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Exploring Thailand's Trang Islands: Koh Mook and Koh Kradan

After spending four nights eating my way through Chiang Mai, I was off to go island hopping through the Krabi region. Visiting the country's famous beaches was, after all, the main reason I decided to visit. I spent a lot of time researching which areas to visit, and in the end I decided on three islands: Koh Mook, Koh Kradan and Koh Lanta. For this post, I'll be focusing my time on Koh Mook and Koh Kradan, which are considered to be part of a grouping called the Trang Islands, located in the Andaman Sea.

Starting to research something like this was daunting because there are endless possibilities in Thailand for beach destinations. I started by reading about the different areas, and I ended up focusing my efforts on Krabi. Another popular destination for beach adventures is Phuket, and I ruled that out because Krabi is a bigger area that seemed to have more of a variety of destinations, and also had the quieter, slower island life I was looking for.

Once I decided on the region, I began to look at specific islands, and spent hours planning the logistics. There was a lot to think about as far as basing myself in one place and doing a lot of day trips, or hopping around and staying overnight on different islands. Because of my personality, I decided to split my time between staying overnight on different islands just to have that different perspective. It's very easy to take day trips between the Thai islands, but the downside to that is you typically experience an island with the crowds during peak times. Staying overnight on different islands allows you to experience it in a more authentic way once all the tour boats leave, which appealed to me.

It may come up, so I wanted to touch on it: the Phi Phi islands are probably the most popular islands to visit in the Krabi region because of their stunning landscapes. In fact, a lot of the stock photos you'll see when you do a search for "Krabi, Thailand Beaches" will result in mostly photos of Phi Phi. My original itinerary included these islands, but after a lot of debate, I went in a completely different direction. These islands have become so popular, that many reported it was one big party island, and much of the natural beauty had lost its appeal because of that. It's most famous beach, Maya Bay, was also closed at the time I traveled because they were, thankfully, allowing its ecosystem to heal after so many years of over-tourism. As you can imagine, a party scene was the furthest type of environment I was looking for, so I began to check out other possibilities.

It was then I found the Trang Islands, which are still technically a part of Krabi, and also located at the Southern-most part of Thailand. They were reported to be more relaxed and remote, and some of them didn't even have local communities living on them. They seemed absolutely perfect for what I was looking for, which was a combination of some fun activities, but also plenty of opportunity just relax by the most beautiful beaches I could find, go swimming and not have jam-packed days. I landed on Koh Mook because I'd heard it was a good mix of the "lost paradise" feel I was looking for with some civilization. The island had some great restaurants and some things to do while still being very remote. I chose to also spend a couple nights on Koh Kradan, which most people do as a day trip. I wanted to spend two nights here because it seemed like the closest thing I would ever find to feeling like I was on a deserted island, and I'll touch more on that below.

Lastly, I spent my last few days in Thailand on Koh Lanta, which is a bigger, more developed island that still had a very laid-back feel to it. That will be its own post. 

Now that I'm home, I can report back that I'm really happy with how I planned out my time on the islands. There isn't much I would change after having done it, and each island I visited was absolutely stunning, and very laid back and relaxing. I'm so excited to share the details of my time spent in these little slices of paradise. 

I flew from Chiang Mai into Krabi via AirAsia, and started to my journey to Koh Mook, where I spent two nights. 

From the Krabi airport, I chose to do a private airport transfer for a few reasons. I wasn't happy that it was the most expensive option, but it was by and far the most convenient. On top of that, because Koh Mook isn't one of the most popular islands to visit, cheaper group transfers were only scheduled once per day, and my flight unfortunately didn't quite allow me to make the transfer all in the same day. So I would have had to spend a night somewhere in Krabi Town so I could catch the group transfer the next morning. I decided the private transfer was worth it so I had more time of the island, and didn't have to worry much about actually getting there. I booked it on 12go.Asia.com, and had an amazing experience. The whole trip was about two and a half hours long, most of which was in a van, and then about a 20-minute longtail boat to the island. From there, I was picked up by a Tuk Tuk taxi, which was about a 5-minute ride to my hotel. The whole thing was so seamless and easy, and once I got to my hotel, I was so grateful I planned it that way.

I used Booking.com and chose to stay at Mook Montra bungalows, which were right on the water and rather affordable for the area. Keep in mind that the islands I visited were more remote, and therefore, a bit more pricey by Thailand standards (but still affordable by Western expectations). My bungalow here was clean, had a great front porch area and was air-conditioned. It wasn't super stylish or well-decorated, but I didn't spend much time in my room anyway.

My bungalow at Mook Montra.

I loved that I could arrange all kinds of tours directly with my hotel, and the prices were the same as the tours offered in-town. It was so convenient because my hotel would do pick-ups and drop-offs to and from the boat via their own Tuk Tuk, which was always included in the price. The woman that worked at the desk was so friendly and accommodating with what I wanted to do on the island and answered all my questions, and helped me book everything.

The main reason most people visit Koh Mook is to go to Emerald Cave, which is a really fun and unique experience. You'll take a longtail boat around the island, and anchor just outside a small opening in the limestone cliffs. From here, you'll swim through the cave (you can also kayak if you want), and it's completely pitch black once you're half-way through. After a few minutes of swimming in total darkness, you'll begin to see light again, and you'll find yourself in a beautiful emerald-colored lagoon and a small beach, enclosed by jungle foliage. It's said that pirates used to store their treasure here, and it's absolutely incredible to see in person.

After swimming through the cave, this is where you'll exit into the lagoon.

Inside Emerald Cave.

I chose to visit Emerald Cave by booking a tour with my hotel. I joined another couple, so that kept the cost down to 400 Baht or US$12, and included a life jacket and a guide with a flashlight to show us through the cave. They also allowed us to snorkel around the boat to see some lobsters and jelly fish. The whole tour took a little over an hour, and included pick-up and drop off to our hotel before and after the boat ride. I absolutely loved this experience. Keep in mind that this has gotten to be a very popular attraction, so it's best to visit first thing in the morning, or late afternoon. I went late afternoon, and it wasn't very crowded at all.

The next day, I decided to arrange a private longtail boat tour with my hotel to visit Sabai Beach, which is only accessible by water. Then I also asked the boat to drop me off on the other side of the island to end my day at Charlie's Beach to watch the sunset, and go for a quick swim. Sabai Beach was really fun, and I only knew about it after spotting it while we were on our way back from Emerald Cave the previous day. I asked the driver what it was, and he told me that it's rarely ever crowded, and it's possible I could be the only one there. When I arrived, a few people were there who had arrived by kayak, and one small group who arrived by longtail, but they all left about 5 minutes after I got there. Then, I had the whole beach to myself. I swam in the water and saw a lot of small jelly fish (the kind that doesn't sting, apparently, according to my boat driver - they were really small). And there was also a beach swing on the shore, which I definitely took advantage of. 

Do you guys like my hair?

View from the boat while cruising around Koh Mook. 

Sabai Beach from the water. It's small but very secluded.

The boat that took me to Sabai Beach. Eventually, I was the only one there.

Monkey sighting at Sabai Beach.

Charlie's Beach is really the only other beach on the island that is a good swimming beach. To get here from the main part of the island, just grab a Tuk Tuk, which are all over the place, and they all charge 50 Baht to take you to Charlie's Beach from town. I was lucky enough to get here by boat, and planned my arrival about an hour before sunset, which was perfect. I witnessed my first Thailand island sunset here, and it was just as incredible as everyone said it would be. Charlie's Beach also provides beach chairs and umbrellas all along the stretch of sand, and there is no charge to use them.

Charlie's Beach when I arrived about an hour before sunset.

Charlie's Beach at sunset.

Charlie's Beach at sunset.

Charlie's Beach at sunset.

To get back to the main town area, Tuk Tuk's line up in the parking area of Charlie's Beach, and they charge the same rate (50 Baht) to bring you back. It was such a great little ride through the island because the roads were very remote and lined with beautiful tropical trees and plants (I'm glad I left just after the sunset so I could still see them!).

Riding around Koh Mook on a Tuk Tuk.

Sivalai Beach on the island is close to the main town, and is absolutely beautiful. It's home to the fanciest hotel on the island (Sivalai Resort), so if you have some extra cash to spend, they have bungalows right on the beach. You don't have to stay at the resort in order to use the beach, but I will say that it's not well-shaded, so I wasn't able to sit down here during the day and read a book because I couldn't find a spot that avoided direct sunlight. I decided to come back and just walk along the shore close to sunset on my first night instead. I very sadly didn't get any pictures.

The little town on the island is very, very small, and consists of a few massage places, a couple of mini marts and tour centers and quite a few restaurants. I actually loved the restaurants on the island and had some great food.

I went to Miss Island Bakery both of my mornings for breakfast because I was blown away by their food. Their fruit smoothies were incredible, and I was a bit obsessed with their fruit pancakes.

Passionfruit smoothie from Miss Island Bakery.

Fresh fruit pancakes from Miss Island Bakery.

For dinner one night, I ended up at Sugar's. They have tables in the sand right on the water, and everything I ordered was delicious. Unfortunately, I visited during low tide, so my water view wasn't as great, but the ambience was still so lovely. I remember sitting down there a few hours after I arrived and just said to myself, "Am I actually here right now?" I couldn't believe it.

Fried prawn toast from Sugar's.

Prawn Pad Thai from Sugar's.

Mango fritters with coconut ice cream from Sugar's.

On my last night, one of the restaurants I had wanted to visit was closed, so I stumbled into Yummy's. I got a nice tropical cocktail as well as a pretty basic Thai meal of pineapple fried rice and spring rolls, but it was all really good.

One morning, I walked into town and decided to get a massage because there was a sign outside offering a free aloe vera face mask/facial massage with any hour-long regular massage. I asked if I could do an hour-long back, neck and arm massage and they obliged, and the aloe mask was so refreshing. The massage places on Koh Mook are all very, very basic. No air-conditioning and little privacy, but still just as effective and inexpensive. I paid 300 Baht (US$10) for that experience, and the women who did my massage was so friendly and kind. 

- There isn't an ATM on the island. Well, not really. PK Mart in town will allow you to make a fake purchase of any amount you want on your credit card, and they will give you that amount in cash, and charge you a 3% fee (I'd heard they will waive the fee for you if you book a tour through them). I just decided to withdraw whatever cash I needed for the island from an ATM in Chiang Mai before I left the city.

- For any tours you want to do, you'll arrange them all once you arrive. I reached out to my hotel about a week before I left and asked about a tour to Emerald Cave, and they told me not to worry about it until I arrived. That is pretty much how life in Thailand is in general. 

- Like I said, the prices my hotel charged for the tours were the same as the advertised prices I was seeing in town. Not sure if you can haggle these prices down through companies in town, but I thought the pricing was all very fair through my hotel, and much easier to book that way. I'd heard the exact opposite online before I left - that hotels will up-charge. I didn't find that to be the case here. 

- Tuk Tuk's are the way to get around the island, which is basically a motorbike with a little seat attached to the side of it. But it's just as easy to walk if you're only heading into the town area. Tuk Tuk's will be available everywhere and will be super easy to flag down. 

After two nights on Koh Mook, I decided to spend two nights on Koh Kradan. This island is a popular destination for day-trippers looking for some easy snorkeling, as you can find reefs just off the shore in front of some of the hotels. It's also a very small island that doesn't have a town area, or even roads for Tuk Tuk's, so as I said, I felt like it would be the closest thing to experiencing a deserted island paradise. 

From Koh Mook, I booked a transfer to Koh Kradan through my hotel, and arrived via Satun Speedboat Tour Company. It was a very short 10-minute ride, and I was dropped in front of the Kradan Beach Resort, on the beach. If coming from an airport, you can arrange a private airport transfer. Since there are no roads, all the hotels are lined up on the main beach, called Paradise Beach. To find my hotel, I just looked at Google Maps, figured out if I had to turn right or left, and then walked on the beach until I found a sign for my hotel. It was about a 5-min walk until I found it. 

I used Booking.com and chose to stay at the Kalume Eco Resort. Koh Kradan is the most expensive island I stayed on, but for the experience I had at Kalume, I think it was well worth the cost. It's located a bit further down the beach, and has the highest-rated restaurant on the island, a beautiful stretch of beach that provides lots of shade under some trees, plenty of chaise loungers on the sand and really lovely bungalows. 

My bungalow at Kalume.

View from my bungalow's porch at Kalume.

I loved my bungalow at Kalume, which was basic but somehow still felt really special and homey. The only downside to it was that it was the only place I stayed during my whole trip that didn't have air-conditioning. It was a bit of an adjustment for me at night because I had been keeping my rooms at arctic temperatures while I slept since the heat was such a change for me. They do provide a fan, though, which is adjustable to get the right angle. I just, sadly, didn't sleep well because the heat was a bit much for me at night.

Kalume had a few of these covered seating areas, and you were welcome to hang out in here,
order drinks/food and even eat here for breakfast.

The bungalows are beautiful and still very simple. The bed had a mosquito net, the front porch was very private and overlooked the beach, and the bathroom was amazing. I still think about how much I loved the bathroom in here. The river rocks on the shower floor, the beautiful tile, the natural touches - I just loved it.

They also provide you with a cute beach bag to use during your stay, two beach towels, and two drink tokens per every day you're a guest at the hotel to cash in for either water or coffee/tea at the bar. This replaces the two bottles of water hotels will typically put in your room. 

Kalume is an eco resort, and therefore, serves its water in glass bottles, which was so nice to see. If you bring plastic bottled water with you to the hotel (like I did), they charge you a fee if you leave any plastic bottles behind to discourage plastic on the island. I carried out all my empty plastic bottles, and there was a recycling bin for them near the ferry drop-off/pick-up area as I was leaving.

Well guys, not much, and that's the point. Like I said, most people come here as part of a tour or day trip. You stay overnight if you want to slow down and relax, which is what I did. Most people had the same routine I did. They claimed their beach chairs in the morning (there were plenty for everyone), waddled over to breakfast, waddled back to their beach chairs, laid around or read a book, went for swims, waddled back over to the restaurant for lunch, and repeat the same until dinner/sunset.

Can you see why I never wanted to leave? Shaded beach and amazing view.

You can walk through the jungle to get to the other side of the island to visit Sunset Beach, for, you guessed it, sunset views in the evening. I didn't end up doing that only because I wasn't sure how I would feel trying to find my way back after the sun had gone down. Most people online report the walk is between 20-30 mins, depending on your speed. 

Snorkeling on Koh Kradan is really nice. Luckily, without knowing it, I booked a hotel that has some of the best snorkeling on the island, along with Kradan Beach Resort. I never ended up testing out the Kradan Beach Resort snorkeling spots since it was so convenient to just swim right at Kalume. I swam a bit into the water from my hotel's shoreline and found a great reef that had some pretty coral and lots of fish. Visibility was a bit foggy just because there was a lot of sand kicking up, but I managed to see lots and lots of fish, which was so great. I also discovered that I'm terrible at snapping photos of the fish because I'm too distracted by actually seeing it all. Plus, they move so fast, so professional sea life photographer is most definitely not in the books for me.

Coral reef in front of Kalume. The little speckles making the picture fuzzy are all the sand pieces.

Reef in front of Kalume. 

Snorkeling in front of Kalume.

I'd heard that you could kayak to the Southern-most point of the island for an even better reef to snorkel at, but my laziness kicked in, and I basically never left my resort. It was the first time since landing in Singapore that I just didn't have a lot planned and it felt so good. My body was telling me to stay put, and I happily obliged.

My view every day from my favorite beach lounge chair, under my favorite tree.

View to my left from my beach lounge chair.

Hammocks were also available for ultimate relaxation.

Normally I go shell hunting, but here, I went coral hunting.

If you get up early enough, you'll get an amazing view of the sunrise. I woke up early both mornings while here to catch it, and I'd never seen such a clear, full sunrise come up from the horizon before. It was incredible.

The island of Koh Ngai is a short 10-min boat ride from Koh Kradan, and if I'd stayed for one more day, I would have arranged a longtail boat over to explore. Koh Nagi is a cross between both Koh Mook and Koh Kradan, from what I understand. It has more restaurants and such, but still has a very remote feel, and no real "town" to wander. It also supposedly has excellent snorkeling. My hotel quoted me at 2,000 Baht (US$60) to hire a longtail for the day to take me to Koh Ngai and back. I actually considered it, but decided I loved my little beach hotel so much I didn't end up going. 

Keep in mind that tour prices are by boat, not per person. So if you have a group, the price would still be about 2,000 Baht. If you can split the cost, it's much more economical. That's just harder to do when flying solo. 

As I mentioned before, all the restaurants are located inside the hotels on the island. And very randomly, there's a decent population of Italian hotel owners here, so many of the hotel restaurants are Italian. I was a bit turned off by that at first because, obviously, I wanted to eat as much Thai food as I could while on this trip. But honestly, the restaurant at my hotel served up some pretty great Italian food. I ordered this amazing shrimp salad one night, and I also tried their pizza (which was surprisingly really good, and I'm very judgmental when it comes to pizza), their Caprese sandwich and a few other smaller appetizers, and all of it was great. I was shocked. 

Everyone eats breakfasts at their hotel (it's included in the rate at Kalume), and they were so good here. They offered a few selections, and I always went for the American cereal breakfast which came with Corn flakes and milk, amazing toasted bread with butter and jam, fresh fruit, yogurt with granola, fresh juice of your choice and coffee/tea. It was always so tasty, and rather large and filling.

Restaurant at Kalume. I loved all the vintage wood chairs. 

You can visit the restaurants at different hotels, regardless of where you stay, and most will still serve Thai food. But I chatted with a couple during my stay who had been on Kradan a week before I arrived, and they said that the Italian food was actually better on the island than the Thai food, so I decided to stick to that and just take a break from all the Thai food I'd been eating. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.

I think about this shrimp salad more than I want to admit. The fresh dragonfruit in it was such a nice surprise. 

- There is no ATM on the island. You'll need to bring all the cash you need with you. The restaurant at Kalume does take credit cards, and will just charge you a 3% fee on top of your bill. I'm unsure about the other restaurants since this was the only place I dined. Confirm with your hotel before you leave if they take cards to pay your hotel bill and restaurant bills so you know approximately what you'll need for your stay. 

- Before you leave, check with your hotel about a baggage transfer from the ferry to the hotel if you have a lot of with you. I had a very heavy 55-liter Osprey Farpoint backpack, as well as my smaller carry-on backpack, and even the 5-min walk in the sand was tough because it was noon and very, very hot. When I was leaving and heading back to the ferry, the front desk folks asked some of the hotel staff to carry my backpacks to the ferry for me, despite me declining the offer at first. If they know when you're arriving on the ferry, most hotels will likely be able to send someone down to help you with your luggage if you need it. 

- There is one very, very small mini mart inside of the Kradan Beach Resort if you need anything. I brought four bottles of water with me to the island from Koh Mook because I wasn't sure if I would be able to get enough water while here, and while I'm glad I did, you should be able to get basics. But that's about it.

- Some hotels offer water sports equipment free of charge. Kalume had SUPs and kayaks, which were free to use. 

- Because Koh Kradan is a popular day trip destination, and is included on many "Four Island" day tours that depart from the larger islands, you'll see that a lot of longtail boats will dock right on the main beach where your hotel will likely be. It wasn't overwhelming, though, and the day trippers are typically only there to snorkel, and they don't take up much beach space. Hotels are pretty good about letting day trippers know that hotel beach loungers and chairs are only for hotel guests. Most day trippers, though, dock out by the reefs and just snorkel, so the island still remains rather calm throughout the entire day. And it was honestly kind of fun to see all the longtails begin to line up on the shore - I loved taking pictures of them.

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