When one thinks of Thailand, the image of idyllic beaches is one of the first things that comes to mind. But let me tell you that mass tourism has unfortunately had a damaging impact on the preservation of many of them. So keep reading if you want to avoid disappointment and learn what the top beaches in Thailand are and which ones to avoid unless you want to swim in dirty waters polluted with plastic waste.
Please note that I’ll focus solely in the Krabi / Phuket area, which is one of the main hot spots for travelers. Some of the most famous Thai beaches can be found here. One example is Maya Bay, which attracted hordes of tourists after Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach” was released. The beach remained closed for visitors for a few years and only reopened in 2022.
Top Beaches in Thailand
See my recommended beaches in Krabi and Phuket below.
Bamboo Island, one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand
If you asked me to choose just one beach in Thailand, that would be hands down Bamboo Island. Those crystal-clear, turquoise waters make one instantly fall in love with this beach. As I always say, an image is worth a thousand words, so judge for yourself.
The biggest downside to Bamboo Island is that it’s often visited as part of an organized tour departing from Phi Phi Islands or Ao Nang (but I wouldn’t do the latter for it’s a bit far away for a day-trip). These tours often include other stops throughout the day, so you’ll only get a taste of this paradise for about a couple of hours.
If you are not on a tight budget, you could arrange a private tour with one of the boatmen that you’ll find by the pier. Then you can stay in Bamboo Island for as long as you wish. But be prepared to pay a bit extra!
Poda Island, a tranquil beach with crystal-clear water
Poda Island is also one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand. Located close to Ao Nang, in Krabi Province, it’s a white sand beach with pristine waters and palm trees under which you can relax in the shadow. It’s also the perfect spot for snorkel lovers. You’ll see tons of goldfish!
While one of the most iconic elements is its huge standing rock, it’s also the spot that gathers most visitors. But here’s a little piece of advice – if you go to the other end of the beach you’ll get the chance to peacefully enjoy time at the beach, as you’ll most likely be all alone. Well, perhaps accompanied by a monkey or two that come say ‘hi’.
Phra Nang Cave Beach
Phra Nang is accessible through Railay Beach. There are several departures from Ao Nang every day, so it’s easy to get there. While Railay Beach is one of the most popular spots in the area, it’s not exactly my cup of tea – dozens of boats dock here every hour, resulting in a rise of the water temperature. Not exactly what I would refer to as “going for a refreshing swim”.
However, if you head to the opposite side of the peninsula, you’ll easily find the path leading to Phra Nang Beach. Certainly a sight to behold. The path will take you through some majestic rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites included! The beach itself doesn’t disappoint either. Expect to find fine sand, crystal-clear waters and what is known as the Princess Cave.
But be on the lookout for monkeys! Winsome at first sight, they will steal all your belongings the minute you look away!
Beaches in Thailand You Should Stay Away From
Sadly, I got the impression that mass tourism has destroyed some of the country’s best natural resources, and it doesn’t look like the local government cares much about it. “The more tourists, the better” seems to be the logic. It goes without saying that this has a devastating impact on the preservation of the beaches.
But to make matters worse, visitors are asked to pay an access fee to some of the National Parks. This would be totally fine – and a good way of preserving the site – if it wasn’t for the fact that these places are often polluted with plastic bags and bottles in the sea. So one wonders what the collected money is used for…
Keep reading for the beaches that came as a huge disappointment to me.
Koh Hong, Koh Phakbia and Koh Lading
These three beaches are often combined in a day tour from Ao Nang. Your first stop will be Koh Hong, where you’ll be asked to pay a fee to get access to the National Park. As I mentioned above, one might think that this money goes toward the preservation of the beach. But nothing further from the truth. If your plan is to go snorkeling, or even just to go for a swim, be prepared for really dirty water (virtually no visibility underwater at all). And what’s worse – full of plastic waste. That’s a real shame.
You will then most likely be taken to Koh Hong Lagoon. This lagoon would be a stunning spot if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s full of trash and plastic.
(NOTE: one of my readers pointed out that this happens mostly in the low season, but it shouldn’t be an issue between December and May).
Next up is Koh Phakbia, a small beach with access to the sea from both sides. Trying to snorkel here is also quite frustrating. Other than for a swing that hangs from a tree, which tourists often love, this beach is nothing special.
The last stop of the day is Koh Lading. If you were shocked by the amount of trash on the previous two beaches, this one takes the cake. I couldn’t even be bothered to take pictures, though I regret it now (careful with those you find online, they’re misleading).
So don’t be fooled and avoid wasting your money on this tour – which, by the way, is not exactly cheap (2800 baht approx.). Hope this saves an unnecessary annoyance.
Tub Island and Chicken Island
These two islands are quite close to each other and connected through a white sandbank. Tour operators will advertise it as follows:
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But again, nothing further from the truth. What you’ll find will more closely resemble the pictures below. The white sandbank only emerges when the tide is low. The rest of the time, the place has no appeal at all.
As for the islands, Chicken Island is alright but nothing to write home about. However, do not waste your time and money on Tub Island. The beach (if it can be called a “beach”) is tiny – just that sand “corridor” that you can see in the picture below. But on top of that, boats dock here every five minutes, bringing dozens of tourists at a time. Not only does this result in an overcrowded beach with no room to even sit, but it’s also not suitable for swimming, since the “corridor” is surrounded by the boats waiting to bring the tourists back to Ao Nang. Not to mention the quality of the water…
Long story short, this tour is another tourist trap to avoid!
I hope this post saves you some annoyance and helps you choose what beaches to visit in Thailand. Don’t let anyone or anything ruin your trip! And remember – if you need help with all the trip prep, you can request a custom itinerary here.