backpacker bamboo island phi phi

Island Paradise

Over the last few months I’ve put up quite a few posts on various beaches and islands I’ve visited whilst backpacking my way through Australia and South East Asia.

As a surfer I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen more than my fair share of sand and sun, a day by the ocean is something I’ll never turn down and god help you if you catch me land locked and wave starved!

So out of my travels so far where is my favorite place to lay a towel, crack a cold beer and spend the day with salt in my hair?

I’ve already brought you my top backpacker surf spot showdown – and now it’s time for the islands, yup that little slice of isolated palm tree strewn paradise every backpacker searches for.


Here’s my Top 5 Island Backpacker Island Retreats…


1) The Whitsunday Islands, Australia – if you head to Australia and tackle the infamous east coast backpacker trail the Whitsunday Islands will be pretty high on your to do list. Jump on a boat, explore the amazing Whitsunday inlet, snorkel in the pristine waters of the great barrier reef and enjoy postcard perfect scenery.


Pros – variety of options (party boats, island stays, dive boats, sailing experiences), easily accessible, trips to suit all time frames, great east coast package deals, meet a heap of backpackers

Cons – Oz is EXPENSIVE, and the Whitsundays will be one of your biggest budget busters, heaps busy so don’t expect a beach to yourself.


snorkel scuba dive gili islands bali indonesia

Underwater Paradise, Gili T

2) Gili T, IndonesiaIndonesia is jam packed full of amazing island retreats but my favourite so far is Gili T. The island of turtles is surrounded by warm, tropical water teeming full of sea life and offers some amazing diving. Accommodation on the island is varied from beach shacks to 5* hotels and whether you want to relax or party its got you covered.


Pros – Easily accessible from Bali, covers all budgets, no cars, small enough to cycle around in an hour, find your own secluded place to chill

Cons – can get super busy with backpackers in high season which inflates prices, but if you want to you can still find some isolation


3) Koh Rong, Cambodia – probably the most budget friendly island retreat on the list. Situated off the south of Cambodia it’s still relatively undeveloped and only has a limited amount of electricity each day. It’s a case of hammocks, snorkels and cocktails during the day and skinny dipping during the night!


Pros – super cheap (easily under $15 per day), an easy hop from the mainland, not over developed, backpacker friendly

galapagos marina sunset

Sunset Over The Galapagos

Cons – the good accommodation books out quickly in high season, not crazy amounts to do (but that’s ideal if you just want to

chill on the beach and relax!)


4) The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador  – the Galapagos islands are a bucket list must for anyone who likes wildlife or photography and exploring here is a once in a lifetime experience. With a variety of islands, day trips and sailing live aboards you can pick and choose where and what you want to do. Dive with schooling hammerhead sharks, chill on the beach with sea lions or have some of the best snorkelling experiences on the planet, it’s truly incredible!


Pros – world class wildlife encounters, lots to see and do, unique and incredible destination

Cons – heaps expensive (flights alone from Ecuador are $350+), needs a bit more planning


phi phi islands thailand

Wish You Were Here?!

5) Phi Phi, Thailand  – out of all the islands in Thailand I have a massive bias towards Phi Phi simply due to the fact I’ve spent most of my time there working and diving. It’s a gorgeous little island with a good mix of stunning natural beauty and backpacker chaos. At the look out you’ll be rewarded with some perfect panoramas whilst a day trip to some of the smaller islands will allow you to find empty stretches of beach and crystal clear waters.


Pros – easy to get to, heaps of amazing dive sites, good mix of island beauty and backpacker nightlife

Cons – it’s starting to get super busy and developed, hard to pre book backpacker accomodation


So there you have it – my 5 top backpacker islands…

And yes I know there are some glaring omissions from what some travelers would consider their top 5 – where is Hawaii, French Polynesia, the Maldives or even Fiji?! Well to be honest I simply haven’t been there yet!

…I’m sure this list will grow to a top 10 over my coming adventures though…


Where’s your favourite island paradise in the world? Any awesome secret spots you’d like the share?

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8 Responses

    • Chris

      Awesome, where are you planning on exploring?
      Never even heard of San Blas! Guess it’s another to research and add to the bucket list!

    • Chris

      hahaha as they say in Asia – “same same but different!”
      I wanted to include a good variety from the backpacker trail – each has their own draws, but obviously the Galapagos is probably the pinnacle!

  1. Sholey

    you’ve listed a couple of pretty nasty touristy islands here… Even out of the gili’s; T was the worst… koh ta kiev was better than koh rong and phi phi was up there with koh samui.

    • Chris

      Interesting – I’ve never managed to fit in Koh Ta Kiev, I guess you recommend it? Koh Rong I personally thought was beautiful – especially if you get off the main side of the island. Phi Phi I definitely admit has slipped heaps since I wrote this, still a gorgeous place to explore though.

  2. Ronda

    Heading for Cambodia in october! Guess Koh Rong is on my list ;-) I like it budget, clean and no mass tourism! Been to San Blas also just like This American and have to agree you must visit this place :) Just check out these pictures It was all about the hammocks, fish, white sand beaches and no internet hehe. Cheerio

    • Chris

      You’ll love it Ronda – have heaps of fun! I’ll have to add San Blas to my bucket list now!


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