Thailand’s best islands and beaches are beautiful. However, their fame has made for plenty of overdevelopment and top heavy tourist numbers, especially during the winter high season. Those who say that Phuket and Samui have been destroyed yearn for the good old days of quiet white sand beaches and simple bungalows. There are still a handful of more ‘old school isles’ to discover and here’s a look at a few of them.
Kradan means “plank” in Thai, the name given due to the island’s long and thin shape, and while it may be relatively small, Koh Kradan recalls the undiscovered magical islands of twenty years ago, featuring beautiful beaches, emerald water, and just a handful of resorts. The resorts here have mushroomed from only one a decade ago to around ten or fifteen these days, but it still is incredibly sleepy and tranquil here. While excursions can be made across to nearby Koh Mook and its famous Emerald Cave, or if you crave some exercise, up to the scenic viewpoint over tiny Sunset Beach on the west side of Kradan, this is one island where most of your time is just spent doing nothing but staring out at the paradise in front of you. Make sure to check out the Paradise Lost Resort hidden in the jungle here, it is a real throwback to the old backpacker vibe days of island travel, albeit with a few more creature comforts. Do note that during the May-October monsoon, Koh Kradan shuts down completely.
There isn’t even a clear way to spell Koh Kood, also written Kud Khut, and several other variations, with Kood seemingly getting the nod most of the time. This is Thailand’s easternmost island, located near the Cambodian border, and accessible from the town of Trat on the mainland. For years, Koh Kood was known as the Bangkok boutique island, due to there only being luxury resorts frequented by Bangkokians. These days, there are affordable bungalow options, not to mention that the foreign crowd has discovered the island, however it remains pretty peaceful and is one of the only islands left in Thailand where you can find a deserted white sand beach. Koh Kood is quite large, has minimal infrastructure, and several of the long sweeping bays have only one or two resorts in them at best. For a real splurge, check out the Soneva Kiri Resort here, one of Thailand’s top luxury escapes.
Not many guidebooks list Koh Sukorn. This small island near Trang in the south is home to around 3,000 residents who make their living growing rubber and fishing. Tourism definitely plays second fiddle here. There are only a handful of resorts spread out along the island’s west coast beaches, and the spacious Lo Yai Beach probably has the least number of tourists on it of any beach in the Andaman. This is a place for hammocks and sunsets as opposed to bars and partying, and while the beaches are not as appealing as Phi Phi or Krabi, there are a fraction of the visitors. Additionally, one can enjoy plenty of birdlife, as well as visiting the local crab market or taking in the verdant rice paddies which make up the middle of the island. Sukorn Beach Bungalows are a great option here, giving out free kayaks for guests to use, and facing the majestic sunsets over Koh Petra across the bay.
The Surin Islands are part of a national marine park, and one of just a few islands that are actually truly protected. There is no development allowed here save for one national park bungalow operation, and guests here have to either reserve one of the few bungalows or else camp in the two park campgrounds, which rent out tents, blankets, and other essentials. There is just the one main island where two campgrounds and park restaurants are located, where tourists can stay, although visitors can go check out some of the other ones, where the Mokken sea gypsies live, taking tours to see their unique way of life.
Surin also has coral reefs just offshore which rise to a very shallow depth, making it possible to see here snorkeling what most other places offer only via diving. The national park provides inexpensive daily boat trips out to see the reefs, and rents snorkel equipment as well. There are also hiking paths on the islands, along with opportunities for wildlife spotting. Rare birds such as the Nicobar pigeon and beach thick-knee call the islands home, and Malayan flying lemurs are sometime seen. You won’t be complaining about overrun, overdeveloped, or over-touristed on this strip of sand.
While rampant change has come to Koh Chang, its southern sister Koh Mak has embraced development very slowly. Not too many years ago, there wasn’t even an ATM or convenience store on the island, but getting voted one of the “top ten secret beaches in the world” by the Sunday Times in the UK put sleepy Koh Mak on the world map. In spite of all this, while modern life has arrived, Koh Mak remains a great place to get away from it all. The majority of the resorts are found on the southern and western coast, and range from backpacker type haunts to more upscale spots, although Koh Mak has thus far been spared the high rises or uber-luxury resorts that have decimated Koh Chang.
Other than the marvellous beaches to laze on, there is some good walking to be offered around the small island, and you absolutely must make the superb short kayak paddle or even faster longtail boat ride out to the islet of Koh Kham, where a sandy beach and one small resort front a bay that has some of the most emerald sparkling sea to be found this side of the Maldives.