Though it has its share of overdevelopment issues, Phuket has many beautiful beaches and a dazzling variety in restaurants, hotels, activities, and nightlife. Once you leave Phuket, though, the attractions become even more spectacular.
Phuket is the busy hub of the western coast, with daily flights from Bangkok landing in its airport and ferries to scenic but often packed Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, and the dreamy Similan and Surin islands departing daily from its docks. Beyond Phuket, the secrets of this magical coastline begin to reveal itself. Krabi has powdery white sand and magnificent limestone cliffs shooting straight up out of emerald waters that have become popular with all levels of rock-climbing enthusiasts. Railay Beach is especially popular among adventurers who enjoy acrobatics, climbing, and alternative ideologies. Nearby the Phang Nga National Marine Park attracts nature lovers because of its by now world-renowned postcard-perfect locations, such as Koh Phing Kan, known as James Bond Island. Post-tsunami Ko Phi Phi is a prime destination for snorkeling and diving (you may actually see more divers than fish in some waters as it gets incredibly busy in high season), along with being a mainstay of the easygoing backpacker tourist circuit. Koh Lanta has developed its own scene and attracts visitors who like less crowds and more offbeat individuality—as reflected in some of its quirky shops and restaurants; it combines lovely beaches with colorful villages where you will meet interesting locals and expats who differ from those in other parts of the Andaman coast. Ao Nang has become very popular over the years, and numerous resorts have sprung up near its popular beaches and shops to cater to all tastes and budgets.
A note of caution: Don't take the chance of getting on rickety or overcrowded boats. Speedboats can often be hired to travel the ferry routes. Ensure that life jackets are available and that the crew takes safety seriously.