Thailand beaches run the gamut from peaceful and secluded spots where your choices for dining out nearby might be one little cafe to the party-hearty beach resort towns where the nightlife never stops and every possible sin can be indulged. This is why compiling a list of the best beach towns in Thailand is nearly impossible – but we thought we’d give it a whirl anyway.
What you’ll find here is a sampling of the best of what Thailand has to offer in terms of beach destinations. Some of the towns on this list are known for the actual beaches and the water sports or other outdoor activities that are popular there. Others are known not so much for the beaches but for the hedonistic parties that draw crowds from all over the world. It’s an odd mix, therefore, of beaches in Thailand that make up this list… But we think it’s a pretty interesting mix, and part of what makes Thailand such an interesting place to visit. There really is something for everyone.
The island of Koh Samet is close enough to Bangkok to make it a popular weekend getaway for lots of Thai locals, and Diamond Beach (Hat Sai Kaew in Thai) is easily the most popular beach town on the island. The beach itself isn’t as big as the beaches in some of the other beach towns on this list, but it offers both great water-related activities as well as some nearby shopping, dining & a bit of nightlife. The area north of Hat Sei Kaew is known for excellent windsurfing. As the name suggests, this beach boasts some of the whitest and softest sand you’ll ever see, and although some feel that the crowds at Diamond Beach tend to be on the younger side, on the whole it’s not a partying bunch. Accommodations are available in all price ranges.
Phuket is legendary in Thailand as the place to go – especially for first-time visitors and budget backpackers – to see the best beaches in the country. And while lots of people flock to Patong Beach, the island’s most popular beach resort, a quieter option for people who don’t want to party all the time is Karon Beach. It’s a smaller beach, but that’s okay because it’s still not as crowded. There are some budget hotels & hostels here, but this beach town is more well-known for being one of the island’s most upscale areas. The good news is that although there are several high-end hotel resorts lining the road across from the beach, the beach itself is blissfully undeveloped. What Karon Beach gives you is the proximity to the tourist infrastructure (and the nightlife) of places like Patong Beach, while offering you a less frenetic beach to return to and enjoy when the party’s over.
»Getting there: Bangkok to Phuket
On the other hand, if you’re looking for the party that never ends, there’s no better spot to settle than Patong Beach on Phuket. It’s the island’s original party destination, and there’s literally something here to represent every vice and tempt nearly everyone to indulge more than they should. Yes, there’s a beach here – but the draw of the night clubs, massage parlors (including erotic massage parlors), and the countless bars is enough to make the most hardcore partygoers forget about the sand and water altogether. This is, in other words, not a place to bring the kids. Patong Beach is the island’s most developed beach, so if you decide you want to take a break from the hedonism there are lots of other activities you can enjoy – like windsurfing and snorkeling. The accommodation may cost a bit more than in Phuket Town, but there are more options for serious budget travelers here than in some of the more secluded beaches on Phuket.
As far as beach parties in Thailand go, there’s really nothing that can compare with the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin. This beach town is on the island of Koh Pha Ngan, and while it may be somewhat popular all the time, it’s positively overflowing one night every month during the Full Moon Party. Serious party people dream of all-night events like this one, and it doesn’t disappoint in that regard – there are opportunities a-plenty to dance, drink, and trip out on whatever’s around (and there’s all kinds of stuff around to choose from). One downside to all this is that it can get extremely messy – the beach of Haad Rin itself can get covered with trash during the party, and it’s one night you may never fully recover from. This is definitely not a beach town meant for the kids – enjoy this all-nighter before you bring young’uns into the world.
Koh Samui is an island off the coast of southern Thailand, and is home to several beaches. Chaweng Beach is the largest and most developed, and therefore the busiest, of the Koh Samui beach towns. This beach has been popular for years, and there are good reasons for that – but it’s only in the last couple of decades that people have begun flocking to Chaweng Beach in droves. You’ll find accommodation options on both ends of the price spectrum, loads of nightlife choices, lots to see and do should you get tired of sand and surf, and great options for family travelers – although some people are noting that with Chaweng’s quick rise in popularity, the kinds of people who routinely come to this beach town are changing. These days, there’s more of the party crowd coming to Chaweng, so it may not be a family-friendly beach town much longer.
»Getting there: Bangkok to Ko Samui
Koh Samui’s second most popular beach town is Lamai Beach, which has some of the best swimming on the island. Lamai is a bit quieter than Chaweng, although you’ll still find a good number of restaurants & bars to choose from. Lamai’s nightlife is also quite busy, so although it’s a little less popular than Chaweng it’s certainly no quiet or secluded beach. The same party people who are starting to frequent Chaweng more in recent years are also starting to come to Lamai as well, but so far it’s still a pretty nice balance between a nice beach town and a fun place to be at night. Some feel that Lamai caters a bit more toward the backpacker crowd, and it’s sometimes recommended more for single travelers or younger couples. Koh Samui has some of Thailand’s best diving and snorkeling opportunities, and it’s safe enough that even beginners can enjoy these activities (with proper guidance, of course!).
One of the many popular and beautiful beach towns of Koh Phi Phi, Long Beach offers all the perks of this amazing island with just enough distance from the overdevelopment of the areas around the town of Ton Sai – although the development here is still nothing compared to places like Phuket. Koh Phi Phi was damaged significantly in the 2004 tsunami and the island was evacuated, but today the damage is largely invisible to tourists. This island is particularly known for its world-class diving and snorkeling, and the kayaking around the island is excellent as well. Long Beach has accommodation options in all price ranges, lots of restaurants to choose from, and is close enough to Ton Sai to enjoy the nightlife but far enough away to enjoy the peace & quiet if you choose to.
The resort city of Pattaya Beach on the east coast is one of Thailand’s top vacation spots and is similar in many ways to Patong Beach, in that it’s been known just as much for its hedonistic non-beach attractions as it is for its actual sandy beaches. Things are changing more recently, however, and Pattaya Beach is attempting to give its image a facelift – and in fact, it’s rapidly becoming one of the best family beach destinations in Thailand. Sure, there’s still some elements of the seedier side of Thailand represented here, but it’s not as pervasive as it once was and now you’ll find lots of Thai people vacationing here with their families. Some of the sights include two aquariums, a monkey training center, a snake show, and an elephant village – so you can see how they’re making it more family-friendly. Accommodation options run the gamut from extremely cheap to extremely expensive, and there’s plenty to go around in all price ranges.
»Getting there: Bangkok to Pattaya
Ao Nang Beach
Easily the busiest (and most developed) beach town in the Krabi province is Ao Nang Beach, although this one-time budget backpacker haven is becoming more of a high-end destination with each passing year. The plentiful accommodation options (there are still lots of choices in the budget ranges, too) and long list of things to do (besides lie on the beach) make it easy to see why Ao Nang has been – and continues to be – such a great beach getaway in Thailand. The town has a wide range of restaurants to choose from; and although it’s not Ao Nang that’s most famous for rock climbing, there are still places you can go climbing here, too. There is better diving and snorkeling elsewhere in Thailand, but if you’re stuck on Ao Nang you can try either activity there, too.
Not far from Ao Nang Beach is another popular beach spot in Krabi – Railay Beach, or Rai Leh Beach as it’s also spelled, is quieter than Ao Nang. While it has its share of pretty beaches, Railay Beach is known first and foremost as a rock climbing paradise in Thailand. Because rock climbing is so popular here, there are lots of guides and shops where you can arrange tours and rent any gear you didn’t bring with you. If you’re an experienced climber, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store – but be aware that there are few routes that are really beginner-friendly. On the other hand, if you’ve ended up on Rai Leh Beach and you’re not interested in having your feet leave the ground, the beach itself is lovely and never as crowded as the beaches on Phuket. And while Krabi may not be renowned for its diving or snorkeling, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people in Railay Beach who’ll rent you the necessary equipment to try it anyway.