Motorbiking Ko Libong

Lots of surprises

What we say: 4.5 stars

Every time we motorbike around Ko Libong, we stumble on secluded beaches, viewpoints and even whole landscapes that we’d previously missed. Don’t let the resort beach turn you into a useless puddle of relaxation until you’ve explored the island’s 40 square kilometres concealing loads of surprises.

The beach isn't going anywhere!

The beach isn’t going anywhere. Grab some wheels!

Beginning at Haad Lang Kao, we took the cross-island road east before turning north onto the main east-coast road, which is little more than a narrow stripe of red bricks and cement. We passed simple homes adorned with flower gardens, one hosting a competition to see whose red whiskered bulbul would sing for the longest. Such bird-singing contests are popular throughout Southern Thailand — at least 25 men were competing on that day, some entering several birds each.

Keep singing bird!

Keep singing bird!

Around the centre of Libong’s eastern side, we noticed a road on our map that cut east, ending near the sea. Well, why not give it a shot? After winding past the pleasant smells of a garbage incinerator, the lane turned to dirt and then powdery white sand that was a challenge to ride through. With shaggy trees, tall grasses and patches of incredibly fine sand, the landscape reminded us of the savannah that blankets Ko Phra Thong.

This path doesn't look too beaten.

This path doesn’t look too beaten.

An old man shot us a curious smile as we parked the bike and set out on foot. Several different paths ran past solitary trees that we tried to remember, so as not to get lost on the way back. Finally we emerged at a mangrove beach where a few local kids played in the surf. From here we could get a sense of the vastness of the wildlife reserve that covers Libong’s eastern peninsula.

The only house we saw down this way.

The only house we saw down this way.

Back on the main road, we detoured towards the pier in Baan Ao Maphao to gas up and grab a few grilled chicken skewers. We then turned up a side road marked “HLAM-TO-CHAI”, heading for Libong’s remote north. The road soon turned to rugged dirt, running alongside rubber trees before sidetracking to the sea. We rode steeply uphill, a monitor lizard scurrying out of the way.

It's tempting to just wander off into the woods.

It’s tempting to just wander off into the trees.

When the road levelled out, we stopped to gaze at the sea far down below, only partially visible through the towering dipterocarp trees. Then the road gradually lumbered downhill, turning sharply to skirt the island’s far northwest coast. We saw no trace of civilisation until a hand-painted wood sign caught our eye: “Saphan Hin“.

Quick pit stop for a view.

Quick pit stop for a view.

That means rock bridge in Thai, and we had heard of such a thing somewhere on Libong that’s often included on boat tours. Moseying down a forest path, we came to a beach where a local man sat reading in a hammock and a few women scraped around for shellfish amid clusters of brownish-red rocks.

The rocks are sharp in places.

They are sharp in places.

At the far southern corner of this beach, which we think is called Ao Tokhae, the rock bridge is more like a narrow tunnel that shoots for several metres between the sand and surf. A few small birds put on an impressive routine of avian acrobatics, flying high above the beach before dive-bombing under the bridge and darting back up over the sea.

Upper right: see the bird?

A bird shoots upwards after flying under the bridge.

We pushed south over the rocky road, lush jungle rising from nearby hills that tapered into farms cultivating coconut, rubber, eucalyptis and fruit. Modest wooden homes stood nearby, presumably housing the farmers. Coming from chaotic Bangkok, we envied their quiet lives in this far-flung corner of the kingdom.

Savannah to rubber to jungle to mangrove to coconut.

Libong is an island of many landscapes.

When we reached the house at the road’s end and asked the residents if we could keep going into their backyard, they laughed while shouting, “No! You! Beach!” In the direction they pointed, we saw a patch of sea glistening in the late-day sun, and a minute later we stepped onto Haad Thung Ya Ka. The broad expanse of golden sand was empty save a few scurrying hermit crabs.

Hardly a footprint.

Hardly a footprint.

This would have been a fine place to take in the sunset, but with one last stop on our agenda, we rode all the way back along the way we’d came. Towards the far southeastern corner of Libong, we took the side lane to the village of Batu Bute, where the sagging sun cast a brass glow over stilted houses and longtail boats.

Looks peaceful, but actually an old lady was yelling about something.

Looks peaceful, but actually an old lady was yelling about something.

Emerging onto the village’s long walkway that ends at a five-storey tower built for spotting dugong, we couldn’t stop looking back at the picturesque village and tall green-and-gold towers of its mosque. Many locals leisurely sat or strolled over the bay, others returning from their boats after another day of fishing.

Seen here between Ko Lao Liang and Ko Phetra.

The tower, seen here between Ko Lao Liang (right) and Ko Phetra.

Long wooden boards were laid out to cross several stretches where the cement walkway had crumbled away. Further towards the end, dangerously open stretches loomed like washed-out bridges, crossed only by gingerly stepping over the remaining cement edges while holding on to a hand rail. After many hundreds of metres, we reached the purple tower.

View of the moon rising over Ko Sukorn.

High above the Andaman Sea.

Far sturdier than the walkway, the tower stands at least 80 feet high and affords sweeping views over the sea and several islands to the south. From here, the village looks like a collection of toy houses. We had the tower all to ourselves as the moon rose rose over Ko Sukorn and a few more longtail boats puttered home.

We won't soon forget this incredible sunset.

We won’t soon forget this sunset.

Though we weren’t lucky enough to spot a dugong, there were no complaints as we strolled back to the village. The sun dipped over the hills, painting the entire bay orange. By the time we made it back to our bike, it was already dark. Once again, Ko Libong had showed us why an island should not be judged by its beaches alone.

More details
How to get there: While this trip took us only around three hours, you could make a day of it by doing some lounging and picnicking at some of the beaches. Petrol can be purchased from do-it-yourself vending machines or stands in the villages (look for bottles full of stuff that could be mistaken for liquor or soda). There’s very little traffic on Libong, but do take care on the rough northern road. Motorbikes can be rented near the pier in Baan Maphao, and at Relax or Libong Beach resorts. Those with some energy could also do this trip by push bike. Otherwise, hop in a sidecar motorbike taxi and say, “Saphan Hin!”
Last updated: 17th May, 2015

About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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