Sabai Sabai on the Thai Islands

 ‘Sabai sabai’. This simple Thai phrase translates as being totally relaxed. And when you’re on holiday in Thailand being sabai sabai is something you’ll quickly become accustomed to. That chilled-out feeling when work is the last thought on your mind and the biggest dilemma of the day is which cocktail to order next as you sit by the pool. There aren’t many better ways to get in the sabai sabai zone than heading for the beach on one of the stress-free Thai islands. But which is the best Thai island to visit? Everybody will have their own opinion of what makes the perfect relaxing Thai island getaway. Some will opt for an island with bamboo huts and simple seclusion, others may prefer boutique hotels and luxury pampering. In the final analysis, the ideal Thai island boils down to your own personal choice and style of travel. World famous resort islands like Ko Samui and Phuket are both excellent destinations to visit, but Thailand is also home to a myriad of smaller tropical idylls waiting to tempt you. Take a look at this selection of islands in the Andaman Sea which will have you feeling sabai sabai as soon as you arrive.

Ko Lanta
Ko Lanta is an island at ease with itself. This is a destination that welcomes tourists, but never feels overwhelmed by them. Ko Lanta has retained a strong sense of community amongst the local population and the relaxed pace of life here is infectious. Although the island is already known to tourists, Ko Lanta doesn’t see anything like the same number of visitor numbers as nearby Phuket or Krabi. This has enabled Ko Lanta to retain its charm and low-key atmosphere. Whether you are a solo traveller looking for adventure, a couple in search of a romantic retreat or a family looking for fun by the beach, Ko Lanta is an excellent all-round choice for your Thai holiday.

Suggested hotels:

Layana Resort & Spa

Pimalai Resort & Spa

Crown Lanta Resort & Spa

What to see and do on Ko Lanta
Ko Lanta is actually two islands; Koh Lanta Noi (‘noi’ = small) and Ko Lanta Yai (‘yai’ = big). All of the best beaches, hotels and tourist facilities are found on Lanta Yai and all along the west coast there are plenty of stretches of sand to choose from. The further south you go the quieter they tend to be, but even on the most popular beaches like Long Beach they seldom seem crowded and the atmosphere is peaceful. Beneath the waves, Ko Lanta offers up some excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities. With frequent boat connections, Ko Lanta also makes a good jumping off point if you are travelling to or from Krabi, Phi Phi or Phuket.

If you feel like doing something more active away from the comfort of your sun-lounger, Ko Lanta has a number of options. Take a tour of Thung Yee Pheng Mangrove Forest or explore the natural beauty of Mu Ko Lanta National Park. Make the walk up to the viewpoint by the old lighthouse and enjoy the gorgeous views over the Andaman. If your taste buds have been tickled by tasty Thai food, learn how to create your own massaman curry and other signature dishes at Time for Lime cooking school. The people behind Time for Lime have also established Lanta Animal Welfare, an initiative which helps take care of cats and dogs on the island. For a slice of local life pay a visit to Lanta Old Town on the east of the island, but please dress more politely than you would for the beach and respect the cultural sensitivities of local Thai Muslims and Buddhists. Ban Saladan in the north of the island is where most of the ferries arrive and serves as the main commercial centre for Ko Lanta. You’ll find atmospheric seafood restaurants here alongside some excellent cafes and budget guest-houses.

Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai
The twin islands of Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai sit in an enviable location with glorious views of the magnificent limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay. The location and tranquility of the islands make them ideal if you want to explore nature. Hire a bicycle and ride along traffic-free roads past rubber-tree plantations and local villages. Jump in a kayak and paddle around Ko Yao Noi pausing only to admire the scenery and relax on hidden beaches. But visitors to Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai need to be careful; the charm of these islands can be addictive. You have been warned!

Suggested hotels:

Cape Kudu

Paradise Ko Yao

Santhiya Ko Yao Yai

Six Senses Yao Noi

Ko Lipe
Given the outstanding natural beauty of Ko Lipe it’s perhaps a surprise that it remained off the main tourist trail for so long. The main reason for that may have been the isolated location the island enjoys in the southern Andaman Sea. Improved transport connections has resulted in a rise in development and tourism in recent years. Although Ko Lipe may no longer be the untouched paradise it once was, it remains a beautiful island to visit.

Suggested hotels:

Mountain Resort

Sawan Resort

Serendipity Resort

What to see and do on Ko Lipe
The compact size of Ko LIpe makes it an easy task to walk between the three main beaches; Pattaya Beach, Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach. They are all attractive stretches of sand and leading off Pattaya Beach you’ll find a paved road known as ‘Walking Street’ lined with restaurants and street stalls. You’ll also find plenty of tour offices here where you can book diving or snorkelling trips to the uninhabited islands of Tarutao National Marine Park. Be sure to make the short hop by longtail boat across the aquamarine waters to neighbouring Ko Adang. The beaches here are stunning, but drag yourself away from them and make the walk up to the viewpoint. It will take around 30 minutes to get to the top and you’ll be hot and sweaty when you get there. But the reward for your workout are glorious views looking down on Ko Lipe. You’ll just make out the faint hum of distant longtail boats and if you avert your eyes skywards you are likely to notice sea eagles effortlessly gliding in the thermals.

Ko Ngai 
It’s no surprise that lovely Ko Ngai (also known as Ko Hai) is popular with couples, but don’t let that put you off if you’re by yourself and looking for somewhere to relax and simply get away from it all. Geographically, this diminutive island is close to Trang province and is often included as one of the Trang Islands although it is actually part of Krabi province.

Suggested hotels:

Coco Cottage

Ko Ngai Cliff Beach

Trang Islands
Trang town is the gateway to dozens of islands strung out in the Andaman Sea. Collectively they are known as the Trang Islands. These islands are perfect for anybody seeking to get away from the crowds. You won’t find nightlife or fine dining here, but you will find stunning beaches, quiet seclusion and amazing views.

Ko Kradan
With its soft sandy beaches and warm aquamarine waters, Ko Kradan lives up to its romantic reputation. It’s to this bijou tropical island where couples gather every February to symbolically tie the knot under the sea in the annual ‘Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony‘.

Suggested hotels:

Reef Resort

The Seven Seas Resort

Ko Mook
With good boat connections to the mainland and other islands in the region, family-friendly Ko Mook is an excellent base to explore the Trang Islands. Ko Mook is home to the famous Emerald Cave in addition to some lovely beaches. This is a working island too with rubber-tree plantations and fishing providing important sources of income for the local community.

Suggested hotels:

Ko Mook Sivalai Beach Resort

Mook Lamai

Ko Laoliang, Ko Libong and Ko Sukorn
If you want luxury and all mod-cons, this trio of islands isn’t for you. But if you want to connect with nature these islands are rewarding destinations to visit. Ko Laoliang is a great base for anybody interested in rock climbing, snorkelling and kayaking. Similarly, Ko Libong is ideal for snorkelling and although it’s one of the largest Trang islands it’s also one of the least developed. Over on Ko Sukorn you’ll find a different atmosphere to the other Trang Islands. Because it lacks the stunning beaches and scenery of the other islands few tourist make it here. Ko Sukorn is very much a working island where fishermen and rubber plantations outnumber the tourists, but you will be made welcome here and if you hire a bicycle and ride around Ko Sukorn there will be times when you feel like you have the island all to yourself.

Suggested hotels:

Laoliang Resort (Ko Laoliang)

Libong Relax Beach Resort (Ko Libong)

Yataa Spa & Resort (Ko Sukorn)

Travel advice
If you are heading to Ko Lanta, Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai, the nearest airports are located at Krabi and Phuket. Frequent services to and from Bangkok are operated by Thai Airways, Nok Air and Air Asia. On arrival at either Krabi or Phuket airport it’s possible to arrange transfers via mini-bus and boat to the islands. Depending on which resort you are staying at, your hotel may be able to handle all of the transfers on your behalf. Alternatively, if you are spending time in either Phuket or Krabi, any tour office can arrange onward transport for you.

The small and pleasant town of Trang is the most convenient location on the mainland for tourists heading to Ko Lipe and the Trang Islands. Trang has an airport and train station and onward connections to Ko Lipe and the other islands can be organised at travel agents and most hotels or guest houses in Trang town. You also have the option of flying to Hat Yai where similar arrangements can be made for onward travel to the Trang Islands.

Best time to visit
The best weather for the islands in the Andaman Sea is from November-April when you you can expect prolonged periods of sunshine and mostly calm seas. During the rainy season period from May-October the weather is more changeable. There are still warm temperatures and sunshine, but this is mixed in with seasonal storms and periods of heavy rain. Some boat services to the smaller islands in the Andaman Sea are temporarily suspended during the rainy season.

by Roy Cavanagh

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