Best Beaches in Thailand

What is the nicest beach in Thailand?

With over six million foreigners flying into the country each year, Thailand has become Asia’s primary holiday destination and is a useful and popular first stop on any overland journey through Southeast Asia.

After trekking and rural relaxation, most visitors want to head for the beach – and Thailand’s eastern and southern coasts are lined with gorgeous white-sand shores, aquamarine seas, and kaleidoscopic reefs.

The most popular of these are the east coast backpackers’ resorts of Ko Samet and Ko Chang, the Gulf Coast islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao, and the Andaman coast idylls of Laem Phra Nang, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, and Ko Tarutao.

The southern island of Phuket and the east coast resort of Pattaya are more expensive, package-tour-oriented spots.

Phuket Beaches

Thailand’s largest island and a province in its own right, Phuket (pronounced “Poo-ket”) ranks second in tourist popularity only to Pattaya. Thoughtless tourist developments have scarred much of the island, particularly along the west coast, and the trend on all the beaches is upmarket, with very few budget possibilities. As mainstream resorts go, however, those on Phuket are just about the best in Thailand, offering a huge range of watersports and great diving facilities. The sea gets quite rough from May to October. Although the best west-coast beaches are connected by road, to get from one beach to another by public transport you nearly always have to go back into Phuket town.

Ao Karon

Twenty kilometers southwest of Phuket town, Ao Karon is only about 5km south of Patong, but a lot less congested. Although the central stretch of beachfront is dominated by large-capacity hotels, the beach is, as yet, free of developments, and elsewhere you’ll only find low-rise guesthouses and bungalows.

The beach, while long and sandy, offers very little shade and almost disappears at high tide. Swimming off any part of Karon can be quite dangerous during the monsoon season when the undertow gets treacherously strong (look out for the red flags).

Dive centers on Ao Karon/Ao Kata include Dive Asia, at 36/10 Thanon Patak, north Karon and on the Kata/Karon headland and Marina Divers, next to Marina Cottages on the headland between Ao Karon and Ao Kata.

Songthaews from Phuket’s Thanon Ranong (every 20min; 30min) arrive in Karon via the outer stretch of Thanon Patak, hitting the beach at the northern end of Ao Karon and then driving south along the beachfront length of Thanon Patak and continuing over the headland as far as Kata Beach Resort on Ao Kata Yai.

Ao Patong

The most popular and developed of all Phuket’s beaches, Ao Patong, 15km west of Phuket town, has a broad, three-kilometer beach with good sand and plenty of shade, plus the island’s biggest choice of watersports and diving centers.

On the downside, high-rise hotels, tour agents, and souvenir shops disfigure the beachfront, and the resort is full of hostess bars and strip joints.

Patong is strung out along the two main roads – Thavee Wong and Raja Uthit/Song Roi Phi – that run parallel to the beachfront, spilling over into a network of connecting sois, most prominently the nightlife zone of Soi Bangla and the more sedate Soi Post Office.

Songthaews from Phuket town’s Thanon Ranong (every 15min 6 am-6 pm; 20min) approach the resort from the northeast, driving south along Thanon Thavee Wong as far as the Patong Merlin, where they usually wait for a while to pick up passengers for the return trip to Phuket town.

Ao Kata Yai And Ao Kata Noi

Three-lined and peaceful, Ao Kata Yai (Big Kata Bay) is only a few minutes drive around the headland from Karon, but both prettier and safer for swimming.

The northern stretch of Kata Yai is occupied by the unobtrusive buildings of the Club Med resort, and then it’s a long trek down to the rest of the accommodation at the southern end.

A headland at the southernmost point divides Ao Kata Yai from the much smaller Ao Kata Noi (Little Kata Bay).

Most songthaews from Phuket go first to Karon, then drive south past Club Med, terminating at Kata Beach Resort on the headland between Kata Yai and Kata Noi. To get to Kata Noi, continue walking over the hill for about ten minutes, or take a tuk-tuk.

Phuket Town

Most visitors only remain in Phuket Town long enough to jump on a beach-bound songthaew, which runs regularly throughout the day from Thanon Ranong in the town center to all the main beaches (B15-20).

If you do want to stay, the On On Hotel at 19 Thanon Phang Nga has basic, just adequate rooms in its attractive, colonial-style 1920s building; Talang Guesthouse at 37 Thanon Talang has large, good-value en-suite rooms in an old wooden house in one of Phuket’s most traditional streets; and Wasana Guesthouse is conveniently located near the songthaew stop for the beaches, opposite Thai Airways at 159 Thanon Ranong. Suksa Bai Hotel at 82/9 Thanon Thepkasatri is clean, spacious, and quiet. TAT is located at 73-75 Thanon Phuket.

Maenam Beach

Maenam Beach on Koh Samui is one of the best on the island. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting this beach with crystal clear sand that isn’t overly touristy. Maenam Beach on Koh Samui was one of the most tranquil beaches on the island. The sand is powdery, and the water is a brilliant blue! Not to mention the hundreds of palm trees that line the beach.

Hua Hin Beach

The country’s oldest beach resort, Hua Hin is very popular with Thai families and makes a pleasant enough stop between Bangkok and the south. However, the beach is nowhere near as attractive as those of nearby Ko Samui, Krabi, and Ko Samet, and the beachfront is packed with hotels.

There’s a tourist information desk (daily 8:30 am-4:30 pm) on the corner of Thanon Damnern Kasem and Highway 4 (about 50m east of the train station) and an overseas telephone office (daily 8 am-midnight) almost next door. You can buy combined bus and boat tickets to Ko Samui (B550), Phuket (B550), and Krabi (B650) from most Hua Hin tour agents.

Some of the best places to enjoy the local fish catch are the seafront restaurants on Thanon Naretdamri: Chao Lay, Mee Karuna, and Thanachote are all recommended.

Khao Lak Beach

Thirty kilometers south of Takua Pa and two hours by bus from Khao Sok National Park, Highway 4 passes alongside the scenic strip of bronze-colored beach at Khao Lak, whose understated ambiance and role as a departure point for Ko Similan and Ko Surin now attract more and more visitors, and is becoming increasingly geared towards package tourism.

There’s no village to speak of here, just a handful of houses strung out along the main roadside, and a side road through the rubber plantations leading to a growing cluster of beachfront bungalow operations.

All the regular buses running between Phuket and Ranong, Takua Pa, and Surat Thani pass the turn-off to Khao Lak; if you’re coming from Krabi or Phang Nga, take a Phuket-bound bus to Khokkloi bus terminal and switch to a Takua Pa or Ranong bus. Whichever bus you’re on, get off as soon as you see the big sign for “Sea Dragon Dive Centre”; from here it’s a 500-meter walk down the side road to the sea and the bungalows.

The best places to eat in Khao Lak are the little beach-shack restaurants squashed together along the shore between Nang Thong and Garden Beach Resort. There is a foreign-exchange booth next door to Sea Dragon Dive Centre. The Nang Thong minimart, across from the dive center, stocks travelers’ essentials.

Ko Phi Phi Beach

One of southern Thailand’s most popular destinations, the two spectacular Ko Phi Phi islands, 40km south of Krabi and 48km east of southern Phuket, recently leaped to international fame as the location for the film The Beach. The action is concentrated on the larger Ko Phi Phi Don, its fabulous long white beaches packed with bungalow operations and tourist enterprises. Its sister island, Ko Phi Phi Leh, is an uninhabited national marine park and can only be visited on day trips. Inevitably, both islands have started to suffer the negative consequences of their outstanding beauty: some of the beaches are now littered with rubbish, and Phi Phi Don seems to be permanently under construction.

Diving and snorkeling off Ko Phi Phi are exceptionally good, and you can arrange day-dives (B1800) and four-day PADI courses (B9900) at Barrakuda and Moskito in Ton Sai village, and at Long Beach Diving on Hat Yao. Always check the equipment and the staff credentials first and check that the center is insured to use the nearest decompression chamber, which is on Ao Patong in Phuket.

During peak season, ferries to Ko Phi Phi Don run at least three times daily from Krabi (1hr 30min-2hr) and up to six times a day from Phuket (1hr 30min-2hr 30min); in the rainy season, all services are reduced to once or twice daily. From November to May, there are also once-daily boats to Phi Phi Don from Ao Nang (2hr) and Ko Lanta Yai (1hr 30min).

Ko Samet Beach

Backpackers, package tourists, and Thai students flock to the white-sand beaches of the tiny, six-kilometer-long, national park island of Ko Samet, 80km southeast of Pattaya.

Samet’s best beaches are on the east coast, and there are numerous bungalow resorts here. A rough track connects some of them, otherwise, it’s a question of walking along the beach at low tide or over the low, rocky points at high water.

All beaches get packed on weekends and national holidays when accommodation rates rise by up to fifty percent. Once, Samet was considered to be malarial but has now been pronounced safe.

There’s a B20 national park entrance fee on arrival, payable at the checkpoint between Na Dan pier and Hat Sai Kaew.

Ko Samui Beach

An ever-widening cross-section of visitors, from globetrotting backpackers to suitcase-toting fortnight, come to southern Thailand just for the beautiful beaches of Ko Samui, 80km from Surat – and at 15km across and down, Samui is large enough to cope, except during the rush at Christmas and in July and August.

The paradisiacal sands and clear blue seas are fringed by palm trees, but development behind the beaches is extensive and often thoughtless. The island is served by frequent ferries.

The northeast monsoon blows heaviest here in November, but can bring rain at any time between October and January; January is often breezy, March and April are very hot, and between May and October the southwest monsoon blows mildly onto Samui’s west coast and causes a little rain.

All the accommodation prices we’ve given are for high-season, but they plummet out of season, in April, May, June, October, and November.

A fifty-kilometer road encircles the island and is served by songthaews, which set off from between the two piers in Na Thon and run to all the beaches.

You can rent motorbikes at all main beaches, though note that dozens are killed on Samui’s roads each year, so proceed with caution. Ko Samui has a dozen dive operators, offering day trips to Ko Tao reefs and courses throughout the year.

Railey on the Krabi Coast

Accessible from Ao [bay] Nang in a few minutes by longtail boat, West Railay is stunningly pretty, has restrained development, reasonable prices, soft white sand, and clear water, tho’ longtail taxis park there, cluttering the view, impeding swimming and not helping the water purity.

Still, it’s better than paying the extortionate prices at Thailand’s Rayavadee Premier on the next beach – Laem Phra Nang – and still getting the longtails and their day-trippers cluttering up the beach.

Railey Beach is one of the world’s most spectacular beaches. It is surrounded by a sheer wall of craggy limestone cliffs, which cut it off from the mainland, effectively banning all vehicles.

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