Thailand is known for its beaches, and in planning our honeymoon, Jordan and I simply couldn’t miss out on that. The question for us became: which beach? Wrapped up in wedding planning, honeymoon planning, as well as buying and moving into a new house, we felt a little stressed about doing crazy amounts of research about how to get from here to there, so we landed on easy.
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For us this meant Phuket: it has an airport and a Marriott resort, two things that helped us check off this portion of our honeymoon, the one we felt really should be the “sit back and relax” portion. This is not to say that we didn’t do research - we did! In fact, we found lots of nice places that we would have loved to go, but in trying to maximize our time in Thailand, we just couldn’t justify how long it would take for us to get there, or the amount of unknowns that the various places held (I know, my inner adventurer is cringing, too!). This is also not to say that we didn’t enjoy our time on Phuket. We did. But more on that later!
When we were scoping out Thai beaches, we came across four islands that really stood out to us - Krabi, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and of course, Phuket.
We’ve planned a few big international trips before, and we’ve learned that while 16 days sounds like a lot of time, we were cramming in six cities (Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Beach TBD, Siem Reap, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay), which means we had to minimize travel time. Thus, one of our “must haves” was an easy and quick way to get from place to place.
In addition to easy travel plans, Jordan and I are big points travelers. I won’t spend a lot of time discussing that here, but it’s a major contributing factor of how we’ve been able to take such amazing vacations and make them affordable for us. We mostly bank our points for air travel (those flights are ex-pen-sive!) but, thanks to Jordan’s past life as a consultant and living in Marriott hotels for weeks on end, as well as getting married at a Marriott (we may have done this for the points), we also have a good amount of points in the Marriott system now. We usually like to spend a few nights at a Marriott during our longer trips to enjoy that little bit of luxury, and we thought, “hey, luxury at the beach, sounds nice!”
So, we began researching Thai islands that were easy to get to and had Marriotts…
Krabi was really, really where we wanted to go. We had heard about the pristine beaches, many many islands to explore, forests to wander through, and best of all, the adventure sports. Jordan and I are not ones to just sit on the beach - we like to be active! So it seemed like Krabi could fill our need for both wanting to relax, but also get into some of that adventure, as well.
Kristen, from Life is an Arrow, was able to do just this when she visited Krabi for a day trip: “We had been told previously that rock climbing was a great attraction on the island so we decided to fit it into our plans. We took a boat ride from Phuket that was about two and a half hours and the scenery was gorgeous! The island itself was quiet and so relaxing. We went with about seven others to be fitted for equipment and meet our belayer (the man holding our ropes for us and helping us with technique). They have several different options for ability levels so we had many opportunities to test our skills! It was a beautiful experience being able to see the island from a different viewpoint-not to mention the nearly secluded beach time we had before our boat came back for pickup!”
When we began to look into Krabi, however, as noted by Kristen, it would have taken us about two and a half hours to get there after flying from Bangkok to Phuket - time we just weren’t willing to spend traveling, when we only had three days allotted to this portion of the trip. Additionally, the only Marriott option available in Krabi is the Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton, which would have wiped out all of our Marriott points… and then some. So, on to the next option…
Koh Samui seemed like a great option. There was a reasonably priced Marriott, the Renaissance Koh Samui, and an airport for easy transportation. We also found that there would be much to do on the island. Eliza from Digital Travel Guru describes the various activities one can do on Koh Samui: “Koh Samui, also known as the coconut Island, is located approximately one hour from Bangkok. It is a beautiful tropical Island, that has history dating back to 1600’s… Koh Samui has lots of white sand beaches as well and many secret beaches and coves you can find when exploring the island, you can literally visit a different beach every day and find beaches that are secluded. The Island is also very rich in history and culture and you will find many temples and sights to visit there, which is a highly recommended activity to do, to understand Thai culture and history. Another great activity to do from Koh Samui is visiting Ang Thong National park, which can be done as a day trip, it is an archipelago of 42 islands, with incredible white sand beaches, stunning limestone mountains, jungles and fantastic sea life. Most people visit for snorkelling, diving and to take in the magnificent scenery.”
This sounded right up our alley! As we continued to do more research, we found that Koh Samui was also great because it’s much more affordable than the more touristy places, like Phuket. Eliza continues, “On Koh Samui you will find a good selection of places to stay from luxury, 5 star hotels to backpackers hostels, the island also has lots of villas you can rent, so whatever your budget you will find a place to stay. The island is also a well known destination for weddings and for people on honeymoon. If you are foodie, then Koh Samui will also appeal to you as it has a vast selection of places to eat for almost any type of food you want, there are literally restaurants everywhere, from beachside dining to luxury restaurants and street food choices, Koh Samui has it all.”
Koh Samui is an incredible Island to visit, as it still retains it’s tropical island feel and a lot of the island is less developed than Phuket and with less people and less traffic. Koh Samui is an Island you can drive round exploring. A round trip will take you about 2-4 hours depending on how many places you want to visit around the island.
While this sounded perfect to us, the airport in Koh Samui did not have any flights that we could find to go on to Siem Reap in Cambodia. So, we sadly moved on from the idea of Koh Samui. Sidenote: We also did not realize that the flight we ended up booking from Phuket to Siem Reap would connect through Bangkok, but everyone makes mistakes, and hopefully you can learn from ours!
Our last contributor, Ann from Eco Conscious Traveller, discusses a bit about why she loves Koh Tao:
Although all of the islands in Thailand are amazing, Koh Tao is definitely my favourite. It’s known for its fantastic diving opportunities which you have to try if you’re a diver. As for me, I went on a day’s snorkeling trip which set me back approximately 20USD and it was absolutely incredible. The full day trip involved stopping at 5 snorkeling stops and seeing incredible underwater life. Some of the snorkelers on our trip even saw a shark. I didn’t catch it though! But even when we weren’t under water it was just so relaxing to sit on the boat and look at the magnificent beauty of the ocean and the island.
I also absolutely loved spending a few days just relaxing on the beach in Koh Tao. The beaches are absolutely incredible. It's so nice to watch sunrise and sunset on the beach. My favourite beach was Ao Leuk for its clear waters and fine white sand.
If you like partying I would also recommend you go on the Koh Tao pub crawl. It runs four times a week and the type of travelers you meet on Koh Tao are really chilled and laid back so it’s a great place to meet others!
Admittedly for us, this one was on our list and then quickly off of it because there are no Marriotts to speak of, and the methods of getting there involved at least a flight and a ferry.
Thus, we landed on Phuket. Now, this is not all to say that we were bummed to be going to Phuket - we were still excited to be going to a Thai beach! I more so just wanted to give you all a glimpse into our trip-planning process, as that is something that I’m asked about a lot: How do we decide where to go, how to get there, and how many days to spend? Well - this was one case of we kind of let the cards decide for us.
We ended up staying at the JW Marriott at Mai Khao Beach, which was about 30 minutes from the airport. It was beautiful, and they treated us wonderfully (major hint: if it is your honeymoon, tell everyone, and don’t miss a single soul. You may not get that upgrade you were hoping for, but you’ll get some cool towel animals and rose petals on your bed).
The Marriott hooked us up with one of our favorite adventures (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this might be one of the best things we’ve ever done), John Gray’s Sea Canoe. We canoed around Phang Nga Bay and explored the Hongs (lagoons), saw some monkeys, and after the sun set, we even got to see the bioluminescent plankton.
The only downside of our experience, and we would have experienced this no matter what, was staying at a Marriott resort truly “Americanized” our experience. Other than our Sea Canoe adventure, we didn’t step foot outside of the resort. When we were planning, I kind of thought that’s what we wanted, but after spending time in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, I had fallen in love with the adventure again and wanted to explore! While the resort was fabulous and gave me, really, exactly what I was looking for (two months earlier, when I was knee-deep in wedding planning), I think we would have valued something a little more local and adventurous.