Maya Beach is undoubtedly the most famous beach in Thailand. Made movie-famous by 2000’s iconic film The Beach, its otherworldly limestone cliffs, white sand and azure waters drew so much attention that authorities closed it to tourism to help the local ecology repair. Maya Bay remains open to a limited number of boats per day, but the beach itself is off limits and its natural inhabitants have already returned, with black-tip reef sharks sighted in the bay in late 2018.
So what are some more top Thailand beach destinations? Our blog takes a look at some other internationally, and locally, celebrated stretches of sand.
The most famous beaches in Thailand
The second-most famous beach in Thailand, Patong is a sweeping bay with fine white sand and idyllic waters. The main tourism hub on the island, it’s got all the bright lights, activity and crowds that title entails. Severely affected by the 2004 tsunami, the area is now completely restored, and its markets, restaurants, resorts and nightlife flourish stronger than ever. Go for watersports, banana-boat rides, market stalls, beach massage and endless summery views.
Less-famous alternative: Karon Beach, just a five-minute drive to the south.
Tonsai Bay, Phi Phi Don Island
This vibrant bay on Phi Phi Don Island welcomes millions of visitors a year. As such, it’s a top Thai beach destination for watching ferries and festooned long-tail boats come and go. When you’re ready for a swim, walk across the isthmus to the quieter and even more picturesque Loh Dalum Beach. The central area of Phi Phi Don is small and easy to explore on foot, so after boat-spotting, head into ‘town’ for a spicy salad and some ice cream.
Less-famous alternative: Catch a longtail boat to Monkey Beach and get to know the local troupe of macaques.
When a tropical beach in Thailand comes to mind, it’s often a vision of limestone cliffs rising out of turquoise waters, with a longtail boat moored on a white sand beach in the foreground. Such a view is commonplace on Railay Beach, accessible from Ao Nang Beach, a 45-minute drive from Krabi airport. The most famous Thai beach for rock climbing, it’s also a great launchpoint for island-hopping tours across Phang Nga Bay, home to Phi Phi Island and hidden snorkeling caves and coves. Ultra-luxury resorts and backpacker hotels are equally easy to find, and while it’s not a party place, there’s a small bar scene fueled by younger travelers. Expect quieter nights than you would in Ao Nang and get up early for a spectacular sunrise.
Khao Lak Beach, Phuket
Up north on the mainland of western Thailand, the long, windswept coastline of Khao Lak invites with lazy days in the sunshine. A top Thai beach destination for domestic travelers, it’s far removed from the developed shorelines of Patong Beach to the south, and instead features towering casuarina trees that overlook the glittering Andaman Sea. Enjoy beach activities, or go on nature walks in the adjacent Khao Lak Lamru National Park, home to waterfalls, verdant trails and abundant native fauna.
Less-famous alternative: Khao Lak encompasses more than 30 kilometers of coastline. For the quietest strip, head to Khao Lak South Beach, a two-kilometer bay with excellent swimming conditions.
Chaweng Beach, Samui
Samui Island in the Gulf of Thailand, might not be as famous as Phuket, but it offers just as much cosmopolitan allure. Chaweng ranks among the most famous beaches in Thailand for nightlife, but it’s also got crystal-blue seas, white sands and laidback beachfront bars for those who prefer to just chill. Popular with younger travelers, Chaweng’s main strip is lined with a wide array of restaurants and pulsing nightclubs and bars.
Less-famous alternatives: Lamai Beach, the next beach along, is more appealing for luxury travelers. Bophut Beach on the other side of the island – grainier sand, but quieter and beautiful sunset views.
Haad Rin Beach, Phangan
The most famous beach in Thailand for full moon parties, Haad Rin has a reputation for revelry, but it – and Phangan in general – offers far more than just partying. You can expect some rowdiness on the beach any night of the week, as young international travelers congregate for cocktail buckets, loud music, interactive fire shows and dancing. But during the day, the beach is practically deserted, with blue, clear waters fizzing into white sands. The beach is cleaned every day, keeping it in tip-top condition.
Less-famous alternative: Haad Rin Noi, literally over the hill on the other side of the headland, is quietly blissful. Haad Yuan, a boat ride away is for those seeking a more ‘bohemian’ take on all-nighters.
This urban beach started out as a US Army base, then got the moniker ‘Sin City’ for its colorful Walking Street. The city has been making great strides to change its reputation, and has in recent years become one of Thailand’s most famous beaches for families living in Bangkok. Only 90 minutes from the capital, it’s close enough for a weekend trip and offers a vast array of luxury family-friendly resorts, both on Pattaya Beach Road and in the surrounding suburbs of Jomtien and Sattahip. Umbrellas, food hawkers, massage vendors and a 24/7 culture make this one of Thailand’s busiest beaches.
Less-famous alternative: Jomtien, a 10-minute drive away, a calmer city beach with lots of food and entertainment options.
The country’s original resort town has been a top Thai beach destination for royals for nearly 100 years. In the 1920s, King Rama VII built a summer palace there, while the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej lived there for many of his latter years. A historic railway, night markets and famous seafood restaurant scene add to the charm of this laidback resort city. World-class golf, family theme parks, year-round good weather and a main beach that stretches kilometers make this a perennial weekend getaway for Bangkok residents. While its beaches aren’t your idyllic island type, a Hua Hin holiday offers up a pampering luxury resort stays, fresh seafood, shopping and sightseeing.
Less-famous alternatives: Cha Am, 20 minutes to the north, with empty beaches and a more local feel. Khao Takiab, 10 minutes to the south, with beachfront restaurants and water sports.
White Sand Beach, Koh Chang
Still virtually unknown on the international tourism scene, Koh Chang on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand, is a popular getaway for Thai nationals. At 5-6 hours from Bangkok, it’s still off the beaten path for most weekenders, surging in popularity at long weekends. White Sand Beach is closest to the pier, but all down the western shoreline of this large, mountainous island you’ll find resorts of all descriptions.
Less-famous alternative: Koh Kood, a 30-minute ferry ride from Koh Chang, offers up more than a dozen perfect beaches with barely a handful of people on most.
Sai Keaw, Samet Island
The most famous Thai island for weekend trips from Bangkok, this top Thailand beach destination lures local holiday-makers year round. Its position high in the Thai Gulf means weather is mostly dry all year, but also makes some pockets of the island rather rowdy. Sai Kaew is by far the most popular beach on the island, with restaurants, nightly fire shows and a high density of resorts. Go to experience a Thai island holiday as many of its younger travelers do.
Less-famous alternative: Tub Tim beach, a few bays north of Sai Kaew, is much quieter. The farther north you go, the quieter the beaches get.