Phuket is known for offering epic parties, beautiful beaches and plenty of fun in the sun. Throw in a little Thai massage and you might think there’s little reason to leave this paradise at all. But as it turns out, one of the best things about Phuket is actually leaving it – at least for a little while.
The popular Thai island is surrounded by magnificent islets and stunning scenery both above and below the waves. Thanks to relatively short distances and infrastructure catering to travellers looking to explore, getting around is a breeze. But what do Phuket’s neighbouring islands actually offer and how do you know which to include in your Thailand holiday? Check out our cheat sheet to island hopping in Phuket.
Phi Phi Islands
Phi Phi Islands are perhaps the most well-known Thai islands and arguably some of the most famous islands in the world. (Yes, these are the islands you saw featured in The Beach starring Leonardo Di Caprio.) The six islands that make up Phi Phi offer perfect white sand beaches and dramatic rock formations surrounded by turquoise water. The most famous scenes of The Beach were filmed in Maya Bay, which is located on Phi Phi Leh.
As the islands are very popular among travellers, it’s very easy to get to Phi Phi islands from Phuket. You can make the 50-kilometre trip by ferry or speedboat, with ferries departing from Rassada Pier.
Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay offers a gorgeous display of limestone cliffs rising from the emerald green ocean. Majority of the bay is protected by the Ao Phang Nga National Park. The shallow bay sits northeast of Phuket and features some 40 islands. Thanks to its stunning scenery and vibrant marine life, Phang Nga Bay is very popular with travellers.
You can visit Phang Nga Bay by catching a boat from Bang Rong pier on Phuket’s east coast or directly from Phang Nga, which is located 90 kilometres north of Phuket.
James Bond Island
James Bond Island is arguably the most famous island in Phang Nga Bay. Rather than an actual island, this much-photographed attraction is a striking limestone rock jutting out from the ocean. The island gets its nickname from its starring role in the 007 movie The Man with the Golden Gun. When island hopping in Phuket, visiting James Bond Island is an absolute must.
Koh Yao is a pair of islands, Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai, located between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay. The more visited of the two is Koh Yao Noi, which is often mentioned as the last “unspoilt” Thai island. True enough, the tropical island remains devoid of mass development. The island is gaining traction with tourists, so more development might be on the way. To this day, though, Ko Yao Noi is a peaceful destination where true natural beauty still exists. If you want to get a feel of the “real” Thailand while island hopping in Phuket, visiting either of the Koh Yao islands is a great idea.
In addition to preserving the traditional Thai way of life, Koh Yao Noi is home to the incredible Ani Villas. Local colour, unspoilt nature and five-star luxury? We’re there.
Another unique attraction of Phang Nga Bay, Koh Panyee is a fishing village built on stilts. The village is not a phoney tourist attraction, but an actual home to some 1,500 locals, the descendants of Indonesian fishermen who migrated here hundreds of years ago.
Koh Panyee offers a mix of dramatic limestone cliffs and homes and restaurants built over the shallow water on high stilts. You can have lunch in a restaurant floating over the ocean or go souvenir shopping in a quaint shack on stilts. Definitely one of the most unique destinations around Phuket.
Coral Island sits just off the northern coast of Phuket, making this a hassle-free option for island hopping in Phuket. The trip from Phuket to Coral Island takes just 15 minutes by speedboat. The island is a true tropical paradise with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters surrounded by forest clad hills.
Long Beach is the most popular beach on Coral Island and offers beachside staples ranging from water sports to ice cold beer. Banana and Freedom Beach are both far less crowded than Long Beach. Just as the name suggests, Coral Island also offers great snorkelling among shallow coral reefs.
Similan Islands is a cluster of small islands located northwest of Phuket. It’s also a national park, with each of the 11 islands assigned a number by the Thai Department of National Park. The Similan Islands are first and foremost a diving destination and boast some of the most spectacular underwater views you’ll find anywhere on the planet.
The most well-known spot in Similan Islands is the Elephant Head Rock, a dramatic rock formation with caves and swim-through holes to explore. If you’re looking to do some diving in Phuket, making your way to Simian Islands is highly recommended.
Boats from Phuket to Similan Islands depart from Chalong and Patong. Several companies in Phuket arrange speedboat trips which allow you to tour the islands.
Racha Islands refers to two twin islands, namely Ko Racha Yai and Ko Racha Noi set southeast of Phuket. Ko Racha Yai is the more popular of the two. The ride from Phuket’s Rawai to Ko Racha Yai takes about 25 minutes. The islands are perfect for relaxing in true tropical style. You can also do some epic snorkelling thanks to the crystal-clear waters and beautiful coral reefs surrounding the island. The island is small enough to make your way around on foot, giving you a real feel of laid-back island life.