The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Island Hopping in Thailand

The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Island Hopping in Thailand

Hi friends! I have recently gotten back from a two-week island-hopping adventure in Thailand that were probably two of my favorite and most fun weeks abroad. I am currently sitting here, second week back at school, already finding ways that I can go back.

Before I went on this trip, I googled many itineraries on island-hopping and found the following islands to be the most feasible, backpacker, and budget friendly. This is a loose itinerary, because honestly you can mix this up however it works best for you and your travels. As you will notice, I haven’t included the islands in the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui, Koh Phagnan, Koh Tao), so this post will focus specifically on the islands on the Andaman coast.

Our 12-day Itinerary

Flight to –> Phuket (4 nights)

Ferry to –> Krabi Aonang (2 nights)

Ferry to –> Koh Lanta (2 nights)

Ferry to –>  Koh Phi Phi (2 nights)

Ferry to –> Krabi Town (1 night)

Bus to –> Bangkok

How to Get Around

Flying

Thailand is surprisingly quite a large country, so if you are coming to the islands from Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Laos, Vietnam, wherever – I would 100% recommend flying.

The two airlines I recommend for getting to Phuket would be Air Asia or Vietjet, since these are typically the cheapest.

My friends and I found a flight through Vietjet Air from Bangkok to Phuket that was $10 one-way. Yes, you read correctly, $10. Granted when we researched the airline it had some of the worst reviews we’ve ever read and we weren’t sure we were going to make it to Phuket alive, BUT this turned out to be one of the smoothest flights I’ve had. I’m actually going to be flying them again tomorrow, so let’s see if luck can strike twice.

ANYWHO, yes definitely fly there if you can because if not you’ll be stuck on a smelly bus, which brings me to your next option.

Bus

You can take overnight buses/all-day buses to these destinations, which you can either book online or just buy at the bus station. Keep in mind that these are definite you-get-what-you-pay-for options and you will be met with confirmation e-mails like this:

“That’s life!” … at least you can appreciate the honesty.

So, my friend and I decided to take a bus home (Bangkok) from Krabi instead of flying because it was way cheaper. We knew it was going to suck, but we’re teachers and on a strict Thai-salary budget.

Do I regret this decision? Yes.

I have previously taken a bus from Chicago to the border of Mexico and even this was comparable to the misery of that trip. We were on the bus for 14 hours and they only stopped the bus once at 11am (we got on at 8am and didn’t get home until 11pm) to feed us 6 pieces of chicken between 10 people. They also blasted the A/C, so I was basically an ice cube by the end of the trip.

Moral of the story: If you have the money, fly.

Ferries

Once you actually get to the islands, ferries are going to be your main source of transportation. I booked all of my ferries through phuketferry.com.

Should you book online in advance like I did? NOPE.

I wish I didn’t because I ended up spending way more money than I should have. When you are island-hopping, book your ferry when you get to your destination. Your hostels will have much cheaper options for booking ferries to other islands, and the likeliness that the ferries will be sold out are very slim. If anything, just use phuketferry.com as a time reference. Ferries can cost anywhere from 200-700 baht and last up to three hours depending on where you go.

The Islands

I’ll admit to you that I am the world’s worst planner, and that before we went to the islands we literally did not have one plan set in place. Therefore, there’s much more to see than what I have listed below, but it can be used as a good start. Below I have included the things we actually ended up seeing, recommendations of what I wish we did see, and where you can stay. I honestly recommend going without a rigid plan, because that’s the beauty of backpacking…right guys?

Phuket

Freedom Beach

In this case, freedom was not free and you have to pay a 200 baht entry. The fee was an unfortunate surprise, but it was worth it. You can get here by tuk-tuk or longboat (from Patong beach).

Karon Beach

We went here because it was right across from our hostel. It’s not the most beautiful beach I’ve seen in Thailand, but it does the job!

Bangla Road

I would say this is the classier version of Khao San Road. It is one road packed with bars and backpackers all looking to have a good time. Definitely come here if you want a fun night out!

Other places/things of interest: Big Buddha, Tiger Temple, Nai Harn Beach, Day trip Phang Nga Bay

Where we stayed

Squareone Hostel Patong- 3 bed private room 593 baht ($16.70 USD) for two nights

Doolay Hostel– 8 bed mixed dorm 1000 baht ($28 USD) for two nights

Sidenote: If you guys can stay here DO IT! This hostel is right on Karon beach, incredibly clean, and worth the price (despite it being a little pricier than other hostels on the island). This was by far my favorite hostel experience I’ve ever had.

We were there on Christmas, and Christmas away from family is never easy. This was my third Christmas away from home, but somehow this hostel managed to make the holiday one of the best I’ve ever had. They gave us free food (that was comparable to my family’s Christmas dinner) and unlimited booze the whole night. Let me reiterate: for free. Seriously these owners were some of the kindest I’ve ever met. And notable mention that Thailand is a Buddhist country that doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, so they really went out of their way to make us happy.

Krabi Aonang

Railay Beach

I am convinced this beach is where the dinosaurs roamed. It is breathtaking, and surrounded by rock formations that will blow your mind.

Aonang Beach

A good alternative to Railay if you don’t feel like spending the money to go out to Railay. They still have the incredible rock formations, and a sunset that literally took my breath away.

Other places/things of interest: Tonsai Beach, Renting Kayaks, and the Princess Cave

Where we stayed

Aonang Backpacker Hostel – 6 bed female dorm 800 baht ($22 USD) for 2 nights

Where you should stay: Slumber Party Hostel. Why? Nicer accommodation and true backpacker hostel- they have a fairly cheap bar crawl and free BBQ basically every night.

Koh Lanta

Long Beach

The main beach on the island, and this beach is STUNNING. White sand, not crowded, and, as you may have guessed, sunset views that you can’t beat.

Reggae Bar at Crown Lanta Resort 

This bar is in a resort, but you don’t actually have to be staying at the resort to go here. It’s expensive, but they do have a happy hour that has buy one get one free drinks and the sunset makes it worth it!

The Treehouse Bar on Long Beach

Literally a bar in a treehouse. Fun for live music and drinks aren’t too expensive!

Where we stayed

Non La Mer Hostel- 6 bed mixed dorm 960 baht ($27 USD) for two nights

*My second favorite hostel of the trip. They have a bar downstairs that is co-owned by the hostel with a great backpacker vibe and cheap drinks as well.

Koh Phi Phi

PP Princess Resort Pool

If you’re not a hotel guest the entry fee here is 200 baht. My friends and I didn’t actually pay and just stayed there until a staff member figured out we weren’t actually guests sooo you can take your gamble!

Banana Bar

This bar has a really chill atmosphere with a great rooftop bar/happy hour. Happy hour doesn’t only include drinks, but food as well. It has great views of Loh Dalam Bay and you can watch the sunset from here as well!

Other places/things of interest: Phi-Phi Viewpoint, boat cruise to Maya Bay (where they filmed The Beach), and Captain Bob’s Sailing Booze Cruise

Where we stayed: Centerpoint Hostel – 12 bed mixed dorm 800 baht ($22 USD) for two nights

Where you should stay: Slinky Hostel. Why? Much nicer accommodation, good price, and right on the beach.

Krabi Town

This was just a stopover point for us, so I can’t be much help for recommendations! There is a walking street that we stumbled upon and it has a great market that I definitely recommend checking out.

Where we stayed

Thaksin Grand Home Hostel- Private room 400 baht ($11 USD) for 1 night

Where you should stay: Thaksin served its purpose, but it was run down, had no backpacker vibe, and it’s far away from the city center. I recommend Pak-Up Hostel. Why? Backpacker vibe, great reviews and in the center.

The Total Cost?

All transportation (flight and bus included) and hostels: 8347 baht ($233 USD) total

All food and drinking-induced decisions: ???

Probably spent a lot more than I should have, but lucky for you, you’re not me. Thailand is so cheap that you can spend so much less than I did. Expect to pay an average of 100-150 baht ($3-4 USD) per meal and 80-150 baht for drinks.

Tip: Thailand doesn’t have an open container law (well not that I noticed), so if you’re on the islands it’s much better to just buy drinks from the local 7-11 and spend your money elsewhere.

Further Tips

Bargaining

Bargaining and traveling in Thailand come hand-in-hand. All of the taxi/longboat/tuk-tuk drivers/shop owners you come across will give you a foreigners price. You should know from the start that they are ripping you off, and it is normal to fire back with a lower price. You won’t always get them to budge, but more often than not you’ll get a better deal.

Partying

The islands are so much fun, but know the risks that go along with this party-scene. The Thai legal system is not one you want to mess with, so be careful with your decisions! Don’t ruin your experience over dumb impulse-decisions.

Staying safe

This is mostly in regards to ferries since I found the islands themselves to be incredibly safe. Take a good look at the ferries before you go. If you clearly see that they look unsafe, go with another company. Also, look at the weather for the day because there’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of the sea in a storm.

All in all, you are going to have the time of your life! Thailand has turned into possibly my favorite country to travel through, and the islands are a big part of what has made me come to think this. If you have any questions, shoot me a comment in the section below.

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3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Island Hopping in Thailand”

  • 1
    Scarlett on January 30, 2017 Reply

    “Arrival time is for reference only.” Bbbbhahahah! I feel like every bus in Italy should come with that warning!

    • 2
      Finding Bridget on January 30, 2017 Reply

      Right?! Too funny, couldn’t believe they actually e-mailed us that!

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