So you’ve re-read The Beach, you’ve re-watched The Beach, and you’ve got the right mind to get your early naughties DiCaprio on and be on The Beach. Or perhaps you’ve seen and read neither and your mind’s eye has simply been smacked with a good old-fashioned hankering for idyllic island splendour. Whatever the case, the solution is clear:
You’re going to need a ticket to Thailand. Return optional.
The islands of Thailand are some of the most immaculate in the world, a veritable feast of pristine white sands and waters of crystal blue. You’ll find The Beach here (and it’s pretty darn incredible) yet the on-site location of Alex Garland’s heady backpacker hit is just one of many immaculate island havens in a coastline choc full of the stuff.
Which islands to choose? Tough call, though you really can’t go wrong. As a starting nudge, here’s a lowdown on the best to help make all your wildest Thai dreams come true.
The Chiller – Koh Tao
Younger sibling to big Gulf brothers, Samui and Pha-Ngan, Koh Tao is a favourite for those preferring the slightly more laid-back approach. Whether strutting down the white crescent sands of Sairee beach, sipping on a fruit shake in a banana lounge by a lantern-lined bar, or moto-ing like a demon from one corner of magic coastline to the next, Ko Tao dishes up an effortless blend of adventure, mellowness and exhilaration.
The sea around Koh Tao is also known for some of the best diving in the region, with countless clubs offering PADI or SSI Open Water certification (takes four days). Most divers choose to take the short catamaran ride to the island of Ko Nang Yuan, a glorious day trip for diving and snorkelling. Advanced divers can rejoice at the night diving, shark diving and wreck diving available, while others will relish in the day trip to Angthong National Marine Park (aka the ‘Golden Bowl’), a protected area of over 40 uninhabited islands, featuring dramatic cliffs, secluded coves and spectacular rainforest climbs. It doesn’t get much more breathtaking than this.
The Animal – Ko Pha-Ngan
Party animals start your engines! If you’ve landed on Ko Pha-Ngan, you’ve probably heard about Haad Rin beach’s infamous alcohol-fuelled Full Moon parties held each month (as well as its half-moon and black-moon parties in the off weeks). On these occasions, 20,000 scantily, fluro-clad revellers mass together for a wild night (read: week) of partying under the howling full moon—envision a blur of beach beats, buckets of Red Bull and Thai whisky concoction, and round the clock cavorting and revelry.
Dionysian excess aside, the island is visually stunning— mountains of verdant rainforest hug crescent shaped Haad Rin, while the beaches of nearby Thong Nai Pan are equally glorious. For respite from the party, a trip to nearby Than Sadet falls is a must, while Bottle beach, renowned favourite of the hippy trail, is frequently cited as one of the most exquisite in the entire region.
Big Bro – Ko (Bro) Samui
Next to Phuket, Samui is the region’s big player; with over 1.5 million visitors a year, it’s certainly a brasher, more vibrant extrovert to the quieter, mellower choices. If a little modern pizazz is what you’re after with your dose of sunshine exotica, look no further—offering a little something for everyone, Ko Samui sports a veritable feast of resorts and nightlife, Michelin star restaurants and luxury spas, a destination ripe for the family as well as the budding reveller.
From the crescent-shaped stretch at Chaweng on the east coast, Lamai beach further south, or the more tranquil southern tip at Chaweng Noi, this remains, as it has for decades, a much loved and well-frequented Thai oasis.
The Stunner – Ko Phi Phi
Aaaaaaand….Action! Thailand’s worst kept secret. This here’s your spot for that exotic nostalgic DiCaprio pilgrimage. Ko Phi Phi, possibly Thailand’s most pristine and gorgeous island group, lays claim to the spot where ‘the beach’ bit in The Beach was filmed (you know, that bit).
Maya Bay, to be precise, located on Ko Phi Phi Le (a short boat ride south of the main island, Phi Phi Don). Expect not to be the only one hunting for a dose of glory here by a long short, but it’s well worth the trek. Here, you’ll revel in endless sun, snorkelling, swimming, cliff jumping, and sundry leisure by emerald-teal seas and calm turquoise lagoons. So, yeah…pretty much heaven.
Big Sis – Phuket
Given its landmass, it’s easy to forget you’re surrounded by sea in Phuket, a province as well as an island, one of Thailand’s largest and busiest. Here, on the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’, you’re as likely to run into butlers and plastic surgeons as much as beachside bars and backpacker clubs. Like Ko Samui, Phuket is a tropical wonderland stocked with pretty much every Western convenience you can think of, including a fine array of restaurants and world-class boutiques.
Patong beach is where most of the action happens, though you’ll find delightful, slightly less hectic Phra Nang Beach just a short trip away. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with Phuket, the whole island replete with beachside glory. Heavy on the resorts, heavy on the good times, luxury’s home is here.
The Sleeper – Ko Samet
Neatly proximate to Bangkok, often overlooked for islands spruiking more glitz and shebang, Ko Samet is a popular weekend getaway for local Thais as much as it is for the international set. Entering via Na Dan, or Ko Samet Village, the white sands of Hat Sai Kaeo beach open the budding visitor up to endless delicate white stretches along the quaint, somewhat somnambulant haven. For those searching for an idyllic and equally attractive island as the others in the Gulf, sans the bustle and hedonistic mayhem, Samet is a perfect choice.