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.
While the northern village of Baan Ko Pu and southern Baan Ko Jum both have a relaxed air, the latter is where you'll find the widest range of traveller services, including restaurants with English menus, currency exchange, motorbike rental and side-car motorbike taxis. This is because the most widely used local ferry arrives here, though most travellers now opt for the speedboat that runs between Krabi town and Ko Lanta and stops off Jum's west coast during high season.
A sporadically paved road runs from Baan Ko Jum in the far south up passed the vast southern beaches and the centrally located village of Baan Ting Rai, where you'll find a few more convenience stores, restaurants and an internet cafe. Bumpy side roads shoot to Ao Ting Rai and local ferry piers in tiny Baan Mutu and Baan Ko Pu. The road then winds gradually northeast before curving around Mt Pu, briefly skirting the north coast and ending at the remote northern beach.
In terms of atmosphere, there's not a whole lot that distinguishes one beach from the next. Along the north coast, the secluded Banyan Bay is home to just one flashpacker resort. Apart from that, Lubo Beach (aka North Beach) is the island's most remote and northernmost beach with its backpacker-beach-bum vibe. Ao Ting Rai also has an isolated feel thanks to the rough side road that accesses it. At the centre of the west coast, Ao Si is a lovely beach with only a few cheap bungalow joints that enjoy easy access to the services in Baan Ting Rai.
South of that, with its northern part known as Golden Pearl Beach and the southern stretch dubbed Andaman Beach, a single southern beach covers a full third of the whole west coast. The Golden Pearl section is where you'll find Ko Jum's only luxury resorts. A mix of budget to midrange spots fill in central Andaman Beach, with a string of super-laid-back bungalow joints found in the far south. From these you can walk to Baan Ko Jum.
There were still no ATMs on Ko Jum at time of writing, though we won't be surprised to see one appear soon. The island's health centre is located just south of Season Bungalows along the main west-coast road, just off Golden Pearl Beach. There's very little police presence on the island; ask the locals for help if you need it.
Ko Jum is a highly season destination, with the busy dry season running from November to April. Speedboats stop running and some resorts close during the rainy season. On the flip side, expect room rates to spike from mid December to mid January.
By David Luekens.