What’s more romantic than running away with your lover to a deserted (okay, we’ll settle for lightly populated) island? Not much. And while Thailand’s islands are not exactly a secret, there are plenty of lesser known gems far from the full moon parties and sunburnt masses. So if you have a bit more time to spare and a bit more cash to travel, here are three tropical getaways to check out.
Koh Jum, also known as Koh Pu, is part of the Nuea Khlong District in Krabi Provence. Not far from some of the more popular (and therefore more crowded) island destinations, like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, this quiet gem is actually closer to the shore and therefore easier to get to. Hop on the Krabi ferry or take a long tail boat and weave your way through crystal clear waters dotted with small fishing islands for just over an hour before arriving at the docks and taking a motorbike cart along the red clay road to your bungalow of choice – Jungle Hill Beach Bungalows (www.junglehillbungalow.com) is a great option for cosy huts and panoramic views.
The people of Koh Jum are extremely friendly, not yet hardened by years of obnoxious tourists, and the food here is absolutely mouth-watering, plucked straight from the sea. Every day you have the opportunity to eat the catch of the day at Koh Jum Seafood Restaurant (081 893 6380) whether that is shark massaman or barracuda manao. A small family-owned restaurant on the main paved road called Ban Ban is a treat, where everything is made fresh daily and purely organic. Since the island is predominately Muslim, you can also find a delicious array of Halal Thai fusion, but you won’t find any pork.
Koh Jum is still virtually untouched by mass tourism. You can find a few high-end resorts or bungalows, but most are simple accommodations tucked into the natural landscape, overlooking the ocean and very reasonably priced. Scuba diving and snorkelling trips are available via Koh Jum Divers (www.kohjum-divers.com). Rent a scooter from your resort and drive up and down the main road to explore the island, beach hopping from each pristine, deserted beach to the next.
You will not find any clubs here, but you may find a bar or two if you look. Freedom Hut (www.freedomhut.com) has the usual laidback Rasta vibe and is the only place on the island from which you can see both sunrise and sunset. Overall, Koh Jum is quiet and caters to those looking for a peaceful, relaxing time. Sabai, sabai.
Trang islands, a loosely-related clump of keys to the southeast of Trang, are just far enough away from the normal tourist track to avoid the masses. Koh Kradan is a very small, quiet island that is still conveniently serviced by the Tigerline ferry (www.tigerlinetravel.com).
There are only a handful of resorts here, the vast majority of which are on the eastern shore. The island has no permanent inhabitants besides those who work in hospitality. Accommodation is a bit pricey for the amenities but the locations, directly on the beach, are worth it. Koh Kradan Island Resort (www.kohkradanislandresort.com) is a great option for basic beachfront bungalows (approximately 1,200 baht per night) just ten feet from the water’s edge at high tide, where the only sound is of gentle waves lapping the shore.
Eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, sunbathing and swimming in the blue are the top activities of choice on this laid-back island, and the stunning coral reefs that surround are great for snorkeling right off the beach. Daring swimmers should take a boat to nearby Koh Muk to check out the famous Emerald Cave, which connects to a hidden crater covered by tropical flora and fauna. A walk through the jungle from one side of the island to the other takes no more than 15 minutes, and sunset over the rocks is beautiful.
For some of the best food on the island, check out Paradise Lost (089 587 2409), the only resort not on the coast, which has excellent massaman curry.
Perhaps Koh Kradan’s biggest claim to fame is its annual Valentine’s Day tradition _ the largest underwater wedding in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Each year, about 35 brides and grooms slip into scuba gear and swim down to an underwater altar amidst the coral reefs, exchanging vows in front of the Trang District Officer (www.trangonline.com/underwaterwedding). Now if that’s not a unique way to spend your Valentine’s Day, we don’t know what is!
If you’re looking for an island that’s off the beaten track but still down to party, Koh Phayam is a great choice. No cars, no banks, no centralised electricity, but plenty of chilled out bars, restaurants and bungalows. Located off the coast of Ranong (just half an hour away by speedboat), and just a few kilometres from the Thai-Burma maritime border, the little island is known for its locally grown cashews.
The two main beaches, Aow Yai and Khao Kwai, each have their own gulf and their own set of lodgings, eateries and bars. Khao Kwai is rockier but quieter, with bungalows tucked up in the trees overlooking the beach. Distant karst formations rise from the cerulean sea and rocky tide pools teem with tiny sand bubbler crabs, hard at work on their Sisyphean sand pellet rolling. The highlight of this beach is the Hippy Bar (no phone, obviously), a pirate ship cum jungle gym structure, made from the flotsam and jetsam of tsunamis past. Join the backpackers and Thai Bob Marley lookalikes for a sundowner or stay on for a laid-back party scene once the sun goes down. For a fresh seafood dinner, don’t miss Marina Resort (081 891 9809) restaurant’s fresh catches of the day.
Down at Aow Yai beach, you’ll find a pristine skyline and surfable waves, along with a number of chilled-out bungalows located just steps from the sand. Smile Hut (www.smilehutthai.com) is a great option for those who choose leisure over luxury _ 700 baht for simple wooden beachfront bungalows with hammocks. Up the road is the lovely vegetarian oasis Baan Namchaa (083 332 8973), which serves fresh baked bread and Burmese food, and down the beach, you’ll find unexpectedly fabulous pizza at Phayam Friends, yummy and reasonably priced Thai food at Ziggy Stardust (www.facebook.com/ziggyatkohpayam), and a chilled-out party atmosphere at Rasta Baby Bar (www.facebook.com/RastaBabyBarKoh Phayam).
Koh Phayam also offers opportunities to go kayaking in the mangrove forest, snorkelling in the nearby reefs, or scuba diving at some of Thailand’s best underwater sites, including Richielu Rock and Similans, which are accessible by boat within a few hours. There are also some nice walking paths through the jungle for exploring the island by foot and spotting wildlife, including hornbills, lizards and monkeys.