Thailand is a perfect destination for family holidays, given its welcoming and safe environment, not to mention guaranteed wall-to-wall sunshine. For a trip that has it all, many families will head to the islands where some of the best resorts, stunning panoramas and unspoiled beaches can be found.
But Thailand has a lot of islands… 1,430 to be precise! Some are little more than a few square metres of rock sticking out of the ocean, whereas others are sprawling landmasses, covering hundreds of square kilometres. Some are well known and frequently travelled, others are more hidden gems. So which is right for your next family holiday? Here’s our top five.
1. Phuket, south west Thailand
Thailand’s largest island and probably its most well-known is Phuket. Covering more than 500 square kilometres, the island welcomes more than five million visitors each year, attracted to its swathes of beaches, pretty mountains and endless tourist attractions. It’s also super accessible, with connections from Bangkok taking around an hour and 20 minutes, and plenty of direct flights to the island too.
No matter what your budget, there’s something for everyone here, from high end resorts to cute guest houses. And there’s plenty to do too, including water parks, beaches, elephant sanctuaries and various cultural experiences. Phuket FantaSea is a must-do with kids, with nightly theatrical performances, shopping, and one of the largest buffet restaurants in the world.
With Phuket as a base, families can enjoy day trips to neighbouring islands in the Andaman Sea, including the famous Phi Phi islands, Phang Nga bay (including James Bond Island) and to the stunning Khao Sok National Park with its waterfalls and bat caves. Whether you’re staying a week or a month, you won’t run out of things to do in Phuket.
Where: off the west coast of mainland Thailand in the Andaman Sea
When: December to March is when the weather is most settled, although September is cooler
2. Koh Samui, south east Thailand
For some jaw-dropping tropical beauty, Koh Samui is a good choice. It’s around half the size of Phuket but still large enough to offer plenty of things to do with the family. Despite receiving around five million visitors a year, it has managed to avoid the wild backpacker reputation of some Thai islands, and is considered to be one of the country’s most family-friendly destinations.
The beaches go on for miles, and there are plenty to choose from. Chaweng Beach boasts super soft white sand, while Choeng Mon has a quiet atmosphere and village feel. When you’re tired of the beach (if that’s possible) there are numerous attractions to visit and enjoy, too.
Some of the best include the Secret Buddha Garden, where you can discover little houses and sculptures in the cool of the hills. Paradise Park Farm offers a chance to get up close with various animals and birds, alongside breathtaking views from one of the highest points of the island. And all over the island are vibrant markets, elaborate temples and endless opportunities to explore.
Where: on the Eastern side of the Thai mainland in the Gulf of Thailand
When: January is the coolest month, and December to March has the most settled weather
3. Koh Phi Phi, Phang Nga Bay
After earning its stripes as a backpacker party resort, Koh Phi Phi has mellowed a lot in recent years. There are still nightly parties on the beach with fire twirling, but you’ll find the crowd to be older with plenty of families in the mix. As an island, it’s got it all – stunning beaches, a compact little town with everything you need and a long list of things to do.
If you have some water babies in your life, Phi Phi is the perfect place to introduce them to snorkelling. You can do so right off the beach, or take a boat out to one of the many fabulous locations nearby. Many snorkelling spots are quite shallow and very kid-friendly, so it’s a great place to get a taste of the underwater world.
From the island, you’ll also find opportunities to kayak around in the crystal clear waters, or take a boat and hop around some of the nearby islands too. Monkey beach is a firm family favourite, with beach swings and, as you might expect, plenty of monkeys. Phi Phi is an island where you can’t help but chill and reconnect.
Where: in the Andaman Sea, right in the middle of Phang Nga Bay
When: the weather is pleasant from November to April, with temperatures coolest in December
4. Koh Lanta, Strait of Malacca
They say you can’t visit islands in Thailand with kids without considering Koh Lanta. Well-known as one of the most family-friendly islands, you’ll find a warm welcome at every stop in Koh Lanta. Don’t be surprised if the restaurants, beach bars and massage salons have toys or some sort of entertainment for the smaller guests – that’s just the Lanta way.
Klong Dao beach is a firm favourite with families, with warm, shallow waters perfect for little ones. The sand is firm enough for building, and the restaurants and bars fringing the beach offer toys, slides and plenty of kid-acceptable food on the menu.
Away from the beach, Sala Dan offers some frugal shopping opportunities in its lively markets, and some wonderful seafood served on the pier. Lanta Old Town boasts beautiful traditional Thai wooden houses and temples to explore. If that’s not enough, there are also opportunities for jungle trekking and snorkelling from the island.
Where: in the Strait of Malacca off the west coast of Thailand, between the Phi Phi Islands and the mainland
When: the dry season runs from January to April, with November to early May also usually good
5. Koh Chang, south east Thailand
The third most popular island (and also the third largest) after Phuket and Samui, Koh Chang takes its name from the iconic mascot of Thailand – the elephant. Given its size, there is plenty to do, but it’s a bit more laid back and touristed than its two larger siblings. Peppered with stunning waterfalls and with some of the best snorkelling and diving in Thailand, it’s a true tropical paradise just waiting to be discovered.
As with any Thai island, you can guarantee fabulous beaches and warm, clear waters. Klong Prao is one of the best for families, with shallow, calm waters and wonderful restaurants fringing the beach. A day out to Mu Koh Chang National Park lets you explore the jungle, which includes the impressive Khlong Phlu waterfall, perfect for photos and swimming.
Hopping to some of the neighbouring islands can be a great day trip too, with Koh Wai a popular choice. There are no cars, no roads and no crowds here; just pristine beaches and fabulous snorkelling, and the speedboat ride to reach it is sure to elicit some giggles. Families can also rent kayaks and paddle to neighbouring Koh Man Nai, where you’ll be able to collect beautiful seashells right off the beach.
Where: in the far east of the Gulf of Thailand, near the Cambodian border
When: November to April are the coolest and most settled months
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