No trip to Thailand is complete without a stopover in Phuket. While on the one hand you can relax and rejuvenate on its classic powder-white sand beaches and lush rainforests, on the other the hopping nightlife at Patong beach will make you want to stay up till the wee hours of the morning!

Phuket truly has something for everyone – whether you are seeking a tranquil getaway or are in the mood for something more adventurous like swimming with the reef sharks. Hence, it will come as no surprise to anyone that the shores of Phuket are swarmed with tourists (even during off-season!). But fear not – in as less as 25 minutes, you can escape the hubdub of Phuket for quiet islands that surround it.

Here is a definitive list of the best islands around Phuket!

1. Phi Phi Island

Often referred to as the crown jewel among the islands of Thailand, the Phi Phi islands find themselves on bucket lists all over the world. Made up of six magnificent islands, they offer a range of activities from snorkelling to some truly exotic local cuisine.

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Tour Recommendation: Sunrise Tour, Simba Sea Trips
Tour Cost: From THB 3,700 (Rs 9,945) per person

Stops Covered By This Tour

a. Bamboo Beach

The clear turquoise waters are home to a variety for marine life making Bamboo beach the perfect spot for snorkelling (and taking photos!). The beach itself is very clean and well-maintained with no hotels or restaurants, so the crowd is largely circulating in and out.

However, as the beach is very popular it gets quite crowded, particularly during peak season. The beauty of the beach itself does offset this to some extent – so if you are in Phuket during peak season and have some time, you can check it out. If you do not like crowds though, avoid.

The ideal time to visit this beach during off-season or early morning during peak season. If you are fond of snorkelling, you must go underwater to explore the brilliantly coloured coral reefs and astounding marine life.

b. Maya Bay

Important Update: Please note that the Thai national park authorities have prohibited boats from dropping anchors or alighting their passengers within Maya Bay indefinitely, to assist with environmental regeneration.

The authorities are working towards reopening the bay by June 2019, however, please keep checking for regular updates.

Most tour operators drive in to Maya Bay, providing plenty of opportunity for photography. Don’t skip it, the bay is still breathtaking at a distance.

c. Pileh Lagoon

Surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs, this emerald-green lagoon provides a great opportunity to swim or snorkel. Big boats are not allowed inside the lagoon, but the bay can become quite crowded by speedboats and smaller boats, so you may struggle to find a nice spot on the beach or enjoy a clear stretch of sea. However, if you love the idea of jumping right off the boat and swimming in clear blue waters, Pileh Lagoon is a must-visit for you.

Snorkelling isn’t the best in this area due to its limited sea life, so save that for another location. The lagoon is best visited early in the morning, so if you have chosen to book a private tour, start here or try to convince your tour operator to take you here first!

d. Viking Cave & Monkey Beach

The Viking Cave has a great backstory and most tour operators will point it out to you as they are passing it, but since you are unable to enter the cave, stopping outside the cave for photos is avoidable. Just outside the cave is an amazing, lesser-known snorkelling spot. Hence, if you love to snorkel or swim, request your tour operator to stop here to experience colourful marine life and coral reefs.

Getting off on Monkey beach should be avoided as the monkeys can get a bit aggressive and may even run off with your belongings.

e. Koh Rang Yai

The island has clear blue warm waters, lush vegetation, friendly staff, plenty of deck chairs and delicious tropical cocktails – making it the perfect Thai getaway! Rang Yai Island is a bit out of the way and expensive to get to on its own, and can be skipped if you are on a private tour.

However, if your tour operator takes you there, it is a good place to cap off an exciting day of island-hopping around Phuket. The island provides great swimming and snorkelling opportunities.

Phi Phi Island Verdict

The Phi Phi islands are extremely popular, and hence, very crowded for most of the year. They are breathtakingly beautiful, but your experience may be marred by the lack of tranquillity. The islands provide some great diving, snorkelling and swimming experiences.

In a nutshell, if you aren’t that bothered by the crowds, you should definitely visit these islands!

2. Phang Nga Bay

Located between Phuket and Krabi, Phang Nga Bay is known for its gravity-defying limestone outcrops, breathtaking lakes, untouched beaches and caves.

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Tour Recommendation: Phang Nga Bay by Speedboat, Phuket Sail Tours (for Day tour), Hong by Starlight, John Gray’s Sea Canoe
Tour Cost:
a. Phang Nga Bay by Speedboat – THB 4,400 (Rs 9,935) for children between 4 and 12 years; THB 2,000 (Rs 4,516); infants under 3 go free
b. Hong by Starlight – From THB 3,950 (Rs 8,885) per person for adults; THB 1,975 (Rs 4,460) for children between 6 and 12 years; infants under 6 go free

Stops Covered By Phuket Sail Tours

a. Phanak Islands

The Phanak islands are famous for their limestone cliffs, numerous caves and stunning lagoons. It is a paradise for visitors who enjoy kayaking or canoeing.

Most tours take visitors through a passage of limestone outcroppings to reach one of the islands’ many awe-inspiring, untouched lagoons. Even if your tour does not stop for canoeing/ kayaking on Phanak Island, it is definitely worth a visit for its serene beauty.

b. Mangrove Hong/ Hong Island

Rocky cliffs covered by mangrove forests and wild orchids enclose an emerald sea to create a chamber (“hong” in Thai) like atmosphere. Although this island provides the perfect kayaking opportunity, the activity is largely weather-based – so you might be forced to skip it if it is raining or there is a high tide.

The island is very popular and its tiny beaches can feel very crowded, particularly in peak season. The clear waters are great for swimming and snorkelling as well. However, beware of jellyfish. Hong island is best enjoyed after 3pm (sunset tour) when the crowds thin out, but even if you prefer a morning tour/ visit, this island should not be missed.

c. James Bond Island

Khao Ping Gan (Leaning Rock), popularly referred to as the James Bond Island, after getting featured in one of the movies, is one of the most iconic spots in Thailand. The island is always thrumming with activity – tourists from all over the world stop by to click photographs in the ‘James Bond’ style and street vendors sell homemade goods and food to visitors all day.

Because of this, the island is often considered to be a bit of a tourist trap. If you are a big James Bond fan, you should visit the island, otherwise it is quite avoidable. Take a tour that will pass by the island and let you click photos, but do not waste time going on to the island.

d. Kho Panyi Village (The Floating Muslim Village)

This unique village has a fully functioning, floating football field (home on Panyee FC), a school, a mosque and numerous restaurants, homes and shops. It is definitely worth a visit.

However, we don’t recommend going there separately or staying overnight. Many tour operators stop at the village for a few hours, which is sufficient to visit the floating football field and feast on the expertly caught fresh seafood and fresh fruits.

e. Kao Kee-Un

Known as the ‘drawing mountain’, these caves have 1,500-year-old paintings of fish, dolphins, a dancing lady, a merman, monkeys, mythical spirit guardians, and more. Tour operators usually sail past this entertaining visitors with stories and lore. If you enjoy old paintings and love a history lesson, this cave is worth sailing past once.

f. Koh Kudu Yai Island

A lovely hidden lagoon at the northern tip of Koh Yao Nai, this island is surrounded by limestone cliffs. It is usually deserted and offers the kind of private paradise visitors (especially, honeymooners) travel to Thailand for.

The lagoon has amazingly clear waters and is heavily populated by a variety of fish. Koh Kudu Yai is a must-visit island – whether you are looking to kayak, swim, snorkel or just hanging out on a beach.

g. Bird’s Nest Cave

Guarded 24 hours a day, Bird’s Nest Cave – home to the local delicacy, bird’s nest soup – is another heritage sight in the Phang Nga Bay. Tour operators typically drive past the cave, regaling guests with anecdotes about the cave and how the soup is prepared. The cave, though unique, is avoidable as you cannot experience the soup or the insides.

Phang Nga Bay Verdict

Like most places in Thailand, the Phang Nga bay can be quite crowded. However, the natural beauty of the bay is worth the crowds. The limestone formations and hongs are unique to Thailand making this bay a must-visit. Both the day and sunset tours are fantastic. Do not miss the kayaking

3. Racha (Or Raya) Island

A 30-minute speedboat ride away from Phuket, Racha Island has pristine blue waters and white-sand beaches. It provides the perfect getaway from Phuket and is a popular destination for watersports and snorkelling.

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Tour Recommendations: Racha Island by Speedboat, Phuket Let’s Go
Tour Cost: THB 1,800 (Rs 4,065)

a. Racha Beach (Racha Yai)

Racha Beach has pristine blue-green waters and white sands. However, given its close proximity to Phuket, the beach gets overrun by tour groups during the day. Visitors can choose to spend their time swimming in the warm blue waters, snorkelling, indulging in water sports or exploring the jungle track.

The clear waters provide good snorkelling opportunities, and visitors can sometimes see the coral beds and fish even without the equipment. If you are looking for a slightly offbeat place to visit, Racha beach is perfect for you – but try to visit it before 10am or after 3pm.

b. Racha Noi

This uninhabited island is about an hour further from Phuket than Racha Yai. Because of its distance and the lack of restaurants/ shops, fewer tourists visit this spot, making it less busy and crowded. The island has crystal-clear waters and is highly recommended for diving and snorkelling.

Racha Island Verdict

Visit Racha Island if you want to escape the mayhem in Phuket, but don’t expect to find much peace during the day. The truest way to enjoy the island is to stay overnight and miss the crowds.

4. Similan Islands

Comprised of nine islands, the Similan islands boast of long white coral beaches and gorgeous blue waters. They are home to diverse marine species – some of them rare and endangered. The Similan islands are featured amongst the best dive spots in the world and are widely considered to be the best spot for snorkelling in Thailand.

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Tour Recommendations: Similan Island Tours, Phuket Tours Direct
Tour Cost: THB 3,600 (Rs 8,130) for adults; THB 2,200 (Rs 4,970) for children between 4 and 12 years; infants under 3 go free

a. Koh Payu (Island 7)

A little further from the beach, Koh Payu offers sublime snorkelling and diving opportunities. The coral reefs and caves house colourful marine life that is a true wonder to see. However, the island gets very crowded, with hundreds of tourists arriving at the same time.

Visitors will be hard pressed to encounter any sea life close to the beach. If you are keen on snorkelling or diving, it is recommended that you take a speedboat deep in the sea and enjoy the fabulous underwater world. Please note that you need to be an experienced diver to dive at this site.

b. Koh Miang (Island 4)

This island offers accommodation for guests who want to stay over at the Similan Islands. Most tour operators stop over for lunch and relaxation on this island.

Like all the other Similan islands, this island is extremely crowded – but even more so as many tour groups stop at the same time for lunch. The island offers snorkelling, but the marine life is limited near the beach. The clear warm waters are great for a swim, though.

c. Koh Bangu (Island 9)

This is by far one of the best snorkelling spots in Thailand. An arch of the reef called the Breakfast Bend is a must-visit to see a variety of sea fans, coral outcrops and staghorn growths. The arch is home to schools of fish – and if you visit around sunrise you can see the small fish become the larger fish’s breakfast.

Huge boulders that are characteristic of the Similan islands can be found on the western side. As a part of a tour, the time to snorkel and explore the island is fairly limited. Also, during the day the islands, like the others in the area, are very crowded. If snorkelling is the main purpose of your trip to the Similan islands, then you must come via a private charter or stay overnight.

d. Koh Siam (Island 8)

The main attraction of Koh Siam is the trek up the Sail Rock. The trek itself is not difficult and the view from the Sail Rock Viewpoint is breathtaking. However, the fact that you walk up the rock in a line behind potentially hundreds of tourists can leave the experience feeling a bit mass-touristy. The white sand beaches provide an opportunity to relax and swim.

Similan Islands Verdict

The Similan islands have fallen prey to years of overcrowding and abuse at the hands of tourists. The islands offer breathtaking underwater views of its corals, caves and marine life, but this is best enjoyed by staying there overnight or visiting in the off-season, or during off-peak hours.