There are a whopping 1,430 islands in Thailand. Many of the more famous ones have become clogged with tourists, but there are plenty that dance to a different tune, offering affordable accommodation, sublime beaches and full-on relaxation.
Here, Hannah Summers explores our pick of the hidden gems…
Off the beaten track
Hidden treasure: Pictured is the Buddhist cave at Phang Nga Bay
A 30-minute speedboat trip east from Phuket deposits you on Koh Yao Noi. It’s a sleepy island of approximately 4,000 residents, with wide, empty lanes lined with coconut and palm trees and beaches against a backdrop of the towering limestone pinnacles that rise out of the waters of Phang Nga Bay.
Cars, refreshingly, are virtually non-existent here.
Take a traditional longtail boat trip with a local guide and you can spend the day hopping between curves of sand and the lagoons of the tiny islands of Koh Hong and Koh Pak Bia, before beers at sunset in one of the relaxed beachside bars back on the main island.
DON’T MISS: Ma Na has the biggest personality on the island — visit her tiny open-air restaurant, Ta Ton Do, in the northwest corner, for the most delicious black squid curry, seaweed salad, garlic-smothered fish and the crispiest, lightest tempura prawns.
Squeeze in some ka nom tom — gooey, sugary coconut balls — for dessert.
HOW TO DO IT: Coastal-chic bedrooms, many with their own large, private plunge pools, are just one reason why a stay at Cape Kudu Hotel on Koh Yao Noi is so relaxing.
The other is the very helpful and friendly team, who know you by name and are on hand to arrange anything from moonlight cinema viewings to prosecco picnics at Laem Haad, a vast stretch of beach reached by boat.
Rooms cost from £142 per night B&B with Small Luxury Hotels Of The World (020 8023 9989, slh.com).
Back to nature
For the feel of Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-largest island, on a much easier scale, try its tiny, jungle-clad neighbour, Koh Tao (above)
For the feel of Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-largest island, on a much easier scale, try its tiny, jungle-clad neighbour, Koh Tao.
You’re best off visiting when the rainfall is at its lowest and you can make the most of its secluded bays and snorkelling in zingy blue water at Aow Muang.
This is where you’ll get a true taste of how the Thai islands used to be — before the advent of glitzy resorts. You’ll be sharing beach space with a happy mix of backpackers and luxe-seeking holiday-makers.
DON’T MISS: Break up your visits to the empty beaches with a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) diving course, which are especially cheap compared to other islands because of intense competition. You’ll see everything underwater, from turtles to a sunken U.S. landing craft. Or go one step further with PADI and get them to help you try the latest way to explore beneath the ocean: freediving, using your own breath.
HOW TO DO IT: Set on a faultless stretch of sand at the foot of jungle-covered cliffs is the duo-resort of The Beach Club and Haad Tien. You’re free to enjoy the pools and restaurants of both places — so pick between private villas at Haad Tien and stylish, colourful rooms at The Beach Club.
From £1,069 pp per week, including flights (0129 383 1942, hayesandjarvis.co.uk).
Swim with sharks
Located about half way between Phuket and Krabi, Koh Yao Yai, which means ‘big long island’, is dotted with pristine beaches and small outdoor restaurants
Koh Yao Yai is the place to kick back and relax. There are a handful of beachside bars serving beers and cocktails, but alcohol and partying are not the main focus, as 90 per cent of the population is Muslim, so it is far removed from the buckets-of-booze crowd. Located about half way between Phuket and Krabi, Koh Yao Yai, which means ‘big long island’, is dotted with pristine beaches and small outdoor restaurants.
DON’T MISS: Laze in the sun at Ao Muong Beach on the west coast, or book a dive trip to Shark Point, one of the best places in the country to swim alongside docile leopard sharks. The reef here is teeming with marine life, such as soft corals and moray eels.
HOW TO DO IT: Stretched along a steep hillside (don’t worry, there are Jeeps to get you from A to B) is the hideaway, eco-resort of Santhiya Resort & Spa.
Choose from eucalyptus-scented deluxe rooms, which are adorned with intricately carved wooden panels and come with canopy-swathed beds and a giant hot tub on the balcony, or, for more privacy, the teakwood pool villas. There’s a beach and a main pool, but the real star is the infinity pool. Rooms from £63 per night B&B (santhiya.com).
Thai pride: Enjoy pristine beaches and snorkelling in clear waters. Pictured is Koh Ngai beach
Whether you are loved-up honeymooners or a relaxed family looking for a beach break, tiny Koh Ngai is the place for you.
Located in the Trang Islands of southern Thailand, Koh Ngai is surrounded by coral and clear water, with excellent shallow-water swimming and snorkelling on its east-coast beaches.
The island hasn’t been built to cater for huge numbers of tourists — there is no cashpoint, for instance — but that’s all part of its charm.
DON’T MISS: While most people take a day trip to Koh Ngai from Pak Meng, ten miles north east, why not stay the night?
The island doesn’t have its own indigenous population, which means hotel and restaurant staff travel in each day.
The result? Blissfully quiet evenings — and the island pretty much to yourself.
HOW TO DO IT: Forget spas, speedy wi-fi and cold towels, a stay on Koh Ngai is down-to-earth, simple and highly recommended. Try one of the thatched-roof cottages that line the silky-soft sandy beach at the tranquil Thapwarin Resort.
You’re 15 metres from the sea — with gentle waves the new soundtrack to your slumber.
From £38 per cottage per night, excluding meals (thapwarin.com).
Hayes & Jarvis (01293 762 456, hayesandjarvis.co.uk) offers a 12-night holiday around many of Thailand’s lesser-known islands, from £2,899pp.