When I arrived on the relatively unknown Thai island of Koh Mak I texted a friend to double check I hadn’t ended up in the afterlife by mistake. She confirmed that I wasn’t wiped out en-route by a drunk minivan driver or an entire family and their dog riding a motorbike, and it was official:
Koh Mak is a lot like paradise. Seriously, look at it.
My quest for the perfect Thai island began on my first ill-fated trip to the country in 2011. I visited Koh Phangnan, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, naively expecting some type of bohemian tropical wonderland. The beaches were stunning but populated with over-privileged bratty teenagers, jaded locals, sex tourists and aggressive lads on tour. Imagine the most beautiful places on earth filled with the worst people imaginable.
After a particularly harrowing experience in Phuket that could have been a night out in Oldham, I wrote the following description in an email:
Charming place, fingers crossed for another tsunami.
Two years later and living in Chiang Mai, I wondered if there were still unspoilt islands left in the south, or if I would remain the only guy who ever went to Phuket and got a sad ending.
I tried a few different places:
• Koh Chang
This was better, but still too developed.
• Koh Wai
It’s definitely remote because they only have electricity for a few hours day. It sounded good but I wasn’t ready to go full Robinson Crusoe.
• Koh Samed
My girlfriend in Chiang Mai took me to this one because it’s where a lot of Thais go on holiday. I was definitely getting closer…
Finally, earlier this year I heard about Koh Mak. Apparently, it was a small, privately-owned island that recalled what Thailand used to be like 20 years ago. I was sold.
The island is owned by the descendants of a Thai-Chinese coconut baron (a job title I envy) and most of the interior of the island is covered in rubber trees, which provide landowners with enough cash that tourism is reportedly just a hobby.
This means there are no dodgy elephant camps, go-go bars or backpacker hang outs. Just small resorts and budget accommodation nestled alongside the local community. It’s the perfect place to relax in a hammock, snorkel and rent a kayak, not get egregiously drunk and go whoring.
Koh Mak is located east of the Gulf of Thailand, in the Trat Province near Koh Kut and Koh Chang. You can get to it from either of those islands, or from Laem Gnop Pier in Trat (apparently not pronounced ‘lame knob’). The whole island is only about sixteen square kilometres and has a Buddhist temple, a school, a few shops, but no ATM.
I stayed for three nights at Baan Ing Khao and spent most of my time reading in my hammock, eating spicy food or exploring the island by motorbike looking for secluded beaches. Plus…
When I decided to write this post I wanted to compile a comprehensive guide to Koh Mak but was conflicted about doing so. There’s a part of me that wants to share everything and another that doesn’t want to contribute to letting the secret out any further. As I rode along the coast on my scooter I saw a few building sites and a lot of land for sale. At the moment, Koh Mak is a mostly hidden gem and I really hope it stays that way.
Therefore, in order to help preserve it, I have decided that I will tell you no more about it.
You shouldn’t go there, it’s awful and shit and horrible and I hated it. The beach huts aren’t a bargain at 450 Baht (£9) a night and the food isn’t some of the best I’ve ever had. The natives aren’t kind and helpful, they’re just mocking you. Go to Phuket instead. Not Koh Mak. Definitely not. I won’t be there again next year, sitting in a hammock or paddling in the warm, azure water.
Never again would I subject myself to that.
Photo credit: Me, neajjean (Flickr), James PReston (Flickr), Baan Ing Khao
Map courtesy of kohmakguide.com