Introduction – Southern Islands, Thailand

When it’s time for fun in the sun during your trip, make sure to set your sights on the southern islands. With plenty of coastline stretching all the way to Malaysia, the lower arm of Thailand offers access to the most popular islands in the world. On the east side, Koh Samui (pronounced “Sam-wee,” not “Sa-moo-ee”), Koh Phangan and Koh Tao are clumped together in the Gulf of Thailand; on the west side Phuket, Krabi and Koh Phi-Phi share coastline in the Andaman Sea. No matter which sea you choose, you’re bound to have the time of your life in paradise. However, make sure to check the calendar before you set sail. If the season’s not in your favor, you won’t be having much sun to go with your fun. Because the monsoon season was in full effect on the Andaman Sea during our journey, we decided to spend our week on the beach in Koh Samui.

This trio of islands in the Gulf of Thailand – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao – is incredibly popular because it offers great variety. The innumerable beaches have soft sands, warm waters and stunning panoramas that encourage lazy days in the sun. If you’re not in the mood for sunbathing, you can hike to impressive, secluded waterfalls on Koh Samui, party with thousands of backpackers at Koh Phangan’s legendary Full Moon Party or snorkel in the pristine waters of Koh Tao.

Beach trips are popular packages at travel agencies, but make sure you know what you’re getting. We agreed to a package tour while in Bangkok, only to reach the islands and realize we should have followed our instincts and done it ourselves. Don’t be afraid to travel on your own – you can get reasonably priced train or bus tickets to reach the islands and find first-rate accommodation for an excellent price when you arrive. Also, because the islands are so highly touristed (especially Koh Samui), English is an unofficial second language. If you’re at a loss for where to go and where to stay, just ask the locals (or your fellow backpackers).

If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Asia Insiders page.

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