There isn’t a single beach that’s off limits in Thailand – just some that require a little extra effort to get to. Every velvety shore is open to the public; spits of sand tucked away in secret little coves reached by boat; gold island edges dotted with luxury hotels and communal hangouts to surf and sunbathe. We’ve hand-picked the best beaches in Thailand.
Koh Lanta has some of Thailand’s most unspoilt beaches. They look like soft golden caster sugar poured straight out of the packet and most of the time, they’re almost empty. One of our favourite adults-only beach resorts, Layana Resort & Spa, is on Long Beach. It’s the best beach on Koh Lanta. Known locally as Phrae Ae, it’s three miles long and has a wild, rugged quality that sets it apart from Thailand’s more commercialised beaches. Hotels sharing the beach along with Layana are well spaced out, and there are plenty of spots for some made-to-order noodles and an al fresco Thai massage.
On Koh Samet’s north-west coast, Ao Prao Beach is an unexpected gem. After the clamour of Bangkok, it’s a wonder that transparent sea, swaying palms and a dusting of white sand could be within such easy reach. The bay is calm – perfect for spending hours alternating swimming and lazing on the beach. Behind the silky shore, Le Vimarn’s quaint thatched cottages set in the tropics are our pick for a stay on Ao Prao Beach.
A paradise so glorious it was kept strictly secret in Leonardo di Caprio film The Beach, Koh Phi Phi Leh’s Maya Bay is Thailand’s star attraction. And it’s no wonder – it’s dazzling, cradled by tall cliffs, where the white sand makes the deep blue sea melt into a lucid light green. If you dip your head underwater you can watch as highlighter yellow-tipped sergeant major fish flit around the crystal clear sea. Visitors usually arrive from Phuket or Krabi, but the best way to see Maya Bay is to stay close by, like at Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort on neighbouring Koh Phi Phi Don. From the hotel, it’s just a 20-minute boat ride to Maya Bay so you can get an early start before the crowds arrive.
Maya Bay is closed indefinitely until further notice to help the coral recover from the effects of mass tourism.
This petite crescent-shaped bay is one of Koh Samui’s prettiest beaches. It’s covered in the fine white sand you’d find in Koh Samui’s busier Chaweng Beach, but it’s ushered away in the upmarket north-east. There’s no heart-thumping music, no masses of people – it could even be described as quiet in low season. Instead there’s warm icing sugar sand, a decidedly relaxed ambience and some of Koh Samui’s best restaurants just behind you. At SALA Samui Choengmon Beach Resort, you’ll be served drinks right on the beachfront, and you’ll get to watch the sun set as you dine by candlelight at its super romantic restaurant.
Railay Beach looks exactly how you expect Krabi’s flagship beach to. The fawn-coloured sand dissolves into the green-tinged sea and each beach is backed by expressive cliffs that shout Krabi. The sea is scattered with limestone karsts and part of the attraction is the journey to the beach – it’s only accessible by long-tail boat. There are little caves to discover and admittedly it can get busy with day trippers arriving at East Railay Beach in the afternoon, but there are two other beaches nearby that are just as lovely – Phra Nang Beach and West Railay Beach. Make the most of the rugged scenery and stay at Leading Hotel of the World, Rayavadee, which is built around the cliffs and has dining venues overlooking the beaches like The Grotto, a magical restaurant tucked under the freeform limestone.
In place of rock climbing thrills and cliff-draped coves, there are beaches in Krabi that are all about serene afternoons and wistful sunsets. Tub Kaek Beach is one of them. It’s nestled north of Railay on Krabi’s sheltered coastline, far away from shores crowded with long-tail boats and tourists. It feels hidden away and is the perfect remedy for even the slightest hint of stress – the water is swimmable most of the year, it’s beautifully secluded and the views are gorgeous. Across the water, there’s a scattering of islands painted on the horizon which are like dreamy pastel smudges or sharp-edged silhouettes depending on the weather. The Tubkaak Krabi Boutique Resort is tucked just behind the beach beyond tropical trees and saves prime views for their guests with bean bags on the beach.
Khao Lak’s beaches are close to Phuket – just two hours’ drive – and yet they couldn’t be more different. Since Khao Lak is more of a collection of villages, there’s a relaxed vibe that’s warm and welcoming. Khao Lak stretches over 15 miles of Thailand’s coast, so there’s no shortage of beaches; Pak Weep Beach in northern Khao Lak is a golden ribbon edged by jungle that’s loved for its ruggedness while Khuk Khak Beach further south has barely been touched – the fairytale Devasom Khao Lak resort was only just built in 2018 and is one of just a handful in the area so you can go kayaking in the lagoons and keep the beaches all to yourself.
It’s no secret that Phuket has a reputation for being busy but there are perfectly sedate spots if you know where to look. Mai Khao Beach is in northern Phuket, super quiet and at times a little rough for swimming, but it’s part of Sirinat National Park which means it’s barely been touched. There are just a few luxury hotels like swanky SALA Phuket Resort & Spa and it’s super quiet. It also happens to be the longest beach in Phuket at almost seven miles long; you could walk along it in high season and still enjoy most of it to yourself.
For those who write off Patong Beach almost as soon as they hear about its neon lights and go-go bars, Kata Beach is the perfect alternative. It ticks the boxes for soft sand, clean waters, a quieter vibe and still has plenty to do. The beach is a surfer’s paradise between March and October, and if you’re a snorkeller it’s just a short walk up and around the hill to Kata Beach’s its little quieter neighbour, Kata Noi. Grab a cold beer and soak up the laid-back buzz, then dust off the sand and get changed for dinner at a local eatery or upscale restaurant – a sunset view dinner at Kata Rocks and its swanky cliffside restaurant is the best way to end a day on the beach.