Phuket offshore islands

By Rachel Jones

Koh Phi Phi attracts thousands for The Beach look

Phuket is not only home to stunning beaches, a lively nightlife and excellent dining opportunities; it is also close to a number of beautiful offshore islands. Most of these islands are open to the public and are available for daytrips or for those who want to stay longer, overnight excursions.

The level of development varies with each island, with many choices for people who simply want to escape it all. Regardless of whether you want to relax among untamed beauty or visit somewhere with a bit of life, you will find it within just a short reach from Phuket’s coastline.

Possibly the most famous of all of the islands in this area is Koh Phi Phi. Consisting of two separate islands, Phi Phi has made a remarkable recovery since the 2004 Tsunami and has come back bigger and better than before. Only Phi Phi Don has been developed; Phi Phi Lay is deserted and full of natural beauty. The island found fame as it was featured in The Beach and as a result, sees thousands of tourists land on its shores every year.

Phi Phi Don boasts hotels, guest houses, beautiful beaches, water sports, a selection of tourist attractions and everything else you would expect to see in a resort. There are dozens of bars and restaurants to choose from with some of the most popular including: Phi Phi Bakery, one of the island’s landmarks it is so established; Pum, serving up a variety of Thai dishes and Tonsai Seafood, another long-term resident.

It can, however, get extremely busy during the peak season and some people feel that it’s been over-developed and therefore losing much of its natural beauty. Ferries leave Rassada Pier in Phuket a number of times every day with a journey time of about two hours. Tickets can be bought through your hotel, a travel agent or at the pier itself. For more on Koh Phi Phi.

Koh Lanta is slightly further away from Phuket’s coast, with a journey time of three hours, 30 minutes, and as such is not so popular with visitors. However, it is perfect for people who want to escape the main tourist trail but still have a range of facilities to choose from. Koh Lanta boasts beautiful resorts, pristine beaches and a selection of restaurants and bars to choose from; it really is an idyllic island.

Many people who visit find that they have everything they need at their resort and venture outside only to sample local Thai life or to see some of the sights on offer. Some of the best resorts here include: Pimalai Resort, a five-star resort with everything you could ever need for the perfect holiday; the more affordable Papillion Resort and the popular Lanta Palace Resort.

Get up close with manta rays at the Similans

For something completely different, the Similan Islands is a small archipelago that makes up a national park. Every island here is a small slice of paradise and boasts amazing underwater scenery. Because of this, the islands are very popular with divers and while there is no development on any of the islands within the Similans, it is possible to book a trip on a live-aboard boat and experience the beauty from here.

Most people who visit the Similans stay on Khao Lak, but it is possible to book trips from Phuket. Some of the best dive sites in the region can be found here and include East of Eden, Elephant Head Rock and one of the most famous dive sites in all of Thailand, Richelieu Rock. At all three sites you will find an abundance of beautiful coral and schools of tropical fish while at Richelieu, whale sightings are common.

There are a number of smaller islands close to Phuket which are perfect for a day trip. Koh Bon is just 10 minutes away from Rawai on Phuket. It is an excellent spot for snorkelling and chilling out on the beach away from the crowds. Koh Hae (also known as Coral Island) is just 15 minutes from Chalong Bay by speedboat and is a great place to take the family for a day. Snorkelling in the clear water is very popular and it is possible to stay overnight here should you wish to. There is a small selection of guest houses and restaurants to choose from.

Koh Lon is a very quiet island which is home to a large Muslim community. There are a few bungalows on the beach for visitors who want to stay overnight and a small selection of local restaurants to choose from. It is the closest island to Phuket, but also one of the quietest.

Koh Mai Thon is also very quiet and just has one fairly upmarket resort for guests to stay at. Most people tend to visit on a day trip to take in the sights as it is just a short hop across the water.

Koh Racha is made up of two islands (Yai and Noi) and is very popular with divers. The islands are about 45 minutes off the coast of Phuket and as with Phi Phi, only one is inhabited. Racha Yai is home to a community of Muslim farmers and fishermen and houses all of the accommodation options. On the main beach, Ao Bungalow, is where the main life is centred although even here, electricity is only available in the evenings. The main resort on the island is The Racha, however there are also a few smaller bungalow operations on the beach.

Koh Sire is home to a Sea Gypsy community and is actually linked to Phuket by a small causeway and has some stunning beaches and excellent seafood restaurants on its astern side.

Finally, Phang Nga Bay is one of the most popular day trips in the region. Home to James Bond Island and Koh Pannyi, boats depart from Phuket’s east pier. James Bond Island featured in The Man With The Golden Gun and has been a popular tourist attraction since. It is basically a large rock jutting out of the sea and most visitors are taken here before making their way to Koh Pannyi for lunch.

Pannyi is essentially a small community Se Gypsies which have tapped into the tourist trade by opening restaurants and a trinket shop for all that pass through. The restaurants literally open for lunch and then shut again once the tour party leaves. The community then go back to their family and continue with their main source of income; fishing.

Koh Yao is made up of two islands situated in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. Koh Yao Noi is the most developed and home to four high-end resorts, each with superb facilities. The islands are usually bypassed by day tours so if you want to visit, you may need to arrange your own private long-tail. For more on Koh Yao.

There is also the option of treating yourself to a night or two at one of the resorts. The islands boast stunning beaches and a community which is growing every year. There are some excellent restaurants and a few bars to choose from, although most of the choices are linked to the resorts.

Travel insurance: although touring around Phuket is extremely safe, swimming injuries and tropical bugs are always a possibility. Should something bad happen, it's crucial to have to quality travel insurance. We recommend the online travel insurance site Travel Insurance Discounts for UK visitors.

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