7 'secret' Thai hideaways to visit before word spreads

07 June 2015 - 02:00 By Tom Vater
A golden beach on Koh Para Thong.
A golden beach on Koh Para Thong.
Image: Thinkstock

Tom Vater explores Thailand's lesser-known outposts

1. KOH PHAYAM

With its broad beaches fringed by palm and casuarina trees, a hilly interior and a pace of life firmly set to local, Koh Phayam remains a low-key island destination.

There are no corals to speak of, so lazing in the sand or exploring the island by motorbike are the main activities. The interior is covered in rubber plantations, the roads are pretty good, and small restaurants dot the island.

Stay: Cede Boutique Beach Resort.

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2. MOO KOH SURIN NATIONAL PARK

To find your inner Robinson Crusoe, head to the Moo Koh Surin Marine National Park, a tiny archipelago afloat in the Andaman Sea close to the Burmese border. The five hilly isles are covered in evergreen forest populated by monkeys, birds, giant crabs and monitor lizards, while the surrounding coral reefs are among the best in Thailand with regular sightings of turtles and reef sharks. Visitors can join twice-daily longtail boat snorkelling trips to the reefs.

Basic but excellent seafood is served in just two park restaurants and electricity stops at 10pm, leaving one in awe of star-strewn skies and a jungle soundtrack.

Most visitors camp in large, comfortable tents provided by the park, but bungalows can be rented in the forest on Koh Surin Nua.

It's essential to book ahead (dnp.go.th/parkreserve). The Surin Islands are only accessible from October to April.

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3. KOH PHRA THONG

Close to the mainland, yet a world away from Thailand's usual beach tourism development, Koh Phra Thong is partly surrounded by mangrove forests and features extensive savannah-type grasslands in its centre, which are populated by deer, wildcats, hornbills, sea eagles, otters and snakes. Shallow coral reefs off the coast are worth exploring - and there's a dive centre on the island.

Two villages grace Koh Phra Thong's coast, both populated by indigenous sea nomads (the Moken people). All the accommodation is along the west coast along Phrathong Bay. The nearby, jungle-covered Koh Ra Island is unpopulated and part of a national park. Camping and day trips are possible.

Stay: Golden Buddha Beach Resort.

4. KOH JUM

Koh Jum lies between Krabi and Koh Lanta and actually has two names. Locals call the flat southern part Koh Jum and the mountainous northern part Koh Phu (crab island).

Mount Phu, the island's highest elevation, is 422m and surrounded by rainforest and rubber plantations.

There are roads and a few cars on the island and Koh Jum is a kind of halfway house between the fleshpots of Koh Lanta and the quiet idyll of the Andaman coast's most remote spots, with the most adventurous activity for visitors not bar-hopping but snorkelling the coral reefs surrounding the island. There is a large choice of accommodation along the west coast.

Stay: The Banyan Bay Villas.

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5. KOH KRADAN

A little to the south of busy Koh Lanta, tiny Koh Kradan is part national park, part resort island, for now a blissful coexistence. The island's 1.9km-long main beach offers fine white sand and stunning views towards several limestone outcrops rising from the sea like the spine of an ancient dragon. About 164ft offshore, a coral reef teeming with fish runs the length of the beach. And it takes just three hours to kayak around the entire island. Koh Kradan is very much family and couples-oriented, with several resorts lined up along the beach.

Stay: Seven Seas Resort.

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6. KOH YAO ISLANDS

Despite their proximity to Phuket, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai have barely been touched by mass tourism. Koh Yao Noi, the smaller of the two islands, is the more developed.

There's plenty of local life to be observed and the mostly Muslim inhabitants are not yet jaded by the presence of visitors, which translates into happily waving kids and oblivious water buffaloes. The best way to get around is by bicycle; there's a yoga retreat and a Muay Thai boxing camp. Accommodation ranges from backpacker shacks to upmarket resorts.

The much larger Koh Yao Yai also offers good mid-range and high-end accommodation but is less developed and best navigated by motorbike.

There's no party scene, and flaunting bikinis outside the resorts is not appropriate.

In return for this rather reticent vibe, visitors are rewarded with glimpses of traditional island culture long gone from better-known beach destinations.

Stay: Koyao Island Resort.

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7. KOH NGAI

Not far away is tiny Koh Ngai, also called Koh Hai. The island is just 4km long by 1.9km wide, partially covered in low mountains and evergreen rainforest inhabited by crab-eating monkeys and giant lizards. A couple of jungle viewpoints serve as excuses for short treks.

Roads are happily absent from Koh Ngai - the only way to get around the island is on foot. If paradise somehow does get boring, the offshore coral reefs are worth exploring: both snorkelling and scuba diving are enticing options.

The nearby island of Koh Mook and its spectacular Emerald Cave is best visited either early in the morning or late afternoon when the crowds of domestic tourists have dissipated.

Stay: Koh Hai Fantasy Resort & Spa.

- The Daily Telegraph