A quick travel guide to Thailand island hopping on a budget!
The concept of island hopping in Thailand overwhelmed me a bit while I was planning my first trip to Southeast Asia.
How do I know what islands to visit in Thailand? Will “Monsoon Season” ruin the weather? Should I stay in one place and take day trips?
Are ferries expensive? Are ferries frequent? What does it cost to go island-hopping in Thailand?
Island hopping in Thailand actually turned out to be very straightforward and stress-free.
So to help ease the pre-trip anxiety for my fellow travelers, I’ll share some of my experiences from island-hopping in Thailand.
I’ll also provide some useful travel advice for the Thai islands.
I always travel on a budget as well. So this Thailand island hopping guide will adhere to other budget travelers and backpackers who want to save money!
Quick Travel Tips for Thailand Island Hopping
- Don’t bother booking all your ferries in advance because your plans might change.
- The best time to book your ferry tickets is the day before a journey. This ensures that the tickets don’t sell out.
- If you’re not on a strict time schedule, you can also just buy your ferry tickets at the docks right before your board. If the trip is sold-out, just wait for the next one.
- Buy travel insurance before you travel! If you have a crazy accident, you’ll save money on your medical bills. I recommend using Squaremouth Insurance; I’ve always had a positive experience with them! Read my Budget Traveler’s Guide to Travel Insurance for more on that topic.
- For trips under 30 days, you probably won’t need a visa for Thailand. But check iVisa.com to make sure because some nationalities do need visas for Thailand.
When To Go Thailand Island Hopping
- October to March will have the least amount of rain and the best water visibility for diving and snorkeling. This is also peak tourist season so the crowds will be bigger.
- April to September will be less crowded and you’ll find much cheaper flights, but you may encounter a few rainstorms.
- July and August are the rainiest months in Thailand, and therefore the cheapest!
Budget Travel Tips for Thailand Island Hopping
- Most towns in the Thai islands have lots of tourism offices selling bus and ferry tickets. Walk around to a few and compare the prices so you can make sure you aren’t being overcharged at one place.
- Eat at the street markets. Restaurants in Thailand are pretty cheap, but you can find the most authentic and affordable food at the local markets.
- Stay in hostels! They are super cheap in Thailand, and they’re a great way to meet people.
Quick Overview of the Thai Islands
Now it’s time to get into the travel guide for Thailand island hopping.
Thailand has over 1,000 islands, so there is no shortage of cool places to visit!
In this travel guide, I’ll list some of the best islands to visit in Thailand.
Every single one of these islands is easily accessible by ferry. So you can visit them in any order and know that there will be transport available.
You can divide Thailand’s islands into two groups. Here is a map so you can visualize all the places I talk about.
Thai Islands in the Andaman Sea
These islands are attractions are located in the Andaman Sea, on the western side of the Malay Peninsula.
- Ao Phang Nga National Park
- Koh Phi Phi
- Koh Chang
- Ao Nang/Railay Beach (part of the mainland)
Thai Islands in the Gulf of Thailand
- Koh Samui
- Ang Thong National Marine Park
- Koh Pha Ngan
- Koh Tao
I’ll now go into brief descriptions of these islands, including the best things to do and why you should visit them!
The Andaman Coast
Here are the best places to visit in the Andaman Coast of Thailand.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and one of the most touristy.
This is a great place to start for your Thailand island hopping adventure because you can get super cheap flights from Bangkok.
I flew from Bangkok to Phuket for only 23 USD with VietJet Aviation.
Phuket is very large and all the best attractions are spread out. So where you stay will determine how easy it is for you to explore the island.
Here is a quick breakdown of Phuket and the best things to do in each area.
The North of Phuket
- Close to the airport
- Secluded and beautiful Nai Yang Beach
- Recommended hostel: Luna Airport Hostel 17 USD per night, 9.5/10 rating
Patong Area (west of the island)
- Crowded and social Patong Beach
- Crazy street markets and nightlife on Bangla Road
- Recommended hostel: Lub D Patong 12 USD per night, 9.1/10 rating
Karon/Kata Area (west of the island)
- Karon Beach, Kata Beach, and Kata Noi Beach
- Karon Temple Market
- The Big Buddha on a hill
- Kata Night Market
- Karon Viewpoint
- Recommended hostel: Sleepy Station Phuket, 7 USD per night, 8.3/10 rating
Phuket Old Town (Center of the island)
- Sunday Walking Street Market
- Recommended hostel: Baan Baan Hostel, 10 USD per night, 9.1/10 rating
When leaving Phuket, you’ll have to take a taxi to Rassada Pier in the east of the island.
From here you can catch a ferry to your next destination on your Thailand island hopping trip!
Ao Phang Nga National Park
This national marine park is filled with limestone cliffs, turquoise water, and a whole lot of natural beauty.
Phang Nga Nay is the most famous attraction in the park, home to the iconic James Bond Island.
The easiest way to visit this magical place is by taking a day trip from Phuket. (Book this top-rated day tour for only 64 USD!)
Koh Phi Phi
One of the most scenic Thai islands, Koh Phi Phi must have a place on every traveler’s island hopping itinerary.
There are actually 5 Phi Phi Islands. But Koh Phi Phi usually refers to Phi Phi Don, the biggest and only inhabited island in the chain.
You have to pay a small 20 Baht fee when entering Phi Phi Don, just to contribute to the local community.
Here are the highlights of Koh Phi Phi:
- Eating street food and shopping for souvenirs in Tonsai Village
- Sunbathing in the picturesque Loh Dalam Bay
- Taking an island tour to explore the other Phi Phi islands by boat
- Hiking to the Phi Phi Viewpoint (30 Baht entrance fee)
Recommended hostel: Blanco Beach Bar 7 USD per night, 8.7/10 rating (This is a PARTY HOSTEL. Expect loud music, fire shows, drinking games, lots of fun, and not a lot of sleep). You can browse Hostelworld for more chill hostels if you prefer!
As one of the largest islands in Thailand, Koh Chang is surprisingly not that touristy.
This is a lovely island to visit to enjoy some peace and quiet and spend quality time with nature. The best things to do in Koh Chang include:
- Partying at Hat Tha Nam beachfront village
- Visiting the Kai Bae Viewpoint
- Hiking and exploring Mu Koh Chang Marine National Park
- Visiting Klong Plu Waterfall (in the national park)
- Snorkeling in the surrounding reefs
Recommended hostel: Cafe Del Sunshine, 5 USD per night, 8.6/10 rating
Krabi, a city and region on the west coast of the mainland, makes a great transition point between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
Ao Nang is a small town in the Krabi Province known for its picturesque beaches.
This makes a great stop on a Thailand island hopping trip. You get to visit the famous Railay Beach and enjoy the rugged coastal scenery before traveling over to the Gulf of Thailand.
You only need to spend 1 or 2 days here, but here are the highlights of Ao Nang:
- Visiting Railay Beach: Catch a longtail boat from Ao Nang Beach for 200 Baht (6 USD) and spend the day relaxing on the iconic Railay Beach.
- Rock climbing: Railay and Ao Nang have some of the best rock climbing in Thailand, just make sure you go with a local guide and the proper gear!
- Have a Spa Day: Get a Thai Massage at any one of the local spa centers.
- See a Muay Thai Boxing Match: This is one of the most classic things to do in Thailand. Enjoy a night out watching Muay Thai Boxing, the national sport of Thailand!
Recommended hostel: Sleeper Hostel, 7 USD per night, 7.6/10 rating
From Ao Nang, you can take a bus across the mainland of Thailand to Surat Thani on the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula.
Then catch a ferry to any one of the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
The Gulf of Thailand
The Gulf of Thailand is the sea on the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula.
Here are the best islands from the Gulf of Thailand to include in your Thailand island hopping adventure.
Koh Samui is the second largest Thai island, so there is plenty to see and do here.
Like Phuket, there are a few different areas to stay on the island with different attractions in each area.
Bo Phut Area (north Koh Samui)
- Close to the airport
- Home of the Big Buddha
- Choeng Mon Beach
- Bo Phut Fisherman’s Village Friday Night Market
- Recommended hostel: P&T Hostel, 7 USD per night, 8.6/10 rating
Chaweng (northeast Koh Samui)
- Chaweng Beach
- Muay Thai Boxing Stadiums
- Chaweng Night Market
- The main tourist town of Koh Samui
- Recommended hostel: Chaweng Terrace, 15 USD per night, 8/10 rating
Lamai (southeast Koh Samui)
- Close to Na Mueang Waterfalls
- Lamai Beach
- Grandfathers and Grandmothers Rocks
- Recommended Hostel: No hostels in Lamai but you can stay at New Hut Beach Bungalows for only 16 USD per night!
For more inspiration, here are a few top-rated Koh Samui tours from Get Your Guide. For full-day tours, they are so cheap! Most cost between 50 and 100 USD.
- 4WD Jungle Safari
- Longtail Boat Tour to Coral Island and Pig Island
- Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuang Day Trip with Snorkeling and Kayaking
Ang Thong National Marine Park
This is one of the most unique and beautiful places in Thailand.
Ang Thong National Marine Park is full of diverse natural scenery, including coral reefs, limestone cliffs, natural caves, palm-fringed islands, lagoons and lakes, and more.
As this is a government-protected area, you can only visit by booking a tour. You are not allowed to visit on your own. This helps keep the natural reserve regulated and safe from too many tourists.
The tour we did left from Koh Samui and included kayaking through sea caves, climbing to visit an emerald lake, swimming and snorkeling, an ambitious hike to the island viewpoint that left me sweating uncontrollably, and all transportation and food.
Koh Pha Ngan
Koh Pha Ngan is an amazing island to visit while island hopping in Thailand.
It will blow you away with its crazy parties and its natural beauty.
A ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Pha Ngan costs 200 baht (6 USD), and from there you can take a taxi to your hostel.
I have two great hostel recommendations for Koh Pha Ngan:
Best party hostel for drinking and socializing: Bodega Beach Party Hostel 14 USD per night, 7.9/10 rating
Best chill hostel for relaxing and sightseeing: Jungle Vibes, 6 USD per night, 9.1/10 rating
Koh Pha Ngan is home to famous Full Moon and Half Moon Parties.
Expect lots of thumping disco music, neon body paint, and mixed drinks served in plastic buckets. It’s a crazy night that is fun to experience once in your life!
- The Full Moon Party occurs every full moon and is held on Sunrise Beach in Haad Rin, the entrance fee is 100 Baht (3 USD).
- The Half Moon Party occurs every half-moon and is held in a festival venue in the jungle, an admission ticket is around 40 USD.
Just keep in mind that many hostels hike their prices up during the festivals, and the beds sell out quickly so book accommodation well in advance.
Other amazing things to do in Koh Pha Ngan besides the parties are:
- Snorkeling at Secret Beach
- Riding crazy waterslides at Slip N Fly Water Park
- Watching the sunset from a hilltop bar like Three Sixty Bar or Amsterdam Bar
- Swimming at Koh Ma Sandbar
- Hiking through the jungle to Bottle Beach
Koh Tao is best known for its incredible diving.
Colorful coral reefs and waters rich with marine life make Koh Tao one of the best diving locations in Thailand. So travelers flock here to explore the underwater world.
For beginners who have never dived before, you can book a 1-day scuba-diving experience to give it a try.
For a more in-depth experience, you can do a 4-day dive course to get your scuba diving certification.
Or, you could just rent snorkel gear so you can frolic around in the waters without dedicating yourself to actual diving.
Recommended hostel on Koh Tao: Islander, 8 USD per night, 8/10 rating
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So that’s a wrap on this guide to Thailand island hopping on a budget!
There are plenty more gorgeous islands that I didn’t mention, but these are the main tourist destinations that offer lots of fun experiences.
I’ll end by saying that Thailand’s islands truly do exceed expectations.
The picture-perfect scenery does not reflect in photos, but even the simplest little beaches are breathtaking.
With endless outdoor activities, welcoming hostels, delicious food, straightforward transportation, and best of all, incredibly cheap prices for everything, Thailand is perfect for open-minded travelers who want to save money and get a nice tan.
Check out my other travel articles about Thailand:
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