As beach lovers know, Thailand is a year-round island hopping destination due to the wonderful weather, palm-fringed beaches and warm ocean.
What most visitors don’t know, and it’s one of Thailand’s best kept secrets, is that the islands off Trang coast are the ideal exotic refuge to match what most people envision when dreaming of a tropical holiday.
These stunning and very diverse islands can be divided in two categories: the first group, which includes Koh Libong, Koh Phetra, Koh Sukorn, Koh Bulon and Koh Lao Liang, is almost unknown to foreign tourists.
Even if you’re a frequent traveler to Thailand, I bet you’ve never heard any of these names.
The second group consists of islands that are known to a bunch of Thailand beach lovers and visited by local tourists and expatriates at weekends, yet they are still overshadowed by the likes of Koh Lipe, Koh Lanta, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
This category includes Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai and Koh Muk, offering a wide range of beach front resorts and guest houses and boasting the most pristine and romantic beaches in the area.
You can take a day trip from Krabi
If you don’t have time for a week or even a weekend island hopping among the second group of the Trang Islands, don’t write them off your list.
The good news is that with a little planning, you can take a day trip to these stunning islands and be able to sleep in your hotel room back in Krabi at the end of an adventure filled day.
It’s what we at Fantasia Asia did a few weeks ago, driving our car from Ao Nang to Pak Meng harbour, which is located at the border of Krabi and Trang provinces.
Once you leave the lively Krabi weekend traffic behind, the journey to Pak Meng is a 90 minute pleasant drive through palm trees, coconut plantations and limestone mountains on a mostly straight and well kept road.
You should use a GPS to reach Pak Meng easily, however the road signs are quite precise if you know what you are looking for.
We reached the Pak Meng harbour around 9 AM and boarded a private long tail boat for the day.
I had visited Pak Meng a few years ago, while the new pier was under construction, and this time I was very impressed by the improvement of the harbour.
It’s now filled with small shops and a few nice looking cafés and restaurants without being overtly touristic. There are a few parking lots a few hundred meters from the National Park station, which is where tourists pay the park entrance fee (300 THB per person) and board their boats.
Several tour companies run transfers and daily tours with local boats (long tail boats) or larger boats (speed boats or yachts).
Koh Muk (or Mook)
We arrived in Koh Muk, the first of the islands in our planned tour, after half an hour.
Koh Muk (sometimes spelled Mook = pearl in Thai language) is well known for the Emerald Cave (Morakot Cave), for the stunning sunsets that visitors enjoy on the West coast and for the variety of accommodations it offers, from cheap guest houses and hotels to the upscale beach resorts.
The backpacker’s most preferred choice, Charlie Beach, is in Farang Beach, while on the opposite end of the price scale is The Muk Sivalai Beach Resort on Sivalai Beach.
Koh Muk is a great starting point for a day excursion to the Morakot Cave or to visit the nearby islands.
The Morakot Cave can be reached by swimming through a narrow, pitch dark sea tunnel that leads to a secret beach inside what looks like a volcano crate.
For this reason, visiting the cave is only possible at low tide; always check with your hotel or boat captain for the best time to go in and out.
Also, try to avoid the weekends when many local tourists congregate at the entrance and the line inside the tunnel can become long and loud.
It happened to us on our Sunday trip: several big boats where moored outside the entrance, and large groups of weak swimmers queued to be dragged inside the cave by local guides who had to pull them using long ropes. We were a bit discouraged by the noise and the crowd, however, despite the traffic congestion on one side of the tunnel, the wonderland that awaited us on the other side left everybody pleased and speechless.
After visiting the Morakot Cave, we cruised along the West side of Koh Muk, past Farang Beach, until we arrived at Sivalai Beach.
The Koh Mook Sivalai Beach Resort is located on a peaceful, sandy peninsula with pristine beaches surrounded by shallow water and tropical trees. Every wooden and concrete villas offers a partial or full sea view and is sheltered by exotic tall tress and bushes.
If you plan to spend more than one day in Koh Mook and you aren’t on a strict budget, consider the Sivalai as your home away from home. The resort is quiet and secluded, but at the same time it offers the advantage of being close to the small fishermen’s village of Koh Mook, where you can go for a walk or to try the local cuisine.
We stopped at the Mook Sivalai for a quick dip and a walk around the cape before continuing on to our next destination, a 10-minute boat ride away.
Koh Kradan is arguably the most well-known of the Trang Islands, thanks to its stark sugary beaches and turquoise waters teeming with fish.
Snorkelling is possible just off the main beach (Kradan Beach), and at low tide you may walk or paddle by yourselves out to the reef, without any need to rent a boat.
We chose to have lunch at The Reef Resort on Kradan beach, a slice of heaven with simple but well-designed beach front and sea view rooms.
“Sea view”meaning that the distance from each of the 18 bedrooms to Kradan’s white powdery sand is probably 50 steps, and the beach is the best of the island.
The Reef’s owner is Italian, anyway the resort is immensely popular with North Europeans, many of whom are repeating visitors who have been traveling to Koh Kradan for years.
Spend some time at the gorgeous beach bar reading the wooden plates that devoted visitors cut or painted for décor and that are now engraved in the roof.
And when you are tired of swimming, reading and basking in the sun, the Reef Restaurant’s Thai and Italian cuisine is great, and the backdrop is unforgettable.
Koh Chuak and Koh Ngai
After lunch and some snorkelling in Koh Kradan, we traveled to the last island in our agenda, Koh Ngai, pausing along the way for further snorkelling in Koh Chuak, a little diamond-shaped limestone islet lying between Koh Ngai and Koh Mook.
Koh Chuak doesn’t house any beach or accommodation, but if you enjoy the underwater world, the islet should be on your map: its blue waters are teeming with fish and soft corals.
Koh Ngai, the last island we reached, has aquamarine waters, white sand beaches and some snorkelling spots (although the reef is not as beautiful as in Koh Kradan & Chuak).
Koh Ngai also houses the most pristine jungle among the Trang Islands and is home to monitor lizards, snakes, and a wide selection of birds (including 2000 hornbills).
The majority of the resorts in Koh Ngai are upper/mid-range.
To our customers we often recommend the Thanya Beach Resort: consisting of Balinese-style teak villas facing the beach and a wonderful, spacious swimming pool, the Thanya is our favorite.
All of the bungalows are surrounded by a magnificent tropical garden filled with frangipani bushes in different colours.
The ambiance is romantic and unique, therefore it’s no surprise that the Thanya on Koh Ngai is very popular as a honeymoon resort.
From November to April, Tigerline ferries stop just off Koh Ngai on route between the islands of Phuket and Koh Lipe, while local long tail boats may be rented in Pak Meng for island hopping in the region.
Joint speed boats run on a daily basis at predetermined intervals.
At the Thanya Beach Resort we took our time walking around, taking a photo tour of the magnificent garden and enjoying the fragrance of the tall frangipani trees and other lesser known but equally stunning trees; then we visited the villas and the common areas and had a chat with the manager on duty.
At least, we sat on the beach to relax a moment, then enjoyed a last swim in the warm ocean.
A massive school of fish came to meet us: it was like a storm cloud darkening the sea, an oil leak expanding and contracting, a black ghost transforming its shape and size.
The islet-filled horizon slowly began to switch from blue to gold.
Sunset was approaching, and it was time to begin the journey back to Pak Meng dock in order to beat the darkness.
We arrived at Krabi around 8 p.m., joyful, chilled and enchanted once more by the breathtaking scenery of Southern Thailand.
Some useful information
The best time to travel to the Trang Islands
Because they are located in South-Western Thailand, the islands off Trang province are affected by the same monsoon as the other islands of the Andaman sea.
The rainy season begins in May and lasts until October: at this time, most hotels are closed and there is no certainty of transportation to and from the mainland or other islands.
The dry season lasts from November to April, and in this window you can expect beautiful clear skies, a tolerable level of humidity and flat sea.
In order to avoid the peak season, don’t visit the islands during the Christmas holidays, New Year’s and the Chinese New Year, when the accommodation prices sky-rocket and hotels are usually full booked.
The best way to reach the Trang Islands from other Thai provinces
From Bangkok and the North, the best way to reach Trang and its islands is to fly to Trang City then travel to Pak Meng Pier via minivan or private car. It takes around 40 minutes driving from central Trang to Pak Meng.
From Southern Thailand, you can travel to Trang by private car, minibus or bus, as a spiderweb of bus routes connects the region’s major cities.
Every day, a fleet of boats departs Pak Meng for Koh Mook and Koh Kradan, however at present the ferry service is less frequent than usual due to the pandemic.
If you wish to spend more than one day island hopping in Trang, check the public boat schedule ahead of time and be sure to be at the pier at last 30 minutes before the scheduled departure.
If, like us, you just plan a daily tour to the 4 islands, your best option is to rent a private long tail boat with a captain and local guide: it will save you time and maximise the opportunity for snorkelling and sightseeing sessions.
The price for a private long-tail boat to Koh Kradan, Koh Muk, Koh Ngai and Koh Chuak starts at 3000 THB per boat, including a Thai picnic lunch but not including the National Park fee.
For a one-way trip, contacting your hotel in advance is the best option. They can recommend and/or schedule the best transport to meets your needs.
The best way to travel among the islands
Traveling among the islands off Trang coast is a breeze during the dry season.
All the hotels can arrange shared or private transfers to island hop to and from Koh Ngai, Koh Kradan, Koh Muk and even to and from the less visited southern islands of Koh Libong, Koh Lao Liang and Koh Sukorn, which we did not explore on this trip due to a lack of time.