Koh Kret is a hidden gem that many international guests will not have heard of, although it is in fact the closest island to Bangkok. Travel writer Gary Walsh went exploring there recently.
Koh Kret is by no means your typical Thai island. There are no beaches, no elephant rides, no nightclub areas, and no full moon parties. And unlike Phuket or Koh Samui there’s no instant name recognition. So where is Koh Kret?
In fact it’s the closest island to Bangkok, just 30kms or so upstream on the Chao Phraya River from the centre of the Thai capital. And getting there is half the fun.
Weekends are the best time to visit Koh Kret, when a food and craft market springs up along a narrow walkway through the most populated part of the island. Koh Kret was created in 1722 when a canal was dug to bypass a kink in the river. The island that emerged was eventually settled by Mon people from central Thailand, and their distinctive ceramic pottery it still made and sold on Koh Kret.
There are various ways of reaching the island, but the most pleasant involves talking the Chao Phraya Express Boat from central Bangkok to Nonthaburi. It takes just over an hour from Saphan Taksin Pier, with great views to keep you occupied on the way, and costs all of 14 baht (about 60 cents). You then take a taxi – around 100 baht – to Pakret, and from there a ferry or longtail boat for a cost of between two and 10 baht to the main village.
The island is studded with wats, the most impressive of which is Wat Poramaiyikawat, whose tumbledown whitewashed Mutao pagoda is Koh Kret’s most distinctive landmark. A walk around the one road that traverses Koh Kret takes a couple of hours, but you can also hire bicycles or take a motorcycle taxi if you run out of steam. There are no cars on the island.
Outside of the few villages you might be anywhere in rural Thailand. Walk and you come across lonely wooden shacks, banana plantations, small lakes, pottery kilns, remote wats and even a beer maker – Chit home brewery, with the cheeky slogan: It’s good chit.
The market sells Mon pottery, clothes, souvenirs, amulets, toys made from old soft drink cans, cooking utensils, sweets, arthritis treatments – about everything you could think of. There is food in abundance, with a number of small restaurants and countless stallholders selling delicious treats, including Thai fish cakes.
Few foreign tourists make it to Koh Kret, which is very much a destination for Thai daytrippers. And that makes it all the more intriguing.