When people talk about the Thai Islands the immediate image that springs to mind is a glistening beach, palm trees, azure ocean, longtail boats and the beautiful smiling Thai people.

This image is still very much a reality but what happens when you have to share it with the hoards of holiday makers and backpackers that arrive en masse every year?

Does it still have the same appeal?


I’m sorry to say that the Gulf and Andaman coasts that many people experienced even just 10 short years ago are gradually disappearing. Phuket, Ao Nang, Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan have all become huge, developed tourist destinations and don’t even get me started on Koh Phi Phi.

I vowed not to set foot on Phi Phi this time around after being horrified by the badly managed over-development 5 years ago.

Thailand is now home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world and also some of the busiest party spots, so if that’s what you’re looking for then perfect. But what about the Thailand I’ve seen in photos from yesteryear, beach shacks and dirt roads with very few tourists to speak of?

If you don’t want to/have the money to stay in luxury resorts and aren’t interested in Full Moon Parties there has to be an alternative. We decided to make it a mission to try and find places just like this, they’re still out there but you’ve just got to know where to look.


Koh Yao Noi

Paul admires the view from our Koh Yao Noi deck

Koh Yao Noi

You would never think this perfect little slice of paradise existed. It’s just off the coast of Ao Nang, possibly the most westernised beach resort in all of Thailand, and most visitors to the Andaman Sea will probably never have heard of it.

It’s 15 km long, has a bunch of lovely little coves and is the perfect spot for real relaxation. The views over Phang Nga Bay are absolutely to die for and it’s perfect for exploring either by longtail or kayak.

Most of the places to stay on Koh Yao Noi are budget to mid-range and have a lovely relaxed feel to them, but what really sets it apart is that the villages are larger than any resort areas, us tourists haven’t taken over.

We stayed in 1 of a few beautiful cabins owned by the island’s only policeman and catered for by his very talented wife. Our little cabin was up a hill which offered breathtaking views due east into Phang Nga Bay and the most spectacular sunrises viewed through our French doors.

You can get around very easily which we discovered when we braved hiring a motorbike and there is enough to do so that even if you’re a restless type like Paul and I, you won’t get bored.

The islanders are desperate to keep this level of development and I really hope they can ward off the ever encroaching super resorts.


Koh Jum long tail boat

Heading towards Koh Jum, the only folks on this long tail

Koh Jum

Situated mid-way between Krabi and Koh Lanta, Koh Jum feels a little bit Robinson Crusoe-like and it is absolute bliss! We boarded a packed boat in Krabi that was bound for the larger island of Koh Lanta and an hour later we simply stopped a few hundred metres off the Koh Jum coast where a longtail moored up with the ferry to take us ashore.

This is when I absolutely love travelling, Paul and I the only people speeding away towards this tiny tropical paradise.

Koh Jum is very hilly and most of the roads are rocky, uneven dirt tracks so it’s quite a challenge to get around. Most lodging has a wonderful remote feel and they all give the impression of having a deserted private beach.

It is absolutely silent apart from the waves crashing and the monkeys in the morning and this time we were facing due west so privy to the justifiably famous Andaman sunsets.


Koh Jum beach

Our lovely beach on Koh Jum

We stayed in a gorgeous place that really reminded me of a bunch of treehouses. The cabins are dotted about on a steep hill with wooden walkways and stairs leading off in every direction.

We could use kayaks and snorkels free of charge and there is a huge lending library that I made the most of. If you haven’t seen Phi Phi before you can easily take a trip directly from Koh Jum.

Prae Ae (Long Beach) Koh Lanta

Prae Ae (Long Beach) Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta

Bear with me! I’m fully aware that Koh Lanta is developed, full of holiday resorts and can be quite busy. We arrived at the very tail end of the season, mid-April. As a result you get the best of both worlds.

The island is extremely quiet but there are still some great places to eat that are open and quite a few of the dive schools too.

We stayed in the port of Saladan purely to have a change from the beach (I know, what a hardship!). It was good fun staying amongst the guesthouses and eateries that are on stilts over the harbour.

The famous beaches of Klong Dau and Prae Ae are within walking distance and if you want to explore further then you can rent a moped very cheaply.

Koh Lanta Songkran

Paul takes on the kids from next door during Songkran – Koh Lanta

The people on Koh Lanta are extremely friendly and the whole place retains a really laid back feel. We happened to visit during Songkran (Thai New Year) and it was a really nice way to celebrate.

The huge water fights still happen but there are loads of kids playing as well so it had a much more relaxed feel to what I’ve seen in videos of Chiang Mai and Bangkok during the same time.

Kids Koh Lanta

The cute kids of Koh Lanta during Songkran

We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit the Gulf of Thailand or some of the lovely islands near the Cambodian border this time but I hear there are some gems in both areas.

It would be great to hear from anyone who’s enjoyed a similar slice of paradise in this great country.

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12 Responses

    • Maddie

      I just think a lot of people only hear about the bigger islands, I feel really lucky to have seen some of these places.

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    First off, I feel totally ripped off! We stayed at Koh Yao Noi (at the same place as you guys, no less!) and we NEVER got sunrises like the one in your first photo. NEVER!

    We are very much like you guys as we very much wanted to visit Thai islands, but had no interested in ones with epic Party scenes. Ko Lanta was the most touristy of the places we went, and while it’s very busy these days, I do think that overall it is pretty laid back and mellow. Did you guys ever make it to the beaches on the very tip of the island where the national park was? Those were by far the very best ones and had so few people (probably because they were so far from everything!).

    I have to say that although we really enjoyed our time on the Thai islands we visited, I’m not sure if any of them are my perfect island. I thought KYN was really beautiful (those views), but the beaches were a disappointment for me there as they just got so rocky at low tide. I guess we’ll just have to keep looking… 😉
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Chewing the Fat with World Flavor!My Profile

    • Maddie

      How weird, we had sunrises like that literally every day for a week!! Sorry Steph 🙁 We didn’t make it down south on Koh Lanta unfortunately but I’ve heard it’s beautiful, maybe next time. We’re hoping to stop by one of the islands near the Cambodian border on our way back to Bangkok so we still have some exploring to do 🙂

  2. Abbi

    What an amazing write up. Thank you! I am in the middle of planning my 5 month trip around SE Asia, and most of the research I’ve been doing on budget places to stay in the Thai Islands are youngsters talking about the best parties and party islands. I’m sorry .. But I didn’t spend the past year saving up to lie on a beach with a load of drunk or hungover kids. I’m in search of solitude, culture, ad traditional experiences. Really glad I came across this! Will definitely try and hit up some of these places on my trip.

    Safe travels!
    Abbi recently posted..Getting a Working Holiday Visa for New ZealandMy Profile

    • Maddie

      Thanks Abbi, that’s really nice to hear. The thing we’ve realised from exploring the Thai Islands is that there really is something for everyone. If you want complete solitude with no electricity and amenities, you can have it. If you want 5* luxury and a bustling city, you can have it. We fall into the ‘need electric and wifi but hate party islands’ group and for me Koh Jum was the perfect combination. Have an absolutely fantastic time in Asia!

  3. Janice

    Can you please share the contact info for where you stayed in Koh Yao Noi? Thank you!!!!

    • Maddie

      Hi Janice, we stayed at the Tabeak View Bungalows – they’re owned by the island’s police officer.

  4. Marc

    Can you give us the name of where you stayed in Koh Jum. My wife and I are headed to Thailand after a little walk in Nepal this December.

    Thanks, Marc & Julia

    • Maddie

      Hi Marc and Julia, I’m pretty sure we stayed at the Jungle Hill Bungalows – although it was a couple of years ago now so you’re testing my memory 😉 It was very basic but incredibly quiet and they did great food. Enjoy your stay!

  5. K Splringford

    Hey , I’ve got a great idea….Ill make a list of all of the quiet, unspoilt islands that I know in Thailand and then post it on the Internet!!


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