Eli Orzessek recommends the best Thai islands, whatever you need from a holiday.
For families: Koh Samui
Although it was once a backpackers' haven, Koh Samui has grown up a bit and offers a vast range of accommodation. As one of the most popular holiday destinations in southern Thailand, it has everything you need for a family-friendly holiday — and it's also perfect for first-timers. The island has plenty of resorts that cater to families, offering fun classes and kids clubs. The Four Seasons Resort is known for its great free activities for kids, with activities like coconut painting, cooking classes and traditional Thai games scheduled every day. Once you're on Koh Samui, you'll find no shortage of things to do — hit the beach, visit the Big Buddha or take an island road-trip adventure. And if you have picky eaters who aren't particularly keen on the local cuisine, you'll have no problem finding staple Western food.
For parties: Koh Pha Ngan
If you prefer to drink your cocktails out of buckets, Koh Pha Ngan is the island for you — it's the home of Thailand's famous full-moon parties, which see revellers take to the sand for three days of hedonism. During its peak season, the island can welcome 20,000 visitors to dance and drink on the beach. But if you're not travelling during the right moon phase, fear not — the island also hosts half-moon and black moon parties in intervening weeks, so you won't suffer any FOMO.
Once the hangover hits, Koh Pha Ngan offers plenty of places to recover — head to a secluded spot like Bottle Beach to sleep it off under a palm tree, or book in to one of the island's spas to recover with a massage.
For luxury: Phuket
For those who are all about the good life, Phuket has no shortage of luxurious offerings — including the exclusive Amanpuri Resort. A favourite of royalty, rock stars and celebrities, its list of famous visitors includes Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in happier times, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mick Jagger and Bill Gates. With 30 private villas looking down to Pansea Beach and architecture that echoes the Royal Palace in Bangkok, it doesn't get much more luxe than this.
Once you're settled on Phuket, anything is possible — stroll through the temples of the island, dine at a celebrity chef's restaurant, shop at designer boutiques, or even have plastic surgery.
For budget: Koh Chang
As Thailand's second busiest island, you may expect Koh Chang to be overrun with tourists — but it's a world away from busier spots like Phuket or Koh Samui. With a beautiful coastline with palm tree and jungle-covered mountains in the interior, it's the perfect place for nature-lovers to get off the beaten track. For those on a budget, Koh Chang has plenty of accommodation options that won't hurt your wallet, including boutique hostels and cheaper beach bungalows.
There's a beach to suit every vibe on the island — if you're looking to party, head to the nightlife at Lonely Beach or White Sand Beach; for diving excursions and great seafood, try Bang Bao; and for a quieter atmosphere, go for Long Prao Beach, which attracts an older crowd.
For when you want it all: Koh Lanta
A great all-rounder, Koh Lanta is the place to choose when you just can't make up your mind. It's made up of 52 small islands, with Koh Lanta Yai the most visited. Boasting wild nature reserves and deserted, pristine beaches, the island group is also marine protected — so you know there will be great snorkelling and diving to look forward to. All tastes and budgets are catered for on Koh Lanta and it has a much more chilled-out vibe than many of the other islands. Another point of difference is its mix of Buddhist and Muslim communities — which makes for some delicious food options.
The easiest way to get around on Koh Lanta Yai is by renting a motorcycle — just be sure
to wear a helmet and be wary of potholes.
You will have to make some effort to get here — either fly to Krabi Airport and take a minivan, ferry or speedboat, or take the ferry from Phuket.
For solo travellers: Koh Phi Phi
If you're travelling alone, you can find yourself on the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi. Following the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, the island has been almost completely rebuilt, with plenty of smart new places to stay. The activity options here are endless, including diving, snorkelling, cliff-jumping and boat trips — or you can just explore and see where it takes you. After a day of sand, sea and sun, you can make some new friends at the island's beach bars, as you watch Thai dancers juggling with fire.
Unfortunately, the island's most famous beach Maya Bay (featured in the movie The Beach) has been closed since last year due to damage to coral reefs from over-tourism. However, there are other options that are just as idyllic — try Pileh Bay, Koh Hong and Lo Moo Dee Bay, to name just a few.
For couples: Koh Lipe
Escape the crowds and enjoy some quality time with your sweetheart on a picture-perfect beach on this paradise island. One of the 51 islands of Tarutao Marine Park, near the border of Malaysia, Koh Lipe has far fewer tourists than other islands and is small enough to explore on foot — preferably hand-in-hand.
Pattaya Beach is the busiest on the island and is where you'll find the nightlife — and it bears no resemblance to its more infamous namesake in the Gulf of Thailand — whereas Sunset Beach is the quietest spot. Accommodation can be pricier than in other destinations but there's a range of options to suit different budgets. You may, however, want to book into a spa at one of the more exclusive resorts and enjoy a romantic couple's massage for a treat at some point.
Thai Airways flies from Auckland to Bangkok, with connections available to 10 destinations acround the country.