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Inside: From the stunning limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay to the glittering beaches of the Phi Phi Islands, here’s why Krabi is the perfect home base to discover the wonders of Thailand.
It’s one of my favorite countries in the world to visit. In fact, I’ve included Thailand on the itinerary for 8 out of 10 of my Round-the-World trips. I just can’t get enough.
It’s so much more than just the fascinating culture and friendly smiles of welcoming locals. From gilded temples to sparkling white-sand beaches, Thailand is home to a stunning landscape that beckons travelers (like me) back again and again.
And let’s be honest, Thai food is worth the trip alone. From street food to seafood, it’s a culinary adventure.
But while the bustling city of Bangkok is a must when visiting Thailand, the incredible Thai islands are the real show stopper.
Read More: Everything’s Better in Bangkok
I’m talking about some of the world’s dreamiest tropical islands. More than 1,400 islands, in fact. Thailand’s beautifully diverse islands wow visitors with turquoise lagoons, white-sand beaches, coral reefs, and abundant marine life.
And many of those Instagram-worthy islands can be explored within a short speedboat ride of popular resort destinations like Phuket and Krabi.
But first, can I travel to Thailand right now?
After more than a year of travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Thailand is re-opening quarantine-free to fully vaccinated visitors from 63 low-risk countries beginning November 1, 2021. Those countries include the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada.
Here’s the full list of 46 approved countries.
Important Note: When you book your flights into Thailand, be sure any country you connect through is also on the list of 46 approved countries.
Thailand Travel Restrictions 2021/2022
But as with any international travel these days, there are a few hoops to jump through including both a pre-departure and upon arrival RT-PCR test. Not to worry, the rules are clearly spelled out and the trip will be well worth the effort!
If you’re fully vaccinated and reside in one of the 46 countries on the approved list (for at least 21 days prior to arrival), you can visit Thailand under the new “TEST & GO” program that begins November 1, 2021.
Under the new program, you will need to provide the following documentation:
- Proof of Vaccination (completed at least 14 days prior to arrival)
- A medical certificate with an RT-PCR negative lab result issued no more than 72 hours before travel
- A comfirmed payment for a 1-night stay at an SHA+, AQ, OQ, or AHQ including 1 RT-PCR test
- An insurance policy with coverage for no less than $50,000 USD
You will also need to apply for a Thailand Pass QR Code:
- Visit https://tp.consular.go.th/ at least 7 days prior to arrival
- Upload your vaccination documentation and proof of paid 1st night hotel stay including arrival test
- Wait to receive confirmation of approval and your Thailand Pass QR Code to be scanned at Health Control upon arrival in Thailand
- On arrival, you’ll be given an Antigen Test Kit for self-testing on Day 6-7 of your stay
While it sounds a little complicated, it’s a pretty straightforward process. Just be sure to check the Tourism Authority of Thailand site regularly in the weeks leading up to your trip for any updates or changes to this process.
As we all know, things can change quickly with Covid requirements these days!
Note: All hotels listed below are SHA+ approved and can be used for your 1st-night stay and test.
Which is better Krabi or Phuket?
Yes, most of the lovely islands I list below can also be visited by day trip from Phuket. However, I much prefer Krabi as a home base for island-hopping in Thailand.
And here’s why.
A small province in the south of Thailand, Krabi is bordered by the calm, azure Andaman Sea on one side and Malaysia on the other. It’s a more tranquil option than the popular tourist hub of Phuket, and that’s why Krabi is the perfect place to unwind and relax on an empty beach.
Tip: If you don’t like crowds, never, ever go to Phuket over Chinese New Year.
Sure, Phuket is mountainous and beautiful. But it’s also jam-packed with high-end resorts. And that equals traffic.
So when given the choice between the mega-resorts and traffic of Phuket versus laid-back Krabi, I choose Krabi.
Every. Single. Time.
The province of Krabi boasts some of Thailand’s most spectacular beaches. Resorts here are more spread out, beaches are less crowded and sunsets are divine.
So if you’re trying to decide between Phuket and Krabi, choose Krabi. You won’t regret it.
How to Get from Bangkok to Krabi
While there are a few international flights directly to Krabi (from Singapore, Malaysia, Qatar, and China), most international flights arrive in Thailand via Bangkok.
From there, it’s a quick, easy, and affordable flight to Krabi’s (KBV) airport with round-trip flights averaging less than $100 US.
Flights to Krabi are available from both of Bangkok’s airports, Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK – where international flights arrive) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK – home to most domestic flights).
Flights from Don Mueang tend to be a little cheaper. However, if you’re arriving on an international flight into BKK and heading straight to Krabi, it’s not worth the considerable hassle to change airports.
Of course, if you’re spending a few days in Bangkok before heading on to the islands, flights from Don Mueang are a great option.
Do I need a rental car in Krabi?
It’s not necessary to have a rental car in Krabi. Transportation options are readily available at the airport and most day trips include pickup at your resort.
That said, I always prefer to rent a car when visiting Krabi. I enjoy the freedom of having my own wheels to explore on my own schedule.
And since Krabi covers a much larger area than Phuket, having a car can be an advantage to get from your resort to Krabi Town or to the pier to hire a long tail boat for the day.
I would NOT, however, recommend getting a car in Phuket. Distances in Phuket are shorter, traffic is a real issue, and taxis and tuk-tuks are an affordable way to get around.
By comparison, driving the country roads of Krabi province is very straightforward as long as you’re comfortable driving on the left. If you do decide to rent a car, I like RentalCars.com for finding the best deals with no surprises at the counter.
What’s the best time to visit Krabi?
For both Phuket and Krabi, the best time to visit is mid-November through April which is considered high season. You’ll find the holiday months of December and January especially popular, as well as the weeks surrounding Chinese New Year.
During the high season months, you’ll enjoy sunny skies and calmer seas for boat trips making this an ideal time to visit.
However, you can visit either destination year-round. But if you do visit in the summer rainy season, expect the occasional torrential downpour and a 50/50 chance of canceled boat trips.
All of my trips to Thailand have been in the high season months. Except for one visit to Krabi in July. Yes, we got a lot of rain on that trip, but we also got fewer crowds and terrific hotel deals. So there are a few perks to visiting in the low season.
How many days in Krabi is enough?
Honestly, you could spend a month in Krabi and still keep finding new islands and beaches to explore. Or you could spend just a week and squeeze in all the terrific island day trips I’ve listed below.
I’d say a week is the minimum amount of time to really explore the region and some of the best nearby islands. But if you have 10 days or two weeks, even better.
Where to stay in Krabi
Krabi has everything from 5-star luxury resorts and charming boutique properties to budget hotels and apartment rentals. I’m a big fan of some of Krabi’s resort options since resorts of this caliber outside of Southeast Asia would be twice the price.
In other words, it’s easy to find luxury for less in Thailand.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Banyan Tree Krabi – For a real splurge, this chic beachfront resort is a true oasis. Situated on beautiful Tab Kaek Beach, each room is a spacious suite with stylish decor. The best part? Every suite comes complete with a private pool. If you’ve always dreamed of a suite with your own private pool, this is one of the most affordable places to find it. In fact, a room with a private pool will run you twice as much per night at the Rayavadee (below).
- Dusit Thani Krabi Beach Resort – I first stayed at this affordable, luxury resort back when it was the Sheraton Krabi and it’s always been one of my favorite places to stay when visiting Krabi. Located on peaceful Klong Muang Beach, this resort has everything you need for a relaxing Krabi holiday…at half the price of the other two options on this list. Bonus: There are several restaurants within walking distance so you can avoid the typical overpriced resort restaurants.
- Rayavadee Krabi – When it comes to natural, scenic locations, the Rayavadee resort is hard to beat. Located on Railay Beach, Rayavadee is surrounded by soaring limestone cliffs and swaying palms. All rooms are private villas (called “Pavilions”) that blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings.
What are the best islands to visit from Krabi?
So let’s get to the good stuff…island hopping!
If you’re visiting Krabi, here are five great island day trips to add to your must-do list:
1. Hong Island
Set against the spectacular backdrop of Phang Nga Bay, the four small islands that make up the Koh Hong group are widely considered to be some of the area’s most beautiful.
A part of the National Marine Park, the largest of the four islands is the superbly scenic Hong Island. This uninhabited island features soaring limestone cliffs and a vast interior lagoon (the “chamber” from whence its Thai name, “Hong” originates).
The deep emerald green of the lagoon is accessed through a dramatic cliff passage and is best explored by kayak or longtail boat. And don’t forget to bring a few slices of bread to feed the schools of tropical fish that will eagerly eat right out of your hand just a few steps from shore.
Krabi to Hong Island by Tour
There are plenty of group day trips that visit the Hong Islands. The benefit of a group tour is that they allow you to also visit the small beautiful islands of Pakbia, Rai, Lahding, and Daeng in one easy trip.
The downside, of course, is that you’ll be visiting the islands with lots of other day-trippers.
Krabi to Hong Island on Your Own
The closest beach to reach Hong Island is Klong Muang, where I recently stayed at the Dusit Thani Krabi. A longtail boat from this quiet beach will have you stepping off the dock onto Hong Island in just over 30 minutes.
Fair warning, go early if you want to capture the image above. We arrived a little after 8:00am and tour boats began to show up in force by 10:00am and continued throughout the day. On your own, you can easily visit Hong Island as a half-day trip (in the morning) and plan something else for the afternoon.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a quick and easy trip to a beautiful offshore island, Hong Island is a terrific choice.
2. Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi islands are an archipelago of six islands in Thailand. The two largest and most well-known islands are Ko Phi Phi Don and its sister island, Ko Phi Phi Leh.
The islands catapulted to fame in 2000 when Phi Phi Leh’s stunning Maya Bay was featured in the film “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Due to large waves that make the entrance to the bay dangerous in the low season, it’s only possible to visit Maya Bay from November to April.
However, in 2018 over-tourism led Thai officials to temporarily close Maya Bay to visitors. While it was initially announced to be a 6-month closure, the bay remains closed to visitors as of November 2021 with no date set for re-opening.
If and when Maya Bay does reopen, expect tours to be limited and pricey in order to avoid a repeat of the over-tourism problem.
Is Phi Phi still worth visiting if Maya Bay is closed?
Absoutely! You can still visit the lovely island of Phi Phi Don and there’s plenty to see and do there.
Read More: Heaven on Earth – Ko Phi Phi Thailand
Can you spend the night on Phi Phi Don?
Indeed you can! And there are some gorgeous resorts on the island. Here are a few great resort options on Phi Phi Don:
- Zeavola Resort – Generally speaking, hotels are pretty affordable on Phi Phi Don. But if you’re looking for a bit of a splurge, this secluded beachfront resort is my top choice on the island. Located on the northern tip of Phi Phi Don, this 10-acre retreat with a private, pristine beach is a true oasis on an island better known for backpackers and guesthouses.
- Phi Phi Holiday Resort – Just a bit further south from Zeavola on the tranquil northern peninsula, this resort benefits from the same scenic location at a more affordable price. While the rooms are slightly dated (compared to Zeavola), they are sparkling clean and well-equipped. And the stretch of beachfront at this resort is so gorgeous you’ll have trouble tearing yourself away to explore the rest of the island.
- HIP Seaview Resort @ Phi Phi – Situated on a hilltop with panoramic sea views (hence the name), this boutique resort is a steal with most rates below $100 US/night. Rooms are comfy bungalow-style, most offering stunning views thanks to the elevated location. The flip side of that? To reach the beach, you’ll need to navigate a considerable stairway.
Krabi to the Phi Phi Islands by Tour
If you don’t have enough time to spend the night on beautiful Phi Phi Don, you can still visit the island from Krabi by day trip. Due to the travel time out to the island and back, most tours last at least 7 hours.
There are dozens of tour options to choose from. Here are a few good ones:
Krabi to the Phi Phi Islands on Your Own
To go it on your own, you have two options – ferry or speed boat. The ferry is the most popular (and affordable) option and takes about 90 minutes. During high season, it’s advisable to book your tickets in advance. Ferries depart from Krabi’s Klong Jilad Pier.
All ferries arrive on Phi Phi Don’s Ton Sai Pier.
Speed boats to Phi Phi take about an hour and are available from Ao Nang Pier, Railay Beach Pier, and the Krabi River Marina.
Because timetables and prices change frequently, it’s best to get the most current information from your hotel before planning your day trip.
3. The 4 Islands Tour
One of the most popular day trips from Krabi, the 4 Islands Tour includes Koh Poda, Ko Kai (Chicken Island), Tup Island, and Phranang Cave Beach.
This day trip includes 4 small islands with breathtaking beaches and terrific snorkeling. Plan on a full day for this one, too. The average trip is a minimum of 6 hours and typically includes lunch.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking to squeeze in several unique islands in a single day, the 4-Islands tour is your best bet.
4. Phang Nga Bay (James Bond Island & Koh Panyee)
Yes, James Bond island is a bit of a tourist trap. But the boat trip to get there is one of the world’s most scenic. So, to me, it’s still well worth the trip.
Bonus: Most tours combine the trip to James Bond island with a fascinating stop at Koh Panyee.
James Bond Island
Made famous in the movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” James Bond island is one of Thailand’s most popular photo-ops. Though the movie places the location in China, Thailand is the island’s true home.
It’s an extremely frequent stop with the jam-packed tourist boats so the tiny island is pretty much always crawling with people. My advice? Get your photo op and savor the outstanding boat ride through Phang Nga Bay.
When three families set sail from Indonesia some 200 years ago in search of a new place to live, the vertical limestone cliffs of this tiny island hardly seemed a logical choice. But the first of these families were lured by the abundance of fish and raised a flag atop the cliff to signal the others – giving the island its name, Koh Panyee or the Island of the Flag.
Today, more than 1,400 people from 315 families call Koh Panyee home.
Over the years they have expanded their village to include hundreds of huts, restaurants, and houses built on stilts over the shallow sea, as well as a school, a mosque, and a health center.
While fishing was once the sole industry for these villagers, tourism now dominates the local economy. Restaurants overlooking the sea here are the typical stop for lunch when spending the day touring Phang Nga Bay.
Krabi to Phang Nga Bay by Tour
Options abound from the Krabi area for a leisurely day trip around beautiful Phang Nga Bay. Here are just a few of the top tours.
Tip: To avoid the crowds, I highly recommend the early bird tour.
Krabi to Phang Nga Bay on Your Own
If you have a car and you’re up for an adventure, make the 90-minute drive to Phang Nga’s Surakul Pier.
There, you’ll find plenty of longtail boats available for hire for a tour of the bay. You can join another small group or hire your own longtail boat for the day as I did a few years ago on Round the World #5. It was a relaxing and affordable way to explore the bay and its top sights.
Read More: Beloved Bangkok & a Trip to Phang Nga Bay
5. Koh Lanta
Originally settled by a nomadic clan of sea gypsies more than 500 years ago, today Koh Lanta still remains 95% Muslim lending it a more conservative culture than other parts of Thailand.
Stretching nearly 20 miles and boasting 11 white sand beaches, Lanta Yai is the main tourist destination in the archipelago. It’s also where most hotels and tourist facilities are located.
Koh Lanta is one of my favorite Thai islands. It’s less touristy than many others and is known for long stretches of empty beaches. So, in my opinion, it’s worth spending several days. But the island can be visited on a day trip from Krabi.
Tip: If you do decide to spend a few days and you’re looking for a great hotel right on the beach, check out the Lanta Castaway Resort.
Krabi to Koh Lanta by Tour
Most tours to “Koh Lanta” actually visit several of the small surrounding islands like Koh Rok and Koh Haa. Many also visit the stunning Emerald Cave on Koh Mook. Plan on a full day and several idyllic islands to explore.
Krabi to Koh Lanta on Your Own
Koh Lanta is easily accessible by speedboat or ferry. The ferry takes a little over 2 hours and can be crowded and uncomfortable during the high season.
Alternatively, from Krabi’s private speedboat dock, the journey takes just 15 minutes. Of course, that convenience costs more, but if you’re visiting just for the day, the time savings is definitely worth it.
Wrapping it up!
And there you have it, the 5 best island-hopping day trips you can’t miss when visiting the Province of Krabi.
So whether you’re looking for sunbathing, snorkeling, or just a day on the water exploring some of Thailand’s best islands, Krabi is the perfect launching point.