Looking for a low-key escape in the Andaman Sea? Try these four islands off the coast of Thailand’s Trang province.
With their limpid waters, powdery white beaches, and swaying palms backdropped by jungle-draped karst formations, the under-the-radar islands of southern Thailand’s Trang Archipelago have all the hallmarks of the perfect Thai beach retreat. The tourist crowds have long skipped these offshore gems in favor of nearby Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe, leaving them blissfully devoid of flashy resorts and blaring beach clubs. Several ferry lines connect the islands during the high season from November to May, but private longtail boats make hopping between them a breeze year-round. Here’s where to go, eat, and bed down on the archipelago’s biggest islands.
Trang’s most visited isle has it all: swaths of sugary white sand, hidden coves, and hiking trails that crisscross a jungle-cloaked interior. Day-trippers from other islands are lured here by Emerald Cave (Tham Morakot to locals), a hidden beach accessible only by swimming through a pitch-black tunnel. A lively, tourist-centric village envelops much of Muk’s eastern shoreline, offering plentiful dining options (seek out Sugar’s for rich curries and fruit shakes) and accommodation for every budget, including the plush villas at Sivalai Beach Resort (doubles from US$180). And unlike on the nearby islands, there’s even a pinch of nightlife in the form of reggae-blasting bars furnished from driftwood and fishing flotsam, of which the spuriously named GoGo Bar is a top spot for sundowners.
With more than 3,500 friendly residents and a surface area of about 35 palm-covered square kilometers, Koh Libong is the archipelago’s largest and most populous island. It’s also the least visited, making it a haven for the Andaman Sea’s endangered dugong population. With a pinch of luck, you can spot these gentle creatures from your canoe in Libong’s southeastern seagrass beds or from the watchtower overlooking the bay at Batu Pute village. While there, stop for lobster tom yum and chili shrimp at seafood institution Jahnai and track down the Cool Coffee cart for a decent Arabica brew. A slew of rickety homestays line Batu Pute’s main street, but the prettiest lodgings, including the Andalay Beach Resort (doubles from US$180), are to be found along a golden beach on Libong’s western tip.
You’ll be hard-pressed to do much more than some snorkeling and hammock swinging on Koh Kradan, but that’s exactly what this dreamy island is all about. The main beach delivers postcard scenes with every step, and swings made of driftwood and sisal rope hang from leaning trees. The Seven Seas Resort (doubles from US$120) has spacious bungalows and a poolside restaurant that whips up terrific Thai stir-fries and curries. Thanks to the dozen or so Italians staffing local resorts, you’re also in the right place for real-deal Italian fare — the pizzas at Italiano Bar & Restaurant get top marks.
Without villages, ATMs, or even roads, Koh Ngai — officially part of neighboring Krabi province but better reached via Trang — is the ultimate Thai island idyll. The waters are coral-rich and Listerine-clear, and the main beach stretches nearly two kilometers. Here, Thapwarin Resort (doubles from US$70) and the recently refurbished CoCo Cottage Resort (doubles from US$144) are the best places to stay. Both are also excellent spots for lunch and dinner (especially if you’re after a Western bite), but don’t miss the seafood BBQ joints that pop up all along the beach after sunset.
This article originally appeared in the December 2021/February 2022 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Time for Trang”).