Nov 16 2011
Southwest Thailand’s Ko Muk is a two-sided island. In other words, civilisation, beach and accommodation are found only on relatively small stretches on the east and west coasts, with a narrow concrete road connecting them. The best beaches on both sides are each dominated by a single resort, Sivalai on Ao Kahm to the east and Charlie on Haad Farang to the west, both of which are mid- to upper-range joints that are lacking in charm, character and value.
As one local made clear, however, the beaches belong to the King of Thailand, not Sivalai or Charlie, so anyone’s free to enjoy them. I recently set out to cover both sides of the island in search of good budget value and a more unique experience, and my top picks boil down to three.
Not far from the pier on the island’s eastern Ao Kahm you’ll find Coco Lodge Resort tucked in a shady grove of coconut trees and flower gardens. Their motto is “Back to the nature”, and this is embodied not only by the sincere, soft-spoken manager and laid back, earthy-crunchy atmosphere, but also the accommodation itself. Aside from the thatched roofs, Coco Lodge’s fan bungalows are made entirely of bamboo, and they’re intelligently designed to let in the cool ocean breeze. They’re simply but tastefully decorated, and all have sea view porches and open-air baths where you can shower under the sun without giving up your privacy. Fan bungalows run 700 baht per night during high season and 400 baht in the wetter months, with bicycles and internet free for guests.
Coco Lodge is an easy five-minute walk to one of the island’s finest stretches of white sands at Ko Muk’s southeast tip, and a couple hundred metres to the north you can stroll through a traditional local island village en route to isolated Sabai Beach. The resort also rents out tents for use on raised bamboo platforms. These run just 200 baht year-round with shared bathroom, the cheapest accommodation on the island.
A 50 baht motorbike taxi or 25-minute walk across the island brings one to the Haad Farang (Foreigner Beach) area, where the majority of foreign travellers end up staying. It’s easy to get sucked into sprawling mid-range Charlie Resort here, but there are two better and cheaper choices just a stone’s throw from the beach.
Rubber Tree Resort is situated on a hill shaded by, you guessed it, rubber trees. Here you’ll find large, comfortable concrete and wood fan bungalows for 1,000 baht per night during high season or 300 to 500 baht in the low season. The accommodation is much more spacious and comfortable here than at Charlie’s next door, and the management are truly a breath of fresh air. They’re some of the most sincere, appreciative, and hip people I’ve met in countless resorts throughout the region.
They’ve also done a good job creating a fun and inviting atmosphere. Rubber Tree’s managers encourage guests to take advantage of free internet, to play their own music in the common area, or choose a tune or two from their impressive music collection. In high season the resort offers lively barbecues, and there are plans to add a sports bar and pool table.
Just across the dirt road from Rubber Tree is Meow Thai Kitchen, a restaurant/resort that seems to have been plopped there without much forethought about decor or ambience. It may not be the most stylish spot on the island, but the staff makes up for it with their friendly, humorous attitude and warm welcome. They had me laughing and enjoying myself before I even saw the rooms, but once I did check out the clean, mid-sized, charmingly rustic wooden fan bungalows set around a shady lawn, I was officially sold.
It didn’t hurt my wallet either — Meow’s bungalows are the best value accommodation on Ko Muk, running just 400 to 500 baht per night during the busy months and 200 to 300 baht in low season. I also found Meow’s sister company, Dukong Dukong Family Travel, to be the island’s best source for accurate info on Ko Muk and the region at large.
And there you have it. Ko Muk is easily reached by a short and inexpensive ferry ride, and it offers a couple of good beaches, a central location for exploring the slightly better beaches of nearby Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai, as well as Ko Muk’s famed Emerald Cove. Head to one of these well-priced resorts and enjoy paradise on the cheap!
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