Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat February 20 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | February 20, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    3 Top Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

    3 Top Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

    PHOTO: Getting off the speedboat and onto Koh Tao, we knew we had made the right decision! (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    There are numerous islands in Gulf of Thailand, but the three most-visited are the ones to gravitate towards: family-oriented Koh Samui, Koh Phangan — which hosts wild Full Moon Parties and peaceful yoga retreats and lastly, Koh Tao, known for its incredibly cheap diving opportunities and beautiful bays.

    The following breakdown of each island’s characteristics will help make the choice of which one(s) to visit easy. It all depends on your travel style:

    Koh Samui

    PHOTO: For some fun in the sun, head to the backpacker beach of Chaweng.

    Personally my least favorite, Koh Samui is best for families who want to explore generic attractions already found throughout Thailand. It’s worth a day or two but definitely not a must-visit, even with its many beaches.

    Cheapest Accommodation: Coffee Island Hotel (300 baht a room)

    • Rent a scooter and explore the island.

    • Visit the Big Buddha, Wat Plai Laem, Wat Phra Yai and the Mummified Monk.

    • Do a day trip to Anthong Marine National Park.

    • Wander through Secret Buddha Garden.

    • Explore Namuang Waterfall.

    • Head to one of the many beaches: Chaweng and Lamai Beach — which are the two most visited by backpackers, then there’s Choeng Mon, Thongtakian and Maenam Beaches as well.

    READ MORE: 5 More Must-Visit Beaches in Southeast Asia

    Koh Phangan

    Koh Phangan may be known for its wild Full Moon Parties but it has a lot more to offer than buckets and drunken backpackers.

    Cheapest Accommodation: Echo Beach Backpackers ($3 a dorm)

    If you do decide to go for the Full Moon Party, below are the top tips to save a few bucks:

    • Go a week early to search for cheaper accommodation. Prices rise as the moon waxes.

    • Stay near “Dancing Elephant” hostel area. Doing so saves on transport because taxis are 250 baht minimum.

    • If you need to save a few extra dollars, on the night of a Full Moon Party, don’t pay for accommodation and put your bags into a friend’s room or ask a hostel if they have a free shelf (since you won’t be sleeping anyway).

    Things to Do Besides a Full Moon Party:

    • Rent a scooter and drive around the incredible island. There are amazing secluded beaches and great sunsets. (Note: If you rent a scooter, you MUST take photographs of the bike or they will scam you out of 500 baht.)

    • Wander through the Thong Sala night market and try all the mouthwatering seafood.

    • Check out a gigantic tree more than 42 feet in diameter at Herbal Sauna Baan Tai.

    • Beach it up at the less touristic Chaloklum Beach.

    • Participate in a yoga retreat, detox or spa day at The Sanctuary: An alternative island resort located on the secluded east coast of Koh Phangan with stunning beaches and views!

    Koh Tao

    PHOTO: Nothing beats swinging across the water along your own stretch of beach at Big Fish.

    Koh Tao, also known as “Turtle Island” is truly one of the best islands in all of Thailand and a must for everyone looking for a laid-back atmosphere.

    It may be the cheapest and easiest place in the world to learn to scuba dive, with over 50 dive shops to choose from and if you walk a little further out from the main stretch, you can find your own little piece of paradise all to yourself on one of the three bays.

    Best Accommodation: Big Fish (800 baht a room with fan and ensuite bathroom)

    Big Fish Resort is located right in the heart of Chalok Ban Kao, away from the party vibes and we had bartered the price down to $8 a night during low season. Our room consisted of two queen size beds, steps from a stunning beach accompanied by a tree swing!

    READ MORE: Cambodia Grows and Links Up with Thailand

    Things to Do:

    • If you want to skip the parties on Sairee Beach, head to Thian Og Bay, Laem Thian Bay or Ao Leuk Bay for quieter and cheaper island life.

    • Swim, rest and relax on the beautiful beaches!

    • Head to O’chias for cheap food and an incredible viewpoint.

    • Learn how to scuba dive on one of the most beautiful islands.

    • Enjoy the nightlife on Sairee beach.

    • Watch sunset at Sunset View Bar accompanied by live music!

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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