Where else can you stroll along the beach, dive into your own private plunge pool, check into a luxury spa and then party until dawn, than on Thailand’s southern islands? With so many to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down for you – for uninterrupted relaxation with luxurious touches, go for Ko Samui; if your dream holiday is nocturnal, the full moon party haven that is Ko Phangan is your beach paradise, but for a combination of the two, with movie-perfect beaches, head to blissful Ko Phi Phi.
Chilled Days, wild Nights
No trip to a Thai island is complete without a night spent dancing with the sand between your toes and the stars glittering overhead. All of the islands have beach parties, but the biggest has to be at Ko Phangan’s Haad Rin Beach on the island’s southern tip. Every month the all-night events attract between 20,000 and 30,000 party-goers, all looking to dance until the sun comes up. If you aren’t on the island when the full moon falls, don’t worry, there are low-key half moon parties during the month and the in-town beaches on Ko Phangan host parties almost every night.
The beaches of Ko Phi Phi also turn wild come nightfall, with fire dancing men and travellers aplenty. The evenings don’t have to be a UV paint-covered, bucket fest, as the island also boasts more chilled-out fiestas every night.
After a long night of beach partying, there’s only one place to go to relax: back to the beach. While in most places around the world we’d usually recommend one particular stretch of sand, all beaches on Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Phi Phi are beautiful, untouched and boast inviting waters. Like the UAE, Thailand never gets cold, and even during the rainy season, from June to October, the stormy spells pass within an hour. We recommend just using this time as nature’s excuse to head to the nearest beach bar.
Long gone are the days when Thailand was just a backpackers’ paradise, although travellers still flock to other islands, Ko Samui has become a luxury option, packed with five-star hotels and wonderful restaurants, making it perfect for a pampered getaway. Check into luxe resorts on the paradise island and spend your days going from the untouched, palm-lined beaches to your luxury accommodation. Definitely opt for a beach massage at one of the many small huts, these cost from only Dh6 and are sure to be muscle-busting, but relaxing. Can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon than getting a massage while hearing the nearby ocean lapping onto the shore? Yeah, us neither!
Samui’s most in-demand accommodation options are within walking distance of the beach, and there is more than enough to go around. While the most popular tourist beaches are Bangrak and Lamai, we’d recommend heading to one of the quieter spots for an ultimate R&R break, Choeng Mon, Lipa Noi and Taling Ngam are all extraordinarily picturesque.
If you’re after more luxurious pampering, your hotel is likely to have a private spa, but we recommend a change of scenery, so head to one of the many day spas on the island. The most renowned pampering spot on Ko Samui is the Six Senses Spa (www.sixsenses.com), treat yourself to a three-hour Cleansing Ritual, which involves a wrap, massage and facial. When you’ve finished being pampered continue to relax by the outdoor pool, or dine in one of the restaurants – Dining On The Rocks serves amazing Asian cuisine, teamed with stunning views out over the Gulf of Siam.
A stay on a Thai island doesn’t just have to be a beach-to-bar break, there is plenty of culture to be soaked up too. Whether you’re the kind to spend days trawling temples and learning all about the local culture, or a nature reserve is right up your street, there will be something to keep you busy.
Make sure you find time amidst all the lounging to visit one of the many temples (or Wats) on the three islands. There are over 20 temples on Ko Phangan and most open their doors to (well-behaved and respectful) tourists, but Wat Phu Khao Noi, or ‘The Temple of the Small Mountain’ is our favourite. You’ll find this, the oldest temple on Ko Phangan, just outside the main town of Thongsala atop a hill on the southwest of the island. The tranquil spot has views over the azure sea and rolling green jungle, and head there before noon and you’re likely to meet one of the monks, or get there at 6am and you can give the monks an offering of breakfast to earn extra karma points.
For another kind of relaxation entirely, the elephant jungle trips on Ko Samui provide a natural high (kosamui.com/eco-tours). The centre of Samui island is made up of tropical rainforest, so after a long elephant back tour of the jungle, the gentle giants will take you to the famous Namuang waterfall for a refreshing dip, it’s definitely the most regal way to see the island. From full-moon parties to spa retreats and jungle treks, these three islands offer something for everyone.
Budget: Zeavola, Ko Phi Phi
When you first arrive at Zeavola, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon a traditional Thai village. Hidden away in the forests of the northern tip of the island, and accessible mainly by boat, this rustic but charming resort with spacious villas and private gardens might take you back to simpler times, but it still doesn’t lack the luxury touch. Rooms start at Dh840.
Mid-range: Santhiya Resort & Spa, Ko Phangan
With traditional Thai bungalows and countless pools, this hideaway resort is the perfect place to go for a secluded break from reality. Soak in the stunning hillside views, treat yourself to private dinners down at the beach and enjoy pool submerged sun loungers, before heading to Chantara Restaurant for a meal of delicious Thai food. Rooms from Dh1,070 per night.
Luxury: KC Resort & Over Water Villas, Ko Samui
Private saltwater plunge pools, endless views of the inviting sea and rolling hills and a gourmet restaurant, this is perfect for a grown-up getaway. Dine in the relaxed al fresco The View Restaurant & Wine Lounge, which serves up a reinvented Mediterranean menu, then wander back to your room, which is set on stilts over a personal pool. Rooms from Dh3,000.
Ko Phi Phi Ley
While you couldn’t spend your entire trip on this modcon-less island, Maya Bay Camping (mayabaycamping.com) offers overnight camping trips, or you can just take a fisherman’s boat to the island from Ko Phi Phi for the day. You’ll see breathtakingly beautiful cliffs and caves and meet the monkey inhabitants. Don’t miss Maya Bay, the famous beach where hit film The Beach was shot. No advance booking is necessary and most hotels will offer their own trips.
Booking in for a relaxing yoga session is a must. Head to yoga retreat, Absolute Yoga on Ko Samui, and stay there for a month, a week, just one night, or simply go for a drop-in session during
Ko Phangan is a diver’s paradise. Some reefs are accessible from the beach, and beginners are welcome. More advanced divers can head to the northwest coast and find Sail Rock at 15-20m below sea level, or out to smaller island Ko Tao, where you may find yourself sharing aqua space with the resident turtles.
The Beach, Hangover II, The Man With The Golden Gun, Stealth, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason
Eithad fly direct to Phuket from Abu Dhabi from Dh2,535 return (etihad.com). Boats to Ko Phi Phi from Phuket are about Dh70. Bangkok Airways fly from Phuket to Samui from Dh230 (bangkokair.com). Three-and-a-half hour speedboat trips from Ko Samui to Ko Phangan start from Dh45.