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Western Thailand: Island Hopping in the Andaman Sea

Captivating aquamarine beaches with sand as fine as powdered sugar. Warm golden sunsets with long-tailed boats featuring colorful embellishments. Exotic creatures living in bountiful coral reefs and jungles with limestone cliffs. Travelers seeking a well-rounded getaway with stunning scenery, relaxing afternoons, adventurous scuba diving, and delicious cuisine will find it in the islands of western Thailand.

After visiting the bustling cities of Bangkok, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur, Brad and I were ready to put our feet up and absorb some Vitamin D. We desired a no-frills trip with a dose of authenticity while prioritizing renowned scuba diving sites. Our month-long jaunt around the Andaman Sea was the answer!

Planning a trip to Thailand, especially the islands, can be overwhelming due to all of the possibilities. Each island has its own vibe and reputation. For us, Koh Lanta was the perfect fit with its chill atmosphere and easy access to Koh Haa, Maya Bay (Koh Phi Phi), and Railay Beach (Ao Nang). After three relaxing weeks, we embarked on our first liveaboard to go scuba diving in the Similan Islands National Park.

The weather in Thailand will be your biggest factor to consider. The western side is best to visit during December-May, while the eastern side is ideal between April-June. Keep in mind rain is possible outside of the monsoon season, but usually doesn't last long. Pass the time with a Thai massage, good book, or cocktail at a low-key bar.

Koh Lanta

A quiet paradise with sparkling beaches, rustic restaurants, and humble abodes awaits you in Koh Lanta. The island feels remote by day and upbeat by night. Backpackers, couples, and families alike will enjoy walking along stretches of sand to find shy hermit crabs, live reggae music, and lounge spots with coastline views.

Listen to melodic waves with a cold coconut, breathe in salty air, and take a dip in the inviting ocean to cool off. All you need is a towel, sunscreen, pair of sunglasses, and easygoing attitude. Long Beach was our favorite oasis to swim and hang out. Wrap up your lazy days with spectacular sunsets often ablaze with hues of pink, orange, and purple!

The main road, which runs parallel to the coastline, has everything you need to stock up for the beach, such as 7-Eleven convenience stores and souvenir shops with swimwear. Book a tour, flag down a tuk tuk, or rent a scooter if you want to explore the area. Brad and I had a blast riding to Lanta Old Town, where I purchased a sarong and handmade bracelet.

Where to Stay

Koh Lanta has plenty of accommodations to fit every budget. We split our stay between two hotels to check out different areas and beaches. The first week Brad and I rented a bungalow at The Mellow Mango Resort nearby Klong Khong Beach. The bohemian details, clean room, pool, new scooters, and lush grounds were fantastic.

Our second week at Lanta Castaway Beach Resort was absolutely perfect. The friendly staff, including the resident cat who we called El Jefe (The Boss), and onsite scuba diving shop were the best perks! Our spacious room included a comfortable king bed, hearty breakfast, and plenty of complimentary drinking water. Brad and I will definitely stay here again when we return to Koh Lanta.

Scuba Diving

Thailand boasts some of the best scuba diving sites in Southeast Asia! Brad and I booked four epic dives with Dive & Relax to the five islands of Koh Haa. Our instructors, Oh and Karl, were knowledgeable, patient, and helpful with finding tiny critters.

We saw ornate coral reefs, clownfish, eels, nudibranchs, Durban dancing shrimps, schools of mesmerizing fish, and a Banded sea krait. The stellar equipment, crystal-clear visibility, and stir-fry lunch were top notch! Consider also diving Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Muang (Purple Rock) for a chance to see Manta rays and Whale sharks.


Is there anything better than feasting on scrumptious curries and seafood entrées with your toes in the sand? Whether you pick a seaside restaurant or family-owned bamboo shack with affordable Thai dishes, your tastebuds will jump for joy! Below are my recommendations for some mouthwatering meals in Koh Lanta.

• Lunch - Crank up the flavor with either the savory red curry packed with fresh vegetables or nutty massaman curry with potatoes and chicken at Lantasure Restaurant. For a lighter option, try the spicy papaya salad with succulent shrimp and tangy lime juice at Three Sisters Restaurant. Our winner for best Pad Thai on the island was at Funky Fish Beachfront Restaurant & Bar. The generous portion of sautéed chewy rice noodles, peanuts, scrambled egg, green onion, and shrimp was satisfying.

• Dinner - Life as a beach bum works up an appetite! Carb lovers will rejoice with a Neapolitan pie topped with zesty ingredients at Loro Loco Pizza. Brad and I couldn't pass up the chance to eat a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with slices of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly at Joe's Texas BBQ. My first Thai curry was also my favorite. The green curry at Jeab's Dining was bursting with complex spice, creamy coconut milk, tender shrimp, and vegetables.

• Dessert - Craving something sweet? Indulge in a slice of moist carrot cake or cherry cheesecake with a caffeinated frappé while relaxing on a lounge chair at Escape Café. Save room for a portion of sweet mango sticky rice at any of the Thai restaurants you visit. Who knew dessert could be healthy!

Koh Phi Phi

Directly west of Koh Lanta lies one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. Made famous by The Beach, a movie with American actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Maya Bay is a precious jewel with radiating soft white sand surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and turquoise water. The romantic backdrop is a sight for sore eyes!

Maya Bay is worth a trip despite the crowds. Boats are forbidden to enter the bay and swimming is prohibited to protect the corals and Blacktip reef sharks. Brad and I booked a group tour from Koh Lanta to visit the highlights of Koh Phi Phi via speedboat, including Monkey Beach and Viking Cave. My advice is to skip the aforementioned stops and charter a private boat to spend the entire morning at Maya Bay admiring the splendor with a picnic.

Railay Beach

A treasured icon of the Thai seas is the long-tailed boat. Originating in Thailand during the 20th Century, these wooden vessels are decorated with whimsical sheets of fabric, flags, and flower garlands. Loud automotive engines with extended driveshafts propel the vessels through water. Long-tailed boats are mainly used for sightseeing tours and to ferry passengers between islands.

Railay Beach is one of the best places to see an array of long-tailed boats. Day-trip tourists typically arrive after breakfast and depart before sunset. Consider staying overnight to experience the laid-back morning and evening vibes. The shallow bay with jagged limestone peaks is a picturesque sight, especially during golden hour!

Wildlife is equally awe-inspiring at Railay Beach. Brad and I spotted an Oriental Pied-Hornbill feeding in the canopy near our hotel just after sunrise. The magnificent bird reminded us of a smaller version of a prehistoric pterodactyl with its massive wingspan and beak.

Listen closely and you may hear a troop of elusive Dusky Leaf monkeys foraging in the trees. Babies are born with bright orange hair, but change to dark grey at around six months old. Watching the playful animals was a wonderful surprise since Dusky Leaf monkeys are typically shy around people.

A glorious day awaits at Phra Nang Beach! Pack plenty of snacks and drinks since there are no vendors in the area. If you need a break from lounging in the sun, go snorkeling in the calm ocean or rent a kayak to get up close to the stalactites and grottos. During low tide, you can access Koh Rang Beach by walking in waist-deep water.

Before returning to town, visit the shrines of Phra Nang Cave and Princess Cave. Carved wooden phalli in all different shapes, sizes, and colors adorn the shallow recesses. The symbols of fertility are offered by fishermen to ensure a prosperous catch. Incense and flowers are placed on the altars to guarantee a safe journey back home for sailors.

The pedestrian-friendly town of Railay Beach is easy to navigate. There are no motorized vehicles on the peninsula and points of interest are only a short distance away. Accommodations, restaurants, and boutiques line the main avenues. Grab a fruit smoothie, roti (Thai pancake), or scoop of ice cream if you need a quick bite. There are many operators offering rock climbing lessons, island tours, scuba diving excursions, and transfers.

You don't have to be on Railay Beach long before the smell of marijuana reaches your nose! Special brownies, happy shakes with psychedelic mushrooms, and other concoctions are readily available. Consume at your own risk and be aware of current drug laws in Thailand. There are plenty of cocktail bars if you prefer to let loose with alcohol instead.

Railay Beach has a variety of enticing al fresco restaurants with fresh seafood on display. For dinner, Brad and I shared a yummy charcoal-grilled red snapper with spicy garlic chili sauce at The Heart Restaurant. Watching the chef navigate his way around the tiny kitchen was an impressive sight! Another night we devoured two portions of chicken tikka masala with garlic naan and rice at Kohinoor Indian Restaurant.

Koh Hong

Explore the cluster of islands northwest of Railay Beach with a group tour via speedboat. The largest island, Koh Hong, has beautiful beaches and lagoons with emerald pools and limestone cliffs. Tours often include short stops at Koh Pakbia, Koh Lao Lading, and Koh Dang. Water monitor lizards are often on the prowl, so be careful!

Ready to break a sweat with a challenging hike? Ascend the metal stairs leading to the 360-degree viewpoint of the glorious archipelago! Marvel at the tropical scenery as long-tailed boats cruise below. Thailand is truly breathtaking from this perspective on top of Koh Hong.

Similan Islands National Park

Scuba divers eager to experience the best of Thailand's underwater world flock to the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea. The national park has approximately 20 dive sites with vibrant coral reefs overflowing with exotic marine life. Although day trips are possible from Phuket and Khao Lak, it's best to splurge on a liveaboard to also access the legendary sites of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, Richelieu Rock, and the Surin Islands.

Brad and I booked a 5 day/4 night liveaboard with DiveRACE Class E via Our package included a twin room with ensuite bathroom, scuba diving equipment, tasty meals, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and towels. The professional crew, clean facilities, and organized itinerary made our first liveaboard a monumental success!

Due to the strong currents, unpredictable visibility, and shocking thermoclines, an Advanced Open Water certification is recommended. Our fun and knowledgeable instructor, Victor, also helped us complete our Nitrox certifications. We formed amazing friendships, gained valuable experience, and even battled a few mornings of motion sickness.

Brad and I saw a plethora of sea creatures during our 14 dives! Highlights included octopi, Zebra eels, triggerfish, Bluespotted stingrays, Harlequin shrimps, starfish, Leopard eels, batfish, ghost pipefish, clownfish, Napoleon wrasses, triggerfish, nudibranchs, porcupinefish, and barracudas. Keep your head on a swivel for Whale sharks, Manta rays, sea turtles, and schools of pelagic fish.

In a (Coco) Nut Shell

Travelers who venture to the dazzling islands of western Thailand in the Andaman Sea are bound to discover pure bliss. The dreamy beaches, comforting cuisine, and smiling locals nourish the soul with a radiating energy. Unplug from the outside world and recharge your batteries in a place full of adventure and positive vibes.

No matter where you choose to island hop, Thailand has something for everyone. The premier scuba diving sites and magical landscapes in this region of Southeast Asia will certainly knock your flip-flops off!