Holiday in Ko Phra Thong
A very large (about 130 square kilometres in area), almost completely flat (reason for it being hard hit by the 2004 tsunami), densely populated by mangroves to the far eastern side while the centre part is covered with barren terrain, the island of Ko Phra Thong pales in comparison with the neighbouring islands of Ko Ra and Ko Surin. Nevertheless, to some visitors, it spells out haven and their peculiar island destination for a vacation.
In the local dialect, phra thong equates to golden Buddha. The island took its name from a tale told many times over a span of a couple of centuries about a very precious Buddha image, made up of solid gold, purportedly hidden in a portion of its vast savannah terrain. Fast forward to the 21st century and you might not exactly find an avid treasure hunter roaming around especially when the temperatures have since gone higher than before.
Ko Phra Thong’s inimitable landscape and weather is unparalleled anywhere else in the kingdom of Thailand and for that matter, the whole of Southeast Asia. Although it experiences rainy seasons, for the most part of the year, Ko Phra Thong is devilishly hot and humid. It has been compared many times over to the terrain of Africa and can be mistaken for the continent if it hadn’t been for the glaringly Asian wildlife roving its surroundings. Believe it or not, you almost unconsciously expect to see gazelles and lions around the corner but what you will see are stately kingfishers and sand lizards instead.
Moreover, instead of the high rolling peaks covered with forest growths seen in Ko Ra and the mainland, in Ko Phra Thong, your eyes will feast on fascinating and pallid sand dunes with cracking trees and towering grasses. That is why it is of no surprise that the island is the best place in the entire kingdom to watch birds. Noteworthy is the fact that it is home to the almost extinct and very exotic lesser adjutant stork.
There are plenty of activities on the island despite its seemingly unfriendly terrain, however. The trick is to wade out the day indoors and explore when the sun rays are not too damaging. You can walk through the beaches of its entire western coast or you may choose to motorbike or bicycle your way through the savannah during the late afternoon to partake of its remarkably virgin beach. During your stay, don’t be surprised if you don’t get to meet another human being while combing through the light golden sand beaches of the north, despite the area’s proximity to a few resorts. Yes, the odds of meeting sand crabs are much higher than meeting a fellow traveller, especially when walking north away from Mr. Chuoi’s or past Golden Buddha Resort going south. Even the humble sea turtles and consequently their avid protector-volunteer project --- the non-profit Italian group called Naucrates --- know this as the former make the sands of Ko Phra Thong their nesting grounds.
So despite the somewhat harsh landscape, it is this isolated feel and peaceful ambience which pose as the main attraction on the island. Most of the very hospitable locals make their living from harvesting cashews and fishing. No concrete development has since made its mark on Ko Phra Thong so during your stay, you will be infused with a sense of going back in tune with the natural world where time is of no essence and the cares of the world are too far to reach you.
Being assured with this reality, expect that the available accommodations will not be able to offer you the same amenities as their western counterparts. What will most likely greet you are the most basic of living quarters, made of country bamboo or wood, a couple hours of generator-run electricity and cold water even at the pricey and somewhat posh Golden Buddha. Again, it is the privacy and the solitude that will make your stay so much worth it.
What’s in Store at Phra Thong?
To the south is the small fishing village of Ko Kho Khao while to the north, you will find all the infrastructure, resorts, villages and roads. The iconic rows of modern homes on stilts of Lions Village can be found to the north, erected after the tsunami of 2004. The pier, where visitors from Saphan Pla pier at the town of Khuraburi and Ko Ra arrive, is also here.
The good news is that you can choose to take advantage of a home stay program at Lions Village but we recommend going with the smaller resorts to its south, just a few kilometres away and reachable via a narrow paved road. Since there are no taxis, motorbikes or any other types of vehicle on the island for hire or rent, we suggest you arrange for your transportation with your accommodation of choice ahead of time so you can be picked up at the pier or just take your chance hitchhiking from the locals that traverse on said road to take a peek at the choices of places to stay. If you are really up to it, however, you are more than welcome to walk your way through but we caution you that it is really a long walk with almost no available shade along the way to Seaview and Mr. Chuoi’s resorts. Once you get there, however, get ready to meet the half-tamed hornbill who will be a constant buddy throughout your stay.
South of the paved road, beyond the resorts is Ta Pae Yoe, a quaint fishing village. You will see another pier in this town where you can catch the local ferry, once a day, which will then bring you to a place where a tiny boat is docked and ready to bring you further deeper within Khuraburi’s canals lined with mangrove trees, locally known as Bang Det (translated to mean “mangrove or southern pier”).
If you happen to like bicycling, you can spend the entire day exploring the routes from Ta Pae Yoe to Lions Village. The south part of Ko Phra Thong, however, is not suited for exploration via motorbikes or bicycles due to its sandy terrain. Wherever you go, we highly recommend you put on a good lather of the highest SPF sun block, bring a good size water bottle and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from the elements.
Since almost the entire island is flat, you can get a better view of the island and the panoramic beach vistas from Monkey Hill point adjacent to the Golden Buddha Resort. This is, by far, the highest elevation around the island perfect for getting your vacation photos.
Once you filled your exploration bucket, go and try the activities at Ko Phra Thong like their most treasured diving services from the Blue Guru Diving company (the only one available of its kind). They will fully certify you after their diving programs or you may just opt for their day trip diving tours around the island or nearby Ko Similan, Ko Surin and Richileau Rock. Better yet, try other activities like hiking, bird watching, snorkelling and kayaking. To wind down, subscribe to the island’s national pastime, hammock lounging, beachside.
The island is very remote so there are no ATMs or banks around. Bring enough local currencies to fund your entire itinerary and activities. Ta Pae Yoe is the only place where there is a medical clinic but its services is very limited. Hopefully, you will not need to be brought back to the mainland for serious treatment.
Golden Buddha Resort has the only internet cafe on the island but the fee charged is too steep (250 baht an hour). If you are a guest of the resort, however, you can negotiate to have the fee waived, especially if you dine at its splendid restaurant. The Phra Thong Bay Bungalows has internet access but again, only for its guests. Mobile phones, fortunately, do get a fairly strong reception but if you must get internet access, try purchasing the available air cards sold at the other resorts but don’t expect a fast connection.
Lastly, the island has only one resort open all year round but if you arrive during the low season of May to October and the wet months of July to September, expect that Ko Phra Thong will feel more isolated than it already is.