Krabi is a fantastic option for seeing a lot of what Thai beach life has to offer. You will come to know dramatic cliffs, limestone and karst rock formations that will dizzy your mind, clear sandy beaches, cute little towns and plenty of things to do in all of these places - diving, rock climbing, kayaking, fishing and off-the-grid exploring in your hammock. Keep in mind that not all of the coastline is sandy beach, so choose your destinations with your desired activities in mind. Let's get started!
Tonsai & Railay Beach
Welcome to the climbing haven of Thailand! This place is a palace of stunning rock, waiting to be crimped and shouted upon as it challenges your every move and makes you pour sweat in the stagnant Thai heat. But oh, the views are unparalleled. This is where climbers flock from all over the world, but you don't even have to be a climber to appreciate it.
Tonsai is a tucked away pocket of bungalows that are set back a short walk from the beach - apparently because someone has bought up the beachfront land, and it's just now starting to be developed. Tonsai is still fairly quiet and full of monkeys banging on bungalow roofs. Most bungalows are basic and comfortable enough for your average rock climber. You can find good coffee, great food, plenty of beer (and other comforts if you ask), and the occasional fire show. It's a nice place to go off the grid for a bit - there are no cars here - but there isn't much to do besides rock climb, so those are generally the people who come here. We've even been able to string up a double hammock from one of the main walls.
Railay, the beach next door, is a whole different world. 5 star resorts are packed in this little spit of land, and these days you can find a sushi restaurant, multiple gelato shops, massage parlors and even some tattoo shops along the walking streets of Railay. It is usually 5 times busier than Tonsai here, but the vibes are definitely different and it's a little more faaaancy. But this place is STUNNING. The rock formations are other-worldly and it feels like a pirate's wonderland.
These two beaches are accessed by longtail boat from either Krabi Town or Ao Nang, and boats go regularly every day, no need to book ahead. It's only a scenic 10 minute ride away. Keep in mind there are no cars or motorbikes on either Tonsai or Railay; they are both small, very walkable places.
Koh Jam, also known as Koh Pu (ask the locals on that one...) is a small, quaint, lovely island to pay a visit to and completely kick your feet up. There's not much to do on Koh Jam, and that's wonderful. You can find both sandy and rocky beaches, little oceanside restaurants with the friendliest people who will invite you around for the evening, which will likely end no later than 10pm for everyone's bedtime. Driving around by motorbike is highly recommended. Stop by every little shop that looks interesting, and you will probably be the only customer and have a great conversation with someone waiting for a visitor there.
Koh Lanta is a treasure. It's long been known as a sleepy island with long, empty beaches, but that's starting to change. Despite the fact that it's perfectly shaped like a gentleman's bits (or because of?) ...it's an incredibly popular island for families. Gentle beaches stretch for kilometers and occasionally have fun little waves to play on, but like most of the ocean in Thailand, beaches are as calm as a lake. When I last visited in December 2018, Lanta's popularity had skyrocketed and there was an abundance of construction going on for hotels, restaurants and even co-working spaces. Plan your visit soon!
Lanta has 2 main roads running north to south on both the west and the east coast. Most of the beautiful beaches are on the west coast, facing the Andaman sea, so that's where the activity is. The coastline gets progressively more beautiful and less crowded the further south you go. The mountains rise up and give you some magical cliffside views before you get to the tip, Mu Ko National Park. It has beautiful trails, powdery beaches, a tall lookout point and some mighty fine snorkeling. Definitely worth the visit.
The east side of Lanta is made up of beautiful mangrove forests lining the coast, and Lanta's Old Town, the original village of the island. This place is CHARMING and you can't miss it. Old wooden buildings jut out over the water where you can eat comfortably, have coffee and enjoy the quiet side of the island. Talk to the locals, they are all incredibly friendly and not in a hurry. The tourist shops are very tempting to support, so grab something and encourage their craftsmanship. After you stroll around, keep driving south to the inner tip where you can see one of the remaining gypsy villages. There is even a really nice hammock shop on the island that sells nice locally woven hammocks.
These sea people were given some land to make their permanent home, and it's interesting to stop through and see their boats, fishing gear, and lanes with cats, dogs and chickens. There's nothing to do in these villages and you'll probably feel like you're in their home or even invading their space a bit, so I wouldn't recommend hanging around too long. Just have a look and say hello. :)
Phi Phi Islands
Welcome to the party! Phi Phi is full of backpackers, bikinis and beer pong, and it's on most young traveler's itineraries. It's stunningly beautiful and there is a lot to do. But for some people (like me, after my first time seeing it), it's a bit of a head-banger, and once is enough. Phi Phi has become very popular with visitors because the movie "The Beach" was filmed here. Not on the main island, but on the smaller island which is a national park, just a quick boat ride away. These two islands, (Phi Phi Don, main hub, and Phi Phi Ley, national park) are absolutely stunning. The isles have tall cliffs with vibrant colors and jungle creeping everywhere. The beaches are powdery, and these days, full of activity. Every day of the week is exciting and beautiful here, but you might be kept up late by pumping music from the bars if you choose to stay in the main center of town. "Town" also consists of only walking streets, and doesn't have any cars or motorbikes besides the ones to haul around local supplies. These little streets are quite charming to walk around if they're not too busy. There are some other resorts around the side of the island that look like beautiful and quieter places to stay.
*Koh Phi Phi Ley, the national park and site of Maya Bay, has been closed indefinitely as of 2018 because of the devastating effects visitors have had on the coral reefs and marine life. It was a smart move by the Thai government to start restoration efforts of this beautiful marine park, and since visitors have stopped coming there have since been blacktip reef shark sightings (yay!) and ongoing coral out-planting to re-grow the reefs. The state of Maya Bay was pretty dire before this closure - the bay was full of sunscreen, boat oil, trash and other chemicals that offset the natural balance of the marine environment, and the number of visitors to the bay each day was staggering. I am very, very pleased that Thailand has recognized this problem and has taken action to keep beaches beautiful and natural!
When most people think of Thailand for a holiday, they think of Phuket. (Pronounced poo-KET). It's a big, jungled, mountainous island sticking out in the Andaman Sea, and it's gorgeous! But Phuket has suffered - and thrived - a lot from tourism. Thrived because it's a top beach destination in the world, and it has some of the best resorts money can buy. The scenery is stunning and there is EVERYTHING to do there. It has suffered because all these people create an awful lot of garbage - and land is still being purchased, bulldozed and reformed into concrete palaces for more people to come buy plastic water bottles and wash their sunscreen off in the ocean reefs. Yeah, it's a little maddening. Okay, let's back off. Phuket also has a lovely and busy local population and some fascinating traditions (check out the Vegetarian Festival - not what you'd expect!) making it interesting to visit, and there is a lot of land to explore. Phuket is a great destination, but it's a popular one!
Written by Julia Akins