Know Your Kohs
From footprint-free sands to hedonistic hot spots, the Thai islands are the stuff of far-flung fantasies. But with hundreds to choose from, selecting the right koh can be a tricky task. We asked Phuket-based correspondent, Lee Cobaj, for the inside track on where to channel your inner castaway
Koh Yao Noi
BEST FOR: Isolationists
One of Thailand’s last unspoiled islands, Koh Yao Noi is an embarrassingly beautiful wilderness hidden among the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay. The peaceful pace of life makes it easy to get back to nature: wake to the sound of chirping cicades and crashing waves and stroll on footprint-free white sands or clamber up deserted mountain paths.
SEE: Kayak along the coast to snorkel among boulders and bathe on secluded sands. The wildlife here is exceptional; look out for stony monitor lizards lazing on the rocks and banana-beaked hornbills hiding in the trees.
EAT: For Thai food with French flair, try Je t’aime in the main settlement of Koh Yao Noi, where you can feast on freshly-caught white snapper and buttery beef massuman curry.
STAY:Six Senses Yao Noi
WHEN TO GO: The driest months to visit are December through March, but even during the rainy season (June through October) showers come in short bursts and clear quickly.
BEST FOR: Sun-and-Spa Seekers
With sweeps of bright-white sand, a Crayola blue ocean, and thickly forested hills, Koh Samui has been attracting sun-and-spa-seekers for decades. The island is littered with holistic activities, from yoga on stand-up paddleboards to traditional Wat Po massages.
SEE: Take to the seas for the best way to see the island. Samui is home to several boat tour companies, ranging from cheap and cheerful long-tails to catamarans and luxe yachts. Circumnavigate the island, explore the Ang Thong National Marine Park, or visit the Five Islands.
EAT: The island has a cuisine all its own, rooted in two ingredients: seafood and coconut. A top spot to sample some local dishes is the family-owned Takho Bangpo. Arrive before sunset and bed in for a long leisurely meal as you tuck into the likes of grilled chili’d coconut meat and sour green mango and shrimp.
STAY:Anantara Bophut Resort and Spa
WHEN TO GO: Live Thai rock bands and tasty cuisine fill five highly-entertaining days at the Fisherman's Village Festival in August. The weather is perfect at this time of year too.
BEST FOR: Stylish Sunworshippers
Thailand’s wealthiest and most developed province teems with high-style hotels and chic beach clubs. Sleek super-yachts bob in the emerald green water and the palm-fringed beaches often play host to hedonistic parties.
SEE: To experience a completely different side of the island, take a wander among the Chinese temples and Portuguese shop-houses in the Old Town, then enjoy sushi and champagne at hip heritage hotspot Wonderland.
EAT: Basque cuisine meets Thai beach club at Aziamendi, a new restaurant in Natai helmed by Bilbao’s acclaimed three-Michelin-star chef, Eneko Atxa. Signature dishes include bonsai tree of juicy cherry tomatoes and truffled egg with foie gras ash.
STAY: Sri Panwa
WHEN TO GO: The weather is pleasant all year-round, but for perfect temperatures, lake-calm seas and cool starry nights, visit during the December to March high-season.
Koh Phi Phi
BEST FOR: Divers
It may no longer be a hidden paradise but with its half moons of glorious flour-soft sands, bath-warm aquamarine waters and swaying casuarina trees, the beauty of Phi Phi is still beyond compare. The diving is some of the best in the world; the shallow reefs just offshore are perfect for beginners, while more experienced divers can visit sites further offshore inhabited by rare star corals, zebra moray eels and massive whale sharks.
SEE: Phi Phi’s best beaches are only accessible by boat so hire a long-tail to whiz you round to the likes of Lanna Bay, which is blissfully devoid of day-trippers and has some super snorkeling a few feet from the shore.
EAT: No trip to a Thai island would be complete without a cold beer at a beach bar. Saunter down to Sunflower at sunset and order an icy Singha and some deep fried chicken wings.
WHEN TO GO: The best diving conditions are from November through February; September offers the poorest visibility.
BEST FOR: Flashpackers
Backpackers and buckets of Sangsom used to be the order of the day on Koh Phangan but as the island steadily creeps upscale, private infinity pools and personal butlers are just as much part of the scene as glow-sticks and beach bums. The hipsters haven’t quite outnumbered the hippies though and there are still plenty of secluded spots to hang your hammock.
SEE: Much of the island still feels undiscovered. Take a 10-minute boat ride to Haad Yuan Beat, where you’ll find a crescent of fine white sand backed by a pristine inland jungle dotted with tinkling waterfalls and freshwater pools.
EAT: Stop by the Anantara Rasananda’s cookery school and learn how to rustle up Thai classics such as Pak Boon, otherwise known as morning glory (water spinach, garlic, chilies and broth) and Som Tam (spicy papaya salad with shrimps and peanuts).
WHEN TO GO: The island is famous for its monthly full moon parties where upwards of 10,000 revelers dance from dusk ‘til dawn at Haad Rin Beach. Stick to the north side of the island if it’s not your bag.
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