Which beach in Thailand?
Whether you’re hoping for postcard-perfect famous movie beaches, backpacker party islands, family-friendly beach resorts, laid back island getaways or simply Thai beaches that are easy to get to, there are beach resorts in Thailand to suit everybody’s preferences. I’m not a seasoned beach expert from Thailand, but I think I’ve at least been to enough beaches in Thailand to give my own rough guide on which beach is best for who.
Thailand Beach Guide
Okay, it’s important to know that Hua Hin does not have the best beaches in Thailand. If you’re looking for paradisal, soft white sand beaches like in all the holiday brochures, then I don’t recommend Hua Hin for you. The skyscraper backdrop and brownish sands of the main Hua Hin beach in particular makes it far from one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand (but hey, it does have some tough competition). But! I’d say that Hua Hin is by far the one of the easiest of beach resorts to get to from Bangkok. It’s located on the mainland about a two hour drive from Bangkok – no annoying ferry transfers and no expensive flights necessary.
Because of it’s mainland location, Hua Hin has plenty of excursions available and is within easy access to popular places like Kanchanaburi and Bangkok, plus a nice variety of waterfalls, temples and attractions. The beaches are still ok too, with plenty of sports and things to do available. Perhaps one of Hua Hin’s best attributes, is it’s more relaxed and honest atmosphere in comparison to the heavily tourist trap vibe that is so prevalent in most of the other Thai beach resorts. Hua Hin is relatively free from the sleazy bars and sex tourism of Thailand – this makes it a lot more pleasant for families and couples etc.
Just a 2 or 3 hour journey away from Bangkok, the hugely underrated island of Koh Samet is perfect for purely sitting back, relaxing and doing nothing! It’s a tiny little island so there isn’t much to do in the way of attractions and activities, but there are still plenty of bars, restaurants and beaches – great as a getaway for Thai expats, or as a break from sightseeing for tourists.
Popular with Bangkok locals, Koh Samet – similarly to Hua Hin – boasts much less of a tourist trap atmosphere and is super laid back. In fact, Koh Samet is my personal favourite beach resort in Thailand. Not only is it easy to get to and chilled out, but it also has some really beautiful, soft white sand beaches – skyscraper free too.
I’ve never been to Pattaya, it doesn’t really appeal to me. Pattaya is mainly famed for it’s attraction of sexpats as it has a crap load of gogo bars and stuff like that. But it’s by the beach too! A sexpat paradise! However, I really don’t think Pattaya would be an ideal beach resort for couples, families or groups of friends looking for cool parties. Super close to Bangkok though – just a 90 minute drive away.
Koh Chang is the second biggest island in Thailand and still reasonably close to Bangkok. It takes about 4 or 5 hours to get there via bus and ferry, or you can fly direct from Bangkok. Again, Koh Chang doesn’t seem overly touristy so you’re not as prone to getting ripped off or feeling like a walking money sign. This also has the added bonus of making it easy to get around, despite it’s large size, because of the cheapness of songtaew taxis.
There are plenty of activities and attractions such as waterfalls and zip wires, and the white sandy beaches to the western side are very pretty. Koh Chang has something for everyone – backpacker beaches and clubs; gogo bars in the ‘Little Pattaya’ area (but easily avoided); quiet little fishing village hideaways to escape the crowds; and family-friendly restaurants on the main beachfront.
Located on the eastern side of southern Thailand, these islands take a really long time to get to if you’re not flying. You can catch a coach or train to the islands, however this takes between 8 and 12 hours and is not a comfortable journey. Coaches there are usually only frequented by backpackers and hardened travelers on a budget. These three islands are pretty good for a bit of Thailand island hopping.
Koh Samui is one of the more famous islands in Thailand and hence a little spoilt by tourism for some. Taking a coach from Bangkok to these islands, I can’t help but feel like some kind of dopey farm animal being herded around by shouty Thais – it just seems to have a slightly fake and money driven vibe. It’s not that bad though, and you can still easily escape this if you stay away from the main strip.
There is plenty to do on Koh Samui for holiday makers of all backgrounds – walking streets, water sports and day tours – plus it has some lovely beaches. The island is relatively big and the roads in good condition, so it’s very easy to rent a scooter to get around yourself. It’s also big enough to avoid the sleazy areas. Good all-rounder island.
Koh Phangnan is a slightly more adventurous alternative to Koh Samui. Much smaller and with more wild, jungle landscapes, it’s ideal for both nature lovers and backpackers. Koh Phangnan is mostly renowned for it’s famous full moon parties and crazy backpacker parties so it tends to attract mostly younger travelers with a mission to get totally off their faces.
It’s good fun to explore the winding, overgrown roads on a moped though, or search around for hidden secluded beaches. Koh Phangnan has some of the most beautiful beaches and is perfect for a care free holiday for groups of friends, solo travelers or couples.
Koh Tao – the diver’s island. People mainly go to Koh Tao either to join a diving school, or to get drunk and party. It’s a little more laid back than Koh Phangnan and with less under-20 year old backpackers and more drunken divers of all ages. Again, it’s quite a care free island to hang out with a group of friends or meet people as a solo traveler. Despite it’s small size there is still loads of fun nightlife.
Despite it’s reputation as an unspoilt Thai island though, I think Koh Tao is still quite touristy – it even has a bit of a tuk tuk cartel going on. I was always under the impression that Koh Tao had the best beaches in Thailand too, but it’s no better than Koh Samui or Koh Phangnan in this respect. In particular, the main beach is very disappointing and completely littered with rubbish. You can still find very beautiful beaches in Koh Tao though, don’t get me wrong.
I think it’s important to know that Koh Tao does not have the most beautiful, clear water conditions for diving either. This is a misconception. Apparently it is the best island for diving simply because of it’s abundance of diving schools – not the conditions.
Phuket is a huge island, home to some of the best beaches in Thailand. Phuket boasts the famous Phang Nga bay, known as James Bond island, a highly popular excursion among tourists. Here, you will find picture perfect scenes right out of the brochure; however this has also made it very touristy and it’s hard to escape the crowds and the tack from the resorts.
If you don’t mind the crowds and tack – go for it; if you hate crowds and tack – track down the quieter areas of Phuket like Kata, you might still enjoy the powder white sand beaches. It’s a big island with decent roads, so it’s still possible to explore lesser known places by moped. You might have to sacrifice seclusion in Phuket, but you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand.
I’m not going to lie: I haven’t been to Koh Phi Phi yet. But Koh Phi Phi is reputed to have the most beautiful beaches in Thailand. You don’t need to go there to recognize it’s famous scenes from movies like The Beach. So I hear, it’s recent fame in Hollywood movies has attracted heavy tourism which often spoils people’s experiences. I personally reckon that it would still be less touristy than Phuket but it’s best not to expect completely secluded and unspoilt beaches to avoid disappointment.
Of course there are loads more beaches and islands in Thailand that I’ve not included in this guide. But for all the main Thai beaches and islands, I hope this helps in deciding which beach is right for you.