10 of Thailand’s Best-Kept Island Secrets

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Nov 10, 2015

by MARK EVELEIGH

Tiny rock outcrops such as Ko Tapu, off the shores of Khao Phing Kan (nicknamed “James Bond Island”), and Phi Phi Leh (setting for The Beach) receive hundreds of visitors each day. And every month Ko Pha Ngan is overrun by 30,000 party animals wanting nothing more than to howl like wild dogs at the full moon. Yet hundreds of the islands sprinkled throughout Thai waters remain virtually unexplored. If you like your islands secluded and unspoilt, it’s worth seeking out these hidden gems…

West Coast (Andaman Sea & Phang Nga Bay)

Ko Kudu Yai is one of the wildest and most enchantingly solitary spots in Thailand. You’re almost guaranteed to have the entire island to yourself and can anchor your boat, with only monkeys, hornbills, kingfishers, giant monitor lizards and colonies of giant fruit bats as company

Koh Roi boasts a paradisiacal little cove with a wonderful beach that you’ll rarely have to share with anyone. There’s a soaring rock pinnacle just offshore, making it a picture-perfect location. Local fishermen ply these waters so you can buy fresh fish to cook on the beach

You won’t find “Rockin’s beach” on any yacht chart but anyone in the village on Ko Yao Yai can tell you where it is. Rockin is a young Thai who speaks a smattering of English from his years on the “backpacker ghetto” of Ko Phi Phi. He’ll shimmy up a coconut tree and you’ll soon find yourself sipping deliciously refreshing coconut milk in the little shelter he’s built on the beach

Ko Adang is one of 51 islands in Tarutao National Park. It’s accessible from the mainland by ferry (via Ko Lipe) and you need permission from the park rangers who hire tents, mattresses and sleeping bags. Sleep on the beach and take a delightful stroll through the jungle to a waterfall or, for the energetic, try a steep climb to the highest point on the island to take in stunning views south towards Malaysian waters.

Nobody actually lives on Ko Hong, yet it has the most cavernous hong (“room” or “cave”) in Phang Nga Bay. Although it receives a few visitors at low tide, if you go when high-tide level is dropping, you’ll have the entire place to yourself and the great flooded cave will echo eerily to the squeaking of bats

There are numerous islands called Noi (which means “small”) but the tiny and remote Ko Noi is unique for its friendly community of Moken people, also known as Sea Gypsies. Life has changed little here for hundreds of years, although some of the young men supplement their day-to-day island lifestyle by taking dangerous jobs as free divers to harvest sea cucumbers. The ancient Moken tradition of hospitality to strangers seems to have survived undiminished throughout the centuries.

Gulf of Thailand and Surround

Ko Samet, just off the coast of Rayong, is a four-hour drive south-east of Bangkok. While overdevelopment is rapidly ruining most of the island, there is a tiny hidden cove called Ao Nuan where you can find some delightful beachside bungalows in the Swiss Family Robinson style of architecture. There is no website and only return visitors can ever get the phone number, thus keeping this a real Thai secret spot within easy reach of Bangkok.

Ko Chang was overlooked by the first rushes of “pioneering backpackers” – probably because it was considered too close to the mainland to have potential as a beach escape. For this reason, it actually took longer to develop and while there are a couple of towns with bars and restaurants, it takes very little determination to get off the beaten track if you head for spots such as Blue Lagoon. Spend your days kayaking in the backwaters and your evenings sipping mai tais while “stargazing” the mangrove forests lit up by fireflies.

There are no shortage of secret escapes in the Ko Chang archipelago – just take a boat and head south. Ko Mak has a couple of small resorts and dive centres but even here you’ll quickly feel at home among an island community that still makes a living from fishing, rubber tapping and copra oil (from dried coconut flesh).

Bang Kra Jaois an almost-2000-hectare wilderness area on the Chao Praya River, south of Bangkok. There are a few quiet country roads and raised concrete paths along the river and across the paddies so the best way to explore here, and to visit the uncrowded temples, is by bicycle. Green and serene Bang Kra Jao is the perfect antidote to Bangkok’s sensory overload.

Getting around

Many of these spots are remote but all are easily accessible if you’re intrepid enough to haggle a deal with a local fisherman... or have a few people to share the cost of a charter yacht. Sunsail – with its fleet of more than 800 yachts in 30 countries around the world – is ideal for any sailing trip around the Thai islands.