The little-known Andaman island of Ko Jum (aka Ko Pu) strikes an ideal balance of great beaches, thin crowds and ultra-relaxing atmosphere. With mass tourism having been left to neighbouring Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, Jum's Muslim residents have happily preserved their traditional lifestyle. So enchanting is Ko Jum that we'll go out on a limb to call it one of our favourite Thai islands.
Colourful fishing hamlets dot the east coast, where longtail boats bob amid the seaside villages and bright green mangroves. Kids and chickens frolic at modest inland houses, each perched on wooden stilts with a few signature birdhouses dangling out front. In the secluded north, verdant hills covered in rubber trees taper into the steep jungle-clad eminence that lends the island its distinctive appearance. Ko Jum's locals are some of the friendliest you'll find.
With silky coral sand and clear aquamarine water to go with dazzling sunsets over Ko Phi Phi, impressive beaches run almost the entire 10-kilometre length of Jum's west coast. A fair amount of rocks are found just offshore, but you never have to wander far to find a swimmable patch. Lined by casuarina trees, the wide beaches feel practically empty even during peak season.
Unlike many of Thailand's offbeat islands, most of the 25 or so places to stay on Ko Jum now have 24-hour electricity. While a handful of midrange to upscale resorts are blended tastefully into the coconut trees, the vast majority of accommodation is still aimed at budget travellers. Jum is a favourite with guitar-strumming beach bums and families looking to side step the party crowd.
Our only complaint are the piles of garbage that wash up on Jum's shores and can make more remote stretches of beach feel like a dump. While the locals accurately blame much of the tidal garbage on Ko Phi Phi, we stumbled on a troupe of monkeys digging through a sizeable inland dump where plastics were obviously being burned and garbage was allowed to blow around in the wind. To be fair, we've encountered similar sights on countless other Thai islands.
As if you needed another reason to go, Ko Jum's central location lends itself well to a wider Andaman island-hopping jaunt. During high season, boats run direct to/from the even more laidback island of Ko Si Boya, as well as Krabi town, Railay, Ko Lanta and Ko Phi Phi, all of which put Phuket and the many Trang and Satun islands within easy striking distance.
Ko Jum is an extremely relaxing place, so much so that we often found resort staff members taking noontime naps along with most of their guests. When you tire of lying in the sand or lamping at a beach bar, activities include snorkelling and fishing trips, scuba diving with Koh Jum Divers, exploring the island by motorbike or bicycle, and trekking to the 422 metre-high summit of Ko Pu with local guide, Mr Ann (T: 087 894 4203).
The northern part of the island is referred to as Ko Pu ("Crab Island") while the south is known as Ko Jum. Confusingly, these names are interchangeable when describing the island as a whole.
All of the beaches are found on the west coast. Mt Pu lies to the north, and the east coast is mostly mangrove forest apart from a few low-key fishing villages. The small and largely uninhabited islands of Ko Sima, Ko Tolang and Ko Lek add to the splendid eastern views, while Ko Phi Phi can be clearly seen to the west.