Offbeat Thailand Island Hopping
We spent one month slowly hopping between Thai islands in the Andaman Sea. We sought out remote destinations with less development, so that we could get off the beaten path as much as possible. We wanted to avoid any and all places that were loud, polluted and crowded. We visited Koh Phra Thong, Koh Jum, Koh Mook and Koh Lipe, with transit stops in Phuket and Krabi. We stayed four nights in each location, though three nights would have been sufficient in Koh Phra Thong and Koh Jum. If you’re looking for relaxing, offbeat island hopping, read on. Party people, this isn’t for you. If you’re interested in learning more about Thailand, read our Thailand Travel Guide.
Island Hopping Tips
Before we dig into each island, here are some general travel tips for island hopping in Thailand’s Andaman Sea:
- Go between November and April. We visited from mid-December to mid-January (high season) and experienced great weather with the occasional shower.
- Opt for a travel backpack (not a suitcase) – much of island hopping requires getting on and off different types of water transit. It’s a lot easier to hop on and off a boat with a backpack, especially if you’re landing on the beach. And obviously, you won’t be able to roll your suitcase in the sand.
- Wear waterproof sandals, or shoes (like Keens) on transit days. We had to walk into the ocean a few times to catch our speedboat, or longtail transfer.
- Compare transit prices between several agencies, before purchasing your tickets. The rates will vary and you can save money if you ask around.
Map: Offbeat Thai Islands
- To see all destinations marked on the map, click the icon on the top left corner.
- There are four layers on the map:
- Koh Phra Thong (Teal)
- Koh Jum (Orange)
- Koh Mook (Purple)
- Koh Lipe (Coral)
- To expand the map and view it in a new browser, click the square icon (top right corner).
Koh Phra Thong – Remote Island for Bird Lovers
Ko Phra Thong is a sparsely populated island in the Andaman Sea. There are only several resorts on the island, making this the least developed and most offbeat island hopping destination we visited during our trip. Apart from the low impact of tourism, it’s the unique scenery that makes Ko Phra Thong truly unique. The interior is characterized by an arid savannah landscape with gorgeous twisting, peeling trees. Ko Phra Thong is also home to many species of birds including horbills, brahminy kites, egrets and white-throated kingfishers. We saw many birds on different occasions (no binoculars or special tour needed). At sunset, the island buzzes loudly with the sound of male cicada. Cicada are insects that produce a piercing mating call to attract female companions.
Where to stay in Koh Phra Thong
We stayed in a bungalow at Mr. Chuoi’s. We really loved it. The food was excellent and everyone was extremely warm and friendly. It has a very local, down-to-earth vibe. And, it’s situated closely to the beach (5 minute walk). This is a budget option, so there are some limitations. There’s limited electricity (only from about 6 p.m. – 11 p.m.), only cold water, and the bungalows aren’t sealed (you might get some frog visitors in your bathroom). We felt that some of the other resorts were a bit sterile, so this was perfect for us. Mr. Chuoi’s domesticated sambar deer roams around the premises mostly freely. Chickens dance around your feet. And, one of the staff members collects flying beetles for dinner.
What to do in Koh Phra Thong
- Kayak – at high tide, there’s enough water bridging the ocean to the river that runs between Rakkan and the Golden Buddha resorts (see map marker). You can kayak inland for at least 25 minutes. You can also kayak to the small islands located an easy distance from the beach (see map marker).
- Swim & Snorkel
- Take a cooking class at Mr. Chuoi’s
- Walk the beach
- Visit the savannah (by car) – Mr. Chuoi drove us to the interior (500 THB). Some of the other resorts offer tours.
- You can eat at any of the other resorts nearby, despite where you’re staying. We walked over to the Moken Eco Village for coffee and smoothies several times.
Best thing about Koh Phra Thong
Worst thing about Koh Phra Thong
Limited independent exploration. We set out on foot to explore the savannah (interior) at sunrise, to avoid getting stuck in the heat. We stumbled on a pack of wild dogs, which limited our exploration of the island. Ko Phra Thong isn’t an island you can easily explore with a motorbike, or bicycle, because there’s so much sand. So, as long as you’re happy, going to the beach, swimming and reading, this island is a good option. If you’re active and like a lot of options (activities and food), then maybe skip it. If you like to party, don’t even consider it.
How to get to Koh Phra Thong
We traveled to Ko Phra Thong from Khao Sok National Park. We traveled by bus to Takua Pa and then by a second bus to Khura Buri. At Khura Buri, we took a taxi to a pier (there are two piers), where we caught a longtail boat to the island. It’s best to arrange the Khura Buri to Koh Phra Thong leg of your trip directly through your resort.
Koh Jum – Offbeat Island for Relaxed Explorers
Koh Jum (Koh Pu, or Koh Po) is closely situated to the Phi Phi Islands and Koh Lanta. Though more developed than Koh Phra Thong, tourism remains very light here. Even in high season, the island felt extremely peaceful. Koh Jum is a good option for those seeking quiet and relaxation. You won’t find a party scene here. Most of the resorts and bungalows are located just off the beach. To reach other beaches and areas of the island, we recommend renting a motorbike. The interior is characterized by jungle, rubber tree plantations and local communities. No matter where you go, you’ll hear monkeys calling out to each other. In the morning, you can see them hunting for crabs on the beach.
Where to stay in Koh Jum
We stayed in a bungalow at Last Fisher. The little huts are just 50-200 meters from the beach. We don’t recommend staying here for several reasons. Reason #1, the staff wasn’t helpful. They couldn’t answer basic questions like “can we see a map of the island?” or “can we rent a motorbike?” Second, the beaches around the resort are very rocky, which makes water activities unappetizing. If you’re interested in walking the beach, you won’t get too far, because the rocks act as natural boundaries. So, all in all, we felt stuck in this part of the island. When we drove around the island, we particularly liked Cocobar & Bungalow (Address: 305 Moo 3 Ko Si Boya, Nuea Khlong, Krabi, Ko Jum). We can’t speak to staying there, but the atmosphere, beach and surroundings were quite pleasant.
What to do in Koh Jum
- Swim & Snorkel
- Hike Koh Pu Mountain
- Eat at Rim Tang Restaurant – really delicious slow food. They also offer cooking courses.
Best thing about Koh Jum
Worst thing about Koh Jum
How to get to Koh Jum
There’s no direct way to get from Ko Phra Thong to Koh Jum. We had to travel to Krabi first. After spending one night in Krabi Town, we took the ferry to Koh Jum/Koh Po (400 THB per person). We organized the ferry through our accommodation in Krabi Town. They provided a direct drop-off to the pier as well. Because the ferry can’t dock in Koh Jum, a longtail boat will meet the ferry in the open sea to transfer Ko Jum/Ko Po passengers to the island. This is a bit chaotic. Make sure to communicate with your Koh Jum accommodation when you’re arriving, so they can pick you up from the ferry (by longtail).
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Koh Mook – Karst island with beautiful beaches
Koh Mook (also spelled Koh Muk) is a delightful slice of paradise, located to the south of Koh Lanta. It’s easy to explore the island by foot, or by renting a 50 THB/per person taxi. We loved Koh Mook, it was our favorite island on our offbeat island hopping trip. The “tourist” beaches are exceptional – especially Charlie beach and the beach neighboring Sivalai Beach Resort (see map marker). From Charlie Beach, you can kayak along the karst coast to the emerald cave and Sabai beach. Make sure to bring snorkeling gear, because there are some great spots to see colorful fish. You’ll find that Koh Mook balances its tourism really well.
Where to stay in Koh Mook
We stayed at the Bamboo Hut Bungalow, which was the cheapest option we could find. For us, the location was perfect. However, the accommodation wasn’t ideal. It felt like staying in a garage. It was ugly and noisy. We could hear other conversations and people going to the bathroom.
What to do in Koh Mook
- Swim & Snorkel
- Kayak to emerald cave and Sabai beach
- Drink a cocktail or smoothie at Mong Bar, a beach bar on Charlie beach
- Eat as many meals as you can at Mayow Thai Kitchen
- Drink an espresso at Perfect Bar
Best thing about Koh Mook
Worst thing about Koh Mook
Trash around local areas. There’s a huge discrepancy between how locals and tourists experience Koh Mook. The “tourist” beaches are clean and almost spotless. The beaches bordering local communities are full of trash. Local children play amidst floating trash, while tourist children play in the clearest turquoise water. The disparity is unsettling.
How to get to Koh Mook
The best way to get from Koh Jum to Koh Mook is by breaking up your trip in Koh Lanta. We’d recommend staying on that island for 1-2 nights (perhaps more). By staying in Koh Lanta, you’ll also have more time and hence the ability to opt for cheaper transit: namely ferries instead of speedboats. If we could go back in time, that’s what we would have done.
What we did. Last Fisher organized a 30 minute speedboat for 700 THB per person to Koh Lanta (very expensive). Our plan was to take the Koh Lanta-Koh Mook ferry, but we got dropped off at the wrong pier and missed it. So, our only choice was to take a speed boat from Koh Lanta (Tigerline, 850 THB per person) to Koh Mook. (approx. 1.5 hours).
When you arrive at the Koh Mook pier, there will be side-cart motorbike taxis waiting to take you to your accommodation. Each ride costs 50 THB per person. If you communicated your arrival details with your accommodation in Koh Mook, they’ll likely send a complimentary taxi to the pier to pick you up.
Essential Reading: Thailand Travel Guide
Koh Lipe – The not-so-secret island for snorkel lovers
Koh Lipe is simply gorgeous. The sand is whiter than the definition of white. The water is so clear, you think you’re in a travel commercial. But, it’s not a secret. Compared to the first three islands, the level of development here was shocking. It was also disconcerting to see so many businesses owned by foreigners, instead of locals. However, we still had a great time. If you venture a little further, you can find isolated coves and beaches. Koh Lipe’s most impressive assets are its coral reefs, located only a few meters off the beach. The snorkeling is spectacular. We saw parrot fish, pennant butterfly fish, clown fish (Nemo), surgeon fish, sergeant major fish and so many others.
Where to stay in Koh Lipe
A Plus Hotel (located on walking street). The rooms are clean and air-conditioned. We slept in a double bed in a 8-bed mixed dormitory room, which worked out really well. Each bed has its own curtain for privacy.
What to do in Koh Lipe
- Swimming and snorkeling. You can easily rent, or buy snorkeling gear on Walking Street.
- Under water photography – If you want to capture the under sea magic, you can also rent a go pro on Walking Street for 400 THB/day. Remember to bring your micro SD card or rent it for another 100 THB. They will help you transfer it to your computer, or USB stick.
- Relax at a beach bar (you have lots of options).
Best thing about Koh Lipe
Worst thing about Koh Lipe
How to get to Koh Lipe
To get from Koh Mook to Koh Lipe, we took a speedboat with the company Bundhaya. We asked several agencies for their rate and selected the cheapest option, which was 1,100 THB per person. The ride itself was 2 hours, but we waited for the speedboat to arrive on Charlie Beach for 1.5 hours (not uncommon). We arrived at Sunrise Beach in Koh Lipe and walked to our accommodation. You can also opt for a motorbike taxi.
Departing Koh Lipe
Our offbeat island hopping trip ended in Koh Lipe. Our next destination was Bangkok. To get to the capital, we booked a flight from Hat Yai International Airport. From Koh Lipe, we took a speedboat to Pakbara Pier (1.5 hours) and a minibus to the Airport (1.5 hours). We organized the transfer on walking street. It was convenient and cost us 600 THB per person.
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