Azure water laps onto powdery beaches framed by distinctive rock formations. Vibrant tropical marine life dazzles the snorkellers. Draped in jungle and overgrown rubber groves, pristine hills dare visitors to discover hidden beaches and viewpoints. No roads or motorbikes; no blaring all-night parties; limited electricity, just primitive huts in paradise. Welcome to Ko Wai.
This tiny island sits six kilometres south of Ko Chang's southerly point, reachable via an easy cruise during high season. The bigger neighbour’s pyramid-shaped mountains add to Ko Wai’s breathtaking scenery. Chang may have longer beaches, but it can’t match Wai’s picture-perfect setting and laid back atmosphere that’s ideal for those who need a break from the “real world”.
Even so, staying overnight on Ko Wai is not for everyone. Electricity is only switched on from 18:00 to 23:00 at most bungalow joints, hot water is nonexistent and food options limited. There are no ATMs, bars, convenience stores, medical facilities or police stations. WiFi is not widely available, and our AIS cell phone sparsely worked on most parts of the island. Some visitors have reported rats in the bare-bones bungalows, which rarely have fans, and the island is home to some nasty mosquitoes.
All of these are reasons why most visitors stay for only an hour or two, passing through with one of the popular boat tours offered by every Ko Chang travel office. Every day from mid morning to early afternoon, the beaches in front of Paradise and Pakarang fill with selfie-snapping, snorkel-donning tourists. Once the last of them depart, Wai reverts back to its usual, entrancingly tranquil self.
It appears that Ko Wai's rustic tranquility is here to stay. Apart from one isolated resort on the southeast coast that appeared in 2011 and caters mainly to Thai tourists, the island has hosted the same four small resorts for years, with no large-scale development taking place. The interior remains blanketed in lush forest that's accessible only by unmarked and dubiously maintained hiking trails.
It's wise to make reservations if visiting during peak season from mid December through January, when the accommodation fills up close to capacity. Though Pakarang Resort can be booked online and Paradise can be emailed, it's still best to call the others directly. All of Ko Wai's resorts shut down completely during the rainy season from May to October.
Two things you do not want to forget when visiting Ko Wai: mosquito repellent and a torch. If you need to check your email, WiFi and a pay-by-the-minute computer are available at Pakarang Resort.
Apart from Ko Wai Beach Resort on the south coast, all four of the places to stay are scattered along the island's north coast. Passenger boats can drop travellers at the pier that sits between Paradise and Good Feeling, or at Pakarang's private pier a bit further east. If you're planning to stay at Grand Mar Hut, ask to be dropped at Pakarang and take the coastal trail eastwards from there (so a left as you walk away from the pier).
The island is tiny -- it takes only 30 to 45 minutes to walk from one end of the north coast to the other along a mix of beach, trail and resort walkway. It takes roughly two hours to encircle Ko Wai in a kayak without stopping.
Though snorkeling and beach lounging are the main activities on Ko Wai, adventurous travellers will enjoy a day of hiking around the island. Marked by a small wooden sign just west of Pakarang Resort, a short trail hops over the headland and emerges at a small but idyllic south-facing beach with feathery white sand. The beach is often occupied by daytrippers in the mornings and afternoons, but it's a beautiful spot nonetheless.
To access the rest of Ko Wai's network of inland trails, walk west along the coast at Paradise, and look for the trailhead that cuts uphill just past bungalow #22. There's no sign, but the trail is marked by a few sky-blue waterpipes. After going steeply uphill, it flattens out and comes to a crossroads.
A right shuttles you quickly to one of Ko Wai's best-kept secrets: Sunset Point. Framed by forest and with commanding views over the gulf, this vast hill of rock tapers into cliffs where seawater smacks against the jagged shore. It's a breathtaking scene at any time, but especially for sunset.
Beware that the patches of grass at Sunset Point become dangerously dry during dry season, so do not light campfires or smoke in the area. The manager at Paradise told us that she “does not allow” guests to visit Sunset Point thanks to some travellers unwittingly starting a fire that spread over a large area and threatened the forest.
Rather than take the Sunset Point trail, a left at the crossroads brings you deeper into the forest. After around a half kilometre, a side trail cuts right (southeast) and eventually leads to a derelict old house that fronts a sheltered bay rimmed by coconut trees. Despite the abundant trash, it's a beautiful and secluded spot for a dip in the tepid water. You can also reach this spot by climbing the steep and rocky trail that begins behind some of Good Feeling's white beach bungalows, again marked by sky-blue waterpipes.
By David Luekens.