Thailand has hundreds of eye-wateringly idyllic islands, many rimmed by near perfect beaches and near divine coral reefs, just right for sailing between, or just reclining and soaking up the sunny, friendly culture on. The difficulty is in choosing the Thai island that's bang on for you.
Thailand's two most visited groups are Ko Tao, Ko Samui and co. in the Gulf of Thailand near the Ang Thong Marine Park and Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lipe and co. in the Andaman Sea near Phuket and the Phang Nga Bay, out of which James Bond Island - the one used in 'The Man with the Golden Gun' - sticks like a dagger.
The islands sprinkled round the Gulf of Thailand are fringed with coconut groves and white beaches, and warm, footprint-less, sandy coves; many of them have lush interiors, especially those of the Ang Thong Archipelago, or interesting limestone formations. Ko Samui is probably the most idyllically famous, but Ko Tao is supposed to be the new Ko Samui - more 'The Beach', than 'The Beach' beach, and is popular with divers and those on more modest budgets. Most visitors to these islands come for some resort and relaxation time.
On the other side of Thailand, the Andaman Sea islands are the ones that look like giant limestone daggers with a sprinkling of bright green alfalfa jungle on top, plunging deep into sandy bottomed, turquoise seas, in dispersed with sandier islands totally ringed with perfect tropical beaches. Hundreds of islands make up this group, loved by divers snorkellers, paddlers, sailors and people who appreciate really lovely beaches. These islands are linked by ferries, and are often close enough to each other to paddle between, or get water taxis around: so the most suited to island hoppers.
Phuket is the busiest hub, so has some of the heartiest night life as well as some spectacular beaches: Katanoi, Surin, and Patong are recommended by World Reviewers; and most sailing parties leave from Ao Chalong to Phuket's south.
From Ao Chalong most sailing itineraries head for Phang Nga Bay, famous for its steep rocky islands, which tower out of the sea, and the flatter mangroves shore side. Waves have shaped the rocks and islands of this bay, frighteningly precarious overhangs tease with their shade, and smaller crafts can make it under easily, but the view of them, complete with rainforests growing on top is pretty spectacular. Koh Pannyi island, which still has its traditional stilt fishing villages built over the water, is another local attraction.
Smaller crafts, canoes and kayaks and the like come out onto the bay in the afternoons, mostly from hire companies on the islands. The channels between the islands and mangroves in some places are quite narrow, and some of the bays are shaped like missing wedges of cake. The rock formations have also created caves and coves and other secrets, which give sailors in crafts, small and large, the feeling they're discovering things for the first time, and the sandy sea floor is shallow in places so you can anchor with ease.
To the south is Krabi, a continuation of the rocky island theme but with less drama and more sand, there are some beautiful beaches here, the snorkelling is rewarding and Krabi Town is a good place to stock up on provisions.
Further south again and you get to the Phi Phi Islands, which appear even taller and narrower than those of Phang Nga Bay. The main port is on the south end of Phi Phi Don, the main island and the only one you can stay on. The fringing reef off shore is again great for snorkellers but not so great for sailors, but the water’s clear and it’s easy to see the hazards. Maya Bay, where 'The Beach' was filmed is on smaller Ko Phi Phi Lee. Ko Lon, Ko Lipe and Ko Lanta are quieter islands to base your Andaman island break on and around, all offering a mix of local hospitality, tropical beach vistas and watersports.
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