Blessed with palm-lined coves and balmy weather all year, Phuket is popular with tourists and digital nomads alike. While prices vary, the kingdom’s largest island has become a hotspot for remote workers, with new bars, cafes, and coworking spaces popping up almost by the day, or so it seems. This can all be too much for the person burned out on city life.

Fret not. Just a 15-minute longtail boat ride off the south coast of Phuket are islets totally off the grid, resisting the wave of global tourism. After long days working in Phuket or even up north in Chiang Mai, schedule weekend getaways on these jungle-draped islands and refresh your mind in time for Monday morning.

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Koh Lon – For Adventurers Who Don’t Need WiFi

Photo by Philipp Meier

Ideal for a short holiday, Koh Lon boasts green-tinted water, blissfully uncrowded, palm-fringed beaches, and friendly locals that live off fishing, farming, and ecotourism. Smack-bang in the middle of Phuket’s Chalong Bay, Koh Lon has been inhabited for some 120 years. Originally a no-name island, it became Koh Loh-hn, or Bald Island, when buffaloes busted out of sheds. The hungry herbivores ate everything they found because rice farmers had turned to fishing, resulting in a lack of rice straws. Due to the locals’ accents, it later became Koh Lon, or Distorted Island.

Far from distorted, adventurers can get an authentic taste of life on this 30-resident island home to a small Muslim community. Lodging at Baan Anwa or Baan Galim homestay amid durian, mango, and jackfruit trees is an exciting experience off the electricity grid. Far enough from throngs of tourists, dozens of hornbills chatter away in the canopies, cheek by jowl with whistling magpie robins and brazen mynas twittering for dominance. You can tie-dye T-shirts, prepare nets for crab fishing, or make Thai desserts like Kanom Koh, chewy rice flour dumplings with shredded coconut and palm sugar.

Complete with a clinic, solar-powered school, and two waterfalls feeding milky-blue pools from July to September, Koh Lon offers a beautiful, solitary space for those who want to fully disconnect. It’s the place to go if you need to do work without the distraction of the Internet because unless you connect a hotspot to your laptop, you won’t have any.

Koh Bon – For Beach Bums

Photo by Philipp Meier

Hop on a rickety longtail boat at the Rawai Seafood Market, and you can say bye to the crowds as Phuket shrinks into miniature. A kilometer off the south coast of Thailand’s largest island awaits the guitar-shaped islet of Koh Bon. With two powdery beaches framed by Indian almond and sea grape trees, it’s a great day-trip place to gather your thoughts. 

Rumor has it a Phuket hotel wanted to claim it as a private island, but the beaches are public. And the only thing resembling a resort is an abandoned, dilapidated bamboo shack on Honeymoon Beach in Koh Bon’s northeast. To get there, walk over the hill on the one-meter-wide, leaf-covered track through dense jungle, and enjoy the cicadas producing rhythmic ticks and high-pitched whines.

There’s little else on the island besides a restaurant that closes at 5 p.m., weather permitting, and  no WiFi to be found. But the deck chairs almost beg you to sit under shade—giving casuarinas and screw pines. With a book in hand or a lightweight notebook on your lap, you can work on your tan, listening to the waves that lap the white-sand beach. 

Koh Tapao Noi – For History Buffs

Photo by Philipp Meier

Some two kilometers beyond the Fishermen’s Pier near Phuket’s Cape Panwa, Koh Tapao Noi is a 0.19 square kilometer islet that the Navy’s flood department oversees. Technically, you need permission to visit. But the bare-chested ranger may be as lenient as he was when I rocked up if you respect the oriental pied hornbill’s habitat. Aside from that chattering, a black-and-white bird with a yellow-white bill and “helmet,” the 124-year-old lighthouse on top of the hill is the proud flagship of Koh Tapao Noi. 

Today a sea level measuring station, the solar-powered lighthouse whispers tales of World War II, as do the cannon and Sino-colonial hut crumbling right behind the lighthouse. Built in 1899 and previously an office, the old wooden shack should’ve been turned into a museum. Yet the navy ditched those plans to protect the hornbills, much like the pre-Covid idea to attract eco-travelers with hilltop homestays. 

To see the cannon, turn left instead of right after the 70 steps and battle through the trees. Facility-wise, there’s nothing here, but you can loll on the soft white sand as cushy as memory foam. Got an Internet connection via your phone’s hotspot? Smash your keyboard in a hammock in the shade of a beach pavilion.

Koh Tapao Yai – For Nature Lovers

Photo by Philipp Meier

Unlike Koh Tapao Noi, Koh Tapao Yai has seen a few tourists staying on the island overnight, but nature has taken over. An abandoned resort has virtually been swallowed up by the fertile forest. And that’s what makes this place so appealing for outdoor fans keen to get a break from life on the road.

You can easily fill a few hours hiking the sun-dappled trail that haloes Koh Tapao Yai. The paved path runs through tropical woodland, home to greater coucals boop-boop-booping from the most hidden corners. And the hornbills’ acoustically distinct calls reverberate through the canopies as they forage in small flocks. 

Fine for a dip in the sea at high tide in the morning, a couple of brown-sand beaches tufted with palms and tropical almond trees also beckon on this islet just offshore from Cape Panwa. An island in transition—homestays are in the pipeline, according to fishers smoking the sweet dried leaves of nipa palms—Koh Tapao Yai has a low-key atmosphere epitomized by the longtail boats chugging past.

Koh Maphrao – For Foodies

Photo by Philipp Meier

This fisherman island within spitting distance of Phuket’s Laem Hin Pier feels like it's from another time. Gray-haired longtail boat captains don’t bat an eyelid as they crash into the jetty’s raft, a lone driver of a roofed tricycle taxi waits stoically for customers, and fishers unload their catch in boxes. The small population of mostly Muslims still make a living tapping rubber, harvesting coconuts, and fishing, as they have for centuries.

Two five-star resorts woo luxury travelers beyond tangled mangroves and rubber tree forests—with a Coconut Tennis Academy, nearby pearl farm, and all. That’s not to say the 4.19-square-kilometer islet isn’t for digital nomads. Available are also a few bungalows on wooden stilts where roosters roam. And a string of reggae bars and food shacks roofed with nipa palm leaves have popped up in the village, e.g., Coconut Seafood or the old tin-roofed Tom Tom Restaurant

Looking to sample fresh grilled scallops, mantis shrimp, or steamed seabass? Head to the floating seafood restaurants, where the ocean bubbles underneath. With the west coast pier in sight, it’s a nice place to eat as twilight falls. If you got extra time on your hands, you can ride a bicycle around the island come morning or let the hours slip past gently as you lounge on one of the three beaches.


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