We have spent over a month tooling around being beach bums in Northern Malaysia and Southern Thailand. Our travels have taken us to Langkawi, Koh Lipe, Koh Lanta, Krabi Town, Railay Beach, Ao Nang Beach, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Here’s what we thought. Which island personality is best for you?
Biggest party scene: Koh Tao or Koh Phangan
- Late night beach DJs and dancing, a local Cabaret, fire shows complete with flaming jump rope and limbo, and several pop up “bucket” bars. Koh Tao is where the kids come to play.
- Koh Phangan has one of the largest Full Moon parties in the world so if you want to dance all night long while wearing neon body paint and slurping on buckets, then plan to be there for the extravaganza that happens once each month.
Most injuries: Koh Tao
- This may have something to do with all the partying, but more likely due to the crazy hills and inexperienced motorbikers without helmets. Either way, we saw a lot of road rash and bandaged people.
Most Family Friendly: Langkawi
- We found the most child friendly activities on this island including the SkyCab and Oriental Village, parasailing and banana boat rides right on the beach, mangrove tours, bird parks and the Skytrex Adventure park, as well as a huge aquarium. All this in addition to nice sandy beaches. Plenty to entertain the littles!
Most Authentic: Koh Lanta
- Although there are several touristy areas on Lanta, we found it to be a much more chill vibe than other places. There were so many family-owned Thai eateries around, a cool jungle temple, areas where locals still live in relative peace, and fun flea and wet markets to explore. Our favorite eatery in Thailand so far is on this island, is run by one woman and has 4 tables. Barokat, you have our hearts and our stomachs.
Most New Age: Koh Phangan
- If you want to participate in a cleanse, eat organic, try out a yoga retreat, or learn how to meditate, this is your island. While known for the Full Moon parties, it also has a plethora of options for healthy living and learning to appreciate the moment.
Best Snorkeling: Koh Lipe
- The water is pristine all around the island. There’s no trash in the water. They have wonderful snorkeling tours on the cheap side that go to other nearby islands. The coral we saw blew our socks off. The variety of fish was impressive as well. Not into tours? Just rent a kayak for the day or a few hours and paddle to Koh Kra or Koh Usen, directly off of Sunrise Beach. You won’t be let down. Beware of low tide as you can get uncomfortably close to sea urchins!
Best Wifi: Langkawi
- Malaysia simply has Southern Thailand beat, period. We could actually stream a movie without buffering!
Most Secluded Beaches: Koh Lanta
- Hit up the beaches on the Southern end of the island and you may be with 10 other people. Maybe. They will be stunning and have the mountains and jungle as a backdrop. Enough said.
Most Touristy: Ao Nang
- Reminded us both of the Jersey Shore, but without the boardwalk. Not our cup of tea, but I’m sure some people love it!
Cheapest Booze: Langkawi
- The whole island is duty free. Can we say $.56 beers? Liquor was crazy cheap too – stock up before heading to Thailand or mainland Malaysia.
Easiest to get around: Koh Lipe
- Because this island is to tiny, you can walk everywhere. Bonus!
Best Variety of Beaches: Koh Tao
- You name it, this island has it: sandy, rocky, pebbly, private, touristy, full of bars, full of weed. Whatever floats your boat.
Most Expensive: Koh Tao
- We kept reading and hearing from others that Koh Lipe is so expensive, but in our experience Koh Tao edged it out. The cabs were pricey, the food was more than anywhere else (even local Thai restaurants), a bunch of the beaches charge for access, and unless you hit Happy Hour be prepared to pay quite a bit for drinks at a bar.
Cheapest Eats: Krabi Town
- Stay here rather than Ao Nang or Railay if you are on a budget. There are multiple night markets every night which offer anything from curries to fresh fish to potato spirals to mini waffles. It is a bargain. We ate dinner for approximately 120 Baht total, which is about $3.75. If you hit the Mon-Wed night market, seek out the Tumeric Fried Chicken lady and you will not regret it! We only regretted the fact that we just found her one time.
Best Motorbiking: Koh Lanta
- The roads are in great shape; many are straight with scenic coastal views. There’s also a good variety of twists, turns and roller coaster hills without feeling unsafe. Good for novice drivers to spread their wings and fly a bit!
Most Stunning Scenery: Railay Beach
- Breathtaking cliffs and karsts to stare at all day. Floating restaurants and caves full of wooden penises (for real). But it does get crowded, be warned!
Best Overall: Koh Lipe
- While we enjoyed all the spots we checked out, Koh Lipe was our favorite. Perhaps because it was the first one we explored, or perhaps it was the hospitality of our homestay owner, or the clarity and color of the water, or the amazing curries right on the beach, or the super soft white sand, or the free movie nights at the local bars, or the way you could walk around everywhere, or the Trash Hero experience, or the…..you get the drift. We loved it.
Hopefully, this will inspire you to check out the island life!!
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