When I was doing research on accommodation the only budget beach place on the island I could find was run by Mr Chuoi (say Chewy). You can book his joint thru Blue Guru Diving's website, but I got super-helpful Am of TOM AND AM TOUR in Kuraburi who arranged my Surins transfers to ring him, book a bungalow and arrange the cheapest possible transport. The latter was important because I really couldn't afford the 1000+ each way my research had suggested.
Mr Chuoi has a dozen Moken-style bungalows strung away from the beach track opposite his restaurant. Each must be 25 m apart so it is quite a haul to the restaurant if you are in #12. But super quiet. Prices 500b and 300b in March '11.
I went for a 500 one. Very spacious - there was a king size bed and room for another double if needed. Clean, in good condition, bed-pillow-net okay, some simple furniture, big bathroom with western toilet flushed by bucket, good shower and bidet. No basin or toilet paper but towel supplied. No electricity (Mr Chuoi supplies a very good battery powered lamp) and no door lock but provision to fit your own. The main differences in the 300 bungalows appeared to be the fact they were older and did not have the simple interior/front veranda furniture.
Mr Chuoi's restaurant is located adjacent the beach track about 250m from the beach itself. Divers from Blue Guru told me this place has the best inexpensive food on the island. Besides the divers, the restaurant also attracted guests from Golden Buddha, Lions' Village homestay and some locals from the main village. I'm no gourmet but I certainly couldn't complain about taste, quantity or service. Prices were pretty good, maybe 10-20% higher than average budget bungalow restaurants.
ph 084-8559886, 087-8984636
Phratong Nature Beach Resort.
This is a new place open less than a year when I visited, but already having had one name change from Phratong Seaview. It is immediately on the ocean side of Mr Chuoi's but still 150m from the sea which is hidden by casuarina trees and scrub. It is run by a lovely guy and his family, and the bungalows are definitely a step up from Mr Chuoi's. One diver staying there said the food was excellent too.
Rather attractive restaurant. About 10 bungalows, smaller than Mr Chuoi's but not squeezy and with electricity and hot water (the latter so rare in any budget bungalow) for 600. I think Mr Chuoi has some good competition here. www.phratongnaturebeach.com ph +66 884515531
This brand new joint on the beach side of Nature Beach was just short of opening when I called by in March '11. Pretty nice position alongside a little lagoon. The restaurant is maybe 50m closer the beach and is genuine sea-view.
I call it No Name because when I talked to the owner he said he hadn't decided yet. Bungalows will be 800b and are maybe a step up again from Nature Beach although I didn't ask about hot water. I haven't any contact info but maybe Blue Guru Diving's website may get some when the place is operating.
Lions' Village Homestay
This village was in the island's north west was rebuilt post-tsunami by Lion's Club International.
Locals run a homestay here. The turtle conservation volunteers were using it during my stay, as were some students of Blue Guru Dive. They told me their room was comfortable, the people lovely and food options good - although they were real fans of the grub at Mr Chuoi's.
Golden Buddha Resort
This is a pretty interesting operation. It consists of 25 privately owned beach houses in a very large garden compound (often 50m or more between houses) which the resort leases out to holidayers. These are not cheap and don't have aircon. There is no pool. But each is different, and are built to a high standard. And definitely have exclusivity and serenity of location when compared to say the similar Railay Beach Club.
Blue Guru's website talks of chartering a longtail which costs 1700 to Golden Buddha and 1400 to Lions' Village. Mr Chuoi later told me a longtail charter to the main village would cost 1000 from the mangrove "pier". This is fine if there are other passengers to split the fare but too much for me alone. I wanted to get out there pretty late in the afternoon, so Mr Chuoi suggested to Am at Kuraburi who was doing the talking for me that I take the banana boat which he would organise to pick me up at the southern "pier" for 400.
The southern pier aint no pier at all - just a small mangrove inlet where you step off the bank into your transport. The banana boat being poled in to pick me up. This baby is just big enough for one passenger - has a small longtail motor but is real hotrod - banking thru narrow mangrove corners at 60kmh like one of those Florida swamp racers and fanging across open bay at 80! Ride a bit hard on the bum in the small chop out there. Took about 15 minutes to reach island. Mr Chuoi waiting at main village pier to take me to resort at no extra cost.
I'm glad I got Am to organise this - I would have difficulty in explaining which pier I wanted to a motorcyle taxi guy and getting a good price. Am called one over and negotiated 70 baht (people told me they paid up to 200 to get to the main Kuraburi pier for the Surins which is a bit closer to town - although the booking agencies in town will take you for free in a pickup as part of their Surins transport package).
The taxi guy dropped me at a house near the pier where lovely local ladies made me a cup of coffee. The banana boat guy arrived in a pickup after 10 minutes, jawed with the ladies for 5 and then took me down to the inlet about 3 minutes walk away. None of these people had a word of English, which matches my Thai language skill. But as usual, things worked well.
Mr Chuoi was waiting at the island pier with his motorcycle side car for a free lift across to his joint on the other coast.
On return Mr Chuoi told me I could get right back to town for 300 total if I was prepared to leave the resort at 7am. Suited me - I wanted to make Khao Sok with a fair bit of daylight left. I ended up on this public longtail which left the main village at around 0730 with about half a dozen women and kids and a load of bagged nuts. We went back to the same southern mangrove "pier" where a songthaew was waiting to take us into town. Along the way it picked up more passengers and nuts, went to a wholesaler in Kuraburi who weighed the nuts and payed out, and then dropped me off at the bus station.
Now like a dummy I didn't ask what time this boat returned to the island. Maybe there is no set time. Maybe the ferry doesn't run every day. I didn't see anything about this boat in my research prior the trip.
I copied that website exactly as on the card they gave me. Perhaps it isn't up and running yet. Google can't find anything.
UPDATE - Chris who runs Blue Guru emailed me that the public boat's timing depends on high tide. I assume that is high tide at the mainland mangrove "pier" - the town pier on the island would not have this problem. Now high tide comes roughly an hour later each day so no strict timetable can be given. Because the boat has to get in and out it is probably timed to arrive an hour or two before peak tide and leave the same gap after. Chris told me it got too hard to co-ordinate this plus transport from town with incoming people which is why his website now only quotes the 1400/1700 job. He also told me he hopes Baan Lions will organise a direct cheap public boat from the mainland sometime soon.