Most visitors pick either Phuket or Samui, but each offers something a little different, and there’s no reason you can’t see both on vacation. This itinerary will begin in Phuket, where you’ll get a chance to tour waterfalls, snorkel, dive, explore the world-famous beaches, and do some island-hopping, too. After that, you’ll take a flight to Samui, where you’ll visit not only the main island but also neighboring Ko Pha-Ngan.
You’ll arrive in Phuket on the first day, whether you transited through Bangkok or got a direct flight from another Asian city. During high season, Air China, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Emirates, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines all fly to Phuket, so if you’re flying from a large U.S. city, you should be able to avoid more than one flight change.
After you arrive in Phuket, grab a taxi to your hotel on one of the island’s many beaches, drop off your stuff, and take a refreshing swim in the Indian Ocean. Back at your hotel, arrange a snorkeling or scuba diving tour (if you’re already scuba certified) of Ko Phi Phi and the surrounding islands for the next day. Then head to Patong Beach for a seafood meal on the water and experience a little nightlife. You could also head to Surin Beach for a quieter evening.
Wake up early to make sure you don’t miss your ride to the pier for the tour of Ko Phi Phi and the surrounding islands; most tours start their pickups at 7am. After you’ve arrived at the boat, hang on for some island-hopping. Spend the day snorkeling or diving around some of Phang Nga Bay’s most beautiful islands. Don’t worry about lunch; it’s always included in these day tours. When you get back to your hotel, relax for a while by the water before getting ready for dinner.
Spend the day lounging and relaxing on the beach. Arrange a ride into Phuket Town for dinner; stop at Raya Thai if you can get a table.
If you’re feeling like you’ve already seen enough, spend another day on the beach. If you’ve had enough beach time, head to Rawai Beach to walk through the small fishing village. You won’t be able to do any swimming or sunbathing there, so don’t worry about packing a towel. During the evening, ditch the flip-flops and bathing suit for something a little more formal and have dinner at one of the fancier restaurants in Kata Beach.
In the morning, head for the airport and take a short flight to Ko Samui. The only airline offering direct flights is Bangkok Airways, and there are limited flights per day, so make sure to book ahead. Once you arrive in Samui, take a moment to enjoy the charming little airport before you grab a taxi and head to your hotel. After you check in to your hotel, spend a couple of hours exploring some of the island’s tourist attractions, such as the Big Buddha and Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks, before retiring to the beach for some more relaxation.
As you did in Phuket, you’ll spend a day exploring the region on a guided tour. This time, you’ll spend your time in Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, essentially the islands surrounding Ko Samui, on a kayaking tour. Wake up early and catch a ride with your tour group to Nathon pier, where your boat will depart after a quick breakfast. Don’t worry if you’ve never kayaked before, as most good outfitters will offer basic instruction and plenty of help during the tour.
After paddling to some of the park’s most amazing sights, including the emerald lake, Thale Nai, enjoy a basic Thai lunch on the beach before kayaking through and around some of the gorgeous islands (and somewhat scary caves!). You’ll be back at your hotel by around 6pm, just in time to either collapse from exhaustion or take a quick shower and head out to Chaweng Beach for some dinner.
Spend your last full day in Samui relaxing by the beach. For dinner, head to Bo Phut Beach, where you can pick from a number of restaurants overlooking the water. If you happen to be there on a Friday night, enjoy the Fisherman’s Village Night Market, full of lots of fun stuff to buy as well as good, cheap food and drink.
Take a last dip in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand before packing up and heading to the airport for your return home.
Excerpted from The First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.