Phil and Garth > Destinations > Asia > Thailand > Phuket Island Hopping Travel Guide

Phuket Island Hopping Travel Guide

by Garth

Last updated: 3rd August 2023

Our Phuket Island Hopping base

We ended our tour of Thailand with a beach stay, having experienced the sights of Bangkok and the elephants of Khao Sok.  Planning this trip took some time deciding between Krabi, Ko Lanta and Phuket.  Ultimately it was price and accessibility of island hopping trips to the Phi Phi islands, Phang Nga Bay and Krabi from Phuket which was the main decider.  We didn’t want nightlife (as we did that in Bangkok) we wanted a quiet beach, time to chill out and good service in a luxury hotel, so we booked The Surin after reading about it in The Telegraph’s travel section.



Smiles all round

On arrival we anticipated the usual palaver of checking in, but we have to say this wasn’t, it has to be the best welcome and service we’ve ever had. We were immediately sat down and offered a refreshing drink, which was really welcome after our long journey.  Thai people are known for their smiles and gosh it’s true. The staff were happy and attentive giving us a comprehensive rundown of the hotel and all the facilities on offer. Before we knew it we were whisked off on a golf buggy with our luggage to our room. We realised we had made a good choice of hotel and were two very happy boys!


The luxury Surin hotel & Beach, Phuket


Phil and Garth on the Surin’s private beach with luscious turquoise water

The Surin was amazing. A 5 star luxury hideaway with the best asset – a private beach, The Pansea Beach, which it shared with just one other hotel. The beach was immaculate, perfect golden sand with turquoise water, but the Andaman Sea was weird though. Occasionally we kept getting the sensation of being bitten or stung in the water. We were told they were bites from tiny sea mites, which are common in Phuket, after a while we got used to it and its not a problem.  At the end of the beach there was also a beach bar shack run by locals with waitress service, we used it during the day instead of the hotel’s more expensive beach bar.  We also took advantage of a reasonably price massages on the beach by some local Thai ladies, absolute bliss!


Our fabulous spacious room


Our room

Our room was a cottage style bungalow set high up in the tropical hillside.  The accommodation is stunning as they are positioned amongst the lush tropical landscape, making it feel very serene.  However their position on the steep incline of the hill means it’s quite a workout getting there via the high up walkways.  But don’t fear you can call concierge and they will send a golf buggy, we made use of this most nights after a number of cocktails! Our room was fabulous, really tasteful done shaker style. It had a huge bathroom with a separate shower and toilet and great toiletries topped up daily in nice crockery pots. Other plus points: quiet AC, an overhead fan and turn down service. Garth had read the hotel remained intact after the tragic tsunami of 2004 presumably down to how these bungalows built  high up, so in some ways that was reassuring.



Dinners on the beach

Evenings were just perfect watching the sunset each night with delicious cocktails. We took advantage most nights of dinner on the beach, how often do you get to do that?! It was really romantic too.


Our table laid ready for a dinner whilst we watched the sunset


Beautiful sunsets in Phuket



One dramatic pool

Garth took the photo below and it looked exactly like the one they had on their glossy magazine back in the room!

We also loved the Surin’s dramatic black tiled pool, really distinctive. The food! wow 10/10 Everywhere we went in Thailand the food has been spot on and beyond our expectations, and again the Surin didn’t disappoint. Breakfast had everything you could think of or want, including our favourite at hotels – an egg station, where you can order your eggs how you like them.


Beautiful evening at the Surin Hotel Phuket


The Surin’s dramatic black tiled pool




We explored the immediate area outside the hotel, where the main road is dotted with small shops leads to a small promenade right by the sea. The promenade had various small shops, nice upscale bars and restaurants, as well as some really cheap street food and smaller restaurants overlooking the sea.  We liked the latter, and despite being basic the Thai food was amazing, especially the Papaya Salad!  And if you fancied it, you could even get a made to measure suit here, there were a couple of tailors offering that, tempting but we didn’t.

In the evenings we came here for some low key nightlife, ambient music and chilled vibes, just how we like it.  We didn’t bother with Phuket’s infamous nightlife of Patong, even though it was only about 30 minutes away, we’ll save that for another trip!


The main road outside the hotel


Nearby beach stalls



Beautiful Ko Phi Phi Islands & Phang Nga Bay

Before we went Garth did loads of research on the net for the best reviews and companies for day trips to the islands of Ko Phi Phi and Phang Nga Bay.  Starting with Phi Phi there’s 6 islands, we wanted to see 2 of them. The islands are incredibly popular so mass tourism goes hand in hand, resulting in a ridiculous amount of boats and people!  Friends and other travel bloggers had warned us about this. So after much Googling we chose Simba Sea Trips, and booked and paid in advance for 2 separate trips.  They are not the cheapest, you can hire long tail boats at a fraction of the cost. We felt afterwards Simba were worth it for their attention to detail and overall quality. We took their Sunrise Phi Phi Tour and so glad we did!  They really do a great job of ‘avoiding swarms of tourists’ as they put it by leaving at strategic times and putting together an itinerary to arrive at places when they are quiet.  This meant a taxi picked us up from our hotel very early and took us to Royal Phuket Marina where we boarded their speedboat early at 6am after a safety briefing by our excellent and fun guide Harry.


Dramatic limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay and a long tail boat



Ko Phi Phi Leh – Maya Beach

Getting there was quite an experience setting off in the dark, then witnessing the sunrise over the horizon, really beautiful.  After some breakfast we sat upfront with other passengers and rode the waves at high speed!  Brilliant like being on a rollercoaster, catching your breath whilst getting drenched occasionally from the boat smashing through the waves, it was quite a ride!   Garth being obsessed with photo opportunities was getting a battering catching the sunrise, but so was his camera!  Before we knew it, one massive wave had drenched it!  It appeared our Canon wasn’t that waterproof and sadly died at this point. Disaster!  or was it?  Luckily Phil had brought our small point and press underwater camera, so all was not lost! Everyone was given a dry bag for their belongings, there was a reason for that!


Heading out on the Simba Sea Trips Phi Phi Sunrise Tour, with windswept hair!


The famous Maya Bay of Ko Phi Phi Leh

We started getting butterflies seeing the Phi Phi islands appear on the horizon getting closer and closer, it was really exciting. Knowing we would soon be on the world famous Maya Bay where The Beach featuring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.  If only they could have played Moby’s Porcelain as we arrived!


Garth and Phil on Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh


Long tail boats in Maya Bay

Maya Bay Welcome and Tsunami signs

Maya Bay Welcome and Tsunami signs

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh

Saying goodbye to the stunning Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh



Snorkelling in Loh Samah Bay

Loh Samah Bay has an island in the middle and was simply beautiful. You can see it like in the photo above by taking a short walk from Maya Bay to the other side of the island.  We got back on the boat where it then moored up in Loh Samah Bay and we all jumped in for a spot of snorkelling, just magical!  Phil was a bit freaked out by the amount of fish all swimming around, as the crew kept chucking in pieces of bananas to attract them, he’s not keen of fish swimming in ‘his’ water!


Around the corner – Loh Samah Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh


Snorkelling at Loh Samah Bay



Ko Phi Phi Leh – Pileh Lagoon

The next stop on Phi Phi Leh was Pileh Lagoon, this has to be one of the most beautiful spots in Thailand!  You will have seen it, without knowing on countless brochures advertising Thailand.  An incredible lagoon of perfect turquoise waters surround by soaring limestone cliffs covered in vegetation.


Beautiful Pileh Lagoon

It’s here you have to do that classic jumping off a boat shot that you see on countless Insta accounts, this shot of Phil below is well, rubbish. Swimming here was like being in a warm bath, we loved our time here, swimming and soaking up the exotic scenery.  We could have spent hours here, but it was time to move on…  We both felt really fortunate to have visited this far flung sight, truly one of the world’s most breathtaking places.


This has to be our worst photo ever!


The ridiculous turquoise coloured water of Pileh Lagoon



Ko Phi Phi Don – Monkey Beach

It was time to leave Phi Phi Leh altogether and head to the slightly bigger island of Phi Phi Don and visit Monkey Beach!  This beach is home to lots of monkeys and all we can say is they are not shy.


Monkey Beach


Phil and a monkey, Phil is on the right!

As we walked onto the beach they immediately came over to see what’s on offer.  Be really careful if you are going here as they can bite. They will also try and grab your belongings, so hold onto them tight.


Turquoise waters and a Longtail boat = stunning photo

Monkeys aside, the beach is amazing too, perfect powder soft white sand and long tail boats in the bay, making for picture postcard imagery.


Garth and Phil at Ko Phi Phi Don, doing our best Monkey impression

Harry asked us if we wanted to see something funny, so he pinched the back of the leg of a beefy bloke from our group, his reaction was hilarious thinking he was being attached by the monkeys!!



Loh Lana Bay

We were glad to leave Monkey Beach, it was fun but kinda scary too! Time for some lunch and a snooze on the remote Loh Lana Bay, we had it all practically to ourselves! The buffet picnic Simba laid out was great.


View of Loh Lana Bay


The remote Loh Lana Bay resident to a few sea gypsies

Loh Lana was like a desert island, there’s no development here, no infrastructure, only a few sea gypsies living on the shoreline.



Our last stop – Nui Bay

For our final stop before heading back to Phuket we had an hours snorkelling at Nui Bay on Phi Phi Don. Snorkelling here was great fun, tons of fish and lots of different varieties, it’s like being dumped into a real life Sea Life Centre aquarium!  Phil was too freaked out by the amount of fish in the water, so chilled out instead.


Lovely Nui Bay perfect for snorkelling


Masses of fishes at Nui Bay



Phil’s Thai Cooking Lesson

The following day we chilled out at the hotel. Garth bought Phil a private cookery lesson for the morning. Phil loved the personal experience with the Surin’s chefs. He even had someone photograph every part of his cooking lesson, which he thought was for their website, but later that evening we received a knock at the room door and a porter handed us a envelope containing a DVD with all the photos on and a Surin branded apron – just brilliant!

Phil having cookery lesson at The Surin

Phil having cookery lesson at The Surin


The finished dishes! Crab & Avocado Wraps, Tom Yam Seafood,  Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Thai Green Chicken  Curry)

The finished dishes we’re delicious, well done Phil! and we even got to eat them in the sunshine on the beach, washed down with a glass of fizz.



Phang Nga Bay

It was time for our second trip to Phang Nga Bay and Koh Panyee.  Which meant another early start at the Phuket Marina with Simba Sea Trips, our guide was Harry again! Hooray!


Looks like Halong Bay, but this is Phang Nga Bay



Koh Phanak

Our first stop was the island of Koh Phanak where we donned hard hats and did some cave exploring. We entered a long cave tunnel which was a little claustrophobic at times because it was pitch black and we had to wade through water that was waist high.  But we emerged out into a small hidden lagoon, completely surrounded by soaring limestone rocks and lined with Mangrove trees.  We were there at low tide, again perfectly timed by Harry so we had the place to ourselves.  When the tide is up you can kayak through the cave to reach this lagoon, that must also be spectacular when the lagoon is full of water.   The Thai also refer to it as “Mangrove Hong” which means room or lagoon.  Mangrove trees are sea salt tolerant, that’s how they survive here.


Phil stood inside the Mangrove Lagoon of Koh Phanak



Khao Phing Kan and Koh Tapu

The next island hop was Koh Phing Kan. It’s right next to Koh Tapu ‘Nail Island’ – a limestone rock made famous by the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974.  Since then tourists have been flocking here for decades to see this now iconic Thai landmark, commonly known as James Bond Island.

Years ago Koh Tapu used to be part of the main island, but over time the sea has carved into it.  It really was an absolutely stunning location, where we were surrounded by more dramatic limestone cliffs.  Since 1998 tourist boats are not allowed to approach Koh Tapu close up, to stop erosion, they also fear it may collapse.  We arrived at the perfect time, before a single tourist boat and even before the tourist tat shops had even opened for business, which of course was perfect for photos and we got to enjoy the beauty of this lagoon all to ourselves, on the way back to Phuket we passed it again and saw just how incredibly crowded it gets.


Khao Phing Kan and Koh Tapu


Garth and Phil at the landmark James Bond Island


“No Mr Bond, I want you to die!”

Harry had even brought along his own golden gun, much to the delight of Phil and fellow passengers as we all posed for cheesy shots!



Sea Canoe

Next we moored up next to the floating Muteara Sea Canoe platform, where a Thai man paddled for us giving us the chance to really appreciate the views and take in the prehistoric world sights infront of us.  We got up close to these incredible limestone formations and travelled through some incredible caves with rocky overhangs.

The Muteara Sea Canoe floating platform

The Muteara Sea Canoe floating platform

Sea canoeing in Phang Nga Bay

Sea canoeing in Phang Nga Bay



Koh Panyee

Koh Panyee is an interesting island to visit, but definitely more for its visual aesthetic – an incredible looking place set in the the middle of an emerald sea and dramatic limestone rock backing. It’s known locally as ‘muslim island’ and remains a fishing village but today the residents rely heavily on tourism, mainly by feeding large groups fresh sea food in a large restaurants that face out to sea.  The whole village is built on stilts, some homes are basic shacks others more substantial wooden buildings.  We did find it really interesting wandering the narrow streets made of planks of woods and passed little shops selling T-shirts, home made crafts, then a market selling the usual tourist tat souvenirs.  Some children came up to us selling bracelets, crayons and paper, they obviously rely heavily on tourists to make a living during the summer season.


Koh Panyee fishing village


The gold domes of the Koh Panyee mosque


An alleyway of Koh Panyee


Koh Panyee school and a shrine to the King

As we made our way through the warren of streets, it then opens up into larger spaces where we discovered a school and a shrine to the King.  A warning to animal lovers – some residents keep hawks, monkeys and snakes offering photo opportunities to tourists, this is a side of tourism we really don’t like, neither did Harry our guide, I was pleased he told us about it in advance, but thankfully I didn’t see any caged animals.


Restaurants of Koh Panyee Village looking out to sea

These are the large restaurants which house large numbers of tourists. We had an ok meal there, Phil was gasping for a beer by this time, but forgot they didn’t serve alcohol.


Jellyfish fishermen at work in Phang Nga Bay

As we made our way back to Phuket, we came across an area where there were lots of fishermen everywhere you looked.  Harry told us at certain times of the year hundreds of jelly fish descend into the bay, and the locals take advantage of the opportunity. The crew asked one of them if they could pull up the boat so we could have a look at their catch.  Fascinating watching the fishermen at work, they just look and wait, then when a jellyfish passes them, they just scoop them out with a net.



One last exotic beach

Our final stop was to be a real highlight of the day just chilling on another deserted island for a few hours. Sadly I didn’t note the name of this beach, do you recognise it?  We went swimming and floating in that lovely warm water once again.


Another perfect picture postcard beach

Even though we did’t see much of Phuket island itself, the island’s location is just perfect for island hopping and day trips like we did. We will return one day I’m sure of it, who can resist the food? the exotic scenery? and those lovely local Thai smiles?



Phuket Facts, Information & Advice

Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Phuket Tips

  • Tip #1: Wear your T-shirt for snorkelling, we went in March when it’s very hot, and you easily burn in the water.
  • Tip #2: Don’t drink the water from taps, buy bottled water instead.
  • Tip #3: Be aware at ATMs – the money comes out first before your card is ejected, so don’t forget to take your card
  • Tip #4: When visiting Koh Panyee, ladies please cover up and remember you can’t buy alcohol here.
  • Tip #5: Go see the Thai elephants in Phuket, but please don’t ride them 🙂


Phuket FAQs

  • When is the best time to visit Phuket? December to March. The hottest month is March with an average of 35ºC.
  • When is the worst time to visit Phuket? The monsoon season runs from June to October.


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Muzz 8th November 2023 - 5:50 am

Incredible photos. You have inspired me again to go to James Bond Island. Hopefully soon now.

Alicia 26th December 2016 - 8:08 am

Tks for recall my memory. Had a chance to print my feet there. Amazing like our Ha Long. Love both! 🙂

Kamelia Britton 17th December 2016 - 9:10 pm

Great article and pics! There’s a super cool life sized chess board nearby that’s really cool. 🙂

Kelly Turpin 10th July 2016 - 2:24 am

Great article. I am about to cruise Phang Nga Bay again, along with Phi Phi Don and our other favourite islands as we sail to Langkawi with my parents. We have done the trip a few times now with visiting friends and do not get sick of it! Your top 5 tips are great. I agree about the elephants and would say to anyone to have a read about how they are trained before deciding whether you want to ride them. I wrote a blog about Elephant Tourism in Thailand when I was disgusted at myself for riding one! I rode one when we had friends visiting us last year, I wish I hadn’t but I did. They are such beautiful creatures.

Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) 9th July 2016 - 5:23 pm

Okay, wow – the pictures! Just two things we have to comment on: #1 – Love that you posted your “worst picture ever!” That seriously made us laugh out loud! #2 – The boat at sunset? I mean…can you get a more perfect picture? It looks like you guys had a fabulous time! Thanks for all of the detail and great places to see. Seriously craving those beaches now!

Travel Lexx 8th July 2016 - 9:40 pm

Great photos as per usual guys – definitely brings back memories of my trip 3 years ago! You are making me want to book a one way ticket to Thailand! 5 times definitely isn’t enough!

Garth 8th July 2016 - 9:44 pm

5 times! wow we’ve some catching up to do. We’re thinking about going again next year!

David 8th July 2016 - 5:09 pm

Steller photos as usual! The beachside dining looks amazing. Closest I’ve got to Phuket and Phi Phi is Ao Nang, will have to make certain I visit there next time.

Garth 8th July 2016 - 5:16 pm

Thanks David, the beach dining was indeed something special, that we won’t forget in a while! We definitely want to go back to Thailand and explore the mainland and more islands

Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) 8th July 2016 - 3:51 pm

What an amazing post and just an awesome beautiful video. I have been before and you have captured the beauty of Phuket. Looking forward to seeing more of your posts! Thanks for the great adventure through your post!

Garth 8th July 2016 - 4:02 pm

Thanks Stephanie! I’m glad we captured it as you remember! 🙂


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