How many times have you booked a peaceful getaway to a paradisiacal island only to show up to a bustling city with a dingy strip and dirty sand? The idea of the remote, tropical Shangri-La rarely matches up with the reality. Today's undiscovered beaches are tomorrow's ultimate destinations. If you crave the solitude and serenity of an untouched paradise, here are five destinations to match your wanderlust dreams - but get there quick, secrets like these can only last so long. Once the secret's out, the race is on to find next year's silent stretch of sand.
You haven't heard of Koh Lipe yet, but that's about to change. This island underwent a rapid transformation over the past five years. What once housed only rustic huts, now boasts world-class resorts. Yet, Koh Lipe retains its undiscovered status - and even exploits it. Unlike Phuket, Koh Lanta, or Koh Samui, the small, horseshoe-shaped Koh Lipe has held on to its Thai authenticity. Koh Lipe provides all the amenities of its more famous neighbors, but without the hefty price tag and hordes of red-faced farangs.
Getting There: You can reach Koh Lipe year-round from Pak Barra. From November to April, the island can be reached by boat from Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and several other islands in the Andaman Sea.
The setting for the fifth season of the reality show Survivor, Koh Tarutao National Marine Park is everything that the other islands of Thailand are not: clean, quiet, peaceful, undeveloped, and protected. Comprising 51 islands off the Andaman Coast, the park's headquarters and the area's main government-appointed accommodation are found on the largest island, Koh Tarutao. Sixteen by 7 miles in size with 2,300-foot peaks, Koh Tarutao is blanketed in native forest, where monkeys and hornbills abound. If you're craving thrilling jungle walks, kayak expeditions, and remote beaches with infinite solitude, Koh Tarutao is the place for you.
Getting There: Take a ferry from Pak Bara or nearby Koh Lipe.
Though technically on the mainland, Railay is only accessible by longtail boat and retains the feeling of a deserted island that you won't find in any of the mainland's other beaches. Popular with rock climbing enthusiasts, Railay is an outcrop cut off from the mainland by massive limestone cliffs which themselves house formidable caverns. Gaping caves, hidden lagoons, and three palm-lined beaches make this isthmus an ideal escape from nearby Krabi and the best beach for those who don't want to stray too far from the coast.
Getting There: Take a quick longtail boat ride from Krabi, Ao Na Moa, or Ao Nang.
Koh Nang Yuan
You've likely heard of the famous dive island Koh Tao, but just off shore lies an even more dazzling mecca for divers and snorkelers alike. Just 15 minutes from Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan is a world away. With its famous Y-shaped beach, the world's only zip line between islands, and the world-class Nang Yuan Island Dive Resort, there's no shortage of activities.
Getting There: Koh Nang Yuan is a 15 minute ferry or longtail boat ride from Koh Tao.
The Similan Islands National Park encompasses one of the most remote island groups in Thailand. The park is known for its boulder-strewn shores, warm tropical breezes, and crystal clear waters. Located just over 30 miles from the mainland, the Similan Islands are oft named the best dive spot in Thailand, if not the world. Home to a wide variety of marine life (including several endangered species), these nine uninhabited islands are best visited for a day, overnight, or on guided dive tours. There are no resorts or stores on the islands, though there are bungalows available for rent. If you really want to get off the beaten path in Thailand, this is the spot.
Located 30 miles from the mainland, several liveaboard dive operators and tourists boats troll these waters, with departures from Phuket and Khao Lak.
*** For all beaches in Thailand, make sure to check the monsoon seasons as certain islands may be closed to tourists for several months of the year.