The Thai authorities recently made the bold move to close Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, the beach made popular in DiCaprio movie The Beach, during the low season in a bid to protect the environment from the damaging effects of mass tourism.
It’s not the first time a decision has been made to put the eco-system before tourist dollars in Thailand – day trips to the popular but increasingly over-crowded island of Koh Tachai in Similan National Park were banned by local authorities in 2016.
But just because Maya Bay is currently out of bounds it doesn’t mean you should forgo a Thailand holiday. There are still many unspoiled Thai Islands that haven’t suffered the same over-crowding and are ready and waiting to welcome tourists to their empty, untouched beaches.
Need helping choosing where to go in Thailand? Here are 5 less crowded islands in Thailand to visit in 2018.
5 Best Quiet Islands In Thailand
1. Similan Islands
The Similan Islands are a cluster of 9 islands northwest of Phuket that are a goldmine for divers. Their striking white beaches surrounded by giant black boulders are lesser-known than the limestone mounds of Krabi or Phang Nga Bay but are no less stunning.
You can reach the Similan Islands on a daytrip from Phuket or Khao Lak, with the transfer time taking up to 3 hours depending on what charter you go with.
To avoid the crowds in Phuket, book a secluded villa such as these luxury Thailand rentals, or arrange a sailing charter or diving cruise to spend several days exploring the quieter parts of the Similan archipelago.
Note: The Similan Islands are officially open to the public from 15 October until 15 May, but dates may vary each year.
2. Surin Islands
The Surin Islands are the northernmost group of islands on Thailand’s Andaman Coast and can be reached via a 90-minute speedboat ride from Khao Lak.
Like their neighbours above, the Surin Islands offer spectacular diving but they are also uniquely home to a small community of indigenous Moken, the nomadic sea people of the Andaman region.
The Moken are known as ‘sea gypsies’ as they were originally sea nomads who travelled between the islands from Malaysia to Myanmar. They have now settled in several basic reserves, including one in the Surin Islands, which comes under the protection of the National Park Authority and welcomes a fixed number of tourists as part of an organised tour group.
As visitor numbers to the Moken Village are limited there will usually be more indigenous peoples than tourists on the south Surin Island at the same time.
3. Koh Mook (or Ko Muk)
Koh Mook is one of a handful of hidden gems found in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Trang. The relatively untouched island is popular with daytrippers from nearby busier resorts due to its Emerald Cave. Reached by a short but slightly scary swim in the dark, the Emerald Cave is a sheltered sinkhole biome and beach with startling green waters that give the cave its moniker.
By staying on the island, which has two golden beaches, a fishing village and a handful of budget accommodation, you can explore the cave outside of peak (crowded) hours. Alternatively, base yourself on the mainland near Trang at luxury resort Anantara Si Kao and take a longtail boat to Koh Mook in the morning.
4. Koh Kradan
Another little-known island near Trang is Ko Kradan, which has slightly more upmarket accommodation options such as the flashpacker favourite Sevenseas Resort.
The extensive shallow bays, sand banks and views of limestone karsts make Koh Kradan one of the most visually stunning beaches in Thailand – just make sure you bring cash and essential provisions as there are no ATMs or convenience stores on the island.
Similarly to Koh Mook, Koh Kradan is popular with day trippers (the Anantara hotel I mentioned above has a beach club there which they bring guests to by speedboat) but come 3pm you’ll have the calm clear waters all to yourself.
From around November to April, speedboats and ferries connect Koh Kradan directly to a number of other islands including Koh Lipe, Koh Lanta and Koh Mook – so it’s perfect for an island-hopping holiday. Boat tickets can be booked via your resort on Koh Kradan so enquire when making a room reservation.
5. Koh Chang
Photo thanks to Ragnar Vorel on Unsplash
Found in the Trat Province of Eastern Thailand, Koh Chang was once a backpacker secret that has leaked to a wider audience over the last few years. If you’re looking for an island with a bit more infrastructure than Koh Kradan or Koh Mook but not nearly as people as Krabi or Phuket, then Koh Chang is the happy medium.
This large island is framed by fine sand beaches and filled with a lush national park that is perfect for jungle trekking. Local guides can take you on trails through the forest to find waterfalls, monkey, birds and more. You can also island-hop to nearby Koh Mak and Koh Kood, the latter of which offers more laid-back luxury resorts.
In recent years some of the more basic beach huts in Koh Chang have been replaced with resorts and the not-so-lonely Lonely Beach has become known for its party scene. To escape the hustle, head to Hat Kaibae for boutique hotels and midrange bungalows or escape the tourists altogether on the isolated east coast at Ao Salak Kok and Ao Dan Kao.
To reach Ko Chang you can take a bus or flight from Bangkok to Trat and board a public ferry or private boat to the island. For larger groups and families it might be easier to arrange a private minivan transfer direct from Bangkok Airport.