Thailand's Top 10 most beautiful beaches in Andaman Sea

The most spectacular Andaman Sea beaches – with at least one true beachfront resort nearby

Where are the most beautiful beaches in Thailand? There are so many amazing beaches on Thailand's islands and coastlines, but they fall into two distinct groups along the two geographic zones of the country, the Pacific and Indian Oceans. On one side we find the the deep blue sea, on the other a wide, shallow Gulf. The Andaman side (Indian Ocean) is geographically spectacular and sparsely habited, while the Gulf of Thailand (Pacific Ocean) is the crucible of much of Thailand's modern Thai culture.

Thus, to avoid comparing durians and jackfruit, we have separated the two and offer the Top 10 most beautiful beaches on each ocean. And since we know people would like to be able to see these selections for themselves, we have left out beaches with stunning beauty that are virtually inaccessible. Each of the beaches here has true beachfront accommodation of one sort of the other, be it only backpacker-style bungalows (Ao Yai Beach on Koh Phayan) or 5-star resorts (Mai Khao Beach on Phuket).

But we haven't forgotten Thailand's dazzling, remote beaches far from habitation and difficult to find. Those can be seen in photos of Thailand's most amazing beaches – and that's not limited to ten.

Nai Thon Noi Beach, hidden in Phuket's northwest

Called Nai Thon Noi after the nearby, larger beach, this is one of many stretches of sand on Phuket that the average visitor will never see. Even when driving right by, only flashes of dazzling white through thick foliage are to be glimpsed. But guests of the Andaman White Beach Resort have a banquet of delicious panoramas of one of the island's most beautiful stretches of sand from every nook of the hotel. Thus, the 280-metre stretch of sand here is effectively the private world of this resort and its guests – despite that there are no privately owned beaches in the country.

Nai Thon Noi has wild green headlands to both sides, and a steep, forested mountain running up the back that together envelope the brilliant white of its sands in a cocoon of cool lush green. The blue-green of the ocean completes the flawless tropical grandeur. The resort has also been shrouded in foliage, creating one of Phuket's most delightful, private combinations of beach-and-resort.

Koh Ngai Island & beach, one of Trang's tropical beauties

Koh Ngai (sometimes called Koh Hai) is another of Thailand's special islands well out in the deep of the Andaman Sea, guaranteeing it crystal clear water with virtually every incoming tide. But here another major advantage of geography is working in its favour; a mountain forms a long, thin spine down the island, with slopes so steep they can't be farmed. All islands off this Andaman coast with flat land or undulating hills have been stripped of their natural forest and converted to rubber and oil palm plantations. Koh Ngai's heavily forested mountain backdrop thus gives the island an additional touch of rare beauty.

The single, two-kilometre beach is a thin strip of sand facing east, with swaying coconut palms giving it the tropical paradise touch. A strip of flat land is sandwiched between the beach and mountain, providing near-perfect locations for beachfront bungalows and resorts.

Offshore, a fringing reef runs parallel to the beach, some 120 metres out. The sandy area thus enclosed is relatively shallow, but also nice for swimming. Yet here it is relatively easy to walk or swim out over the sandy bottom to the edge of the reef and snorkel along the outer edge. This is as near to the perfect tropical island beach as one can hope for.

The beach has several backpacker-style bungalow establishments, plus a few comfortable, mid-range resorts. The most creative design is found in the interesting Mayalay Beach Resort , while modern comforts and one of the few swimming pools are found in Koh Ngai Thanya Resort . The only resort on the beach to claim 4-star status is the more luxurious Koh Hai Fantasy Resort .

Ao Yai Beach, on Koh Phayam, one of Thailand's little-known gems

Few people in Thailand have ever heard of the island Koh Phayam off the Andaman coast, so you can be sure this particular beach is remote and uncrowded as well as beautiful. For beach beauty, both of Koh Phayam's two long stretches of sand in west-facing bays are hard to beat, even by the high standards along this Andaman coast. The southern beach, Ao Yai, wins the crown with deeper water, more big trees and foliage above the sand and unblemished, natural views. Ao Yai even gets a small but nice surfing swell out of the Indian Ocean, and has an embryonic surfing scene.

Koh Phayam is largely a backpacker destination, requiring quite a long trip through the southern province of Ranong, plus a boat ride. However, a few more upmarket resorts have now opened here. There was one swimming pool on the island in 2012, and the five resorts offering air-con rooms were in the minority, by far.

As the beach map of Ao Yai shows, there is a series of small, cheap bungalows along the sand, virtually all well hidden in the forest. These struggle for electricity, with most getting a generator-driven supply for the evening hours only. Cut off times vary with different bungalows. No rooms could be booked on-line as of writing at the end of 2013, and even the most comfortable bungalows on this beach at Phayam Lodge required a trail of e-mails back and forth. The island's better accommodations with air-con rooms are found on the northern beach, Ao Khao Kwai South, in Buffalo Bay Vacation Club and Payam Cottage Resort , with the latter having that first-ever swimming pool.

Thum Phra Nang Beach, among Krabi's spectacular walls of rock

Krabi's two most famous beaches, Railay and this, Thum Phra Nang, have both been named many times on lists of the world's most beautiful beaches. The strips of tropical sand below vertical rock walls and towering rock stacks, the lush foliage spilling out across everything it can reach and the crystal clear water all come together to create vistas that are both stunning and instantly recognizable. These images draw visitors from around the world.

But which of this opulent pair is the most stunning? While we name and show Thum Phra Nang, Princess Cave Beach, we also have its adjacent sister, Railay, in mind. They come as an inseparable pair, anchored as they are to the huge sugarloaf karst mountain seen dominating the north end of this beach. It's the same monolith that dominates the south end of Railay, just around the corner. Virtually every guest to Railay Beach, which has a lot of accommodation, also makes the walk to Thum Phra Nang Beach to take in the scenes seen here.

Thum Phra Nang is fortunate to have the single resort occupant that it does, Rayavadee Premier Resort . Here a wise owner secured all land behind the beach for this beautiful resort-in-a-coconut-plantation. Without this we might now have a dozen little establishments carving up the beachfront land, cutting trees and covering all with concrete and tin boxes in their competition to sell junk and cold drinks to tourists – as happened in nearby Koh Phi Phi.

Railay Beach has a good number of beach accommodations, on both 'front' and back' beaches. All can be seen in detail on True Beachfront's beach map of Railay .

Note the alternate spellings; Thum Phra Nang is sometimes Tham Pra Nang, or Tham Pranang.

Mai Khao Beach; tranquillity & elegance in Phuket's far north

Mai Khao Beach is emerging as one of Phuket's top beach attractions – for two principal reasons. First is a very strange National Park, just 40 metres wide, that runs tight along the beach for most of its nine kilometres of sand. This keeps roads off the beach, along with commercial buildings. And the beachfront resorts directly behind are forced to leave that 40 metre strip empty and exactly as is. It's thus a buffer that protects the beach in a unique manner. But who would guess it's a 40-metre wide National Park?

The second reason is the quality of the beach resorts that are establishing themselves in this unusual beach zone. Marriott arrived first, when the beach had just a handful of backpacker bungalows, setting the scene to attract more famous names: Anantara, Renaissance and Holiday Inn. Sala Phuket set up here as one of the island's most innovative boutique resorts with avant-garde design. With so many kilometres of sand, and so few resorts, expect more high-end resorts to open here.

Mai Khao Beach's kilometres of sand are almost dead straight, without headlands, mountains or other geographic features that make the southern beaches so outstanding. But during the high season the water is deep, calm perfection for swimming. Shady casuarina and other trees line the top of the beach, and there are so few local communities in the area that the beach often appears empty. Despite the half dozen resorts here, guests can still walk a short distance to find a kilometre of beach for themselves.

Koh Racha; twin beaches on Phuket's most beautiful island neighbour

Koh Racha Yai has two beaches, both at the north end closest to Phuket, both with exquisite tropical beauty. The deep, west-facing bay is a perfect boat anchorage during the high season, making this a favourite day-trip destination for boats of all kinds. The water is always delightfully clear and perfect for swimming, snorkelling and diving – to be expected on an island this far out in the Andaman Sea.

The northern beach has an off-shore reef, and is shallow, allowing only longtail and speed boats to reach the sand on high tide. But this, too, is a tropical delight, and the shallow water makes it a great beach for children. Temporary beach restaurants set up here through the high season selling basic Thai dishes, some seafood and cold drinks.

The postcard-perfect beauty of these beaches attracts significant numbers of people during the calm high season months. The 17 kilometre ocean crossing from Phuket is quite easy for all kinds of craft, longtails included.

A day-trip here with a rented boat offers great swimming, snorkelling and a chance for a relaxing picnic amidst tropical beach perfection – but don't expect to have either beach to yourself. The main bay and beach is home to an exquisite, high-end resort, The Racha, while the other beach has two 3-star beachfront accommodations.

Tub Kaek Beach, a hidden, unpretentious jewel in Krabi

Tub Kaek Beach is something of a secret, overshadowed and pushed out of Krabi's limelight by the noisy fame of the beaches surrounded by towering rock walls and karst mountains. Little Tub Kaek has no dramatic karst mountains or rock walls, but it does have charisma – lots and lots of beach character that one could easily describe as 'private, laid-back and quite romantic'.

Pinpointing Tub Kaek's appeal is not so easy at first glance. But stand back and take note; there's that lush green mountain falling sharply to the sea, giving resort rooms elevation up its side and views to sea; the five resorts here are all nicely blended into, not over, the natural forest; and the forest has been left largely uncut, reaching the beach and tumbling out over the sand in waves of green that create deep shade. Umbrellas are hardly needed on this natural-looking beach, where guest cosy up under low-hanging branches. Finally, any gaze to the horizon adds an eye-catching touch, the strange shapes of karst islands in Phang Nga Bay. When the sun sets behind these odd protrusions, guests know they are in some place between special and bizarre.

The resorts here are generally small but comfortable, and quite intimate. The Tubkaek Krabi Boutique Resort has created one of the greenest, more relaxing environments here, while Amari Vogue brings its well-known, professional standards to the beach. The queen of this beach, however, is the amazing Phulay Bay - Ritz Carlton Reserve , which brings remarkable design along with its famous name to Tub Kaek.

Note that Tub Kaek is also spelled Tup Kaek, Tub Khaek and similar variations.

Kan Tiang Bay, tropical sand, water & mountain combo at Koh Lanta's fat south

It's the green mountain that towers up behind Kan Tiang Bay and beach that makes this outshine all other Lanta beaches – especially the bigger, busier ones at the island's flat, and rather boring northern end. Plus the curve of the beach, and the rocky headlands that block both ends. Not to mention that the water at this end of the island is closer to the deep sea, and always clearer. Kan Tiang has much going for it.

Another major factor keeping this beach green and less developed is the major resort here, Pimalai. Opened in the 1990s, this was seen as a brave, perhaps even fool-hardy pioneer of Thailand's distant wilds. But pioneers get advantages too, and the forward-thinking Thai businesswoman behind Pimalai was able to buy up a wide track of beachfront land, and, well, do little with it. Few developers can resist profits and leave valuable land in its natural state. Our beach map of Kan Tiang shows that Pimalai Resort controls about half of the beachfront land here, with most of that still forested and little-disturbed.

At the north end of the beach we find some cheaper accommodation alternatives, some quite attractive, but all without the space and nature that their 5-star neighbour enjoys. Phra Nang Lanta is one of the more interesting, 3-star places. Lanta Marine Park View Resort offers elevated rooms on the northern headland, and grand views back over the whole beach, and over the horizon to the islands of Trang.

Nai Harn Beach, the local resident's favourite beach on Phuket

On Phuket, made famous by the splendour of its beaches, Nai Harn Beach stands out among the beauty queens – for two reasons. First comes geography, which has been especially generous by placing this 660 metre strip of sand in a deep bay with a towering mountain at one end, undulating hills off to other side, and a picturesque coco island in front. Buddhism can be complimented for the next stroke of luck, because all land directly behind the beach was occupied long ago by monks in need of a quiet meditation centre. With the land now monastic property, commercial developers are permanently locked out, and trees continue to dominate everything the top of the sand. When walking along Nai Harn Beach we thus see only a single building, The Nai Harn (originally the Phuket Yacht Club Hotel), built rather unobtrusively into the western hillside.

Nai Harn is thus the only one of Phuket's stunningly beautiful, sandy quintuplets that remains quite natural, with a plethora of beach umbrellas the only real scar on its face. The other four tropical beauties that helped make Phuket world famous with their soft coral sand and calm, crystal water – Patong, Karon, Kata, Kata Noi –all suffer from various degrees of concrete constipation.

Having so little beachfront accommodation here helps the beach, but limits visitors' choices. The Nai Harn occupies one of the most magnificent locations on Phuket, and was the island's premier hotel in the 1990s. Following a refurbishment in 2015 it will be trying to reclaim some of its former glory. Nearby Baan Krating Phuket Resort is a beautiful getaway for those seeking real privacy in a natural environment.

Chao Le Beach, on the remote and beautiful island, Koh Lipe

Chao La Beach is one of just two substantial beaches on Koh Lipe, one of Thailand's most remote islands. Being far out in the Andaman Sea, everything here is continuously cleansed by crystal waters from the deep. But Chao Le Beach is somewhat sullied by its recent history, and the handling of the local 'chao le' people, or sea gypsies. But the Chao Le story is for a different time and space.

Pattaya Beach, Lipe's 'main' beach with the most beachfront accommodations, suffers from too many boats, people and buildings right up against the sand. Chao Le Beach (sometimes called Sunrise beach by tourists) remains much more natural with fewer resorts and people on the sand. However, it is the exceptional hair-curl of sand at the northern tip that propels this to the top of the beauty rankings. This exceptional sandy protrusion, surrounded by clear turquoise water, is a friendly tropical playground ideal for both adults seeking relaxation and children in need of a safe spot to swim and snorkel.

This top part of the beach is just minutes walk for visitors in all resorts along Chao Le Beach, though the one with commanding view over it is the simple but comfortable Mountain Resort . A group of more comfortable beach bungalows and resorts is clustered near the bottom of the beach, with Castaway Beach Resort offering some rather creative rooms and a relaxing, elevated beachfront restaurant. The most comfortable resort on the beach, and the only one with a swimming pool, is Idyllic Concept Resort at the far end.

by John Everingham

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