A little-known remedy for travellers seeking breathtaking Andaman Sea scenery without the crowds, the isolated pair of islands don’t even register among many of Trang province’s more popular destinations. And we hope it stays that way.
Part of Mu Ko Phetra National Park, Ko Lao Liang’s two islands stand side-by-side some 40 kilometres west of the mainland. Sporting sunrise views to Ko Sukorn, an almost-white-sand beach touches clear teal water that blends into deep emerald and azure blue as you reach the hard (though largely dead) coral. While worth an hour or so with a snorkel, we’ve seen better underwater scenery—the real appeal is above the surface.
The Ko Lao Liang islands are subject to the same monsoon as the rest of Thailand’s southwest coast. The rainy season runs roughly from May to October and Ko Lao Liang closes completely from May 1 to November 1—boats stop running to the islands across this period. Through the dry season however, expect calm seas and brilliant sunshine.
If doing a daytrip from Ko Sukorn or Ko Libong, early morning is best. This is partly to dodge any crowds, but also the wind tends to pick up in the afternoon making for a less comfortable boat trip home.
What facilities there are, are mostly set up on the southern island, Ko Lao Liang Nong, or “Little Brother Island”. North of a channel that takes around 20 minutes to cross by kayak, Ko Lao Liang Phi (“Big Brother Island”) has an even taller cliff rising dramatically over its own dazzling beach.
In the past, glamping of a kind was permitted on Lao Liang, but as of 2018/2019 the National Park had shut it all down, meaning Ko Lao Liang can only be visited on a daytrip. No WiFi is available, but both islands have cell towers and the 3G signal worked well on our smartphone.
If you’re visiting on some sort of a day trip from a neighbouring island, lunch should be included (or bring a packed lunch and plenty of water). When we last visited in late 2019, there was nowhere to buy food or drink on Lao Liang Phi.
Vertical limestone cliffs tower over Lao Liang Nong’s beach on three sides, displaying colours ranging from brick red to bright white and ice blue. They closely resemble the cliffs found on the vastly more popular Ko Phi Phi and Railay peninsula, which is famous for its rock climbing. Currently no climbing is permitted on Ko Lao Liang.
A number of crags dot the cliffs, often with massive finger-like stalactites reaching down to the sea. Though Lao Liang Nong’s beach is relatively small, the marvellous aesthetics rank it up there with the best in Thailand, at least in our book. The bigger companion island’s beach is arguably even better.
The park doesn’t pay as much attention to the slightly larger Ko Lao Liang Phi, making this the better spot if you’re hoping to dodge the National Park admission fee. If you’re approaching from Ko Libong, the “reveal” as you pass around the cliffs and see the beach for the first time, is just stunning.
Lao Liang Phi’s beach is around twice the length of its southern counterpart, with similarly fine sand stretching up to a cave in one corner. On a past visit, the only souls we encountered were a single family, a couple of fishermen and all sorts of alien-looking crustaceans, and when we revisited in late 2019, we had the entire beach to ourselves—bliss.
While the beaches have now been roped off to keep the longtails from running over the coral, we feel this came too late as the reef is in poor shape. There are still plenty of fish and anemones, but the reef itself is badly rundown.
The national park encompasses several other islands, including two that can be reached as a part of a daytrip to Lao Liang. Not far to the south and easily identified by its knotty cliffs that look like people’s heads peaking over a wall from afar, Ko Phetra boasts a sweeping white-sand beach with no resorts, no roads and only a few residents. A bit further west, Ko Takieng has a rocky beach with some good snorkelling offshore, or so we’ve heard—we’re yet to get there ourselves.
A few shacks on Ko Phetra and Lao Liang Phi house locals who harvest swiftlet nests from the cliffs, which fetch a hefty sum as the key ingredient for the Chinese delicacy, bird’s nest soup. Some see this as a cruel and environmentally damaging trade, but these folks have been at it for generations. Efforts by park authorities to ban the bird’s nest hunters have so far proved unsuccessful.
Isolated Lao Liang is not within easy longtail boat range of the more northerly Trang islands, like Ko Kradan and Ko Muk, or Ko Lipe further south. Yes, it’s tricky to reach, but we’d say well worth the extra effort and expense if you like the spectacular.
Expect to pay around 2,500 baht per longtail boat (not per person) for a private transfer from Ko Sukorn or Ko Libong, which are the nearest inhabited islands. The ride takes 30 to 45 minutes from either depending on the sea conditions. Transfers can also be arranged at the mainland piers in Tasae and Haad Yao, both reachable by minibus or songthaew from Trang. You can also get here from Ko Bulon Lae for around 3,500 baht one-way. These fees do not include the 200 baht park entry fee for foreign adults and 100 baht for foreign kids. If you want to avoid the fee, steer clear of the beach on Lao Liang Nong!
As of 2019, the island hopping Tigerline ferry also stops daily at Ko Lao Liang in season (ostensibly to service Ko Sukorn), so if you’re travelling north to south (or visa versa) you’ll be able to take in the magnificent scenery, even if you don’t have time to get wet.
Mu Ko Phetra National Park T: (074) 783 074;(074) 783 504 http://nps.dnp.go.th/parksdetail.php?id=44&name=MuKoPhetraNationalPark
Last updated on 28th December, 2019.
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