Many of the most memorable places we’ve been to in Thailand aren’t necessarily on The Best Places to Visit lists found on the internet and in guide books. But that doesn’t mean these places in Thailand aren’t fun, beautiful, or truly unique. As was the case when we took a recent trip to Koh Mak, a tiny privately owned island in the Gulf of Thailand that turned out to be a slice of quiet paradise that few people seem to know about.
We had no idea an island like Koh Mak existed in Thailand. We’ve either seen or heard about small, uninhabited Thai islands (well, populated only by local wildlife and shrubbery) or islands overtaken by backpackery bungalows and luxurious resorts with swarms of people along their most beautiful beaches.
But in contrast, there are no massive luxury resorts competing for prime beachfront real estate and zero girly bars thumping music late into the night on Koh Mak. And we didn’t see any no-frills bungalows or dive bars serving up cheap buckets of Chang beer, either.
What we found on our trip to Koh Mak were just enough simple restaurants, tiny beach merchandise stores, tour shops, and mid-range boutique accommodations to have a comfortable, easy-going stay. Even the simple roads made of tan concrete and packed orange dirt had only a handful of drivers. The rest of the island had jungle covered hills, long stretches of nearly empty golden sand beaches, and warm crystal clear waters.
Thanks to the Thai family that nearly single handedly owns the island, they’ve maintained the island’s image of one that is a relaxing and soft-adventure retreat for couples and families.
Koh Mak has just enough modern comforts with postcard-pretty views but there were hardly any visitors at the time of our trip, which happened to be over a Thai holiday weekend! Can you believe that this island supposedly gets only 50,000 visitors per year? Compare that with the ever popular Pattaya (nearly 4.5 million visitors per year) or Phuket (over 3 million visitors per year)!
Things to Do During a Trip to Koh Mak
We arrived in Koh Mak after a whirlwind of travel and activities in Bangkok and the island was being the perfect place to decompress and relax. For the next four days and three nights we took it pretty easy but by no means were we bored. Here are a few things we did on Koh Mak:
Koh Mak Seafood
Since we live up north in Chiang Mai, we make it a point to indulge in daily doses of seafood whenever we travel to Thailand’s central and southern regions. We had several people recommend Koh Mak Seafood, a waterfront restaurant on the east side of the island.
We ate our fill of fried soft shell crab with garlic and black pepper (bpoo nim toht gratium prik thai or ปูนิ่มทอดกระเทียมพริกไทย) and yellow curry crab (bpoo pat pong gahree or ปูผัดผงกะหรี่) along with some cold beers. Sorry, we forgot to snap pictures because we were really hungry and in a hurry to catch the sunset, but the dishes were deliciously prepared and we had a nice view of the water!
Catch Two Different Sunsets
We were introduced to Koh Mak as “the island with two sunsets.” Due to its four-point star shape and general orientation with respect to the sun’s rising and setting, it’s possible to watch the sunset from two very different viewpoints.
We watched one sunset as we walked along Ao Suan Yai, a beach on the northwest side of the island just beside the Koh Mak Pier. Incredibly we were some of the only people there! After grabbing some cocktails from the I-Talay Beach Bar a stone’s throw away (Happy Hour everyday from 5pm to 7pm), we walked down the beach recording the sunset live for our Periscope viewers.
We caught a second sunset the following day at Banana Sunset Bar & Bungalows, which is near the southernmost tip of the island. There’s not much of a walkable beach here (it’s mostly rocks and trees growing along the shoreline), but the evening views are amazing. We lounged with Caipirinhas in hand on a pier with low sitting tables and Thai triangle cushions with colorful lights strung overhead.
|TIP: The latest sunset occurs in the middle of July (roughly 6:40pm) and earliest at the end of November (approximately 5:40pm).|
Smile Koh Mak Thai Cooking School
We took a half-day Thai cooking class on Koh Mak and had a blast with the owner and cooking instructor, Ms. Leng. We prepared, cooked, and ate our food outside on the front porch of her waterfront cottage.
She was not only an excellent teacher and explained much of the intricacies of Thai cooking such as why certain ingredients were used and the significance of cooking styles, but Ms. Leng also had a great sense of humor and had us smiling the entire time. The name of the school stays true to its word!
A four-hour class at Smile Koh Mak gave us plenty of time to cook and eat an appetizer, two entrées, two soups, and dessert along with hand making our own Thai curry paste. Talk about a work out! It takes a lot of effort to grind the herbs and spices together by hand that go into making a Thai curry.
As with all of her guests, Ms. Leng gave us a copy of her recipe book. There are at least 15 different recipes covering dishes from all different regions of Thailand. If there is a popular Thai dish you really want to try, ask her when you sign up for her class and chances are she’ll have the ingredients ready for you.
To give you an idea of what you can make, these are the dishes we cooked from scratch:
- Shrimp pad Thai: (ผัดไทยกุ้ง) pad thai goong
- Hot and sour lemongrass shrimp soup: (ต้มยำกุ้ง) tom yum goong
- Thai coconut chicken soup: (ต้มข่าไก่) tom kha gai
- Sweet green curry with fish: (แกงเขียวหวานปลา) gaeng keow wahn blah
- Panang curry with pork: (พะแนงหมู) panang moo
- Sticky rice with mango: (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) khao neow mamuang
Diving and Snorkeling with BB Divers
Although we didn’t make it out to snorkel or dive, it’s absolutely worth mentioning that Koh Mak has several underwater areas to explore, particularly so off the western side of the island and the nearby marine park. There are a few businesses on the island and one of the companies that cater to English-speaking clients is BB Divers. We’ve also seen this company on Koh Chang, a nearby island.
Instead, we went swimming at Ao Suan Yai, the beach on the northwestern part of the island. The golden sand was soft to walk on both along the beach and in the water and we didn’t have to worry about dodging sharp shells, coral, or rocks. The water was pleasantly warm and there wasn’t a jellyfish in sight.
Good Time Resort
During our trip to Koh Mak we stayed at Good Time Resort. Positioned at the top of one of the island’s ridges, all it took was a few strides in either direction of the resort and we were able to gaze down at two beaches on very different sides of the island.
Among the garden studded property there are various rooms and villas that have their own down-to-earth but unique Thai design. Our one bedroom Thai house had a spacious bedroom and living room area decorated with antiques. Our large bathroom even had a vanity area in it, which was a pleasant surprise.
As part of Good Time Resort’s “going green” movement, our stay was treated similar to an AirBNB. We were provided with linens and bottled water, but staff did not come every day to change the towels and sheets. We also brought our own toiletries (shower set, comb, toothbrush, etc) so that the resort could stay true to its eco-friendly promise and not throw out mini plastic bottles of semi-used shampoos after each guest’s stay.
Good Time Resort has amenities such as:
- An onsite restaurant open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Laundry services
- Office area with 4G and kids play zone
- Saltwater pool
- Booking for activities and island transportation
|TIP: Koh Mak does not have ATMs so bring enough cash for your trip. Otherwise, some of the larger hotels will provide cash if you can offer a credit or debit card. We withdrew money from Makathanee Resort at a 4% charge.|
How to Get to Koh Mak
Koh Mak is on the east side of the Gulf of Thailand, just south of the large island of Koh Chang. In fact, you can get almost all the way to Koh Mak using our same guide to getting to Koh Chang with a few exceptions:
1. Once in Trat (the town on the mainland where boats go to and from Koh Mak), go to Laem Ngob Pier and not Centre Point Pier.
2. Purchase speedboat tickets to Koh Mak at 450 baht per person. The ride is approximately 50 minutes and the boat provides lifejackets. Leelawadee Speedboat goes to the Makathanee Pier, which is on the southwest side of the island. Panan Speedboat goes to the Koh Mak Pier, which is on the northwest side of the island.
|NOTE: We were dropped off at the Centre Point Pier, but there was a booth that sold tickets for the speedboats from Laem Ngob Pier to Koh Mak and arranged a taxi that drove us to the nearby Laem Ngob Pier. The pier was five minutes away and cost 75 baht per person.|
High Season (November thru June) Departure Times
|Boat Company||Laeb Ngob Pier to Koh Mak||Koh Mak to Laeb Ngob Pier|
(to Makathanee Pier)
(from Makathanee Pier)
(to Koh Mak Pier)
(from Koh Mak Pier)
The low season (July thru October) speedboat times are different for Leelawadee and Panan Speedboats.
As with most beachy places we’ve visited in Thailand (including Krabi and Koh Chang), we think the best time to visit is in the month of October. Particularly at the end of that month, the rainy season is just coming to a close but high tourist season isn’t in full swing yet so many hotels still feature their low season prices and fewer people are in town. After November 1st prices can jump quite a bit!
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DISCLOSURE: Our accommodation on the island was sponsored by Good Time Resort. They also gave recommendations for things to do on Koh Mak during our trip and told us about the history of the island to share with our readers.