Ready to take the plunge? Plan your Thailand trip today.

The Secret to Island Hopping in Thailand

On my recent voyage through the Andaman Sea, an uncomfortable truth dawned upon me: Although I had previously visited almost every island of note in Thailand, I’d never really taken a traditional “island hopping” trip. (Obviously, this is no longer the case.)

In one way, I feel disappointed that I waited so long. There’s a rhythm you get into traveling from idyll to idyll for a week or longer, one I don’t think I ever ended up finding on any of my previous à la carte trip to Thailand’s beach paradises.

On the other hand, there’s a part of me that’s glad I didn’t assemble my Thailand island hopping itinerary until I had as good a lay of the land…er, water as I now do. Allow me to explain what I mean over the next several paragraphs.

Need help planning your trip to Thailand? Commission a custom Thailand itinerary!

What “Island Hopping” Is—and What It’s Not

I didn’t realize that I had never gone island hopping until I did. What I mean is that I did take trips in the past where I’d visit multiple islands at a time, whether that was in Trat in 2015 (I went to Koh Kood, Koh Mak, Koh Chang and Koh Wai) or to Chumphon (Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pga Ngan) in 2022. These islands are too close to one another (and, frankly, too similar to one another) to be considered island hopping.

Thai island hopping, for all intents and purposes, really entails traveling between Phuket and Koh Lipe (or any of the stops along the way) by speedboat or ferry, and exploring the Andaman Sea over a week or longer. It is only along this route that the diversity of islands and richness of the journey between them can evoke any sense of transformation (let alone transcendence) as you travel.

How to Plan Your Island Hopping Trip

Decide where to start

It makes the most sense to start up north, i.e. somewhere near either the Phuket or Krabi airports. For some travelers, this will be popular spots like Patong, Ao Nang or Railay beaches; others will begin on one of the Koh Yao islands or even on Koh Phi Phi. I personally started in Railay Beach, simply because I was comfortable there and knew that it would ease me in.


(And how long you can spend)

Part of devising the ultimate Thailand island hopping route is knowing how much time you have. If you have two weeks (as I did), and then determine you’re comfortable moving around every 2-3 days, you’ll be able to see between 5-7 different islands. Even if you don’t end up booking everything in advance, being aware of these parameters in advance will increase your likelihood of a productive, enjoyable trip.

Set Koh Lanta as your mid-point


I ended up going with five islands, heading to Phi Phi for two days after two days in Railay and then arriving in Koh Lanta. As it turns out, Lanta is actually the mid-point of speedboat and ferry routes, and a hub for both northbound (to Krabi and Phuket) and southbound (to Trang and Satun) ones. Lanta also happens to be the Thai islands with the most relaxed vibe; it’s a great place to re-calibrate before heading in a new direction.

Answer the Trang question


Because speedboats and ferries traveling south from Koh Lanta all stop there, the Trang archipelago is a common part of most every Thailand island hopping itinerary. The question is which island you’ll choose as your base. While Koh Mook has the most hotels, Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai arguably have better beaches and a more relaxed and enjoyable vibe. Decide accordingly!

End in Koh Lipe


Koh Lipe is the southernmost of Thailand’s islands, and therefore makes a logical endpoint to island hopping. However, it also arguably has the best beaches in Thailand, in addition to a great selection of hotels and a fun walking street with lots of restaurants, so it’s also a fantastic island in a more substantive way. The only downside is that it’s hard to say goodbye at the end!

Planning Your Island Hopping Trip vs. Being Spontaneous

As this stage of my life as a traveler, I very rarely travel spontaneously. This is mostly practical: Since I’m usually abroad for weeks rather than months, there just isn’t a lot of slack to play around with anymore. Playing it by ear is fine when it doesn’t matter if you get delayed by a day or two, but for me it almost always does matter, so I tend to avoid that travel style.

Even if you don’t plan to book ferries and speedboats in advance, I do think it’s a good idea to gain a general understanding of your Thailand island hopping route. This will allow you to make preparations for each island you plan to visit, even if you only do so a few days or hours in advance. Because trust me: Arriving on an island without a place to stay—and at the mercy of wayward tuk-tuk drivers—almost never has a positive outcome!

Other FAQ About Island Hopping in Thailand

What is the best way to island hop in Thailand?

The best way to island hop in Thailand is to do your research beforehand! Whether you decide to plan everything out in advance or take a more “go with the flow” approach, gaining an understand of the route you’ll need to follow and things to do on each island will empower you to better divide up your time, and to enjoy yourself more on each day of the trip.

What is the best homebase for island hopping in Thailand?

This is the wrong question—the point of island hopping is to move around. While I can say, for example, that Koh Lanta is more conducive to long stays than Koh Phi Phi or even Koh Lipe, my island hopping trip would not have really been “island hopping” had I simply taken day trips from Koh Lanta.

How much does it cost to island hop in Thailand?

As has been the case in Thailand more broadly since covid-19, the cost of island hopping has really increased over the years. Between speedboats (~20-30 USD every 2-3 days), hotels (at least 50 USD per night) and meals (no less than ~20 USD per day), you should expect to pay no less than 500 USD per week to island hop; you’ll probably pay more than this.

The Bottom Line

Even if you don’t think this is the ultimate Thailand island hopping itinerary, it’s hard to dispute the utility I’ve just imparted upon you. A successful island hopping trip has two main underpinnings: 1) Understanding how the islands of Thailand’s Andaman Sea are arranged and the routes between them; and 2) Giving yourself enough time to get into a rhythm suitable to island travel. Once you have these pieces in place, it’s really just a matter of executing and enjoying. Another way to make sure your Thailand island trip is one for the record books? Hire me to plan it for you!


Subscribe to email updates!


Words, images and design ©2019-2024 Robert Schrader, All rights reserved. Read Privacy Policy or view sitemap.