Railay Beach, Krabi
Best for adrenaline adventurers
With mass appeal for sunbathers and adventure seekers alike, the beaches on Railay peninsula are some of the most famous in Thailand. But unlike the nearby Phi Phi island, which throbs with tourists and an unending flood of gas-guzzling tour boats, the beaches at Railay live up to the hype. The further removed from Railay West and Railay East you wander, the fewer resorts and revellers you’ll encounter, and despite its popularity, there are still quiet pockets to be found. But the picturesque limestone formations aren’t just great for your Instagram: Railay is ground zero for some of the best rock climbing in the world, and there are more than 1,000 routes designed for day-one newbies to pros with the callouses on their hands to prove it. Learn the tricks of the trade with the pros at Basecamp Tonsai where a half-day course starts at $25.
Travel tip: The beaches are only accessible by boat, and it’s a 15-minute ride from Ao Nang.
Mae Nam Beach, Koh Samui
Best for a slice of calm
While most of Koh Samui’s secret spots have long been revealed – it is the second-largest island in Thailand – there is one place to get away from it all: Mae Nam Beach. Tossing out a towel here feels like what Koh Samui must have been like decades ago and it’s easy to conjure up that peaceful feeling in the shade of a coconut palm tree. The beauty of Mae Nam is that travellers can enjoy beachy serenity yet still be within striking distance to all the island’s top-notch restaurants and bars, including Coco Tams, home to the island’s best fire show and addictive passion fruit and rum cocktails.
Top tip: Everything packs up here at about 10pm, so it’s great for families.
Ao Suan Yai, Koh Mak
Best for watersports
Located in the Trat providence and just off the coast of Thailand, close to Cambodia, tiny Ko Mak is a castaway dream for sun worshipers. Only 16 square kilometres, this car-free island is best visited during high season, during December to March. Things grind to a halt with many hotels and restaurants closing when the rains come in May to September. While there isn’t a bad strip on sand on the entire island, Ao Sun Yai is accessible on a bicycle or a rented motorbike (about $6 a day from a number of vendors on the island). It is known for its arc-shaped beach and crystal clear water that is calm and smooth, which only adds to the visibility. Mingle with the schools of fish around the islands on a dive trip with Koh Mak Divers (2 dives from $76).
Travel tip: If you’d prefer to stay above water, rent a canoe and paddle to Ko Kham, a private island just offshore with a great beach that’s accessible for a small fee.
Best for nature lovers
This string of lush islands (numbered north to south) are under national protection, and the Thailand government closes the marine national park from mid-May to mid-October to help keep them pristine and alleviate the burdens of mass tourism. The water’s around the islands have rock reefs, dive-troughs, nesting sites for sea turtles, excellent visibility, massive manta rays, and even whale sharks, making the Similan Islands a diver’s paradise, and bubble blowers come from all corners of the world to dive the bright aqua waters. You can swim around all the islands, but only Koh Miang (number four) and Koh Similan (number eight) are open for sunbathing and lounging. Koh Bon and Koh Tachai are outstanding for snorkelling and diving.
Travel tip: The national park has campsites with simple tents and bungalows for $18-61 a night, but remember there is only electricity available from 6pm-6am. For something far more upmarket, consider booking a live-aboard from nearby Khao Lak or Phuket. Many of the live-aboard boats are fully equipped diving centres where package deals include diving, food and park fees.
Hat Rin, Koh Pha-Ngan
Best for party people
When the full moon rises, the non-stop party scene that is now famous in Thailand and abroad kicks into overdrive. Hat Rin beach is divided into three parts: Hat Rin Nok (Sunrise Beach) is where Full Moon revilers come to celebrate life and (temporarily) forget any responsibilities, Hat Rin Nai (Sunset Beach) has rough shores and is the least appealing of the trio, while Hat Leela offers a more secluded spot to hang out, and it’s just south of Hat Rin Nai.
Travel tip: Book well in advance for full- and half-lunar days. If you’re coming to the island to party, stay as close to the action as possible to avoid having to traverse on Koh Pha-Ngan’s roads.