Jan 28, 2016
Think Thai island getaways and the usual suspects tend to come to mind: the likes of Phuket, Koh Samui and Phi Phi. But here are five beguiling, less-crowded alternatives (the kind that'll provide an idyllic break, while inducing pangs of envy among friends when you post a snap on social media).
SEE ALSO: First-Timer's Guide to Bangkok
Nestled in Thailand's far south-west, near the Malaysian border, Lipe has become increasingly developed (and popular) over the past decade. But it's still possible to find your own postcard-perfect patch of sparkling white sand. The north-eastern corner of Sunrise Beach is usually deserted and, with a few long-tail boats buzzing offshore, it's ideal for paddling off. It is best, however, to stay at Sunrise's busier south-eastern tip, where you'll find a string of family-run seafood eateries and the deluxe bungalows of the Serendipity Resort.
A blissfully chilled-out vibe permeates Mook - a gem in the sleepy Trang archipelago, 70 kilometres south of Phuket. Spend your mornings kayaking through the warm jade waters that surround a rustic island characterised by its soaring limestone hills – and swim into the Emerald Cave (where you'll find a stunning hidden lagoon). Lounge away your afternoons on Had Farang – Mook's best beach – then scale the clifftop Ko Yao Viewpoint bar for ice-cool Chang beers and the (normally) sublime sunset. Bed down in one of Sivilai Beach Resort's smart thatched-roof cottages.
Mook's next-door neighbour – a 15-minute ferry-ride away – is another little beauty, matted with cicada-filled jungle and framed by lovely, laid-back beaches. Fronting on to one is Sevenseas Resort, a luxurious retreat with 39 villas, lush gardens, an infinity pool and a spa where you can enjoy traditional Thai massages and herbal healing scrubs. The resort has its own PADI-certified dive centre, with several diving and snorkelling trips offered to the reefs dotted around the Trang island region.
No one hurries on Ngai (or Koh Hai, as this jewel near Koh Lanta is also known). Travellers come to relax, catch a few rays, leaf through that book they've been meaning to read and feast on delicious seafood (the coconut milk crab curry at Koh Ngai Seafood Restaurant is super-tasty). Coco Cottage is a charming, eco-chic retreat, with upscale bamboo hideaways, but don't miss cocktails at Cliff Beach Resort. The views of the emerald-smeared sea from its hilltop pool bar are so good you'll struggle to leave (especially as its “happy hour” runs all day).
Not to be confused with Ko Phangan (famed for its raucous Full Moon Party), Phayam is a tranquil escape close to the Thai-Mynamar border. A 45-minute speedboat trip from Rayong, it's a great place to explore by motorbike - or bicycle. A rash of narrow concrete lanes wind through a hilly interior, past golden Buddha statues, vegan restaurants and arty cafes, to a cluster of wide, arching beaches made for soul-stirring strolls (or jogs). Much of Phayam's accommodation is pretty basic - don't be surprised to see monkeys clambering atop backpacker shacks - but the Blue Sky Resort has stylish villas perched above mangroves on the island's east.