If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I hate the rain. So why, you might ask, would I want to explore the beautiful Thai islands in the rainy season? Well, to be honest, that partly came down to lack of poor planning and research (I definitely didn’t realise what time of year it was) but also from the curiosity of visiting places in the low season. The benefits of travelling off-peak are well spoken about on the internet but I had never really done it. But it turns out that island hopping Thailand in the rainy season is bloomin’ awesome!
I spent a little over 2 weeks visiting Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and was struck down by how beautiful and unique they each were. If you’ve been following Escapes Etc for a while you will know that when I last visited Thailand I didn’t even give the islands a chance. I dismissed them as being full of party-goers which just isn’t my scene. Now I’ve visited however, I couldn’t have been more wrong, especially in the low season. So if you’re thinking about visiting the Thai islands, I’ve put together this guide to exploring the islands and why off-peak travel is the way to go.
Oh, by the way, it didn’t even rain that much!
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Where are these islands?
The 4 islands covered in this guide are located on the Southwest of Thailand (Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta) and the Southeast in the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan). Whilst being opposite sides of the country, they are easy to travel between.
When is the rainy season in Thailand?
There’s not a clearcut answer to when the rainy season hits Thailand as it varies throughout the country. Generally speaking, it runs from June to October in the southwest where Krabi, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta are, but it hits later (more around October to December) in the Gulf of Thailand where Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are.
I know I can only honestly comment on my own personal experience but there were very few days where it really poured down, and when it did, it usually wasn’t for the whole day. I didn’t find myself not being able to do the things I wanted to do and the islands were as much of a paradise as I had imagined them to be. It certainly wasn’t all grey skies and torrential rain.
The pros of visiting Thailand in the rainy season
- It’s blissfully quiet – I don’t mean it’s completely empty but from talking to people who live there, it’s a lot quieter than the high season. For Tom and I, this is our idea of perfect!
- Things are generally cheaper – It’s a well-known fact that low season = lower prices which is amazing if you’re travelling on a budget or looking for an amazing bargain. It’s the perfect time to indulge in somewhere extra special and have a luxe for less experience if you want a real treat.
- Businesses seem to be a little more flexible – This statement really does come from personal experience but there were a couple of occasions during our trip where circumstances changed and we contacted our accommodation asking for a change of dates and there was never a problem. I’m not trying to say that there would have definitely been a problem with things like this if it were the dry season, but I think it helped that it was quieter and businesses are not as booked out. However, don’t take this as a definite!
And the cons…
- Not everything is open in the low season – Some of the attractions on the islands don’t run during the rainy season and a lot of businesses use this quieter part of the year to do maintenance work. If there’s something in particular that you really want to do whilst you’re visiting, be sure to make sure it’s open beforehand to avoid disappointment.
- Things might be too quiet sometimes – Whilst I loved experiencing these islands at this time of year, there were a couple of times when it did feel a little too quiet. If you’re a solo traveller I would keep this in mind if you really like social atmospheres in hostels and bars.
A couple of other things to know before you go
When you arrive on each of these 4 islands, you will be required to pay a small ‘clean up fee’ to help clean up the island. be sure to have a small bit of cash to hand to pay when you get off the ferry. Also, if you’re looking to go to a full moon party over on Koh Phangan, I would recommend planning your trip around these dates and to book your accommodation in advance, even in the low season.
My guide to island hopping Thailand in the rainy season
Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi has arguably been made famous by the Leo DiCaprio film, the beach, and each year thousands of tourists visit the island. It really is a stunning place and you will have probably see places that you will recognise from photos. Tom and I visited when the Thai Full Moon party was going on over on Koh Phangan so it was a lot quieter on Phi Phi than usual. So if you’re looking for a more peaceful time in Koh Phi Phi, this is the time to visit!
It’s also worth noting that Maya Bay (the famous beach from ‘The Beach’ is closed indefinitely. There’s sadly been a lot of damage to the beach and reef from the thousands of tourists who visited it every day for many years that the authorities have closed it to give the environment time to recover.
How to get to Koh Phi Phi from Krabi
Catch the ferry from Krabi to Tonsai Pier on Koh Phi Phi. The journey takes about 1.5 hours and our tickets included a pick up from our hotel in Ao Nang to the ferry port in Krabi. The island you will be visiting is Koh Phi Phi Don.
Where to stay in Koh Phi Phi
The main backpacker area in Koh Phi Phi is called Tonsai Village and is small, so if you’re looking to base yourself there, you really can’t go to wrong. Search for places near Tonsai Pier and you’ll be sure to be right in the centre of everything. I opted to stay a street or 2 away from the bars and restaurants in a cheap and cheerful guesthouse called Harmony House. The room was big, clean had air con and the wifi was decent. If you’re travelling on a budget but still want comfort and a private room then I’d recommend here.
The best things to do in Koh Phi Phi
- Take a half day sunset boat tour around the islands – You will see signs for both the half day and full day tours all over the main area of the island and I would definitely recommend going one. I opted for a sunset half day tour which saw us visit Monkey Beach, Emerald Lagoon, Viking Cave, Shark Bay and finished off with a swim in the dark to see the plankton sparkling underwater. We also stopped off at a couple of snorkelling spots on the way and lunch was included too. The tour goes out on the famous longtail boats which are great fun too.
- Take a walk up to the viewpoint – You might have seen photos of this famous viewpoint and I can promise you it’s well worth the hike! I would recommend avoiding the midday heat for this as it involves quite a lot of stairs and little shade. There are actually 3 viewpoints to soak in the sights, along with a rather strange garden. There is a small entrance fee to visit the 1st and 2nd viewpoints and then another small fee to visit the 3rd. The 3rd viewpoint is a bit out of the way and you’ll need to walk along a dirt track to find it.
- Relax on the beach – Koh Phi Phi has a number of beautiful beaches to relax on and take a swim. Loh Dalum Bay is a popular beach located just the other side to Tonsai Village. It has beautiful white sand and warm clear water making it a great place to chill out. It also has a netted area dedicated for swimming where boats can’t enter and plenty of bars along it to grab a drink or bite to eat.
- Hit the shops – All around Tonsai Village you will find loads of markets and shops selling everything from clothes to bags to electronics. If you’re looking for a souvenir or something in particular, be sure to take a look around.
- Party – Yes, Koh Phi Phi is a party island so it’s not surprising that there are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. There’s a bit of everything here from the rowdy Irish bar to live music to small bar stalls on the street. If you’re looking to party then you’ll be fine here!
This sleepy little island feels a mile away from the bright lights and parties of Koh Phi Phi. It’s a great island to visit if you want to relax and also to explore an island that is a bit less touristy. Because it is a lot less popular at the moment, quite a few businesses are shut during the rainy season but I personally didn’t find this to be an issue.
How to get to Koh Lanta from Koh Phi Phi
Catch the one hour ferry from Tonsai Pier on Koh Phi Phi to Saladan Pier on Koh Lanta. The journey takes around 1 hour and cost us 350 Baht.
Where to stay in Koh Lanta
I was lucky enough to spend part of my time in Koh Lanta at one of the islands top resorts, the Crown Lanta. If you’re looking splash out on somewhere amazing to stay, this has to be the place! The resort is complete paradise and with a huge pool, private beach, cliff side bar and spa, it’s a true escape. You can read out my review from my stay here and check the rates here.
If you’re on a budget then be sure to check out Toongyoong Long Beach. The owner is a really lovely guy who couldn’t help us enough with all our questions and the little bungalows are brand new and really lovely.
The best things to do in Koh Lanta
- Chill out on Long Beach – This beach is 4km long and has glorious white sand. It’s a nice spot to relax on or take a swim.
- Visit Lanta Old Town – This part of the island is a great place to spend a couple of hours. It’s such a pretty little area and reminds me a little bit of Penang. Some of the buildings have been built on stilts over the water and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. There were some places that were shut for the low season but I actually think it would be a nice area to stay when things are more open in the high season. There is a small temple to see there as well as the fisherman’s pier from which you get a great view of the nearby smaller islands.
- Volunteer your time at Animal Lanta Welfare – This fantastic charity takes in stray cats and dogs to help improve their lives and provide a safe space where they can be treated and looked after before hopefully being adopted. The focus a lot on trying to control the population of these animals on the island as they are often not de-sexed for cultural reasons but at the same time seen as a nuisance to many. There are a number of ways you can help out ranging from providing toys for he puppies or even spending a few weeks or months there volunteering. If you don’t have the time to commit to helping long-term, you can visit during the day between 8.30-11.00am and 3.00-5.00pm to have a tour around and to also take a dog for a walk.
- Visit the South of the island – This area is far more untouched than the area around Long Beach and is beautiful. The roads are lined with green trees and the beaches at the bottom are pristine.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui is famous for it beautiful beautiful beaches and a great holiday destination if you’re looking for an amazing resort to escape to. It’s the second largest Thai island and does have it’s own airport if you wanted to fly into it. If not, keep reading to find out how to get there overland.
How to get from Koh Samui from Koh Lanta
One thing I didn’t initially realise is that Koh Lanta is actually super to the mainland. I bought a ticket that took me the whole way from Koh Lanta to Koh Samui and the journey pretty much took the whole day. I was picked up in a minibus and taken across the small stretch of water between Koh Lanta and the mainland via the Raja ferry. The minibus can go on it as well so there was no need to change buses. Once on the mainland, it took about 4 hours to drive across to Surat Thani on the west coast where the boats leave to get to Koh Samui. The ferry then took a whopping 2.5 hours which was a lot longer than I thought but it can be a bit tricky as there are multiple ferry ports on Koh Samui. My top tip here is to check which port your ferry is going to in relation to your accommodation. For me, the ferry arrived at the opposite side of the island to where I was staying so it was an additional cost to catch a taxi to my accommodation.
Where to stay in Koh Samui
Chaweng beach is the most popular area for travellers to stay in Koh Samui and it offers plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. Tom and I stayed at the Samui Hostel in a private room but they also have dorm rooms available if you prefer. The staff were lovely and the room we were in was huge. It’s another cheap and cheerful option for budget minded travellers.
The best things to do in Koh Samui
- Visit Chaweng Beach – The main town of Chaweng has sprung up around this beautiful beach and it’s well worth taking some time out to relax on it. It’s a pretty big beach and there are loads of bars lining it to really chill out.
- Join the buzz of Chaweng Walking Street – Ok, so it’s kind of laid out more like a courtyard than a street as such, but the Chaweng Walking Street is a great place to go to try local food and have a cocktail. There are 2 big areas full of restaurants to choose from and it gets pretty busy in the evenings. It has a really fun atmosphere and the food is great!
- Experience Thai culture – Just a few kilometres from Chaweng you’ll find the magnificent Big Buddha and the nearby Wat Plai Laem. The huge golden Buddha sits at the top of a flight of stairs and overlooks the beautiful turquoise sea surrounding it. Just another kilometre down the road you’ll find wat Plai Laem which is a temple complex and equally as stunning. I actually think this was one of my favourite temples I’ve seen from my time in Southeast Asia.
- Take a dip at Na Mueang Waterfall – If you’re looking to get away from the beach for a bit, be sure to head to this beautiful waterfall. There are 2 levels to Na Mueang which can both be reached on foot from a path through the forest. The water is blissfully refreshing on a hot sticky day!
- Visit the Grandmother and Grandfather rocks – Ok, so I do think this is a bit overrated after visiting here myself but the Grandmother and Grandfather rocks (aka the penis rock) does have some of the Thai culture embedded within it. If you’re going that way at some point, you might as well swing by.
- Relax at Crystal Bay – If you’re looking to escape the bustle of Chaweng, Crystal Bay is the place to go. This beautiful shallow area is made up of crystal clear water and is perfect for swimming and snorkelling. I had a hard time leaving this place!
- Visit the Fishermans Village market – I loved this place in Bophut in Koh Samui! Here you’ll find tonnes of more up-market bars and restaurants throughout the week as well as tonnes of markets to grab a bargain from. Every Friday they have the walking street which is an awesome market for souvenirs and also street food to get a tasty bite to eat for cheap.
I think it’s safe to say that this island is famed for its Thai Full moon parties, and half moon parties.. and even the black moon parties. Yes it is the party island but that doesn’t make up everything this beautiful island has to offer.
How to get from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan
There are 2 types of boats available to take you between these islands. There is the faster and more expensive catamaran which takes a short 30 minutes, or the slower and of course cheaper boat that takes an hour. I took the slow boat and it was absolutely fine. The boats arrive at Thong Sala pier on Koh Phangan.
Where to stay in Koh Phangan
There are 2 main backpacker areas to stay in Koh Phangan – Thong Sala which is the quieter area, or the Had Rin beach area where the full moon parties are held. We chose to stay in Thong Sala at the Patchara Boutique Hotel which is mostly made up of private rooms and even has a small pool. However, I wish I had actually stayed closer to Had Rin to be closer to the beach as there was no nice beach in Thong Sala to enjoy.
The best things to do in Koh Phangan
- Eat at the Thong Sala food market – Every night the food market comes alive with stalls selling local dishes as well as a couple of vegan-friendly and pizza places. I ended up having most of my food from here has it’s just such a great selection and nice and fresh.
- Relax on the famous Had Rin beach – This beach is known for hosting the full moon parties but aside from this, the beach is actually stunning. I was really surprised by how clean it was and the water is perfect for swimming in. There are plenty of bars along the beachfront if you fancy a drink too.
- Stop to see the viewpoint on the way to Had Rin – You’ll have to pull over on the side of the road, but the hills leading to Had Rin make for an awesome view over the coastline!
- Chill out at Koh Ma Beach – This beach is lined with resorts and is super nice. As with Had Rin, it’s great for swimming and relaxing. The beach here narrows before going off onto a spit of land making it a bit different from the other beaches on the island.
Thank you so much for reading this guide on how to visit Thailand in the rainy season, I hope you found it useful! Just to let you know, this guide contains affiliate links from which I earn a small commission if you buy from them, at no extra cost to you.