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Phuket and the Islands

Phuket has become an expensive and violent hotspot for self-serving local mafia groups. It's also inconvenient (or expensive) to get to.

Krabi (with access to dozens of little islands) is on the mainland and therefore much easier for travelling by train or bus.

Samui is on the other side, in the Gulf of Thailand. It is little and cozy and close to several other popular islands (especially Pangan where the Full Moon parties are held).

These places are idyllic if you enjoy diving or yachting or any kind of mucking about with boats, and possibly kite-surfing. The waves are small, so no surfing, however.

Great for a seaside holiday. These islands are almost exclusively reliant on the tourist industry. But it can get boring after 6 months or a year unless you have a meditative type of personality who enjoys to read, write, paint or just sit and look at the water.

There are things for active people to do also (like sports, managing events, running a school, etc. but it's mostly very low key).

Avoid Phuket. The other islands are just as pleasant (if not more so).

If you want a mix of island and mainland life then you might want to seriously consider settling somewhere in Krabi where the scenery is spectacular and where you can jump on to the islands Lanta or Yao or (the now infamous) Phi Phi. You are in Southern Thailand now, with a greater influence from the Muslim south and the "island" culture. You are also within striking distance of Malaysia. Bangkok is a somewhat inconvenient overnight trip by train, but there are several daily overnight VIP coaches - 12 hours - which are more convenient..