Koh Kood is in the southern province of Trat. Visitors can now experience a two-day, one-night Thailand homestay for as little as $50, which includes learning about local food, bicycle touring and trying your hand at craftwork, as travel writer John Borthwick discovers.
“Do not dress up porn,” requests the welcome sign at Ban Nam Chiew village. Which is this unique Thai-Muslim-Chinese community’s way of asking visitors to not frock up, or down, as they might on a Phuket beach.
The riverside fishing village is in the southeastern province of Trat, on the Gulf of Thailand about 300 km from Bangkok. Its tourism coordinator Khun Noi and her committee are whipping up sweet—savoury crackers on a sizzling hotplate. They add coconut milk and tapioca, and then a topping of brown sugar and shallots, plus inimitable Thai flair. The delicious, crunchy morsels disappear down the hatch almost before we can say, “More!”
The 1500-person village has recently ventured into homestay tourism. Visitors like us can enjoy for less than $50 a head a two-day, one-night homestay, which includes learning about (and eating plenty of) the local food, bicycle touring and trying your hand at craftwork.
We travel on to Koh Kood (aka Ko Kut) island that floats in the Gulf closer to Cambodia than to Bangkok. Our ferry pulls into Ao Salat, an inlet that’s lined with trawlers, lobster pots, geranium pots, nets and all the vital signs of a community whose life has not been overtaken by tourism.
Koh Kood is the nation’s fourth largest island and has good resorts and diving. It offers plenty to do for visitors who don’t want to do very much. Most of this hilly, densely forested island remains Royal Thai Navy property and its shores remain largely intact.
At Analay Reef off the west coast the ocean floor is sandy and the gin-clear water only 10 metres deep. Overboard we go for an hour of liquid delight amid healthy corals and sturdy bommies. Later we paddle kayaks upriver at Khlong Chao, a pristine mangrove channel that opens out to tumbled rocks and then a waterfall. Further offshore are more challenging dives at Koh Maak and Koh Rang National Park, all part of the Koh Chang Archipelago.
Koh Kood has jungles, beaches, tranquility and even luxury. There are some 50 accommodation options, mostly along the west coast, ranging from lodges to over-the-top luxe. Ao Salat, or Pirate Bay, so named because pirates long ago took shelter here, has inspired a local chain of four-star resorts called Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell.
Beautiful Soneva Kiri resort at the northern tip of the 25-km long island is about as upmarket as you might go before needing oxygen. Its “billionaire beachcomber” aesthetic is evidenced in a finely tuned assembly of sun-bleached timbers, pavilions and elegant aeries that overlook heaven or at least its Koh Kood annex. And then there are the handmade chocolates …
On the island’s southwest coast Chams’s House resort faces Haad Takien beach. White sand, empty beach, crisp waves. It’s place for romantics, singles, families or anybody who values a tropical shore without karaoke or a doof-doof bar next door.
This aromatic island, of sea pines, wood smoke and fireflies might be undeveloped and a bit awkward to get to, but that’s its salvation. Not all the roads are sealed. There is only one “town”, and not much nightlife beyond a few beach bars and fire-dances. There is however plenty of “porn” — a noble Thai word that can mean “gift”, “grace” or “blessings”. All true.
Getting There: Bangkok Airways fly Bangkok-Trat daily. It is then a 50-km drive to Trat’s Laem Sok pier. A one-hour ferry (price Ferry 500 baht, about $20) brings you to Koh Kood pier for your resort transfer. Or cross over from Koh Chang.
Season: The hottest months are April-August, and coolest November-February. Mid-May to mid-October is monsoon time.
Getting Around: There is virtually no public transport and taxis are few. Many visitors get around by rental motorbike, costing around $12 a day. For arrival, arrange a pick-up by your resort.
Further Information: www.bangkokair.com; www.homestaythai; www.chamshouse.com; email@example.com; www.kohkood.com