Search for the best beaches in Thailand and you’ll be inundated with articles aimed at folks on their two-week vacation. Busy beaches built up with fancy resorts offering all-inclusive packages dominate these lists.
Trust me when I say; these beaches are NOT the undiscovered paradises that the website(s) would have you believe. They’re on the first page of google FFS! (Scroll to the bottom of this article to find some of those!)
Whilst it’s true that many of Thailand’s beaches have been discovered, developed and inundated with tourists, don’t lose heart – there are DEFINITELY some hidden gems out there!
To find them, we asked our readers for help! At South East Asia Backpacker, we are only a small team but we have thousands of adventurous readers who love getting off the beaten track! They were more than happy to tell us about the best Thai beaches they’ve discovered on their travels.
Below we list 10 Thailand Beaches that you may not have heard of, and further down, 5 Super Popular Thailand Beaches, that are awesome, but can be found on every list on the Internet!
Tip – If you want to share your opinions about Southeast Asia’s hidden gems or have questions about backpacking in Southeast Asia, head over to our Facebook community page!
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Thailand Beaches – 10 of the Best!
1. Ao Manao (Lime Bay), Prachuap Khiri Khan
- Located: Prachuap Khiri Khan, Gulf of Thailand (on the mainland)
- Best for: Those looking for a unique Thai experience
Ao Manao, or Lime Bay, has made this list not just because of its white powdery sand, turquoise waters and stunning jungle covered islands floating on the horizon but also its unique location. To get to the bay, you must follow the road through Wing 5, the Thai Royal Airforce base. There aren’t many countries that allow their own citizens, let alone foreigners, to traipse through a military base just to get to a great beach!
Due to the location, it’s supposed to be compulsory for foreigners to sign in on their way to the beach. The guard on duty may check your ID but it all depends on how diligent they are feeling that day. These rules do not apply to Thai nationals so don’t think you are being picked on if asked!
Ao Manao is a popular destination for Thai locals, especially during long weekends and national holidays. If you want to experience this beach at a quiet time, head there during the week and avoid spending time there during festivals and holidays.
Thanks to its location on an active Air Force base, vendors and touts are not allowed to operate on the beach. The only people allowed to sell their wares are the families who live on the base. Recent reports suggest that these rules have been loosened, or at least no one can be bothered to enforce them anymore!
Finally, there is a small group (about 200) of Dusky Leaf Monkeys that live near the beach. Whilst less aggressive and pushy than other monkeys, these guys will still help themselves to any food you leave lying about whilst swimming or sunbathing. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Where to Stay Near Ao Manao
2. Nang Thong Beach, Khao Lak
- Located: Khao Lak, Andaman Coast
- Best for: Couples looking for a romantic beach getaway
Calm shallow waters, light golden sand and an impressive mountain backdrop make Nang Thong Beach a popular spot with tourists and locals alike. Whilst commercial development in the area has been growing year on year, most of the “beach front” resorts aren’t actually on the beach. Even the closest are still set a little way back, which keeps the beach from feeling over touristy.
The incredible sunsets that occur night after night make this the perfect place to bring a partner and enjoy a romantic stay away.
Umbrellas are scarce on Nang Thong Beach but this isn’t to say shade is hard to find. The jungle vegetation butts right up against the sand and provides plenty of protection from the scorching sun. Set back in the trees you will find chairs and sun loungers that you can rent super cheap!
Unlike the idyllic Thai beaches on magazine covers, Nang Thong Beach has a number of rocky patches jutting up out of the sand and from the water. Thankfully, the sea is so clear that you can avoid them easily when swimming. On the beach, rocks break the long stretch of sand up into a series of mini beaches that help you forget there are other people around.
Strong currents can appear in the sea at certain times of year so pay attention to any warning flags and if in doubt, check with a local before entering the water.
Where to stay near Nang Thong Beach
3. Phra Nang Cave Beach, Railay
- Located: Railay, Krabi
- Best for: Interesting shrines…
Phra Nang Cave Beach is one of the most picturesque beaches you will find anywhere in Thailand. It’s one of four that make up the Railay Peninsula and because of the stunning limestone cliffs, can only be accessed by boat. If you’ve seen pictures of Thailand’s beaches, I’d bet my house on the fact you’ve seen pictures of the Railay Peninsula. Don’t actually take me up on that bet though – I don’t own a house.
Whilst each beach on the peninsula is covered in soft, powdery sand, home to flat turquoise waters and enclosed in dramatic limestone formations, Phra Nang Cave Beach has a very unique selling point. It contains a treasure trove of wooden penis statues… Yes, you read that right. Penis statues!
Housed in Princess Cave, a shrine to fertility, there are hundreds if not thousands of wooden phalluses. The legend goes that a mysterious sea princess lives in this cave and by leaving offerings, fishermen can guarantee a safe and productive trip on the ocean. The offerings don’t just include penis statues though, many ribbons and non-phallic carvings can also be found littering the cave.
Couples hoping to have children will also visit the cave to leave offerings, hoping the princess will help them conceive. At the entrance to the cave, there is a note stating that the princess will only help you IF you follow three basic rules:
- You will refrain from causing pollution in the world.
- You will not harm nature.
- If you see any harm to nature you will immediately attempt to get rid of it.
Even if you’re not interested in having kids or making a successful fishing trip, these rules are something we should all be implementing more of in our lives.
Where to stay near Phra Nang Cave Beach
4. Ton Sai Beach, Krabi
- Located: Krabi (West coast of Thailand)
- Best for: Rock climbers and backpackers
Much like Phra Nang Cave Beach, Ton Sai Beach is found on the Railay Peninsular and is most easily accessible by boat or by clambering through the jungle. This involves a couple of steep scrambles so is not recommended if you’ve got a lot of gear or if the weather is bad!
Compared to the other beaches on the Railay Peninsular, Ton Sai is much quieter but still has a massive backpacker vibe. Accommodation prices are low, beer is cheap and the smell of weed hangs in the air. Whilst Thailand’s beaches get more and more popular amongst travellers of all ages, Ton Sai remains the realm of the 20 something backpacker. Adrenaline junkies flock here for the challenge of climbing the limestone cliffs and backpackers come to soak up the atmosphere at one of the beach bars.
Development has begun on Ton Sai beach and there is now a wall that divides a section of the beach off as part of a private resort. Graffiti covers the outside of this wall, showing that the hippy spirit remains strong by those who live on or visit Ton Sai Beach.
Where to stay near Ton Sai Beach
5. Bottle Beach (Haad Khuad), Koh Phangan
- Located: Island of Koh Phangan (North), Gulf of Thailand
- Best for: Jungle hikers
When most of us think of Koh Phangan, one thing springs to mind, Full Moon Parties. The reality of the island is quite different. Sure, the parties attract thousands of visitors each month, many of whom are searching for a night of inebriation and debauchery but the island holds many peaceful spots in which you can relax, do yoga, meditate or enjoy a cold beer whilst watching the sunset.
Bottle Beach (or Haad Khuad in Thai) is a prime example of Koh Phangan at its most laid back. You can only get to the beach by hiking through the jungle from Chaloklum or via long tail boat. The hike takes around 2 hours but expect that to be longer if you’ve got a lot of stuff. It’s not the easiest of treks but is safe enough providing you are careful. Boats leave from many spots around Koh Phangan but the most frequent also leave from Chaloklum.
The beach isn’t as quiet as it once was but that doesn’t mean it’s crowded, you can easily find an out of the way spot, making it easy to pretend you are in your own tropical paradise. If you are lucky enough to spend more than a single day here, make the most of the empty beach in the mornings before the day trippers arrive or in the evening, after they have all left.
Where to stay on Bottle Beach
6. Mae Haad Beach, Koh Phangan
- Located: North Koh Phangan
- Best for: Those wanting a lot of space
Found in the north of the island, Mae Haad Beach is a firm favourite among beach lovers, including our very own Nikki Scott. The beach is popular year-round but even with a large number of visitors, it’s easy to find your own space thanks to the sheer amount of space available.
The soft white sand stretches on for close to 2.5 kilometres and culminates with great views of the island Koh Ma just off the northern end of the beach. At low tide, it is possible to cross a sandbar to reach this tiny island which provides a great place to hike, scramble, snorkel or just find a nice isolated spot in which to spend the day lounging.
Bars, restaurants, shops and masseuses stretch along the main Mae Haad beach so whatever you need from your beach day you can find easily. I must admit, I am partial to a Thai massage whilst listening to the waves gently lap against the shore!
Where to stay near Mae Haad Beach
7. Maenam Beach, Koh Samui
- Located: North of Koh Samui Island, Gulf of Thailand
- Best for: Space and tranquillity (Or golf if that’s your thing)
Lined with lush green palms and with beautiful views of Koh Phangan, Maenam Beach is one of the quieter stretches of beach on Koh Samui. That’s not to say it’s deserted, that’s far from the case but the 7 kilometres of unbroken golden sand are home to far fewer resorts and businesses than other popular locations around the island. This means it is just a short walk to your own quiet patch.
The sand itself is a tad courser than we are used to finding in Thailand but it is still comfortable on your bare feet, so don’t use that as an excuse to skip out on your morning walk or run!
Maenam Village is set back around 200 m from the beach and although it is being developed now, it had been left in a sort of limbo for the last couple of decades. The famous Thai beach bungalows still dominate the accommodation scene whereas many other towns and villages around the island are filled with sprawling resorts. There is also a golf course nearby, so if you’re getting bored with lazing on the beach, you can spend a day on the green as well!
Don’t expect to find a heavy night out without travelling a little way out of the village, the whole place shuts down by 11pm each night leaving you plenty of opportunity to get a good night’s sleep before getting up early to enjoy the deserted morning beach!
Where to stay near Maenam Beach
8. Donald Duck Bay, Similan Islands
- Located: Similan Islands
- Best for: Beginner level divers.
Named after a rocky outcropping that looks a bit like Donald Duck (I don’t actually think it looks anything like the character but does sort of resemble a duck if you squint particularly hard), the bay is stunningly beautiful, with all the things you’d expect from a Thai beach paradise. Rocky outcrops, palm trees, calm turquoise water and white powdery sand all come together to create a truly idyllic beach.
The downside of this dream beach is that people know about it and it sees boat loads of visitors every day. If you’re looking for solitude, this is not the beach for you. Live aboard dive tours use the sheltered bay to moor up overnight but it offers far more to divers than just a protected place to sleep.
The shallow (by diving standards), clear waters are an amazing place for beginner divers to literally get their feet wet and offers the chance to see Green Turtles, Manta Rays and Barracuda. Octopuses also populate the reef in droves but they are notoriously hard to spot. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled!
If you are feeling brave enough, you can dive in Donald Duck Bay at night, to see how the marine life differs when the sun goes down. If you’re not into or can’t afford to go scuba diving, this is also a great spot for snorkelling as the calm waters are super easy to navigate.
Finally, if you just don’t want to spend all day in the water, you can hike up from the gorgeous beach up to the Donald Duck outcrop for a great view over the bay!
There is no accommodation nearby and the only way to get to the beach is via a pretty expensive boat trip or by being on one of the liveaboard tours.
9. Bamboo Beach, Koh Lanta
- Located: The furthest southern beach of Koh Lanta (before the National Park begins)
- Best for: Nature lovers
If you’re looking for an unspoilt beach, covered in white powdery sand and hemmed in by jungle covered mountains, look no further than Bamboo Beach on the southern part of Koh Lanta. There is only a small handful of buildings anywhere near the beach which keeps this spot free from hordes of tourists and allows many animals to still call this beach home.
On the southern end of the island, within the national park, Bamboo beach remains one of the quietest spots on Koh Lanta, if you want to know what Thailand felt like 20 years ago, this is the place to see it!
Only recently was a paved road put in but this hasn’t created a massive influx of tourists. Even the resorts located near the beach are small and made up almost entirely of bungalows.
Top Tip: Keep an eye out for Jellyfish when swimming!
Where to stay near Bamboo Beach, Koh Lanta
10. Mai Khao Beach, Phuket
- Located: North of Phuket
- Best for: Finding a quiet spot on Phuket
Mai Khao is the longest beach in Phuket, at just a sliver over 11 kilometres. Whilst some parts of the beach are quite built up, you can easily walk past these and find kilometres of empty golden sand. Just don’t forget your water. There aren’t a lot of facilities on the quieter stretches.
Pollution and rubbish have been a persistent problem in places along Mai Khao beach but in recent years, local efforts have cleaned up the worst areas. Hotels and resorts often clean the beaches directly around them as well so the two combined clean up jobs are having a marked impact on the area. If you are keen to get involved, read more about becoming a trashpacker.
You may hear locals referring to Mai Khao Beach as Sanambin Beach or Airport Beach. Planes flying into the nearby Phuket Airport fly so low over the beach you can easily wave to the passengers onboard as they skim over your head. If you’ve never seen a plane flying up close, seek out to the point closest to the airport, it really is amazing to see. Be warned though, the planes are super loud!
Man Khao beach used to be prime nesting territory for leatherback turtles but poaching and pollution have forced the turtles to seek beaches further away from people. One day a year, during Songkran Festival, a bunch of baby turtles are released along the beach. If you are lucky enough to be in Phuket during this time, talk to some locals to find out when and where the release will take place, it might be your only chance to see these amazing creatures!
Where to stay near Mai Khao Beach
5 Thailand Beaches on Every List!
While the beaches below are certainly not ‘undiscovered’, we felt that we simply had to list them! You’ll find them on most of the lists of ‘best Thailand beaches’ on the internet and while they shouldn’t be avoided, we do suggest that you check out some of the above beaches first!
1. Kata Noi Beach, Phuket
- Located: Southwest of Phuket
- Best for: Luxury hotels and amazing views
Kata Noi is the smallest of three consecutive bays and slightly more hidden than its two larger siblings. That’s not to say it’s hard to find but it would also be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it.
Wide golden sands and warm azure waters make this beach popular year round. The mid-sized but consistent waves mean Kata Noi the perfect place to learn to surf or for more experienced surfers to hone their craft. Lifeguards work on the beach every day as the currents can be strong and unpredictable, so keep an eye on the warning flags when in the water.
The main downside of this beach is a common story for beautiful beaches the world over. Tourists. Whilst the view out to see is one of the best that we’ve ever seen, turn around and all you can see is hotels. This is not the isolated paradise that some backpackers are looking for but is a great place to stay if you can afford the luxury hotels that peer out over the bay.
Be aware, although the beach is surrounded by buildings and facilities, the hotels are very strict on who can use their restaurants, bars and showers. If you’re not a guest, don’t bother trying and instead look for the independent businesses that run along the beach.
No matter whether you want to sip a tasty cocktail on the sand, get a Thai massage, surf, jet ski or even jump on a banana boat, Kata Noi has something to offer!
Where to stay near Kata Noi Beach
2. Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi
- Located: Koh Phi Phi
- Best for: Fans of The Beach
This list would not be complete without the addition of Maya Bay, possibly the most famous beach in Thailand, if not the world. Even before the release of one of my favourite travel movies, The Beach, Maya Bay was a popular spot amongst backpackers in Thailand. It was only after the film that knowledge of this stunning bay appeared on the radar for the rest of the world.
It’s easy to see why Danny Boyle chose this spot as the location for the film. The towering stone cliffs that enclose the bay on three sides offer up the softest sand I have ever experienced – not to mention the phosphorescent plankton make the bay the closest real world interpretation of the beach in Alex Garland’s signature novel. Check out this post for more great books set in Southeast Asia!
Sadly, with the release of the film, the popularity of Maya Bay exploded and up to 4000 tourists a day were boating in to experience the magic of the bay for themselves. The sheer number of boats and people visiting, as well as the damage caused by the actual film crew, have left the bay hurting. The coral reefs started dying off, the marine life left and the beach eroded faster than you can get a coconut cocktail down your neck.
Due to the severe environmental impact on the area, the Thai government decided to close Maya Bay to visitors in 2018. It is due to reopen towards the end of 2020, but as the initial closure was only supposed to be a few months, this may well be pushed back again.
Once it reopens, if you get a chance to visit Maya Bay in a sustainable way, I implore you to do so. It is a place that you will not forget in a hurry!
Where to stay near Maya Bay
3. Long Beach, Koh Lanta
- Located: West coast of Koh Lanta
- Best for: Digital nomads
As the name suggests, Long Beach is pretty long. At 4 kilometres it’s not the longest beach in Thailand, or on this list for that matter but it would still take you a couple of hours of walking along the white sand to get from one end to the other.
Long Beach is lined with vibrant green vegetation that creates a great place to hide away from the midday sun but be warned, the temperatures can be roasting even in the shade! The azure waters are warm all year round, so you can jump in for a swim anytime.
Small locally owned bars and restaurants are plentiful along the length of the beach but they are far enough apart that you can still find plenty of nice quiet spots to set yourself up for the day. Even though these establishments are all well priced for your average backpacker, cheaper meals can be found just a short walk further inland where street food vendors sell all your favourite Thai meals!
There’s even a massive co-working space called Ko Hub nearby, making this one of the best beach destinations for digital nomads!
Just south of Long beach are a couple of smaller bays that, although still populated with bungalows and the odd small restaurant, are even quieter!
Where to stay near Long Beach
4. Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe
- Located: Northwest coast of Koh Lipe
- Best for: Perfect sunset photos!
Sunrise Beach is without a doubt one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever have the pleasure of setting your eyes upon. It’s so picture perfect that it might just ruin beaches for you forever!
At less than 1 kilometre in length, the beach is pretty small and it takes less than half an hour to walk from one end to the other. There is plenty of shade on offer from the vegetation that is only a short dash away from the calm, shallow waters.
Bobbing lazily just off the beach are traditional long tail boats, used for fishing and transport around Thai islands. A little further out, you are treated to views of small jungle covered islands. Sunrise Beach really is an instagram fantasy world!
In the last few years there have been more and more hotels, bars and restaurants popping up along the beach front but even with these, the crowds are not so big (yet!). I’m sure with time that more and more people will want to visit this magical place so get in quick before it loses all of its charm!
Where to stay near Sunrise Beach
5. Emerald Cave
- Located: Koh Mook (also spelt Koh Muk)
- Best for: Cave lovers!
Whilst Koh Muk is still quite off the beaten track, Emerald Cave is becoming a more and more popular spot for backpackers. The beach itself is quite unremarkable and can be overcrowded at peak times. However, the beach access point is the real draw.
The only way to get to the beach is to get a boat from either Koh Lanta or from Koh Muk itself. You may be surprised when your boat stops off at the base of a towering, vegetation covered cliff and the captain ushers you to jump out. Don’t be alarmed, this isn’t some weird kidnap plot playing out!
The only way to get to the beach is to swim close to 100 metres through a dark cave, this is not possible at high tide so be careful to make it out again before the tides change!
As you reach the far side of the cave, you will notice the sunlight bouncing off the water and bathing the cave in a blue/green hue. Hence the name, Emerald Cave. The small lagoon on the far side of the cave would be lovely if it wasn’t for all the people. Soft white sand, warm shallow water and the chance to see all manner of wildlife, including Southeast Asia’s famous Water Monitors, mean that if you can get a visit in on a quiet day, this is an amazing spot!
Where to stay near Koh Mook
Thailand is a country famed for having some of the best beaches in the world and this is only a small example of them. If we have missed out your favourite, or have included any that you downright hate, head on over to our community page and let us know!
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