When you think of Thailand, you can’t help but picture an endless supply of sun, sea and sand. And with good reason! Simply Google ‘Thailand beaches’ and you’ll immediately understand why 32 million tourists choose to visit this tropical beach paradise every year.
But while Google Images would have you believe that Thailand is nothing but white sand and long tail boats, this isn’t really the case. The Southeast Asian country has so much diversity to offer. And this means that whether you’re going for a beach crawl or just want to pepper your journey with seaside sunning, it can be pretty overwhelming to choose where to go when planning a trip.
When I was perusing my options for Thailand I combed through hundreds of ‘best of’ lists trying to find those must-see spots and hidden gems along the country’s 2000 miles of coastline. After touring Thailand myself and interviewing a number of visitors I’ve finally compiled my own list for this tourist favourite.
Here are six beaches you won’t want to miss.
Chaweng Beach, located on the each side of Koh Samui, is a clear crowd favourite for the travelling beach bum.
With a perfect combination of white sand beach and a solid nightlife, this is THE spot to unwind in Thailand. There’s always a lot going on here, with a huge range of street food and accommodations to sate your hunger and rest your aching feet. Do yourself a favour and check out Ark Bar, beloved for its free BBQ, killer DJs and abundance of fresh seafood dishes.
Chaweng Beach is also a great place to explore the nearby islands, accessible by foot at low tide.
Phra Nang Beach
Adventure awaits at Phra Nang Beach, located on the each coast of the Railay Peninsula. Known for its limestone cliffs and crystal waters, this beach attracts hordes of active tourists, clamouring for a chance to snorkel, kayak, climb and hike in and around the stunning scenery of Phra Nang.
For those making a day of it, hike or kayak from Railay Beach, and make sure to check out the famed Princess Cave, featuring a shocking and fantastic array of phallic shaped offerings in homage to a mythical Princess said to have made this beach her home. While the beach gets busy during the day, the crowds die down late afternoon, providing a perfect spot to set up camp for a sunset scene. Early morning is also a great time to visit.
Andrea, Thailand’s Destination Manager, explains why Railay Beach is one of her favourites in the country:
I remember visiting it over 20 years ago and with my recent visit I was really surprised how it hasn’t changed that much. Maybe some fancier restaurants on the beachfront have popped up but that only enhanced my experience as I could enjoy a great pad thai and local beer.
The beach backdrop is framed with limestone cliffs and abundance of palm trees creates the most picture-perfect images when they contrast with the clear blue water. It’s an adventure to get there, catching the long tail boats, which makes the journey just as much fun as the destination.
You can reach Railay Beach from Ao Nang, Krabi by catching a local boat. These trips all stay in Ao Nang and have plenty of free time to check out the beach: 9-day Thailand Beaches West Coast, 16-day Classic Thailand West Coast and 23-day Thailand Adventure West Coast.
Ok, so I get that Patong is extremely exciting, and that some people will judge me harshly for not including it on this list, but let me present you with a counter offer – Phuket’s Freedom Beach. Located just 6km away from Phuket Beach, Freedom offers clear blue waters and secluded vibes.
Problem is, it’s incredibly difficult to access. Essentially you have to choose between a questionably expensive 10 minute long tail boat ride or brave a dusty road and hideously steep slope down to the beach. It’s worth it though. When you get to the beach make sure to take advantage of the quiet with a game of beach volleyball and some outstanding snorkeling (pro tip: check out the shallow waters on either side of the beach for some truly beautiful flora and fauna).
Aow Luek Bay
Calling all coral chasers! Aow Luek Bay, located on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, is a superb place to snorkel in Thailand, known for its colourful coral reef and baby black tip reef sharks. The waters are calm and warm, creating a perfect playground for marine life, even in the shallow waters.
Aow Luek also happens to be an ideal spot to test your mettle in diving. Thank the shallow bay and sandy bottom that make it perfect for training – just make sure to exert caution and do your research beforehand as there are over 30 dive shops in Koh Tao. For more info on Koh Thai, check out our guide here.
Thung Wua Laen
For those looking for some peace and quiet, head to Thung Wae Laen, located 13 km north of downtown Chumphon. This spot has managed to escape the mass commercialisation of so many beaches in Thailand, and remains a calm and relaxing choice for the weary traveller. There are very few foreign tourists here (they head straight to Koh Tai or Koh Phangan); it’s more a hideout just for locals.
With a focus on environmentally friendly recreation (read: no jet skis), Thung Wae Laen attracts a number of kite surfers, wind boarders, and divers to its warm waters and white sand beach. At the end of the day this is the place that you come when you want to escape the five-star resorts and take a well-deserved nap on a deserted beach.
Andrea, Thailand’s Destination Manager, explains why Chumphon is such a special spot:
You wont find hordes of package tourists here; this is a beach mainly off the beaten path. It boasts a long stretch of white sand beach, crystal clear water and a stunning shoreline of palm trees. Quiet, beautiful and very untouched, you can visit it on Intrepid’s 10-day Thailand Beaches East Coast trip. We spend two dreamy nights in a beachfront resort there!
Koh Phi Phi Don
Predictable, I know, but you really can’t leave Koh Phi Phi Don – the glamorous and beloved star of Thailand – off a list like this. Koh Phi Phi Don is the largest of the Phi Phi Islands and the centre of hedonism in Thailand – a majestic escape from reality featuring crystal-clear water, coconut trees, and buckets full of Red Bull and booze.
From Phi Phi Don, make sure to grab a tour of the surrounding islands and beaches, including (of course) the famed Maya Bay – best known for its role in The Beach.
Despite my love for hidden gems and underdogs, I have to admit that this particular bay is my favourite spot on the ‘best of’ list. The bay itself is gorgeous – being essentially one big colourful reef surrounded by 100-metre high cliffs – but for me it was more about the journey there: a long tail voyage through mangrove trees and clear blue waters and precarious ladders. The trek is completed with a hike through a jungle trail. Maya Bay appears out of nowhere, as if by magic. It is epic.
Want to escape reality and visit some beautiful beaches? Visit Thailand with Intrepid Travel.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, iStock/fototrav, Intrepid Travel, iStock/primeimages, Sandra Koster, iStock/sorincolac)