The Gulf of Thailand is shared among Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Where else in the world can you experience the tropical island beauty of four different countries at once? If you are traveling to Southeast Asia, do not hesitate to consider a trip to one of these islands. A few islands allow visa-free entrance, while others restrict foreign visitors with several paper processes. In this article, we will take a look at some of the most amazing islands in this gulf as well as how to reach these islands from Vietnam.
Notice: While there are no storms ever in this area, there are usually low pressure systems that hang out over the gulf. Check the weather forecast before you go. The very best time to visit these beautiful islands is in the dry season (from December to March).
Phu Quoc Island (Vietnam)
Visa-free for 30 days, free wifi around the island, blazingly fast 4G network, 28 holes of golf, the world-famous fish sauce outlets, an international airport, a national park, and a lot more – Phu Quoc is a growing paradise of fun activities and laid-back lifestyle!
Phu Quoc, the largest island of Vietnam, has been serving as an outstanding travel destination for years. Here, you can choose a luxury resort to hide away from the lively hustle, and let your heart peacefully sing with the pristine beauty of the sea. You can also book a casual hostel on the northern side of Long Beach, where either the busy beach or the bustling market is just a few steps away. We’ve covered here a break-down of areas to stay and recommended accommodations to choose in Phu Quoc.
It’s easy to get to Phu Quoc, probably the easiest island in Vietnam that international visitors can visit. You can check this guide for ways to get to Phu Quoc and some of the most interesting spots to explore when visiting the island.
Nam Du Islands (Vietnam)
Nam Du cluster of islands has recently just emerged as one of the most attractive places to visit in the South of Vietnam. There are 21 islands and islets in the cluster, that all preserve the pristine sandy beaches settled gently between the green coconut forests and the crystal sea. In the dry season, the cluster is perfect for a trip of discovery and relaxation.
The very best island that you should visit if you wish to experience either the local life or the beautiful nature is Hon Son. There is somewhere between 2,000 families living on this island, with a history that traces back to hundreds of years ago. Here, you should discover Ma Thien Lanh hill, filled with many peaceful sanctuaries, an outdoor Buddha statue, and relics of the local people of the past. If you only seek stunning natural sites, I recommend Hon Mau, a small islet with only 200 households, but many magnificent beaches.
The only means of transportation is boat, which takes you roughly two to five hours (depending on the express services you choose). To get around the main islands, you can rent a motorbike with only 150,000 – 200,000 VND/ day. Xe om (motorbike taxi) is also available.
A few words cannot cover such an amazing cluster of islands like Nam Du. Our comprehensive guide to Nam Du right <here> will do it justice!
Hai Tac (Pirate) Islands (Vietnam)
An old tale says an ancient map exists that shows the way to a mysterious treasure buried somewhere on these 16 islands and islets…
Just kidding! This cluster was actually named after the regular attacks and robberies on the sea happening near this cluster of islands in previous centuries. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the pirate problems were solved. The islands retain their pristine natural sites and a simple lifestyle of the locals. People here fish to earn their living. I recommend spending most of your time on Big Hon Tre, where the Tien Hai town is located, if you wish to feel the local life. There are neither hotels nor hostels on the islands, so plan to visit the site for half a day.
You can only access these islands from within Vietnam. If you depart from Saigon, you can take a bus to Ha Tien, and stay in Ha Tien for a day. From Ha Tien harbor, the boat to Hai Tac islands departs at 9 AM every day and returns at 2:30 PM on the same day. The fee is 40,000 VND per person for a one way ticket and takes an hour and a half to reach the islands. If you have time, you can rent a 10-person boat to travel among the islands in this cluster, which costs you only 400,000 VND.
Koh Thmei (Cambodia)
Now you are in the magical land of Cambodia (if you don’t know how to get here check out this article! For a bit of heavenly Vitamin Sea in this temple country, don’t hesitate to choose Koh Thmei.
Koh Thmei is a part of the Ream National Park. It is here that you can travel back into the days when people were still living in harmony with nature. Although in 2016 this island underwent a renovation to boost the tourism industry, the island luckily preserves its pristine shores and charming forest. There are roughly 200 people living on this island, in the small fishing village of Koh K’chang.
Magnificent coral reefs are even right at your fingertips (but don’t touch), inviting you to scuba dive. Surfing and kayaking are also available for the adventurous spirit.
What is particularly interesting about this island is its biodiversity, of which 150 species of birds thrive. Imagine the scene upon first entering the tropical forest. Stunned, a wide range of feathered-creatures such as cockatoos, parrots, canaries and sea eagles will greet you! There are eco-tours that take you deeper into the islands, which will grant you an even deeper insight into this invaluable biosphere reserve.
From Phnom Penh, you can take a bus to Shianoukville. Interestingly, from Phu Quoc island of Vietnam, you also can take the ferry to Shianoukville, too (but it will take you more than 12 hours, so a flight from Phu Quoc sounds better)! Then, you get to the pier and take the boat to Koh Thmei.
Koh Samui Islands (Thailand)
Similar to other wonderful islands in the Gulf of Thailand, the Koh Samui cluster is blessed with crystal water, amazing coral reefs, thriving marine life, and green fresh forests on the ground. And on top of that, Koh Samui island is the second largest island in Thailand. You’ll never feel disappointed if you want to keep your head under the water with a snorkeling mask!
Furthermore, those of you who love waterfalls should definitely not miss the Namuang Waterfall. The lower cascade flows down into a cool scenic natural pool. 30 minutes walking uphill from there will take you to a smaller, inviting cascade blending softly into the forest landscape. There is no entrance fee for this natural beauty so go enjoy.
At Koh Samui, I highly recommend visiting the Mummified Monk at Wat Khunaram. 45 years have passed since Monk Luong Pordaeng passed away, yet his body, sitting in the meditation pose, shows very little signs of decay. The body is preserved in a glass box in accordance with the demand the monk set in place a few days before his death. His demand was to remind the fellows about Buddha’s teaching: everything is impermanent. His body’s stunning longevity and the respectful life he lived reassure people about another philosophy: the equality of karma.
The best time to enjoy your vacation at Koh Samui is from December to March. The weather is too hot from April and with heavy rain from September to November.
From Vietnam, you can take a flight to Bangkok. Then take another flight to Koh Samui, which will save you the most time. If you want a cheaper route, from Bangkok, you can take a train or a bus to Surat Thani, then take a bus to Don Sak pier, then a ferry to Koh Samui.
Koh Tao (Thailand)
Known as one of the most interesting islands in the world, Koh Tao means “Turtle’s Island”, because it alludes to the fact that sea turtles inhabit this area. While the sea turtles are no longer as plentiful as they used to be, you can still witness green and hawksbill turtles, especially on the Thian Og Bay.
The clean crystal water allows you a wonderful diving time to witness the lively colorful coral reefs. There are several main magnificent sites:
- Mae Haad Bay: Among the many beautiful bays of this cluster, the bustling Mae Haad Bay is ideal for shopping for souvenirs, beachwear, and handmade jewelry.
- Sairee Beach: If you want a more energetic beach for various outdoor activities, head up to the north to the Sairee beach. It is here that you can find the magnificent coral reef.
- Koh Nang Yuan: Not only an idyllic spot for scuba diving (especially at the Japanese Gardens), Koh Nang Yuan is also known as of the most beautiful island in the world.
- Mango Bay: Its calm and clear water, with the flat, sandy seafloor and good weather conditions make this bay particularly suitable for newbies to scuba diving. From its mountain peak, you can enjoy the stunning panoramic vista of the Koh Tao cluster.
- Hin Wong Bay: surrounded by boulders and incredibly clear water, this quiet bay is ideal for snorkeling and kayaking.
By all means, the Koh Tao cluster is a perfect spot to find yourself joyfully floating on the peaceful crystal water in sunny charms. When the sunset breaks over the golden ocean, just by sitting on the soft white sand and listening to the coconut leaves, I believe you’ll feel that nature has been so generous to the Gulf of Thailand.
The only way to get here is by traveling by boat. You can choose to depart from Surat Thani, or from the islands of Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.
Ko Chang (Thailand)
Part of the Mu Koh Chang National Park, this is Thailand’s third largest island and it’s a lot less busy than the first two. Accommodations are available for every budget. There are various beaches on the island:
- White Sand Beach: Its north site is the most bustling beach on the island, where you can find bunches of souvenirs shops, tattoo stores, hotels, and restaurants. The south is a bit quieter. If you are looking for a good cocktail this is the place for you but know that the beach is not as attractive.
- Kai Bae Beach: This beach consists of several lovely boutique resorts and beach bungalows, suitable for a family trip.
- Lonely Beach: lots of budgeted accommodations can be found on this beach, making it ideal for travelers who seek local culinary taste rather than a fancy hotel.
- Salakkok: Mangroves are the most significant feature of this area. This type of plant is the nurse of the ocean, fostering the life of marine species and resident birds. Kayak in this area and you won’t be disappointed. Here, you can also witness how the locals are trying to preserve the environment and the traditional way of life on this island.
- Salakphet: This is another non-touristy area for you to explore Koh Chang’s pristine beauty. Salakphet is also home to yachts, fishing boats and stilt houses on the shore, free-entrance waterfalls on land.
From Vietnam, you can fly to Bangkok. Then take a flight or a bus to Trat city. From Trat city, you can take a 30-minute ferry to Koh Chang, departing either from the Center Point Pier or the Thammachat Pier.
There you go! The Gulf of Thailand is something you sure should not miss if you are in Southeast Asia during the dry season! If you only want to explore beautiful Vietnam and are interested in visiting magnificent islands, check out our comprehensive guides to:
- Con Dao Island
- Ha Long Bay
- A general guide to most amazing islands of Vietnam