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Island Hopping in Thailand, Done Right

From Bangkok to Chiang Mai, there are plenty of incredible places to visit on the mainland, but a trip to Thailand wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one or two of the islands.

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After all, they boast some of the world’s best beaches, incredible snorkeling, excellent food, yoga retreats, pampering spas, and plenty of luxurious hotels. So it’s no wonder that Thailand ranked #2 of the top five millennial destinations according to Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, which surveyed over 1,000 travel advisors on their experience and client requests to determine the year’s hottest trends.

While Maya Bay—made famous in the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio—remains closed until 2021, there are plenty of other gorgeous islands and beaches worth visiting. Sure, some areas tend to attract backpackers, but there are ways to plan an island-hopping trip right, starting with choosing the right islands and resorts.

From developed islands like Phuket and Koh Samui to under-the-radar places like Koh Yao Noi, these are some of the most idyllic islands in Thailand.

Phuket

Thailand’s largest island has a bit of a reputation as a party destination, but it’s so big you can easily find the vibe you’re looking for. If you want to experience the legendary nightlife, head to Patong Beach, where many nightclubs and go-go bars are concentrated. For a more low-key experience, check into one of the luxury resorts on the northern side of the island. Trisara, an award-winning, all-villa resort far removed from the hubbub boasts Phuket’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, PRU. Each villa has its own infinity pool, but one glimpse at the resort’s private beach and you’ll probably want to hang out in one of the new cabanas all day, go snorkeling off the shore, or kayak over to the pristine Banana Beach. Be sure to spend some time exploring Phuket Town, which is characterized by picturesque Sino-Portuguese architecture housing cute restaurants, cafes, and boutiques selling porcelain, Thai silk, beachy-chic clothes, and much more.

Koh Yao Noi

A 20-minute speedboat ride from Phuket, Koh Yao Noi is a tranquil island paradise in the Andaman Sea. It’s a perfect jumping off point to visit smaller islands like Koh Lao La Ding, which has soft sand on one side and a rocky cove on the other. The Cape Kudu Hotel—a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World—can organize a half-day longtail boat excursion that will take you to four or five islands, where you can picnic on the beach, swim, snorkel, and just relax. This chic boutique hotel is a perfect blend of Thai and Western style, with beachy-chic rooms and suites, three restaurants and bars, a luxurious spa where you can get a traditional Thai massage, and direct beach access. Don’t miss the chance to take a Thai cooking class with the property’s executive chef, who will teach you to make specialties like Tom Yum soup and Pad Thai.

Koh Samui

Located in the Gulf of Thailand, off the country’s eastern shores, Koh Samui is second in size only to Phuket and attracts yogis, luxury-seekers, and everything in between. “Though the beaches are not as nice as those on Phuket, Koh Samui is one of the few islands that avoids Thailand’s monsoon season every summer,” Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of luxury travel agency Embark, said. “So while all of the Western islands are drenched in rain, Koh Samui is usually bathed in dry sunlight.” There are many luxury resorts on Koh Samui, but a few of Ezon’s favorites are the Six Senses Samui, a wellness-focused resort with Robinson Crusoe-esque villas perched on dramatic cliffs; the Four Seasons Koh Samui, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property, which “offers a more polished seaside experience set in an exotic tropical setting;” and the W Koh Samui, which he calls “one of the more upscale in the brand.”

Koh Pha-Ngan

Want to experience Thailand’s legendary nightlife? This is the island for you. “The Full Moon Party on Ko Phangan is on every serious partygoer’s bucket list,” Ezon said. “Just 30 minutes by boat from Koh Samui, the Anantara Rasananda is a game changer offering a fabulous sanctuary to detox for travelers who would otherwise sleep on hammocks or hostel-level hotels.” Half-moon parties offer a slightly tamer but still fun experience, and if you don’t sleep the day away, you can explore the island’s tropical forests and waterfalls.

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