice to talk with. I would go back there without hesitation.
Where to eat
If you aren’t around for the weekend night market near Old Town in Phuket, there are also some nice restaurants, although slightly more expensive. I can recommend China Inn, a nice restaurant on the main Thalang Road which has all your Thai favourites. Towards the start of this road, I also found Aroon Restaurant (photo below), a small local place where the prices are a quarter of the more tourist-oriented places. Their menus have pictures which makes it helpful to order as well.
For dessert, I have to recommend Thaivetro Ice Cream which has homemade ice cream in the most flavour choices I’ve ever seen. The weirdest flavours I saw were Red Bull, Sweet Potato and Tom Yum, plus they also have about five different cone flavours too. They had two vegan options, coconut and chocolate, which are clearly marked as vegan or you can ask the friendly staff. It’s quite expensive at 129 baht (AUD$6) for any two scoops, but for a fancy treat, it’s worth it. The small shop also has Wi-Fi.
Lanta island, just off the coast from Krabi, is one of the most enticing islands of the Andaman Sea and most people extend their stay more than once. It’s a large island with pretty extensive infrastructure and is an all-round top island for any sort of traveller. Lanta is also my top pick for solo travellers as there is a perfect balance of party and chill, cheap accommodation options, co-working spaces for digital nomads and plenty of group tours to join to other islands.
It’s known as a laidback, hippy favourite, as compared to nearby Phi Phi, but the growing backpacker crowd is creating a more energetic, party scene. The few sealed roads on the island lead to numerous beaches and clusters of seaside shacks selling pad thai and fresh juice shakes. It’s becoming more popular each year, but the size of the island and number of sandy beaches on offer means it still seems much less crowded than Phuket or Phi Phi.
What to do
Although it’s not brimming with things to do like Phuket, the laidback charm is enough to keep you there for days. Here are my top things to do on Lanta island.
Lounge or stroll along the beaches
Lanta actually boasts dozens of beaches meaning that you can easily find one that is still quiet and secluded. The most popular beaches lie on the island’s west coast with Long Beach (known locally as Phra Ae) being the main one and Klong Khong being the budget travellers favourite. Both have food stalls, bars and restaurants and some accommodation right on the shoreline, of which nightly happy hours draw people in to watch the sunset.
A trip to the south of the island will reveal some more secluded spots where you can beach hop for the whole day and meet few other people.
Explore the Old Town
Lanta Old Town is on the eastern side of the island and still operates as a traditional fishing village. However, over the past few years tourism has slowly crept in and now most families also make a living off small shops and restaurants along the Main Street. It’s a nice, quiet way to spend a couple of hours and I would recommend planning a visit around lunch time where you can try some really good local food.
Visit the National Park
The National Park at the south of the island called Mu Ko Lanta National Park is home to numerous caves and waterfalls with walking trails. You can enter the park but it costs foreigners 200 baht (AUD$10) plus 20 baht for a scooter, which most people agree is a bit much, but it can be a good day trip if you spend most of the day there.
How to get around
Most people arrive on Lanta through Ban Saladan pier on the northern end of the island, which is where the main ferries arrive from Krabi and Phuket. The other pier which is used by some companies, particularly those heading towards Ko Ngai and Muk, is the Lanta Old Town Pier, on the east side.
There is also a bridge between the mainland and the island. Buses and minivans are available from Krabi centre and Krabi Airport to Lanta island.
Once you arrive on the island you can either take a taxi or hire a scooter.
A trip from Ban Saladan pier to Khlong Kong Beach costs around 100 baht (AUD$5) in a taxi or tuk tuk and to Long Beach it would be around 70 baht (AUD$3.50). Some accommodations offer free pickups, it’s best to check when you book.
The best way to get around on the island is by scooter or moped and almost every second shop, restaurant and hotel have them for hire. You can rent them per day as well as per week. If you plan on staying longer, you can usually negotiate a discount for longer than one day hires. The going rate per day for a scooter ranges from 150-250 baht. At my accommodation, Lanta Local Hut, the owner charged 150 baht (AUD$8) per day.
Where to stay
Most budget and solo travellers stay around the Khong Klong area on Lanta island where most cheaper accommodation options are.
I stayed at Lanta Local Hut and completely recommend it. It’s actually a gem of a place and unbelievable value. The family who owns it are sweet and they can organise everything for you from ferry tickets to day trips and package tours. Their bungalows are basic but large, with an attached bathroom and small balcony with a hammock. They’re also just a three-minute walk to the beach in one direction and a 7/11 and good restaurants in the other.
Where to eat
The best thing to do if you have a scooter for the day is to stop at one of the many roadside restaurants that you come across. Some have exceptional views like the one pictured above.
The only specific restaurant I can recommend is Chez Bee, at the southern end of Klong Khong and near the 7/11 on the main road. It’s literally a three-minute walk from Lanta Local Hut and is pretty much packed every night. It’s an unassuming place but I was never disappointed by the food and the staff are super friendly.
This quiet gem of an island halfway between Krabi and Ko Lanta is the ultimate relaxation and peaceful experience, without the crowds and parties found on other islands. It’s usually skipped by those making a beeline for Lanta but those who do stop to spend some time often find themselves staying longer or returning again.
Saying that, it’s not the liveliest of places and if you get bored easily or need social interaction constantly, then this island might not be for you.
What to do
In terms of things to do on Jum, the options are pretty limited to beaches and sunbaking. However, this is kind of the appeal as the beaches are mostly deserted compared to Lanta or further afield to Phi Phi. You’ll likely find that true castaway experience here that is becoming less easy to find while island hopping in Thailand.
People tend to return to Jum year after year because of this peaceful nature of the island. Even electricity and Wi-Fi is not as constant or guaranteed in some accommodations, making a digital detox an obvious choice to add to the relaxing experience.
There are some fishing villages to wander through but don’t expect souvenir shops or tourist-oriented restaurants because tourism is not that well developed on the island. But locals are extremely friendly.
How to get around
The best way to get around is on foot, although it is a larger island than you think so it may not be appropriate depending on where your accommodation is. If your legs get tired the other option is tuk tuks which can take you to the pier and back or the other end of the island. There are also a couple of scooter and moped rentals along the main road if you’re staying a while.
To get from Krabi to Jum, you can take one of the ferries which stop near Jum on the way to Lanta. But you’ll then have to get into a long boat to actually take you into Jum pier, as ferries don’t generally dock at the shores.
The other option is to take a local longboat, which is usually packed with people, scooters and cargo. They run between Laem Kruat pier (on the mainland) and Ko Jum main pier every hour. The journey costs 100 baht (AUD$5) and takes 50 minutes.
To get to and from Laem Kruat pier there are regular shared pick up trucks which run from Krabi and Nuea Khlong (near Krabi airport) to the pier and back. The journey from the pier to Nuea Khlong costs 50 baht (AUD$2.50) and takes 30 minutes. From Nuea Khlong, you can even flag down buses heading along the main highway towards Phuket, if that’s your intended destination.
Where to stay
I stayed at a place called Bo Daeng bungalows. It’s a very unassuming, almost hidden, place on the west side of the island, next to Beach Villas resort.
A nice lady runs the place and it has quite a few bungalows with bathrooms attached right on the beach. It also has a shelter and kitchen where she cooks up delicious and affordable curries and juices and anything else on request. I paid 300 baht (AUD$15) for my own bungalow on the beach per night, which is the best value you’ll find on the island. She doesn’t advertise the place and it seemed to mostly have people who were either long term and/or returning visitors.
If you prefer to book ahead, Last Fisher resort came recommended to me, and although I didn’t stay there I have heard it’s the best budget option on the island that can be booked online.
Where to eat
There’s not a whole lot of action on Ko Jum and resorts, bungalows and restaurants are actually spread quite sparingly across the island. There’s a handful of shacks serving up good local food, otherwise, most accommodation also offer kitchens churning out standard Thai food to guests and any passerby.
This island is a slice of heavenly paradise. I cannot understand why it is not more popular as it somehow remains free of crowds and beach parties. It’s part of Trang province and is actually only a 20-minute boat road off the mainland. It’s famous for Emerald Cave, a perfectly hidden beach oasis which requires visitors to swim through a cave to reach, and yet most people visit it on a day trip from Lanta without stepping foot on the island itself.
For those who do stay for a while on Muk (or sometimes spelt Mook), you can not only see Emerald Cave outside of peak hour but you also get to appreciate the beauty of its white sand beaches, colourful sunsets and incredibly friendly people.
It’s also a good option for solo travellers, if they’re wanting to relax for a while. However, there isn’t much of a social scene so it’s not the best option if you want to meet people.
What to do
There are surprisingly a few things to do on the island, considering it’s small size. Whether you’re up for hiking, kayaking and snorkelling or just want to relax on the beach and eat good food, Ko Muk is literally the perfect island for everyone.
Charlie Beach, or locally known as Haad Farang (foreigner beach), is the most beautiful beach on the island and is actually a small cove with calm, shallow waters and white sand. This is where most people head to relax and there are a number of chairs available if you buy a drink from one of the many small bars and cafes run by local families.
To one end of the cove is a bar and restaurant where you can have a beautiful view of the area from its balcony while drinking happy hour cocktails during sunset. The sunset from Charlie Beach is perhaps its highlight as it’s perfectly situated on the west side of the island and the colourful sky after golden hour rarely disappoints.
Just back from the sand is the remains of what used to be Ko Muk Charlie Beach Resort. Walking through it on the way to the beach seems as though you’re walking through a war zone or ruins after a tsunami, but is in fact just an abandoned resort that has been left to ruin for years after the government told the owners to vacate. It gives the area a bit of a weird look and even the locals aren’t really sure when they will come back to clear it, but it’s just a heads up that it’s been like that for years so don’t be alarmed.
This cave is Ko Muk’s claim to fame and is considered a must see. It requires a trip in a long boat or kayak from Charlie Beach around the west coast of the island and then a swim through a cave passageway. Once inside, you’ll find an incredible hidden beach with emerald green water, which gives the attraction its name. Most people come on a day trip from Lanta Island, or you can organise an early morning trip from Ko Muk. Going with a tour or guide is recommended because it’s important to know the tide and currents of the ocean before setting out.
There are literally hordes of tourists who come everyday to see the cave and if you go in the middle of the day you’ll be surrounded by crowds on the small beach. So if you are staying on Ko Muk, this allows either an early morning or late afternoon trip when you can appreciate the beautiful cave with almost no people.
Wander through the fishing village
Around the main and only pier on the island, on the east coast, you’ll find a sprawling fishing village with mostly Muslim inhabitants. Take the time to wander through the only path that runs through the northern end of the village and you’ll get to see a completely different side of the island away from the resorts. Some families operate small restaurants and shops as well and it’s nice to support these kinds of businesses that get much fewer visitors than in the main town area.
Visit the Ko Muk Sivalai Resort
If you Google ‘Ko Muk’ the photos that will show up are of this resort on the edge of the island where a white sand bar appears with low tide. It’s quite stunning when seen from above or on a photo taken with a drone, otherwise it’s a standard resort that is common to other exclusive islands like Ngai. Still, if you have the money to stay a night it’s got the best location literally on the edge of the water. If you don’t have the money, you can still wander past the resort if you’re walking along the beach, people don’t seem to mind.
jungle hike to sabai beach
There is a jungle trail that takes you through the thick rubber farms and uninhabited side of the island to two hidden beaches. The first one you’ll come across is Ao Lo Dang Beach and the final one is Sabai Beach, which is back on the west side of the island. The trail isn’t too difficult to follow but you’ll be walking through dense forest with plenty of bugs and animals along the way. Don’t forget mosquito repellent!
How to get around
Ferries from Lanta to Muk often stop at Ko Ngai en route and vice versa. There are also regular ferries to Ko Kraden from Muk, which is famous for its diving and snorkelling.
The island itself is only inhabited on a third of its land mass, which makes most things within walking distance of each other. However, scooters can also be hired if you want to avoid walking in the hot sun, plus there are tuk tuks and motorbike taxis to get you to and from the pier and to the main beaches. These taxi services charge a flat 50 baht (AUD$2.50) per person for trips to and from the pier and to Charlie Beach.
Kayaks and canoes can be hired on Charlie Beach for exploring the waters and you can even row yourself to Emerald Cave, if you want to do it without paying for a tour. Otherwise, long boats hang around both Charlie Beach and the main Muk pier on the other side of the island for day trips to Emerald Cave, snorkelling and diving spots and other islands.
Where to stay
Bamboo Hut Bungalow is the best budget option on the island and it’s not bad value. It has basic bamboo bungalows with bathrooms attached and a hammock on the small balconies. The managers were lovely and friendly and the location is kind of perfect, being in the middle between the main town and Charlie Beach.
Where to eat
There are plenty of good restaurants on Ko Muk, most of which are situated in the main town area, near the pier and resorts. However, my two favourite places I ate at were actually on the road towards Charlie Beach. The first one is called Water Side Restaurant and the other is Hilltop Restaurant, both are kind of unassuming and run by women who double as cooks and waitresses. They are both super friendly and the food is delicious. Water Side Restaurant is closer to Charlie Beach, slightly cheaper than Hilltop Restaurant and even has Wi-Fi.
I hope this post helps you plan your island-hopping in Thailand’s Andaman Coast, if you have any questions or want any more information on these islands, leave a comment or shoot me a message on the contact page.