Life is a beach indeed, and especially if you’re on a Thai island far away from the usual, mainstream radar such as these new getaways that promise you your own slice of paradise!by Dave Stamboulis
While the masses tend to head for island legends such as Koh Samui and Phuket, there are countless other island getaways in both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand to escape the crowds and enjoy the turquoise water and paradisiacal seclusion.
Here are some of the top lesser-known spots:
For years Koh Kood has been known as “Bangkok’s boutique island,” due to the fact that it only has high-end resorts which serve a fly-in-for-the-weekend Bangkok crowd (Bangkok Airways flies to nearby Trat). Koh Kood has now become more open and discovered, yet it still remains one of Thailand’s best kept island paradises. Come here for the empty white sand beaches and opportunities to play Robinson Crusoe, and explore the island’s hidden waterfalls.
Go: Koh Kood is accessible from Trat city, either on Bangkok Air, or via a five-six hour bus ride from Ekkamai (Eastern Bus Station). Speedboat transfers, which take about an hour, run to the island from several piers just outside of town.
Eat: Worth the splurge just for the novelty, the uber-luxurious Soneva Kiri (www.soneva.com/soneva-kiri/treepod-dining) has above-the-canopy dining pods, where they hoist you up into the trees in chic bamboo pods and waiters come to you on zip lines. You can expect the birds and butterflies will be your only company.
Drink: The funky Tawan Eco Bar (www.facebook.com/pages/Tawan-Eco-Bar-Koh-Kood/234928643323630) has signs for hot beer and bad service, but it is a bustling fun place on the hillside in Ban Klong Chao, and the owner is a reggae aficionado who jams with guests, as well as having live bands in nightly.
Do: Compare secluded white sand beaches.
Stay: Soneva Kiri Resort
For years Koh Mak stood in the shadow of Koh Chang, developing at a snail’s pace while its neighbor rampantly went the way of Phuket. Things did change a bit when The Guardian wrote it up as one of the world’s top islands, but the island pretty much remains a chilled out spot, quite popular with families. Come here to kayak the short crossing to tiny Koh Kham island on the west coast, which has some of the most emerald colored waters you’ll find in the kingdom and is a good snorkeling spot.
Go: As with Koh Kood, first go to Trat and then to the island via a fast or a slow boat. There are also boat connections regularly from Bang Bao in the south of Koh Chang.
Eat: Food Art Hut (Tel. 085 4474028) does great stone oven pizzas as well as having a Thai menu to go with the mainly western offerings. They also operate a German Bakery.
Drink: The Monkey Bar (www.monkeyislandkohmak.com/) at the long running Monkey Island resort is the most happening nightspot on sleepy Koh Mak. Located on Ao Khao, arguably the island’s nicest strip of sand, the bar hosts fire shows in high season and is a top traveler chill-out spot.
Do: Walk over to Koh Kham during low tide.
Stay: Good Time Resort – instead of rooms, rent an island house, each different from the next. The spacious houses have an elegant Thai design with polished hardwood or glossy white tile floors, traditional Thai art, tall pointed roofs and numerous terraces reachable by wooden stairways. Location: inland from Ao Suan Yai, Koh Maak // Tel: 039 501 000; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mu Koh Surin is a protected marine park in the Andaman, located between Phuket and Rayong. The Surin archipelago is made up of five islands (with human habitation and park service facilities on two of them), and are about as beautiful as it gets in Thailand, in terms of turquoise water, abundant marine life, and splendid beaches. Come here for seeing what you normally have to go diving for by merely snorkeling (due to shallow coral reefs), see rare Nicobar pigeons and Malayan flying lemurs, and pay a visit to the Moken sea gypsies, who inhabit one of the islands.
Go: A ferry service to the islands runs from the town of Khuraburi, north of Phuket and Khao Lak, and only operates between November and May, as the park shuts down all operations during the rainy season when the national park is closed.
Stay, Eat, & Drink: As Koh Surin is a national park; there are only park service bungalows and a park service restaurant catering to visitor’s needs. For advance bookings and additional information, contact the national park service (www.dnp.go.th/).
Do: Get a diver’s view on a snorkeling trip.
The Similan islands are a group of nine islands, which are known as the most pristine islands in Thailand, sitting 60 kms out in the Andaman Sea. Come here for the best diving in the country and to see what protected and undeveloped Thai islands really look like. Not all of the islands are open to visitors, and travelers can only stay on two of them.
Stay, Eat, & Drink: The Similans are only accessible from November through to May. At this time, the national park runs a ferry out from Thap Lamu pier near Khao Lak, and speedboats make the journey in about an hour-and-a-half as well. As there are only limited national park bungalows and tents, along with a cafeteria on the islands for lodging and eating, the ideal way to see the islands is via liveaboard dive ships, which can be easily arranged in Khao Lak. Poseidon Tours (www.similantour.nu/similan.html) has been running trips out for years, and is well recommended.
Stay: A variety of hotels can be found near Similan Island, such as Pranee Beach Bungalows and C&N Kho Khao Beach Resort.
Far less known than its northern neighbors Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, Koh Mook has beautiful beaches, turquoise water, and is home to chao leh sea gypsies who make their living from squid fishing and rubber tapping. It’s a great spot to enjoy discovering the limestone karst peaks and jungle scenery, but the main reason to come here is to visit Tham Morakot, otherwise known as the Emerald Cave, one of unseen Thailand’s top attractions. The Emerald Cave is actually a sinkhole, where the roof of an underwater cave collapsed allowing the light above to flood in. The only access into the cave is via a pitch-black 100m tunnel in the sea, reachable only at low tide. The opening is wide enough for a kayak or a tiny dingy to paddle in, but most of the tours bring people out on longtail boats, from which they swim in, using flashlights and buoys provided by the tour companies. Once inside, the cave opens up to reveal a pristine jungle, towering walls, and a white sand beach fronted by emerald water.
Go: Access to Koh Mook is via Trang, which can be reached by air and then a direct transfer to the ferry pier at Pak Meng for the short ride over to the island. In high season, there are also boat transfers via Koh Phi Phi and Krabi.
Eat: The Hilltop Restaurant (www.facebook.com/pages/Hilltop-Restaurant-Koh-Mook/637567552987949) doesn’t look like much, but it has a longstanding reputation for serving the most authentic and inexpensive Thai food on the island.
Drink: The Ting Tong Bar (http://tingtongbar.com/) is Koh Mook’s most happening party spot, with fire shows and dancing happening every night. The bar is right off Hat Farang, the most beautiful beach on the island, noted for its gorgeous sunsets.
Do: Visit the Emerald Cave, one of Thailand’s top highlights.
Stay: The exotic Sivalai Beach Resort is set on a stunning cape of palm fringed white sand. The pristine beaches and clear turquoise waters rich in marine life are visible from both sides of the resort surrounding guests in awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Location: Tambon Koh Libong, Amphor Kantang; Tel: 075 207 952
Head for Koh Kradan if you want to see what Thai islands were like a decade or two ago, and if the idea of lounging on a beautiful beach without the crowds appeals to you. Named “paper” island because it is relatively flat, the long brilliant white sand beach along Kradan’s eastern side is one of Thailand’s best, as is the emerald water fronting it that affords some excellent snorkeling. There isn’t too much to do here other than settling into a hammock with War and Peace or some other epic, or else just gape at the phenomenal scenery.
Go: Koh Kradan sits just across from Koh Mook and is reached in the same manner, via air to Trang and then a boat transfer. There are also boats between the islands, so that you can visit the Emerald Cave on Koh Mook and then return to the serenity of Koh Kradan.
Eat & Drink: Paradise Lost (https://kokradan.wordpress.com/) might not be on the beach but this funky long-running paradise is up a short walking track into the jungle, where a guesthouse with the most happening vibes and best food on the island can be found. Started by legendary American world sailor Wally (who recently passed away but his wife has carried on with the business), it’s easy to make friends here and there are plenty of great stories told over large homey meals each night.
Do: Find a hammock and truly understand the phrase “beach bum.”
Stay: The Sevenseas Resort is a sanctuary of placidity on one of Thailand’s untouched islands. Set on this serene unspoiled island, you are surrounded by the rich greenery of the gardens. Infusing natural style and homely elegance, balanced with gentle comforts and intimate service, the resort has been meticulously crafted together with scrupulous attention to detail to present you with your own idyllic island getaway. Location: 221 Moo2 Koh Kradan, Tambon Koh Libong,Amphur Kantang, Trang // Tel: 075 203 389
While Koh Lipe has been well developed over the past decade, it still remains one gorgeous island, not to mention if things feel too busy; one can always nip over to neighboring Koh Adang or Koh Rawi, which are both protected national park isles with limited park service amenities. Come here to enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches, good choice of accommodations, go kayaking or snorkeling, or boast about the fact that you’ve been to Thailand’s most southern island (you can see Lankawi in Malaysia on clear days).
Go: Koh Lipe is accessed via the Pak Bara pier, most easily reached by flying to Hat Yai and taking a minivan ride for several hours. Speedboats make the journey to Lipe in about 90 minutes. Alternatively, Tigerlines (www.tigerlinetravel.com/) runs boats throughout the southern islands in high season, starting in Phi Phi, heading to Koh Lanta, then the islands around Trang, and further south to Lipe.
Eat & Drink: There is one place to satisfy all of your cravings on Koh Lipe; Elephant Coffee House & Bar (www.facebook.com/ElephantKohLipe) is a bookstore, restaurant, café, bar, live house, and just about anything else you want it to be. An American-Thai couple serves up homemade bread, designer lattes, American burgers, cocktails, pulled pork, and pan-seared salmon in a fun and cheerful environment. It’s pretty hard to ask for more.
Do: Kayak around the island or the adjoining national park islands.
Stay: Mountain Resort, also know as Mountain View, is the perfect escape for an unforgettable island holiday. Mountain Resort offers accommodation with simple designs that provide the ultimate luxury of being in the embrace of the unspoiled nature. After a long day amidst pure nature, relax in the comfort of the guestrooms and treat yourself to a good night’s sleep at Mountain Resort
While the unfazed and untouched by tourism Muslim villages here might be a draw for those wanting to get a glimpse of rural southern Thai life, it is neither this nor the stony beaches that draw visitors to Koh Libong. Come here to spot the dugongs, sometimes known as sea cows, and cousins to the manatee. There are about a hundred of them off the Ju Hoi Cape in the Libong Archipelago Wildlife Reserve, and one can go on tours to try and spot them. There are also traditional stilt-house villages, savannah-like scenery, and rubber plantations to check out on this large working class island.
Go: Fly to Trang and arrange transport (public and private) to the pier at Hat Yao, where boats make the short crossing to Libong.
Eat & Drink: You’re on your own here. Libong Sunset Resort (www.libongsunsetresort.com/) is the pick of the litter when it comes to food. There is no restaurant scene here, local places close up early, folks eat at home, and as Libong is a primarily Muslim island, there’s not much in the way of bars. Have a cold one at your resort, sleep early, and get up to go dugong spotting.
Do: Go dugong watching.
Stay: There are only four resorts on the island. Libong Relax Beach Resort is situated at the beach and in the back we have a beautiful river streaming inwards to the land. The Thai style bungalows have a grand luxury honeymoon suite and two big family bungalows. Besides that there are three tree huts, where you can sleep and imagine you are playing a role in the movie of Peter Pan. (www.libongrelax.com/)
Koh Lanta used to be an undiscovered island paradise. While this is no longer the case, it still lures visitors in with its excellent white sand beaches, pretty bays, lots of nice resorts, and a chance to escape the crowds of Phi Phi and Krabi. Come here to enjoy the fabulous west coast sunsets, visit old Lanta town and see houses perched on stilts over the sea, and eat fresh seafood and wonder what a gourmet restaurant is doing in such a small place.
Eat: You may wonder how it is possible to be salivating over Tasmanian salmon with guacamole and pesto bruschetta or barbecued chicken with Indian masala sauce on Koh Lanta, but Red Snapper (www.redsnapper-lanta.com/) is the real deal, and probably one of the best dining experiences you’ll find in southern Thailand. A Dutch couple with years of fine dining savvy has chosen to call Lanta home and they whip up fusion creations from around the planet each evening. It’s the only restaurant on the island where you’d better make a reservation.
Drink: While Koh Lanta is far more subdued than Phi Phi or Phuket, there are plenty of bars on the island, and it’s worth the drive down to the southern tip to quiet Kantiang Bay where Why Not (www.facebook.com/WhyNotBarKohLanta) hosts the island’s most happening evenings, with stunning sunsets, live music every night, and fire shows on the beach.
Do: Watch the endless sunsets from Lanta’s west coast.
Stay: Pimalai Resort & Spa is a favorite of discerning travelers to Koh Lanta. The number of accommodation options have grown in recent years, but Pimalai remains a top choice.
This is the island for nature lovers, and for those who want a complete escape from the built-up island party scene. Not only is Koh Tarutao Thailand’s largest island, it’s also its most unspoiled spot, with rugged mountains and old growth jungle ripe for exploring. The island was originally used as a prison and later turned into a national park. Come here to spot wild pigs, crab-eating macaques, hornbills, and dusky langurs, enjoy empty white sand beaches, go bicycling and hiking, and engage in some Robinson Crusoe fantasies.
Go: As with Lipe, fly to Hat Yai, take a minivan to Pak Bara, and hop on a ferry or speedboat to Tarutao.
Stay, Eat & Drink: It’s a national park, so no alcohol is served (nor allowed), and you’ve got the choice of the national park canteen or the national park canteen, so bring extra snacks if you are planning on staying awhile. There are both tents and bungalows rented out by the national park service (www.dnp.go.th/). While it is empty here much of the year, it is a good idea to book ahead over the New Year period, both Thai and Western.
Do: Go jungle hiking and feel like you own the place.
Stay: The Gleam Resort is situated in the heart of Satun town and is within walking distance of downtown, but is a great springboard for your Tarutao trip. The resort is suitable for business and leisure travelers as well as long staying guests. With its convenient location, the resort offers easy access to the city’s must-see destinations. Surrounded by a lush tropical garden, guests can feel peaceful in a refined ambiance. The Gleam Resort is an ideal place of stay for travelers seeking charm, comfort, and convenience in the heart of Satun.
Location: 61 Satit Yuttitham Rd., Satun
CNN wrote it up as being “like Samui in the 1970s,” and while it is no longer an undiscovered paradise, it still doesn’t have cars, and electricity comes from save for solar and generators, with most places only running them at night. There are no 7-11’s or full moon parties. Come here to experience laid back Thai island life, check out the prolific birdlife (great hornbill and sea eagle spotting opportunities), go kayaking, and stay in an old-school thatched roof hut.
Go: Fly Nok Air to Ranong and catch a speedboat from Ranong’s pier, which takes 40 minutes.
Eat: Krua Khun Khao (Tel. 088 385 6763) does great seafood, Isaan (northeastern) dishes, and also runs a cooking class.
Drink: The thatched roof Jungle Bar (www.facebook.com/JungleBarKohPayam) does fire shows, reggae, and Sangsom buckets.
Do: Check out traditional cashew farming and salt making in Ao Kwai (Buffalo Bay), where there is a sea gypsy village.
Stay: The Blue Sky Resort@ Koh Payam makes for a great retreat away from the noise and crowds of town, catering to a discerning group of guests who desire a private beachfront property that is both exceptional and sophisticated.
Location: Sapanpla Road, Koh Phayam, Koh Phayam (Ranong)