The Best Family-Friendly Places To Visit In Thailand

The Best Family-Friendly Islands In Thailand

The Best Family-Friendly Islands In Thailand
By David Luekens

There are many fabulous islands in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

Some are heavily developed while others have only a handful of resorts, and sometimes the differences between any two islands are subtle. But it's hard to go wrong once you decide on the type of island that suits your family.

If you prefer a mix, island-hopping ferries connect many of the dots during the dry months from November through March. The best island-hopping areas are the southern Andaman (Phuket to Ko Lipe), the Ko Samui archipelago in the southern Gulf, and the Ko Chang archipelago in the eastern Gulf. In all other areas, you'll most likely return to the mainland between islands.

Thailand_Ko Samui

The quieter corners of Ko Samui, in the southern Gulf, are well-suited for families

Large family-friendly Thai islands

Most families will have one or more of the following five large islands on their itineraries, and they all offer a wide variety of attractions. Some are party hubs, others are less developed and have remote beaches. Do your research to pick one that seems a good fit for your family.

Nearly all are accessible by vehicle ferry—Phuket is reached by a bridge—and songthaews and tuk tuks are plentiful. Car and jeep rental is also available.

Phuket old town market thailand

Night market on Walking Street in old town Phuket

Phuket

Phuket is Thailand's only province made up entirely of islands. In addition to the island of Phuket itself, other smaller but noteworthy islands include Ko Raya for snorkelling and majestic beaches, Ko Hey for a good beach that's reachable on an easy day trip, and Ko Maphrao for local flavour. Though not part of Phuket province, the extraordinarily beautiful islands of the Ko Phi Phi group and Phang Nga Bay can also be explored on a day tour out of Phuket.

Phuket island, Thailand's largest, has an airport, hospitals, malls, it’s packed with resorts and attractions, and there are many beaches. There’s much to see and do - there are the markets and architecture of historic Phuket town, wakeboarding, parasailing, mini-golf, and a gibbon sanctuary, among many other things.

Need to know

The towns that back Patong Beach on the island of Phuket and, to a lesser extent, Kata and Karon beaches, have some seedy nightlife to watch out for. In particular, avoid Bangla Road in the heart of Patong after dark.

Sea kayaking Ang Thong National Marine Park ko samui thailand

Sea kayaking at Ang Thong National Marine Park, near Ko Samui

Ko Samui

In the southern Gulf, Thailand's second largest island has an airport and the same types of made-for-tourism attractions and lodgings (and traffic jams) that are found on Phuket. But the level of services is high, and booking tours is easy.

Chill at any of three mid-size waterfalls, including the easy-to-reach Na Muang; see the hulking Hindu and Buddhist statues at Wat Phlai Laem and Wat Phra Yai; enjoy Spark Circus, and relax with a stroll through the night market in the Fisherman's Village of Bophut. Factor in a day trip to the majestic Ang Thong Islands and Ko Matsum, a wee island where boar snooze and pose with tourists on the beach.

Need to know

Parts of the towns backing Chaweng and Lamai beaches, especially Soi Green Mango in Chaweng, have some seedy nightlife. Flying directly to Ko Samui is expensive - you'll save cash by flying to Surat Thani Airport (URT) on the mainland, where bus and ferry transfers to Ko Samui (as well as Ko Phangan and Ko Tao) can be arranged on arrival, or in advance.

KOH PHANGAN bottle beach thailand

Bottle Beach on Ko Phangan's peaceful northern coast

Ko Phangan

This funky island to the north of Ko Samui has a reputation for a hippie-stoner scene and drunken debauchery at the monthly Full Moon Party on Haad Rin, but parts of it are outstanding for families. Although the island lacks the range of kid-focused attractions found on Ko Samui, it’s a good bet for older youngsters who love the outdoors.

Activities include hiking to viewpoints, water sports like windsurfing, swimming at Than Sadet waterfall, and visiting remote stretches of sand like Bottle Beach and Thian Beach on a longtail boat tour. The island is also known for yoga, meditation and wellness. The main town, Thong Sala, has cool boutiques and a good night market.

Need to know

While Haad Rin and Ban Tai in the south are popular with backpackers, the eastern and northern parts of Ko Phangan are quiet and suitable for families.

Lighthouse at Koh Lanta thailand

Hike to the lighthouse on Ko Lanta for stunning views

Ko Lanta

Lying off the southwest coast, Ko Lanta has retained a laid-back spirit and has many quality family resorts and related facilities set along miles of beachfront on the west coast. You'll also find some local colour at the Muslim-Thai villages that dot the island.

On the less-developed east coast, visit the Chinese-style old town and hop on to a longtail boat to explore a mangrove forest where monkeys go fishing. The far south of the island is part of Mu Ko Lanta Marine Park where you can hike up to a lighthouse for a tremendous view of the sea and nearby islands. The park also covers Ko Haa and Ko Rok, two small groups of islands boasting some of the finest snorkelling in the region. Boat tours to both are not hard to find on Ko Lanta.

Need to know

Ko Lanta is relatively quiet for a popular island, but the backpacker party area towards the north end of Long Beach can get noisy. The beaches in the northwest are built up with plenty of shops and restaurants, while those in the southwest are quieter.

Thailand National Park Mu Ko Chang

Clear waters at Mu Ko Chang Marine Park

Ko Chang (Trat)

This “Elephant Island” of the eastern Gulf is Thailand's third largest island. Much of the west coast is heavily developed, but mountainous jungle blankets the interior and the east coast feels like an offbeat destination with tiny fishing villages and mangrove forests. Ko Chang also boasts the best collection of waterfalls of any Thai island.

The forested interior is part of Mu Ko Chang Marine Park, and several experienced trail guides make Ko Chang a winner for trekking enthusiasts. The park also covers most of the Ko Chang archipelago's 52 islands. Ko Rang and Ko Wai are two of the park's more attractive islands, and both are reachable on day tours for snorkelling or diving in crystal clear water.

Need to know

While most of Ko Chang is family friendly, you might want to avoid Lonely Beach because of its backpacker party scene. You'll also find isolated pockets of seedy bars along the main road south of White Sand Beach in the northwest.

Smaller family-friendly Thai Islands

These petite islands were too beautiful to escape heavy tourism development over the past two decades. Even so, they all have quiet areas with comfortable resorts geared towards families, and they all have medical clinics associated with reputable mainland hospitals.

Sai Kaew beach Koh Samet thailand

Ko Samet's proximity to Bangkok means it can get busy on weekends and holidays

Ko Samet

This stingray-shaped island in the eastern Gulf is only 170km southeast of Bangkok, making it convenient for a few days’ beach time at the end of a trip. Beaches dot most of the east coast and while Sai Kaew Beach in the north can get noisy, there are many quieter coves in the more secluded south. Don’t miss the statues of a mermaid, a flute-playing prince and a giant ogress, characters from Phra Aphai Mani, a story by 19th century Thai writer Sunthorn Phu, who was in part inspired by the scenery of Ko Samet.

Need to know

Boat tours from Ko Samet include several undeveloped islands to the east, such as Ko Thalu with its natural stone arch and lovely beach. Also note that at weekends and holiday times Ko Samet gets crowded with people from Bangkok and finding a room at the last minute can be a chore.

Green Sea Turtle ko tao thailand

Ko Tao – 'Turtle Island' – is a great place to learn to dive

Ko Tao

In the southern Gulf and linked to both Ko Phangan and Ko Samui via year-round island-hopping ferries, this “Turtle Island” is Thailand's most popular place to learn to dive. There are dozens of dive schools for adults and children, and numerous snorkelling sites, such as Mango Bay and Shark Bay, which are far better than any found off Ko Samui or Ko Phangan. Families should consider staying on quiet beaches like Sai Nuan or Ao Luek as opposed to the noisier beaches at Haad Sairee and Mae Haad.

Need to know

A good day trip option is Ko Nang Yuan, a tiny island off Ko Tao's northwest coast with a phenomenal beach stretching between a pair of rocky hills.

Ko Phi Phi island thailand

Ko Phi Phi is renowned for its coves and lagoons

Ko Phi Phi

This famous destination comprises two islands set side by side: Ko Phi Phi Don is heavily developed in places, while Ko Phi Phi Leh has official protection and can only be visited on day tours. The latter is arguably the most visually splendid island in Thailand thanks to its crystalline lagoons and coves. Authorities have worked hard to conserve Ko Phi Phi Leh's environment with coral rehabilitation and by closing the once-crowded Maya Bay to tourists. It's expected to reopen with strict regulations in place in 2022.

Need to know

On Ko Phi Phi Don, families often prefer to stay on the quiet Laem Thong Beach rather than centrally located Tonsai, which has a party scene. If you’d rather just visit the two islands, check out a boat tour from Phuket, Ko Jum or Ao Nang in Krabi.

Ko lipe thailand

Sunset over Ko Lipe

Ko Lipe

Way down in the Thai southwest, Ko Lipe is one of Thailand's most alluring islands thanks to its soft white sand and azure blue water. Growing tourist interest has changed the island, filling the pint-size interior with large resorts and a “walking street” studded with shops and eateries, but the attraction of the island’s exceptional tropical scenery remains undeniable.

Need to know

Ko Lipe is just one part of an archipelago with several undeveloped and uninhabited islands that are equally picturesque and protected as part of Mu Ko Tarutao Marine Park. Boat tours to visit some of these largely unspoiled islands and snorkel the reefs in between are easy to arrange on Ko Lipe.

Bang Bao Bay Ko Kut Thailand

Bang Bao Bay, Ko Kood

Lesser-known family friendly Thai islands

Lesser-known Thai islands can be the most rewarding for families. These are places where the attractions might include roasting fish and marshmallows on the beach, napping in a hammock, or gaining cultural insights by visiting old-style fishing and farming communities.

Take books, art supplies, and plenty of mosquito spray.

South of Ko Chang in the eastern Gulf, Ko Mak and Ko Kood have exceptional beaches, mangrove-lined canals and resorts geared towards families. Down in the southern Gulf, languid Ko Taen sits like a teardrop off Ko Samui and hints at how most Thai islands looked before tourism replaced fishing and farming as the main industry. There you'll find empty beaches, viewpoints and a few family-run resorts focusing on ecotourism.

On the northern Andaman coast, Ko Phayam near Myanmar is slightly hippie-ish and has some great family resorts. Nearby Ko Chang (not to be confused with the larger Ko Chang in the Gulf) and Ko Phra Thong take the seclusion factor down another notch with only small, locally operated resorts scattered around otherwise undeveloped beaches. All three of these islands attract nature-loving families looking to play at Robinson Crusoe.

East of Phuket, the neighbouring islands of Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai have close-knit communities, sedate beaches and interiors that are fun to explore. Both are perfect for kayak and longtail boat tours into Ao Phang Nga, a breath-taking bay with more than 100 karst islets, mangrove forests and narrow waterways. Highlights include the fishing village at Ko Panyi with its floating football pitch, and a limestone islet which featured in the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.

Ko Jum in Krabi province and Ko Mook in Trang have lengthy beaches and hiking trails, and villages providing local flavour. Not far from Ko Mook you'll find Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai, both with marvellous beaches, reefs for snorkelling and jungle backdrops. Nearby is Ko Libong, an island with a thrilling cave, viewpoints and opportunities to spot endangered dugongs (a marine mammal related to the manatee) in the wild.

Further south is Ko Sukorn, an extremely quiet island that's great for cycling through villages and seeing rice fields and roaming water buffaloes. From there you can take a day trip to Ko Lao Liang, a pair of protected islands where white sand stretches between immense limestone cliffs. Closer to Malaysia, Ko Bulon Leh is a tiny island with languid bays.

Need to know

Most alternative islands are reached by slow local ferries, and most do not have ATMs or minimarts, although locals sell necessities. At some resorts electricity is shut down during the day, food choices can be limited, and western food can be unexpectedly expensive.

Police are rarely stationed on these islands, and medical care is limited to local clinics or first-aid stations staffed by national park rangers. It can take a while to get off these islands in case of a late-night emergency. That said, the self-sufficient locals can be counted on to help however they can, and you don't have to worry about being scammed or overcharged as you might be on some of the more popular islands.

Koh Tarutao Tarutao National Park Thailand

Impressive rock formations in Tarutao National Park

Marine park islands

Thailand has more than 20 marine national parks with hundreds of islands that are undeveloped and uninhabited, apart from the park rangers. They include many of Thailand's most spectacular islands, but most are only accessible on day tours from other areas.

Mu Ko Tarutao

In the same archipelago as busy Ko Lipe, the mountainous islands of Ko Adang and Ko Rawi have dozens of undeveloped white-sand beaches. On Ko Adang, climb the mildly challenging trail up to Chadoe Cliff for views of Ko Lipe and other islands. Also don't miss Ko Hin Ngam, an island of polished stones believed to curse anyone who takes one. Nearby you'll find orange and purple bubble coral.

The park's other section covers Ko Tarutao, with steep mountains and wildlife roaming the virgin forest. Book a pick-up truck to the historical trail at Ao Talo Wao to learn about the abandoned prisoners who turned to piracy for survival during the Second World War. Take a kayak to explore the Crocodile Cave (don't worry, the crocodiles have vanished), or hike into the jungle to cool off at Lu Du waterfall.

Need to know

You’ll find basic cabins with hard beds, screened windows and fans at two of Ko Tarutao's beaches and at Laem Son on Ko Adang. All three also have lovely campgrounds with tent rental and restaurants serving simple Thai dishes and simpler western options. Some of the speedboat ferries between Pakbara and Ko Lipe can drop passengers at Ko Tarutao, and Ko Adang is easy to reach by longtail boat from Ko Lipe. The park closes from May 1 to November 1.

Sea kayaking Ang Thong National Marine Park ko samui thailand

Sea kayaking at Ang Thong National Marine Park

Mu Ko Ang Thong

The name means Archipelago of the Golden Bowl, and the many karst islands of this marine park are within day-tripping distance of both Ko Samui and Ko Phangan in the southern Gulf. Highlights include a lagoon of glass-like emerald water on Ko Mae Ko, and a viewpoint on Ko Wua Talap that offers arguably the finest views found anywhere in Thailand's islands. Most day tours include snorkelling and/or kayaking.

Though it's left off most tour itineraries, Ko Phaluai is the archipelago's largest island. You can get there on a ferry from Don Sak on the mainland, and stay at a homestay or a small resort. Staff can arrange boat tours to other parts of the park, but be prepared for a language barrier as Ko Phaluai is mostly visited by Thai tourists. Tour guides can be arranged in Surat Thani if you need help.

Need to know

Mu Ko Ang Thong Marine Park is open all year round. Most people visit on a day tour, but the campground at Ko Wua Talap is in a beautiful setting and within kayaking distance of other islands. There’s a restaurant and cold-water bathrooms. To camp, book a tour on Ko Phangan or Ko Samui. As with most national park islands with facilities, cell service is available on Ko Wua Talap.

Moken village Koh Surin on the Mu Ko Surin National Park Surin Islands of Thailand

Moken village on Ko Surin

Mu Ko Surin

Set in the far northern reaches of Thailand's Andaman Sea, Mu Ko Surin Marine Park covers a pair of islands with healthy reefs in between. Most of the islands is off-limits to tourists, but the spectacular Mai Ngam Beach is open with soft khaki sand and crystalline water that stays calm thanks to towering headlands. Harmless black-tip reef sharks stop by for a feed at low tide, and sea turtles are commonly spotted.

Tours can be arranged on the mainland or through park staff, but a visitor might prefer to support the Moken boat drivers, indigenous to the islands. Based in a village that can be visited on the marine park's southern island, the Moken are a nomadic tribe of sea dwellers found in both Thailand and Malaysia. Their wooden spirit poles which represent their ancestors, and banana-shaped boats, give the islands the local character that's missing in most Thai marine parks.

Need to know

Day tours to Ko Surin can be booked as far away as Khao Lak and Ko Phayam, but they all use a pier in the town of Khuraburi which independent travellers can reach on their own. To camp or stay in one of the spartan bungalows at Mai Ngam Beach, book a speedboat tour in Khuraburi and ask to be picked up again on your specified day. Some of Thailand's best dive sites, including Richilieu Rock, are found close to Ko Surin. The marine park closes from May 1 to November 1.

The Best Family-Friendly Islands In Thailand

David Luekens

Based in Thailand since 2011, David first waded into Southeast Asia in the early 2000s via friendships forged in the Thai, Vietnamese and Karen communities of Vermont, almost Canada, USA. He is a bona fide nerd in maps, islands and travel planning with a research background in Buddhism and the environmental, political and human rights issues of Southeast Asia. Bylines include CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveller China and more than 100 Travelfish guides.

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