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16th Feb 2013 1:44pm | By Helen Elfer
Whether you want a wild night raving on the sands, beach sports galore or just a swaying hammock, head to Thailand’s islands
Many backpackers associate Thailand primarily with mountains of piping hot pad Thai, ridiculously cheap Chang beer and the odd ping-pong show – and, well, they’re not far wrong.
But after a few nights in the chaos of Bangkok there are an infinite number of ways to spend the rest of your time in Thailand, namely by heading to one of the many idyllic islands dotted around the coast.
Here you’ll find everything from specialist diving sites, golden Buddhas, extreme beach sports, snorkeling and secluded beaches to spots to swim with sharks.
Oh, and naturally, plenty more places to party very, very hard indeed. So sling your flip flops into your bag and head to one of these perfect island paradises.
You can hop between them, stay for a month on your favourite or just arrive and see how you feel once you’re there with hot sand underneath your toes – you might decide to never leave ...
Best for: Diving
Practically every list of the world’s top diving locations rates the Similan Islands near the top, and that’s because they have some of the most jaw-dropping underwater sights.
The archipelago of nine islands is a National Marine Park with calm, clear waters (up to 30m visibility) that are just ideal for underwater explorations.
The west coast is famous for its huge granite boulders that peek above the water’s surface and drop up to 50m underwater, creating tunnels and swim-throughs for divers to investigate.
Keep an eye out for the clown triggerfish and the whitetip reef sharks here, along with rare oriental sweetlips and harlequin sweetlips (both psychedelic-looking creatures).
On the east coast of the island there are lush coral gardens with sea anemones and a wide variety of reef fish, and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of ghost pipefish, sea moths, frogfish and ribbon eels.
Of the many famous dive sites here, Elephant Head, East of Eden and Christmas Point are three of the most popular.
What else? The best beach in Thailand is, naturally, hotly disputed, but many agree that Donald Duck Bay on Koh Similan, the most developed of the nine islands, is a strong contender.
It’s so named because you can see a huge boulder out to sea that is bizarrely shaped a lot like the cartoon character.
If you want a few hours’ break from diving, this is a great place to lay down your towel and enjoy the scenery.
Best for: Full moon parties
Haad Rin, the beach on the far south of Koh Pha Ngan, is notorious for having the wildest, most debauched full moon parties in Thailand.
Long-standing traditions for a night out here include tripping out on magic mushroom shakes (not that we’d recommend it), drinking buckets (yes, actual buckets) of Sang Som rum with Thailand’s lethal Red Bull, painting faces with fluorescent squiggles, jumping through burning skipping ropes and watching fire poi … in no particular order, but always followed by a rave on the beach that lasts until the sun comes up.
What else? If you’re feeling a little toxic after a few days of partying here, give the boozing a break and make the most of all the sports.
There are two Muay Thai boxing schools on the island where you can sign up for lessons (kobramuaythai.com) or you can join in games of beach football, table tennis or volleyball at sundown on most of the bigger beaches.