Koh Mak – the secret paradise

Posted from Ko Mak, Trat, Thailand.

First impressions - not too bad, Thailand. Not too bad.

First impressions – not too bad, Thailand. Not too bad.

When a traveler comes across something special, like a magical or idyllic place unspoiled by the riggers of tourism and commercialism, especially in Thailand, they get very excited. Welcome to Koh Mak.

The true quest of a serious traveler is to discover such a place. To tell only those you like. To hide its secrets until that fateful day comes. The day when the vision is destroyed by some slouchy unshaven slumdog hovering over you, blocking the sun while he tries to convince you to buy his knock-off Raybans at double the price the shop down the street sells them. Either that or he’s got a blow up plastic whale or a bag of deep-fried shrimp. That clearly signifies the end. Luckily, Koh Mak isn’t there yet.

An almost iconic photo, no?

An almost iconic photo, no?

I almost feel like I shouldn’t write this post to protect the island, but that wouldn’t be fair to the businesses and there’s already a ton of posts on the Internet about the place, so its un-doing wouldn’t be by my hand. A few of those posts said the island is already ruined, but having traveled to many islands in Thailand, I can say, by my standards, Koh Mak is far from ruined, it’s just not what Thailand was twenty or thirty years ago. But is’s a far far cry from Phuket or Koh Phiphi or even Koh Chang.

Storm clouds build out in the sea. This is the edge of rainy season and it did rain.

Storm clouds build out in the sea. This is the edge of rainy season and it did rain.

There are resorts, sure. What island isn’t complete without a place for the swanky to sleep? But I think the cheapest place to stay on the island is 300B, which I know is a far cry from twenty years ago when people speak about 20B or 50B homestays. Those days are over and I really wish people would just move on.

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So. Now that I’ve gone through that whole deluge, I’m also going to leave it behind.

After my journey from Pattaya I got a ride in a song-taew to the Laem Ngop Pier to get a speed boat to Koh Mak.

Wow.

There are three piers on the island to catch boats to other islands and the main land. So depending on where you’re coming from or if it’s the slow boat or the speed boat you could end up anywhere. But the island is small and the distance from any pier to the cluster of main resorts is only about 10mins. There are a few resorts far away from the rest, as in the middle of no where, but these are probably for honeymooners, anti-social paradigms or people who really really need to get away. Much of the island is void of homestays, guesthouses or resorts. About 900 people live on Koh Mak year around.

Ahhh.

Ahhh.

A couple from Germany watching the sunset outside our resort. Beautiful.

A couple from Germany watching the sunset outside our resort. Beautiful.

But the beach. Oh the beach. It’s glorious. It’s sandy. It’s empty. And if you can get past the random garbage that floats up (and many of the locals and guests voluntarily clean up each morning) you can be living in a dream. The garbage really wasn’t that bad, but you will get this on all beaches in Asia, and probably all the world. The sunsets are marvellous and there are quite a few over-hanging palm trees to provide that perfect sunset vacation pic.

Part of the recycling plant. It was the weekend so we figured it wasn't operating. I drove past a few days later people were there sorting garbage.

Part of the recycling plant. It was the weekend so we figured it wasn’t operating. I drove past a few days later people were there sorting garbage, at least I think that’s what they were doing.

The island is labeled as a low-carbon destination. What that means is that every year the government shows up to inspect what businesses and people are doing to keep the island “green.” This can be as much as low-wattage light bulbs and recycling systems. Actually, there is a recycling plant on the island, and an actual garbage pick up. Sure, people burn their garbage here, just like most places in Asia, but the point is that there’s effort put into minimizing the garbage. Kind of. This all seems well and good until one passes the energy plant – which is run by large diesel-powered generators. But I’m not going to judge. How else can an island so far from shore get power?

Rows upon rows of trees ready to be scarred and tapped for their latex.

Rows upon rows of trees ready to be scarred and tapped for their latex.

The island also harvests resin from rubber trees and has coconut plantations. In most of the interior and free spaces there are rows upon rows of rubber trees. You can get fresh coconuts each day for a fairly standard 30B from your resort.

Prices here are impressively decent. I had a really good chicken burger for 90B, green curry spaghetti for 120B, banana pancake for 60B and even coconut shake for 40B. Perhaps this is because the Russians haven’t invaded Koh Mak yet … maybe.

This kind of starts you into what I could only describe as the artist's yard.

This kind of starts you into what I could only describe as the artist’s yard. At least it’s a polite greeting.

There were a lot of vaginas. A lot. And they were painted. As were the nipples.

There were a lot of vaginas. A lot. And they were painted. As were the nipples.

This could've been his water closet. There was a basket filled with old toothpaste tubes and razors.

This could’ve been his water closet. There was a basket filled with old toothpaste tubes and razors.

One day I went for a bike ride to the other side of the island with a Canadian/French couple I met. On our way we found an interesting place called the Kingdom of Somchai where sculptures of women created by a rather interesting artist are preserved. The photos explain it, no?

Further down the road we got to the Happy Days Resort, the site of an old, but enormous wooden house that belonged to one of the founders of Koh Mak, apparently. People were presently occupying this important piece of island history, but it’s not what I originally thought. The people living there are descendants and they own most of the island.

A new greenhouse installation being pioneered by Koh Mak Resort. Apparently it gets so hot they must wet the vegetables a few times a day to keep them from dying.

A new greenhouse installation being pioneered by Koh Mak Resort. Apparently it gets so hot they must wet the vegetables a few times a day to keep them from dying.

I kind of regret not going to the island’s temple. While doing some research for this post I read the buddhas in the temple are very feminine, the only kind like them in Thailand. This is to honour the woman who bought the island in the late 1800s and its coconut plantations and whose family still occupy the big house.

I was kind of sick for a few days here. I’m not sure what it was. I wasn’t throwing up. I didn’t have diarrhea and I didn’t have a fever. But my stomach was cramping something fierce. I know it’s kind of taboo to talk about it, but I was pretty constipated. I wasn’t sure how this was possible with all the curry I was eating. After a few days it abated, but not after some nights of agony. It had to happen sometime.

My hut at Island Hut.

My hut at Island Hut.

I spent seven nights on Koh Mak in a beach bungalow at Island Hut. I had some things to get used to in my rustic accommodation, so here’s a post about the ins and outs of living in a hut. I never felt like I had to lock my door here, but I did some of the time. There is a nice feeling on the island, like everyone’s family. I got numerous sandfly bites, numerous mosquito bites, a minor sunburn and that bizarre intestinal bug (which is lingering.) Bring heaps of bug stuff, the sandflies are no joke. Bring cash to pay for things. Bring books, computer, games, cards and a resolve to relax. There isn’t much to do on the island, except for swim every single day in the crystal clear waters, but at times that’s exactly what we all need – to stop being busy.

Next I head north to Koh Chang, the third biggest island in Thailand. It’s a 400B ferry ride on the slow boat, but I get a free taxi shuttle to my accommodation and a two-hour ride on a wooden boat. There’s going to be quite a difference from the solitude of Koh Mak to the metropolis of Koh Chang.

 

One Response to Koh Mak – the secret paradise

  1. Looks beautiful there and those sunsets are something else 🙂

    Carrie DeMichele November 1, 2014 at 3:51 pm Reply

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