Ko Mak is a small island off the far eastern coast of Thailand, nestled between its larger and far more popular neighbours Ko Chang and Ko Kut (known locally as Ko Kood). And it’s much better for being neglected: despite its beauty and the twenty-plus small resorts dotted around the island, it feels like there is almost noone else here…
After being reassured in Trat that I would not need a booking, I boarded the speedboat from the mainland at 1pm for the swift crossing into the Gulf of Thailand. The relative remoteness of Ko Mak was hammered home as soon as I arrived: of the 25 people on the speedboat I was the only one getting off on Ko Mak (all the rest were heading onwards to Ko Kood). I’d been led to believe that all boats would be besieged by touts on arrival, but noone was waiting when I stepped onto the pier. Even the cafe on the shore seemed deserted, and I couldn’t see a single soul on the beach sweeping off to my right. As I gazed at a faded island map on a billboard trying to work out where I was a small rusty ute trundled up, and after a short chat I loaded me and my bag into the tray for a short journey to the main beach of Ao Kao. More than half of the resorts are located along this broad ribbon of beach and I decided I had the time and energy to simply walk up and down until I found somewhere suitable.
I’m glad I did. Ko Mak gets only scant coverage in the latest Lonely Planet for Thailand, and while the excellent travelfish.org website offers greater detail I still didn’t really know what to expect. The fact is that parts of this beach and some of the resorts are simply unappealing. Some places are fronted only by rocks or a pier, others have poorly tended grounds that would be a drama to navigate at night, still others have dingy cabins and a sterile feel. There is nothing like a personal inspection when choosing digs and no matter how nice or affordable some places sounded on paper, they were just not very inviting in practice. Towards the northern end of the beach however I came across a broad expanse of very well-maintained gardens with a handful of attractive bungalows widely spaced across the grounds. An airy wooden pavilion stood to the left housing the bar-restaurant and reception, and the sand in front of the resort was rock-free and groomed clean with comfortable sun lounges and a couple of large hammocks strung between the palm trees. Like all the other places nearby there seemed to be almost no guests, so I strolled up to reception to see what they offered.
It was a little more pricey than I had planned for, but for what it offers the blandly-named Holiday Beach Resort is exceptional value. For $40 a night I’ve scored a large and airy bungalow with fan and excellent hot-water shower, with plenty of space to spread out and none of the enclosed feeling of the tiny huts that dominate most of the accomodation here. Best of all it is barely thirty metres from the beach and has a broad balcony with a couple of comfy armchairs and a large hammock from which you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the sea. I said yes to only one night when I checked in, but after having a shower I immediately changed that to three nights and have since stretched that out to five. The resort has kayaks and snorkelling gear for free use and there are a couple of tiny islands within a few hundred metres to aim for on a calm day. It has a good if slightly pricey restaurant, but there are half a dozen other places nearby if I want to eat somewhere else. There is even a massage centre on-site which offers open-air treatments to the sound of the waves, and apparently it’s the best massage joint on the island. If I get tired of the beach on my doorstep I can walk over the hill for ten minutes to another one that’s supposed to be even nicer. With all this on offer and budget permitting, I think I’m going to go for at least a full week here on Ko Mak!
My four-month Asian sojourn is nearly at an end, and to be honest since I left Cambodia the urge to explore further on this trip has vanished. I certainly do want to see Thailand properly but there’s no way I can do it justice in a couple of weeks, and I’m over spending hours on buses every couple of days at the moment. Besides: after the Koh Ru experience I want another island idyll before heading home. This place is very different to Koh Ru and in many ways not as special, but it is comfortable and utterly relaxing and the perfect place for me to be at this point of the journey. A slow, gentle wind-down while working on my tan and reading some books – in between daily massages, of course – is just what this doctor ordered 😀