Six of the best: Lesser-known Thai islands

KOH KOOD

Remote and jungle-clad Koh Kood (aka Ko Kut) sits in the eastern Gulf of Thailand not far from Cambodia. Its beaches are whistle-clean and still mercifully free of jet-skis, and while Koh Kood might have no ATMs or Seven-Elevens, nor have its shores been strip-mined for tourism as in parts of neighbouring Koh Chang. The island's scattering of quality resorts includes beachfront Cham's House at Haad Takien and the sprawling Soneva Kiri (soneva.com/soneva-kiri). There's quality diving and snorkelling, some river kayaking, and just enough to do for visitors who don't want much to do. Fly to Trat, then transfer by ferry. See kohkood.com

KOH PHAYAM

Many Thais don't even know where this snoozy Andaman coast island is and one is almost reluctant to spill the beans. Phayam (pronounced "pie-am") has no cars or roads, only light motorcycles and footpaths. Instead of large hotels there are mostly bungalow resorts, the friendliest one being Bamboo Bungalows (bamboo-bungalows.com) at Aow Yai Beach on the languid west coast. The island has internet, fair food and empty beaches, and so far, few bars or full-moon freaks. It is too often admired with the hex, "Just like Phuket 30 years ago," so see Phayam before "progress" indeed Phukets it. Reach there by 40-minute speedboat from Ranong. See kohphayam.org

KOH SAMET

As the closest resort island to Bangkok, you might expect Koh Samet to be hectic with party people. Not so, in part because the island is a national park (which hasn't stopped them building dozens of resorts on it). Little Samet is off Rayong, in the Gulf, three hours' drive southeast of the capital. Its beaches are clean and relatively tranquil, and offer plenty of eating-drinking-music chances. Accommodation ranges from budget bungalows to upmarket resorts like Ao Prao (aopraoresortkohsamet.com). Mid-week is siesta-like but weekends are much busier with Bangkok escapees. Catch the ferry from Ban Phe pier; foreigners pay 400 baht ($14) park entrance fee. See kosamet.net

Thailand's most beautiful islands

From coral reefs and fish filled waters to discovering an ancient culture, we take you through the must-see islands of Thailand.

KOH YAO ISLANDS

The insular twins of Koh Yao Noi (Little Long Island) and Koh Yao Yai (Big Long Island) float amid those lavish, dreaming dragon isles of Phangnga Bay. Midway between (and a world apart from) Phuket and Krabi, the islands still run on slow-boat time and boast few beer bars or day spas. It's not a Robinson Crusoe experience, however, with both islands having several good resorts, such as Koh Yao Yai Village (kohyaoyaivillage.com) and the luxurious Six Senses Yao Noi (sixsenses.com/yao-noi). The beaches are nothing spectacular, but you can visit villages, rubber plantations and fish farms for a view of true island life. It's a one-hour boat trip from Phuket's Bang Rong. See phuket.com/island/kohyao

KOH SIMILAN 

Mu Koh Similan, a beautiful, nine-island archipelago in the Andaman Sea, north of Phuket, is a Thai marine national park whose waters, with visibility of up to 30 metres, offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in Asia. There are swim-throughs, superb corals and a huge variety of fish, including morays, mantas, grouper and reef sharks. Accommodation is limited to tents and a few bungalows on Koh Miang Island; book well ahead through an agent (khaolaklife.com/similan-islands) but avoid busy Thai holidays. Speedboats depart from Tap Lamu near Khao Lak, with the trip taking 90 minutes. The islands are open November to May but closed during monsoon. See similanislands.com

KOH SURIN

To the north of Koh Similan is another marine park group, the Edenic, densely forested Mu Koh Surin islands, whose only permanent dwellers are Moken "sea gypsies." Again, the main draw card for visitors is beneath the sea where the water, free of coastal run-off, is stunningly clear and there are special "underwater trails" for snorkelers. Divers on live-aboard boats see the very best of the area's reefs, as well as nearby Richelieu Rock with its whale sharks, rays and hammerheads. Island accommodation is limited to tent sites and several bungalows near the park headquarters on North Island; book well ahead (khaolaklife.com/surin-islands). Speedboats depart from Khuraburi for the 60-km, 90-minute crossing. The islands are open November to May. See surinislands.com

The writer travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the named accommodation.

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