The largest but certainly not busiest island in Trang province, Ko Libong lulls travellers into a simpler state of mind with its unusual landscapes, deep starry nights and Muslim fishing villages uninfluenced by mass tourism. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of an endangered dugong, but all will depart with a sense of experiencing something completely different.
Close cousins of the manatee and more distantly related to elephants, around 130 chubby and amiable dugongs, also known as “sea cows,” feed on sea grass amid eastern mangroves that are protected as part of the Libong Archipelago Wildlife Reserve around Ju Hoi Cape, and sometimes closer to the resorts in the south. If you take one of the dugong-spotting boat trips, expect about a one in three chance of actually seeing one.
Don’t fret if you’re not able to spot a dugong — a poke around Libong’s varied 40 square kilometres of terrain reveals plenty of other surprises. The eastern reaches reveal a savannah-like landscape with cashew trees and long grasses growing out of fine white sand. Dense jungle covers inland hills, tapering into rubber groves and fruit orchards. Much of the west coast is graced with broad gold-sand beaches peppered with some interesting rock formations.
Do stop by the southeast-coast village of Batu Bute (and have fun pronouncing the name), home to a group of Muslim islanders who subsist off fishing and dwell in stilted houses over a picturesque bay. From here, a long cement walkway takes you many hundreds of metres out over the sea, ending at a five-storey observation tower that was built for dugong spotting but makes for a rewarding climb in any case — especially around sunset. Be respectful of the local customs by covering up when you’re away from the beach.
Known as Haad Lang Kao, the main west-coast beach hosts Libong’s only four resorts. The sand is a mix of fine tan and grainy yellow, with more than enough space to go around. A sheet of offshore rocks get in the way of low-tide swimming, but you'll have plenty of depth to do the backstroke at high tide. The usual tidal garbage gets cleaned up in front of the resorts, where hammocks strung to the trunks of umbrella and coconut trees afford a view out to Ko Muk, Ko Kradan and Ko Rok. On a clear day at high tide, Libong's beach scenery is just about equal to these islands.
Visitors coming from the mainland arrive at the local pier in Baan Maphao, a small village on the east coast. From here, a narrow brick-and-cement road cuts south to Batu Bute before crossing the island to access the resorts. Reaching into the wildlife reserve on a wide eastern peninsula, and up into the hilly northern terrain with its isolated beaches, all of the other roads end at dead ends. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth exploring.
Ko Libong has no banks, ATMs or exchange booths, so bring along cash. A small health clinic is located near Batu Bute but anything serious will require a trip back to Trang town, some 50 kilometres northeast of the mainland pier in Hat Yao. Libong’s high season runs from November to April, with some resorts closing for the rainy months. All of the resorts now run electricity 24 hours a day.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 17th October, 2016.