More to it than the Emerald Cave
Low-key fishing lifestyle meets low-level tourism on Ko Muk, a great alternative to the busier islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea. This mid-size island off the coast of Trang province brings friendly vibes and pretty beaches within easy boating distance of one mesmerising sea cave.
Muk’s claim to fame, Tham Morakot or Emerald Cave, starts with a swim or kayak through a dark passage where echoes resound from the surf—and sometimes the howls of freaked out travellers. An emerald shade grabs the water, brightening as you approach a sinkhole biome with a stripe of coral sand rimmed by vertical limestone cliffs. The beauty and drama of it are unforgettable, so it’s no surprise that boatloads of travellers venture here from Ko Lanta, Pakmeng and other places in high season. Staying on Muk makes it possible to hit the cave when it’s not crammed full of people.
Longtail drivers will also whisk you to the magnificent beaches and reefs of Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai, or further out to the twin national park islands of Ko Rok, and prices for private boats are very reasonable. Though Muk is no large-scale tourism hub, it is the busiest of Trang province’s islands and makes a fantastic base for island hopping. The endearing and close-knit feel of the island also keeps the long stayers coming round.
Muk’s two main beaches are no slouches, even if you won’t find reefs off their shores. A sand bar known as the wing on east-facing Ao Kham affords tremendous views to the karst cliffs of Pakmeng and Hat Chao Mai on the mainland. On the west coast, the shorter but wider Haad Farang is just beautiful, with deep water no matter the tide and a fat stripe of fluffy white sand. From here, the sunsets framed by Ko Kradan can be special.
In late 2018, the Thai national park authority closed the long-running Charlie Resort at the centre of Haad Farang, which had been the second largest resort on the island. The resort sat derelict as of March ’19 and it’s hard to imagine authorities dismantling and removing all of that concrete. Would-be Charlie guests, some appearing a bit disoriented, were overflowing into other lodgings including a bunch of small newish spots scattered around the island. We spoke with travellers who have spent holidays at Charlie on close to a yearly basis for a decade or more—and they were not happy.
On the east coast, erosion has turned “the wing” part of Ao Kham into nothing but seawater at high tide, forcing Sivalai Resort to build a wooden seawall around part of its beachfront. While this area remains attractive, sand has drifted away quick in recent years. The trend is likely to continue.
Elsewhere on Ko Muk, or “Pearl Island,” you’ll see fishing villages where many of the 3,000 islanders dwell in stilted houses above the high tide. Goats, butterflies and beach dogs hang around. Men hammer repairs into boats as women crack open coconuts and kids—local and foreign—kick a football around together. To the north you can trek into the jungle on a little-known trail, ending at beaches where only hermit crabs and hornbills will be likely to join you.
While the local tourism industry has grown steadily in recent years, Muk has retained a balance, for now, in which travellers can soak up the tranquility without interfering too much with the local ways of life. Some of the mostly Muslim islanders lead boat tours or sell food or souvenirs made from coconut wood and seashells, reverting to fishing and agriculture during the rainy months. Muk is still a place where just about everyone says hello to each other.
Garbage often burns or lies discarded around villages—unfortunately common on inhabited islands throughout the region. Nearby Kradan and Ngai are cleaner, but Muk is larger and offers a wider selection of budget lodgings along with cheaper boat tour prices, more opportunities for exploring on land, and better, more affordable food and drink. Muk does not have a rep for nightlife, but poke around and you’ll find some interesting characters.
Ko Muk, also spelt Mook, is located three km from the mainland and usually accessed via Kuan Thung Khu Pier, which is linked to Trang town by minibus. Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai are both around five km to the west (Ngai north, Kradan south), and it’s a 25-km trip north to Ko Lanta’s southern tip. High-season speedboats connect these and many other islands.
Villages, rubber farms and beach resorts fill up most of the eastern half of Muk. Impenetrable in places, the rugged western half contains a sizeable patch of jungle along with the karst massifs that give Muk its dramatic profile from elsewhere in the Andaman Sea. This wilder area, including is part of Hat Chao Mai National Park, though Emerald Cave is the only place on the island where the 200-baht park entrance fee is collected.
The main village, Baan Ko Muk, stretches inland and north from the islands’ main pier on the east coast in the vicinity of Ao Kham. Directly inland from the pier you’ll find a small strip of cafes, shops, small resorts, minimarts, travel offices and the island’s first ATM, installed in early 2019. A narrow two-km lane connects the village to Haad Farang on the west coast.
A small medical clinic is located north of the pier in the village, but a serious injury will require a trip to Trang. A tiny police office stands in the east-coast village near Ao Wua Nawn, though we’ve never seen a uniformed police officer anywhere on the island. Cell service is strong in most places and prepaid SIM cards from Thai providers can be topped up at many of the convenience stores that dot the island. Electricity now runs 24 hours at every place to stay. Free WiFi is ubiquitous but often unstable.
In our opinion, Haad Farang is the best beach on Ko Muk. Travellers seeking more of a local vibe should consider the village and Ao Kham west of the pier, or Ao Kuan, while those after more comfort can look to Sivalai Beach and Haad Wua Nawn. Advance reservations are recommended around the Christmas / New Year holidays and are a good idea at any point in high season if you’re set on a specific resort. Some resorts close for all or part of rainy season from May to October; discounts can be expected at the ones that stay open.
If you’re not sure where you want to stay on Ko Muk, here’s a primer to get you going.
Where to stay on Ko Muk?
Ko Muk is a two-sided island, with beach and accommodation found mainly on two opposite ends along the east and west coasts. Though a handful of new resorts have popped up in between over recent years, most visitors still pick one side or the other.
The island’s two main beaches—Haad Farang to the west and Ao Kham facing the mainland on the east coast—used to each be dominated by a single resort. That changed when the national park authority ordered Charlie Resort to close on Haad Farang in late 2018. Despite this closure, Haad Farang and the dirt lane running behind it still have a decent spread of bungalows.
The largest resort on Ao Kham, Sivalai remains a solid upscale pick with lines of large freestanding Bali-style villas backing a pretty beach, although erosion is a problem in places.
Not far from the pier on Ao Kham you’ll find Coco Lodge’s natural style budget bungalows scattered among hammocks strung to the umbrella and coconut trees. If you don’t mind relying heavily on the quality mosquito nets, these bungalows nail a tropical island vibe with vaulted thatch ceilings and bamboo floors tied together with twine, all built for maximum airflow. Bamboo loungers sit beside goats on the village beach up front, and the better part of Ao Kham, as well as Ao Wua Nawn and Ao Kuan, are within easy walking distance.
A couple of hundred metres north of Coco Lodge, just past the pier, a handful of islander-run bungalow joints have popped up in more recent years. Of these, we took a liking to Nurse House thanks to its simple yet comfy seafront bungalows for 800 baht, and very welcoming staff. When not hanging around the charming restaurant, the owner works in the nearby village health clinic, making this an especially good choice if you’re prone to injury.
Over on the Haad Farang side, set far apart from one another on a hill full of rubber trees, the huts at 1,000 to 1,500 baht huts at Nature Hill sport funky interiors and great porches. In high season, expect to have trouble getting a room at either Nature Hill or Mountain View, the neighbouring resort run by a cousin of Nature View’s owner, without reservations.
A little closer to Haad Farang, Mayow’s long-running place remains a favourite thanks to the reliably outstanding food and positive vibes. Since our last visit, Uncle Mayow added a couple of cushy concrete air-con bungalows to join his old collection of 500-baht huts. The defunct-as-of-2019 Charlie Resort still hogs most of the Haad Farang beachfront, leaving only the dozen or so shacks at Long Beach Bungalows (formerly Sawaddee) as the only remaining sand-side option.
West-facing “Foreigner Beach” hosts only one place, Long Beach, offering old bungalows directly on the sand, while most lodgings sit tucked a little further up the dirt lane that backs the beach. Great sunsets, a chill-out vibe and swimming no matter the tide are hallmarks of the Haad Farang side.
Had Farang Bungalows are actually spread over a hillside that’s a good 300-metre walk from the beach they’re named after.
You’ll find a few different options to choose from here, including tents with fans, mattresses on the floor and shared bathrooms that are among the cheapest options on Ko Muk (350 baht). Next up are standard fan rooms in an attached concrete building reminiscent of a bunker, with sinks oddly located outside so that you can put on a tooth-brushing display in the morning (500 baht).
Much better are the concrete-and-wood bungalows placed on a hill with hammocks strung between porches and trees (800 baht). Like the similar options at Rubber Tree, these have some mould on the walls, though the woven bamboo on two sides provides a touch of character. Bathrooms are basic cold-water deals with flush toilets.The cheeky staff also offers air-con bungalows with softer beds as well as a family room (1,800 baht) that sleeps four in a larger concrete structure. All options except for tents come with mosquito nets, windows and porches. You’ll also find a small restaurant, book exchange and WiFi, but this place doesn’t have the character of Ting Tong or Mayow. It is quiet here though.
Rates fall by around 100 baht in the shoulder months and the place closes for low season.
Ko Yao Viewpoint
# Haad Farang, Ko Muk
Named after the islands where its owners hail from, Ko Yao Viewpoint expanded beyond the restaurant in 2016 to open a handful of large bamboo-and-wood bungalows set atop a sunset-view hill.
Built on tall stilts on a wooded slope that stands as the southern border of Haad Farang, the bungalows have wooden floors and woven bamboo walls along with decent beds with mosquito nets and fans. Wet bathrooms come with hot water and newish flush toilets, and you even get a fridge. It’s as though they looked at Charlie’s bamboo bungalows (when they still existed) and made them bigger, with better views and a far more private location.
By that comparison the value at Ko Yao Viewpoint is reasonable, but these rooms are not as plush as you might expect for the 1,500 baht high-season price tags. While the front two bungalows boast outstanding views to Ko Kradan from some of the best porches on the island, the ones built further back face tree branches that obstruct the view.
Still, every porch comes with chairs and a hammock, and we liked the sense of seclusion which you will find here.
You also get easy access to the very good Ko Yao Viewpoint Restaurant and the mellow Mong Bar is just down the steps. From here you can wander over the rocks at low tide to find Mermaid Beach.
The only place on Haad Farang offering beachfront accommodation since the closure of Charlie, Long Beach (formerly Sawaddee) has old and rundown placed within steps of the sand and aquamarine water.
Apart from some yellow paint on the porch railings, the place looked the same as it always has despite the name change and new management. It’s still a high-season only spot with a line of small bungalows made of wood and woven bamboo.
The well-worn rooms (1,000 baht, closed in low season) have firm beds draped in mosquito nets, fans and bucket-flush toilets in cold-water wet bathrooms. You’ll find the same furnishings in a couple of concrete bungalows set at ground level at the far corner of the beach. All rooms have plastic chairs on sea-view porches.
Long Beach has taken advantage of the Charlie closure by offering a little beach bar that glowed with black light after dark, and the kitchen was open in the open-air reception and restaurant pavilion with minimal tables. The two women who greeted us in March 2019 were welcoming and helpful. Reservations are a good idea in high season.
If you prefer a family-run spot, pop into rag-tag Mayow Bungalows located across from Rubber Tree and mere steps from the best beach on the island.
The half-dozen original huts (low season 400 baht high season 500 baht) sit around a lawn of four-leaf clovers (we kid you not). They’re made almost entirely of knobby wooden planks and come with springy beds, mosquito nets, fans and large bathrooms with bucket-flush toilets, cold-water showers and spouts in lieu of sinks. These huts are a bit rundown, built in the early days of Muk’s tourism lifetime, but they’re close to the beach and cost about half of what you’ll pay for similar options nearby.
Since our last visit the family added a couple of tiled air-con bungalows (low season 1,000 baht high season 1,500 baht) with concrete walls and hot-water bathrooms. One is family sized, representing reasonable alternatives for visitors who used to stay at Charlie.
The reggae-loving owner, Mayow, is a native of Trang who make guests feel welcome without even trying. We arrived to find him and the family staff, including a sweet 80-year-old granny, huddled around a TV watching a tense muay Thai match. After being invited (or perhaps instructed) to grab a seat we almost forgot why we stopped by in the first place.
The gang also runs one of the island’s best Thai restaurants along with Dugong Family Travel, which is a reliable source for boat tours and tickets to other islands. Mong Bar on Haad Farang is also associated with Mayow. Do have a chat with these cats even if you don’t stay at the bungalows—they’re some of the more interesting personalities on the island.
If you like the sound of Mayow and don’t mind staying further inland, Bamboo Bungalows is another reggae-inspired place with similarly basic huts for a little cheaper. Across the lane from Mayow, the old concrete fan huts at Rubber Tree will also do in a pinch—but skip the air-con editions.
The spiffy natural-style bungalows at Nature Hill sit a few hundred metres beyond Haad Farang on a rubber tree shrouded hill shared with Mountain View, whose bungalows are owned by a member of the same family.
After first stopping by shortly after it opened in 2016, we were pleased to see Jungle Hill thriving in March ‘19. Owner Su still operates the small resort along with Ting Tong Bar, which she co-owns with cousin Om, owner of neighbouring Mountain View. Both natives of Trang province, these are two lovely people who embody the laid-back and friendly vibe that keeps long stayers returning to Ko Muk. It would not be the same island without Su and Om.
Nature Hill’s bungalows (low season 1,000 baht, high season 1,500 baht) are built high on stilts with slanted ceilings and floor-to-ceiling doors opening to large porches with floor cushions—places where you won’t be bothered. They all come with comfy beds, mosquito nets and brushed concrete bathrooms with cold water. Most are built for two, but there is at least one family edition. While it’s still a fun place to hang out until late night, Ting Tong Bar now keeps the music down after 22:00.
Mountain View has similarly sturdy, clean and comfy wooden bungalows, albeit with a more typical design, which fetch 500 baht less than those at Nature View. Both are good choices and reservations are essential in high season. If they’re full, the bungalows at Mookie’s aren’t bad alternatives. Mookie’s is a Thai-run spot formerly owned by a Swede with an infamous reputation on Muk; have a drink and see if Su or Om will give you a story or two.
From small Ao Kuan beach to the pier and on down through the village to Ao Kham and Ao Wua Nawn, the east coast of Ko Muk has filled in with new resorts only since around 2012. High-end Sivalai remains the only large resort, with most lodgings coming in small family-run properties that cater mainly to backpackers.
With 30 bungalows peppered among trees strung with hammocks and bearing coconut, cashew, papaya and all sorts of flowers, Coco Lodge is hands-down the most atmospheric place to stay on Ko Muk.
Fan-cooled woven bamboo bungalows (low season 600 baht, high season 800 baht) are simple but intelligently designed with multiple windows and covered gaps in the vaulted thatch ceilings to allow for maximum airflow. Mattresses placed on platforms are very comfortable, and mosquito nets can be slid back against the wall, like curtains, to keep them out of the way when not in use.
Other touches include doorstep waterspouts, light bulbs placed in old-style lanterns, bamboo tables and plenty of places to hang wet clothes. Accessed by log steps that are more like small ladders, the partially open-air bathrooms come with sand-and-stone floors, cold-water showers, flush toilets and even some orchids.
Family bungalows are larger and have extra single beds, including some on bunk frames. You’ll also find three basic concrete air-con bungalows (low season 1,200 baht, high season 1,500 baht) set behind the beachfront restaurant, which serves decent Thai fare. Tents are no longer available at Coco—head over to Garden Beach Resort for one of those.
Bungalows are spread fairly far apart throughout the relaxing property, where sweet beach dogs nap beneath travellers who hang in hammocks strung among the trees. Kind older Thai women run the resort alongside owner Chet. He’s quiet and isn’t being rude if he doesn’t talk much; hang around for a while and you’ll see that he’s a sweet guy. They offer free WiFi, a book exchange, bicycle rental and boat trips.
We like the location just west of the pier and a short stroll from several restaurants in the village, even if the better Sivalai Beach is 15 minutes away on foot.
If arriving by local ferry from Trang, you can easily walk to Coco from the pier—turn right and it will be on the left just past the beachside village. Coco is popular so make a reservation if you want to be sure to get a room from December to March.
One of only two places to stay on Ao Kuan, the Garden Beach Resort is another family-run spot serving up some of the cheapest beds on Muk in tents and simple huts and two-floor family bungalows.
The resort covers a fairly large piece of land with lots of shade and hammocks spread over lightly sloping hills just back from the beach’s eastern corner. There’s even a lotus pond fronting the fan bungalows. Budgeteers can pitch a tent (250 baht) on a sea-view hill and use basic shared cold-water bathrooms.
Those with a little more to spend can go for a wood-and-bamboo bungalow (400 baht) with metal roof, firm bed with mosquito net, cold-water cement bathroom with bucket-flush toilet and large porch with hammocks and chairs. These are well worn but it’s hard to argue with the 400-baht price tags that make these some of the cheapest bungalows on Muk.
If they’re too rickety, head a little further up the hill for a similarly equipped but sturdier bungalow, or go for a two-floor wood edition overlooking the lotus pond. You’ll also find clean concrete-and-tile air-con rooms (1,500 baht) with two portable fans. These are similar to the air-con rooms over at Coco Lodge, which is more popular and often directs its overflow guests to here.
WiFi is free and staff offers boat trips at cheaper rates than most places. Along with the attached Adda Restaurant and Sabai Bar, the resort is located within steps of a stilted fishing village and some mangroves. It’s a 20-minute walk from here to the far-better swimming opportunities found at Sivalai Beach, but the trail to the remote Lo Dung and Sabai beaches begins behind the resort.
The only other place to stay on this beach is the rather tired Koh Mook Resort, offering concrete air-con bungalows starting at 1,700 baht. At Garden we didn’t get a clear answer on low-season rates, but discounts can be expected.
# Ao Kham (west of the pier on the way to Ao Kuan), Ko Muk
T: (094) 315 4114
The Ban Koh Mook Nurse House sounds like some kind of medical facility, but in fact this small beachfront bungalow spot’s name comes from the fact that owner Mr Bell works in the village clinic—it’s a great little spot for a more homely and intimate experience.
The personable Trang native offers four sea-view woven-bamboo bungalows (low season 600 baht, high season 800 baht) with thatch roofs fronting a small lawn with lots of greenery, and another one standing directly on the beach within a few metres of the surf at high tide. Each has a comfy bed draped in mosquito net along with soft lanterns, portable fan, decorations made from coconut shells and better-than-average bathrooms with proper sinks, flush toilets and cold-water showers.
The seafront edition has a fishnet hammock attached but it’s only plastic chairs on the porches of other bungalows. Glass doors afford sea views direct from your bed, while windows on either side allow air to flow in.
Nurse House is set in a quiet spot within a three-minute walk of Ao Kuan and Muk’s most picturesque stilted village. As with most of Ao Kham and Ao Kuan, swimming is not possible here at low tide and it’s not great at high tide either, but the view is pretty and Sivalai Beach is a 15-minute walk to the east.
The family staffers speak very little English; they’ll call Bell, who speaks clear English, if he’s not around when your questions get too complicated.
WiFi is free and the cook whips up a good range of Southern Thai dishes at the seaside kitchen and dining area.
Opened in the village in late 2016, Koh Mook Hostel is a charming islander-run spot that’s the only dorm option on the island at time of writing.
The unassuming single-floor blue building sports two spacious air-con dorm rooms (380 baht), one for women only and the other mixed gender. Bunks have a high level of privacy thanks to curtains and wood dividers, and each bags you a reading lamp and electrical outlet along with firm mattress.
Two air-con units and ceiling-mounted fans will keep you cool at night. When nature calls you can step into a cold-water bathroom attached to the rooms, or walk to the back of the property for several more clean showers in brushed concrete stalls.
WiFi is free and the owners also run a cafe serving house-baked cinnamon rolls and fresh coffee. We stopped by to find a few backpackers chatting and reading as the owner’s adorable little girl distracted them.
Keep in mind that Muslim villagers own the place and alcohol is prohibited on site, though you can walk a few steps to other cafes for a beer. Ao Wua Nawn and Sivalai Beach are no more than a five-minute walk from here.
Sivalai is the Thai rendition of the English word, civilised, which tells you something about the guests that this large upscale resort tries to attract.
With the cheapest villas running 5,000 baht in high season, this is not a backpacker hangout. The smoothly run but impersonal resort sprawls on a squeaky patch of white-sand on either side of a sandbar that juts out for a good 30 metres into the teal water at low tide. While it’s still one of the prettiest spots on Muk, erosion has caused problems in recent years and you’ll now find sandbags and small log barriers around Sivalai’s beach loungers.
Wood-and-concrete Bali-style villas are spacious and tastefully decorated with wide glass windows, soft lanterns, rattan touches and silk pillows on luxurious beds. All of the freestanding rooms are at least 35 square metres in size and equipped with LCD TVs, minibars, gorgeous hot-water bathrooms and wide decks with cushioned lounge chairs. This is the largest resort on Muk and the villas stretch for quite a distance down both Ao Kham and Ao Wua Nawn.
Prices depend mainly on proximity to the best part of the beach and the largest villas are great for families. The Thai-European restaurant/bar enjoys prime views and you’ll find two pools: the small original one near the restaurant and a second, much-larger one further away. Polite staff offers bicycle and kayak rental along with private transfers from the mainland in Sivalai’s own speedboats. High season starts November 1, so it’s good value if you’re here in late October.
Click on the hotel name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Muk will do you right if you’re coming from the sparse and pricey restaurants found on Ko Ngai or Ko Kradan. While just about every resort has its own restaurant, much of the best food can be scored at freestanding eateries run by the islanders.
Located just behind the wreckage of Charlie Resort, Mayow Thai Kitchen was supposedly the first restaurant on the island and it continues to churn out terrific Thai food. The yum muu yang (grilled pork salad) had a precise balance of sour lime juice and fiery chillies tempered by fresh cucumbers and tomatoes—it was the best single dish we had on our most recent visit to Muk. The massaman curry was also fabulous and a full page of fresh fish and crab dishes are hard to resist. Prices are reasonable, and we love the laid-back vibe set to blues, reggae and other music picked out by Mr Mayow himself.
If you don’t mind paying a bit more for a table draped in one of Haad Farang’s gorgeous sunsets, head to Ko Yao Viewpoint and its wooden deck built over rocks at the beach’s far eastern end. They offer sandwiches and fish and chips, but the extensive Thai menu is the way to go. The tom yum soup with fish and som tam Thai were both spicy and flavourful—even if the MSG left our mouths tingling afterwards. Cocktails and beer are also available, making this a go-to sundowner option.
Moving inland, Hilltop Restaurant is another long-running spot that will make it spicy if you ask. Their motto is "Cheap cheap but different," which only makes sense after you encounter the owner’s hearty laugh and eccentric personality. She’s an excellent chef, too, crafting some unusual dishes like steamed duck with soy sauce along with dozens of Thai standards served in big portions. Though not as spicy as we hoped for, the nam tok muu (“waterfall pork” salad) had excellent flavour. The owner enjoys showing customers around the menu and asking questions to help narrow down the choices. It’s a laid back spot with a big fridge full of beer; settle in for a long wait when it’s busy.
Ao Kham and the village
Wander around the village just inland from the pier to find Ko Muk’s strongest selection of freestanding restaurants. A standout is Ma Kin Ni (“Come Eat Here”), which opens from morning to night and does some Western bites along with flavourful Thai dishes. The pad see ew was tasty and filling for 70 baht, but the savoury tort man pla (fried fish cakes) and slow-cooked massaman with chicken on the bone left us planning our next visit. Fresh coffee and beer are also available. We didn’t get around to trying nearby De Local, but its streetside barbecue draws a crowd every night.
A bit further south from the pier fronting the sand and longtail boats of Ao Wua Nawn, Sugar’s is another good option offering fresh coffee, smoothies and Thai food. The soft-spoken owners serve pla neung manao (whole steamed fish with lime-and-garlic sauce) for just 120 baht—less than half of what you’ll pay at Sivalai. You’ll also find a good range of Thai dishes for under 80 baht, and ginger or chilli-garlic stir-fries served on sizzling steel platters for 120 baht. If you’re here in the morning, stroll a few doors up the lane to find authentic khao tom mut (rice flour with banana and other fillings steamed in coconut husks) along with Thai-style doughnuts at a little teashop.
A stone’s throw from Sugar’s is De Tara, a small resort that also boasts Muk’s most stylish restaurant. They do solid cocktails (though their claim of "best margarita in the world" is a bit much) along with tasty Thai dishes, including some Southern specialties like gai tom kumin (cumin-flavoured chicken soup) and pad pong karee, seafood stir-fried with egg and Indian curry powder. Also worth a mention is Good Luck Restaurant, dishing out big plates of Thai food at a cosy eatery west of the pier on the way to Ao Kuan. The owners have great attitudes and the pad prik Thai talay (stir-fry with seafood in black-pepper sauce) really hit the spot for around 100 baht.
Though certainly not a party destination, Ko Muk does have its share of funky bars that are like magnets for solo travellers.
Located on the dirt lane running inland from Haad Farang, Ting Tong is easily the best bar on the island. Manager Su and her perpetually bare-chested younger cousin Om are natives of the Trang mainland who both speak exceptional English and might just be the finest bartending duo this side of Phuket. They whip up great mojitos and margaritas while chatting up the crowd alongside a few French and German dudes who also pop behind the bar. While some of the long-staying Western barflies can be a bit loud and proud after a lot of beers, Su and Om always seem to keep things positive and they really make the place special. They claim to stay open “until the last person leaves.”
If you prefer a mellow reggae vibe to go with sunset views, make your way to Mong Bar at the eastern corner of Haad Farang. Owner Mong serves cocktails and beer to travellers settling into cushioned seating in the tiny bar, or on bamboo loungers spread over the sand. Mong and his father Mayow (of Mayow Thai Kitchen) are close friends with legendary Thai reggae singer, Job 2 Do, who also hails from Trang—if you’ve hung around virtually any beach bar in Thailand there’s a good chance you’ve heard his “Doo Doo Doo” song. He swings by Ko Muk a few times per season and performs at Mong Bar.
The Ao Kham side of the island is quieter but you will find a few little watering holes. On the village strip near the pier, The Ku has a sports theme going with soccer on a few flat screens above the bar. Just past Team Restaurant on the side lane connecting the village strip to the cross-island road, Xoy Xoy looked to be the go-to spot for a reggae-inspired scene.
There’s also Go Go (not an actual go-go bar), a driftwood-and-bamboo shack next to Coco Lodge that would be our choice for a few drinks after dark on the Ao Kham side of the island. It’s slightly removed from the rest of the village, which is predominantly Muslim—it struck us as a little tasteless to pound beers on the village strip while you can hear the imam’s chanting in the mosque at prayer time. We suggest heading over to the Haad Farang side to let it all hang out.
Ko Muk boasts a bunch of beaches, ranging from the classic resort style to village beaches with stilted houses and remote stretches of sand accessible only by sea or hiking trails. The best of them don’t quite match those found on islands like Kradan, Ngai or Lipe, but Muk’s beaches do tend to have more character.
Also known as Haad Yao or Charlie Beach, Haad Farang is one of our favourite spots to unwind in Thailand. Though only a few hundred metres long, its exceptionally wide stretch of fine off-white sand is sheltered by an outcrop of rocks to the south and a limestone massif to the north. You can swim comfortably in the clear emerald water at any time. The sunsets can be incredible, best enjoyed from Mong Bar in the southern corner. With a name meaning “Foreigner Beach”, Haad Farang changed when the national park authority closed Charlie Resort in late 2018 and while the beach remains gorgeous, the derelict swimming pool and bungalows sat as eye soars at research time.
Located just south of Haad Farang and accessible by kayak or a 20-minute walk over sharp rocks at low tide, this rocky beach takes its name from an image of a mermaid spirit that’s believed to watch over the local fishers. There’s no development and really not much of a beach at all, but the rock formations are striking and strips of sand collect a lot of sea glass. You might place the prettiest pieces on the mermaid’s lap as an offering.
This muddy mangrove-lined beach on the southeast coast has only one place to stay, a midranger called The Sun Great Resort, and we couldn’t see staying here unless other options are sold out. While not good for swimming, you could pop over here at low tide to watch hundreds of tiny crabs speed around before ducking into holes to avoid the human intruders.
Ao Wua Nawn
Located further north up the east coast, “Sleeping Cow Bay” runs for about a kilometre in front of a village and some lacklustre midrange resorts before culminating at a wing-like sand bar in front of Sivalai Resort. The kilometre length and squeaky white sand makes it the best beach on Muk for long walks, and it’s also the place to watch the sunrise over the mainland. Swimming is limited to high tide due to expansive silt flats. At high tide the beach is wider here than around the Sivalai corner on Ao Kham, but not as wide as Haad Farang.
Also known as Ao Kham East, this kilometre-long beach starts at the pier and ends at the white-sand wing in front of Sivalai Resort, where you can turn the corner and continue walking south along Haad Wua Nawn. The section fronting Sivalai’s western villas, closest to the pier, narrows to a slender strip at high tide and expands to reveal a huge swathe of silt flats at low tide. The wing in front of Sivalai’s restaurant is the only swimmable section at low tide. It gets quite dirty closer to the pier and erosion has become a problem.
Ao Kham West
Running west from the pier along the northeast coast, this portion of Ao Kham hosts Coco Lodge and Nurse House along with clusters of stilted houses and longtail boats. Walking here feels like a village stroll rather than a proper beach walk, and the concrete lanes and homes join a canal to make it seem like less of a cohesive beach than Sivalai Beach. You also get the low-tide silt flats here, but the slip of sand fronting Coco Lodge is very pretty at high tide.
The “Jungle Beach” hides beyond a picturesque stilted village just west of Ao Kham’s western end, with a section of mangroves and rocks creating the border. Again, low tide reveals hundreds of metres of muddy flats, which are constant throughout the north coast. We like the secluded feel and the small crescent of grainy tan sand looks lovely at high tide. The only places to stay here are Garden Beach Resort and Koh Mook Resort. It’s a good base if you plan on hitting the hiking trails, which begin just behind Ao Kuan.
Coco 2 Beach
We couldn’t find a local name for this northeast-coast beach so we took to calling it Coco 2 after the only structure found here, marked as Coco Lodge 2 Coffee. It’s no longer open but someone appears to camp in the old wood-and-bamboo pavilion. There’s also a two-person hammock, with mosquito net, tied to an umbrella tree above the surf—we doubt the camper would mind if you tried it out. The coast here is a mix of rocks, mangroves, mud and sand, and the trail to Haad Lo Dung and Haad Sabai starts behind the beach.
Haad Lo Dung
Take the trail north from Coco 2 Beach and after a kilometre or so you’ll reach Haad Lo Dung, a striking crescent of khaki sand on the north coast rimmed only by dense jungle and a dramatic karst cliff. If you can look past the tidal garbage that collects beneath the umbrella and banyan trees, this is a prime spot to just sit and watch the hermit crabs while soaking up the solitude. The water was crystal clear when we were here and swimming is possible at high tide, but do bring waterproof footwear to avoid stubbing toes on the offshore rocks.
The most remote of Muk’s beaches is Haad Sabai, located on the west coast and accessible only by boat or a two-hour hike from Coco 2 Beach. The tan-sand beach is small and collects large piles of tidal garbage, making it rather disappointing after the long hike. Still, you’re likely to be the only people here and the emerald water sheltered by cliffs on either side is great for swimming.
Oh yes, the Emerald Cave has a beach of its own.
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One of the prime attractions of Thailand’s Andaman Sea, Tham Morakot leaves visitors in awe. If you don’t mind swimming or paddling through a dark sea cave, you’ll be treated to a hidden beach unlike any other that we’ve experienced.
Setting out from Haad Farang, our longtail boat chugged past the immense limestone cliffs that make up most of Muk’s southern and western shores. Within no more than 15 minutes, we arrived at what looked like a typical patch of the rocky coast save another anchored longtail and a sign attached to a rock with the words, “Tham Morakot”, scribed in Thai and Roman scripts.
Even when jumping into the sea-green water, we couldn’t tell where the cave began—one of several reasons why visiting with a local guide is a good idea. With a waterproof headlamp strapped to his brow, our longtail driver dove in and motioned for us to follow. As we passed under the low-hanging rock that marks the cave’s entrance, we could hear a small child crying loudly up ahead.
The 50-metre swim leads through a dark cavern with a roof that stands several metres high at low tide but submerges high tide. A fork in the waterway is another reason why it’s good to have a guide: take the wrong turn and you could get pinned against a dead-end wall by the current, which causes a menacing echo to resound through the cave. If you follow your guide closely and don’t suffer from claustrophobia or extreme fear of the dark, you’ll be fine.
A faint flicker of sunlight grabbed the water’s surface after we passed the cave’s darkest section. A few more breaststrokes and we emerged into a magnificent cathedral of nature’s design, vast limestone cliffs wrapped around a small, perfectly symmetrical crescent of khaki sand. The clear water lapping gently onto the beach did indeed strike an emerald hue.
Hidden amid Muk’s rugged rocks, this part of the Emerald Cave is actually a sinkhole that was formed many moons ago. Numerous tropical plants, vines and trees receive enough light to grow just behind the beach, lending the feel of a closed-off biome that also supports a range of birds and the occasional monkey. Locals searching for swallow’s nest, the delicacy served in Chinese bird’s nest soup, are said to have first discovered this “emerald sinkhole”.
Decades before Tham Morakot caught on as a tourist attraction in the late 20th century, pirates found it to be the perfect spot to stash their booty. It’s easy to see why: the cave entrance looks like nothing more than another crevice, and getting here by land requires slashing through dense jungle before repelling down the rock walls that tower in a precisely 90-degree angle on all sides.
Like something out of a film set in some remote paradise, this was one of the more captivating natural wonders we’ve visited anywhere in Thailand and beyond. The child who we heard crying earlier was now gleefully splashing with his boatman guide. We sat off in a corner, taking it all in, not regretting that we’d forgotten our diving bag (and hence our camera).
We were able to share Tham Morakot with one small family of other travellers and our guides, but many travellers aren’t so lucky. It’s a major stop on the itineraries of countless boat tours from Ko Lanta, Pakmeng and other places, and arriving at peak times during high season will mean being shepherded through along with dozens of other people. The cave/sinkhole isn’t huge and would be far less appealing if shared with a crowd.
This is one reason why we recommend staying on Ko Muk or the neighbouring islands of Ko Ngai or Ko Kradan, which will allow you to visit Tham Morakot privately, guided by someone who knows when it will be free from the crowds, the tide and the Chao Mai National Park officials who haphazardly charge foreigners a 200 baht entry fee. Before 10:00 is a good time to go, followed by late afternoon, though the boatman leading another trip slipped his passengers in during a 20-minute window when no one else was there, just after noon.
A direct roundtrip from Haad Farang to Tham Morakot runs 600 baht (for the boat, not per person) and will go up slightly for four or more people. Expect to pay a bit more if coming from Ao Kham. Longtail boats can be arranged through resorts or directly with the boatmen on either of the main beaches. (See the oat trips listing for info on other options.) It’s also possible to paddle in by kayak when the tide is right.
In addition to Tham Morakot, a boat trip around Ko Muk presents some excellent snorkeling and beach-lounging opportunities.
Good visibility and an array of marine life can be enjoyed off Ko Kradan’s South Reef and around the islets of Ko Chueak, Ko Waen and Ko Maa off the coast of Ko Ngai. Colourful coral is also found around Tham Yai (“Big Cave”) on Muk’s northwest coast. Both Kradan and Ngai also boast better beaches than Muk. Those looking for more of an adventure might make the 90-minute one-way cruise to Ko Rok for its pristine coral-sand beach and exceptional seascapes.
Generally speaking, boat trips arranged on Ko Muk will be private and undertaken by longtail—you won’t find the big speedboat tours of Ko Lanta here. To save money, ask around at the travel shops and resorts to see if anyone wants to join you, especially if you’re interested in a longer trip. Staff will often let you know if another group is seeking extra passengers for a trip in the near future.
Prices are for the boat, not per person, and they go up slightly for more than four people. Lunch is usually not included, but most boats have a supply of drinking water, snorkels and masks for free. Longer tours will stop at a neighbouring island for lunch, or you could pack one ahead of time.
Most trips include Tham Morakot as the first stop. Expect to pay around 1,200 baht for a three- to four-hour jaunt that might also include Sabai Beach and Big Cave, or Ko Kradan. A five- to six-hour excursion might incorporate several of the snorkeling sites around Ko Ngai, as well as a stop on Ngai itself, for 2,500 baht. Expect to pay 3,500 to 4,000 baht for a full-day trip to Ko Rok.
All of these sites are covered by either the Hat Chao Mai or Koh Lanta national marine parks, meaning you might have to shell out 100 to 400 baht per person for tickets if the respective park officials stop you. We avoided the Hat Chao Mai fee by hitting Tham Morakot in the morning, but the rangers from Koh Lanta showed up in a boat to request 200 baht before we could snorkel off Ko Maa. The fee for Ko Rok is a steep 400 baht per person (even though it’s also part of Koh Lanta National Park), which can usually be avoided by not setting foot on the beach. Otherwise your boat guide may be able to negotiate it down to 200 baht.
Reputable outfits offering good-value boat trips include Dugong Family Travel based at Mayow Thai Kitchen and Mong Bar on Haad Farang; Coco Lodge and Mr Yong Tour near the pier on Ao Kham; and Garden Beach Resort on Ao Kuan.
Exotic birds, wild blossoms and dense forest reach to a series of vertical limestone cliffs on Ko Muk’s wild western half. A hiking trail beginning behind Ao Kuan on the northeast coast takes you straight through the jungle on the way to a pair of remote, undeveloped beaches.
Starting behind Koh Mook Resort on Ao Kuan, take the red-dirt trail north and after about a kilometre of rubber farms you’ll descend to Coco 2 Beach. From here another trail cuts inland, marked by helpful signs for Haad Lo Dung and Haad Sabai. From here on you’ll pierce into pristine jungle with its snaking dipterocarp roots, car-length palm leaves and wildflowers.
After another kilometre you arrive at Haad Lo Dung, an ideal place to break for a swim and a lounge beneath the banyan trees. Once refreshed, jump back on the trail and keep marching uphill until you see a sign pointing right down a narrower trail to Haad Sabai. From here you climb steeply downhill and there’s a sense of stalking through the jungle as the forest slides off the sides of your body. Keep quiet and you might spot macaques, snakes, hornbills and other birds.
Heading back inland, turn right on the main trail rather than returning towards Haad Lo Dung and after about a half-kilometre the trail ends at a remote rubber farm with a view down to Haad Sabai. We kept huffing further through the rubber trees, hoping to find a trail to the Emerald Cave or at least further down into the jungle, but none appeared.
The hike to Haad Sabai takes a solid half a day round trip if starting from Ao Kuan. If you’re okay with riding on a narrow and rugged dirt trail, you can shorten the hiking distance by bicycling or motorbiking down to Coco 2 Beach and starting your walk from there. Bring plenty of water and mosquito repellent.
Ko Muk doesn’t have the best beaches or reefs in Thailand. Nor is it a centre for scuba diving, water sports, nightlife, spa treatments or jungle treks. The Emerald Cave is stunning, but it’s only reachable by boat and can easily be accessed from other islands. So what makes Muk special? A pair of fascinating fishing villages survived the 2004 Asian Tsunami to perpetuate a lifestyle in rhythm with the sea.
Muk has supported Muslim fishing communities since long before the sun-bathers arrived. Today, some would say the locals are a bane on tourism due to the garbage sometimes strewn under their stilted houses. There’s no doubt that the island is unkempt in places, but the gentle villagers and their boat graveyards are what give Muk its character.
Set on visiting them, we started out from Haad Farang and strolled the sporadically sealed lane that connects one side of the island to the other. Coastal coconut trees tapered into rubber groves that interspersed with patches of jungle over much of the interior. Flowers and butterflies abound.
Passing Coco Lodge and its bamboo huts, we scaled a hill before emerging at Muk’s northern fishing village. Smaller, cleaner and prettier than the main village, a small collection of houses are perched on stilts over sand that submerges at high tide. Built from different types of wood, metal, cement, plastic, bamboo and seemingly anything else you can imagine, the interiors blend into porches coloured by potted plants, clothes hung out to dry, bird cages and kitchens with piles of fresh produce.
Most of the women stay in or around the village and keep busy sun-drying fish and chillies, preparing food, hand-washing clothes and collecting coconuts. The wiry men who aren’t out fishing or leading boat tours can usually be found building longtail boats out of native hardwoods — or fixing up the old ones.
Heading east towards the pier on Ao Kham, Muk’s longest beach, the waterside houses begin to share space with a few tiny islander-owned bungalow joints, like Nurse House, that have popped up in recent years. Traps, nets, buoys and engine parts lie tangled with bits of old boats that might still have some value to someone.
A few more steps and the modest houses are replaced by swanky villas at Sivalai Resort, Muk’s largest and priciest place to stay. Though we prefer the small bungalows found elsewhere, Sivalai overlooks a stretch of sand known as The Wing that shoots out towards the mainland in a brilliant flash of white. As with all beaches in Thailand, this is public land that can be freely enjoyed by anyone.
Ao Kham then cuts sharply south towards Muk’s larger east-coast village, marked by more old boats and the excellent Sugar’s Coffee Shop. After enjoying a sizzling ginger stir-fry with rice and a strong coffee shake, we followed a side-lane that winds through coconut groves and alongside canals before entering the village itself.
When the 2004 Asian Tsunami swept inland at 2.5 metres in height, it devastated the island and its inhabitants. Most of the original coastal homes were washed away, eventually replaced by a varied mix of structures built in rows over a tidal swamp and tied together by raised concrete lanes. Much of the mangrove forest is gone. Ten years on, some of the more rudimentary houses look like they’re ready to collapse.
Appearing dirty and impoverished, this “tsunami village” is more densely populated than one would expect on a rural island. Here it’s easy to see how that tragic December 26 changed countless lives forever. No tidal wave hit after an 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck off Sumatra in 2012, but Muk’s residents didn’t take any chances. Sounding the island’s warning horns, both villagers and tourists bolted to high ground and remained there for hours.
Visiting Muk’s Muslim villages in a Speedo or bikini is very disrespectful, so do bring a sarong if you’re not fully dressed. Also keep in mind that people are not tourist attractions; don’t walk up to a villager, especially children, and take their picture without asking if it’s okay. While the islanders tend to keep to themselves, we’ve found them to be friendly towards travellers who approach them respectfully and with a smile.
It takes 20 to 30 minutes to walk from Haad Farang to Ao Kham without stopping and another 15 to reach the northern village. From here, you can follow a sandy path along the coast that eventually links to the secluded Ao Kuan Beach, just past Koh Muk Resort. If you prefer to pedal, bicycles can be rented in the north-coast village or at Charlie Resort. Motorbike taxis are also readily available on either side of the island.
A number of travel offices near the train station in Trang town sell all-in minibus/boat transfers to Ko Muk. Refer to the Trang transport section for info on getting there and onward transport overland. All prices listed here are per person.
All year round, a minibus departs the train station area in Trang at 11:30 and connects to the local ferry for Ko Muk at Kuan Thung Khu pier, costing 250 baht all up. If you're coming to the pier on your own, the local ferry departs at 13:00 and costs 100 baht. It disembarks at the main pier off Ao Kham on Ko Muk, where you can catch a sidecar motorbike taxi to Haad Farang for 50 baht per person. The ferry returns to Kuan Thung Khu and a waiting Trang-bound minibus at 08:00.
In high season (roughly November to April), a minibus departs Trang at 11:00 and connects to a shared longtail boat, also at Kuan Thung Khu, for 350 baht all up. Depending on demand, additional transfers may depart Trang at 09:00 and 16:00. These boats also disembark at Ao Kham pier and return to Kuan Thung Khu at 09:00 and 14:00.
A private transfer between Trang town and Ko Muk will cost 1,400 baht total (per group, not per person). Private longtail boats to Ko Muk can also be arranged at Pakmeng for around 1,500 baht.
From late October to March 31 (perhaps into April for Tigerline and Petpailin), four different boat companies connect Ko Muk directly to a number of other islands. Tickets can be booked through resorts and travel agents on Ko Muk; whoever sells you the ticket will need to call ahead to tell your boat of choice to stop here, so it's best to give prior notice. The speedboats pick up at Haad Farang while the larger ferries dock at the main pier off Ao Kham.
Heading north, the Bundhaya and Satan Pakbara speedboats pick up on Muk at 11:00 and reach Koi Ngai at 11:30 for 350 baht; and Koi Lanta at 12:00 for 900 baht. The Satan Pakbara speedboat then continues up to Ko Phi Phi for 1,600 baht and Phuket for 2,400 baht. Bundhaya also sells tickets to Phi Phi and Phuket but these require changing boats on Lanta.
The cheaper and slower Petpailin ferry departs Muk at 09:00 and runs to Ko Kradan for 400 baht; Ko Ngai for 400 baht and Ko Lanta for 600 baht.
Heading south, speedboats pick up on Muk at around 11:00 and reach Ko Kradan at 11:45 for 300 baht (Satun Pakbara only); Ko Bulon Lae at 12:30 for 900 baht; and Ko Lipe at 13:30 for 1,400 baht.
Speedboats to Ko Muk depart Ko Lipe at 09:00; Ko Bulon Lae at 10:00; Ko Lanta at 10:30; Ko Kradan at 10:45; and Ko Ngai at 11:00. Don't be surprised if your boat runs late.
The Tigerline high-speed ferry also connects Ko Muk directly to Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, Hat Yao pier near Ko Libong and Langkawi Island in Malaysia, plus all of the other islands listed above except Ko Bulon Lae. Ko Jum, Ko Lao Liang and Ko Yao Yai and Noi were added to a new Tigerline route for the 2018-19 season, but we’d double check this before making plans. A southbound Tigerline boat departs Phuket at 08:00 and picks up on Ko Muk at 12:00, while a northbound boat departs Langkawi at 09:00 and picks up on Muk at 13:00.
In high season, shared longtail boats run between Haad Farang and Ko Kradan once or twice a day for 300 baht. You can also take a private longtail boat to Ko Kradan or Ko Ngai for around 1,000 baht (price for the whole boat). Expect to pay around 2,500 baht for a private longtail to Ko Libong. As with Ko Sukorn, Libong is most often reached via a cheaper minibus and local ferry transfer arranged back in Trang town.
Bundhaya: T: (074) 783 111;(080) 549 4545 www.bundhayaspeedboat.com
Petpailin: T: (075) 667 033 ; (081) 979 9001
Satun Pakbara: T: (081) 959 2094 www.spcthailand.com
Muk’s single cross-island road is a little long for walking but perfect for pedalling. Pushbikes can be rented at Koh Mook Resort and Coco Lodge for 50 baht per day, while mountain bikes are available at Village Bungalows for 100 baht and Charlie Resort for 200 baht per day. Motorbikes can be rented for 250 baht per day at several places in the village; D.N. Service (T: 082 261 2783) is located next to Good Luck Restaurant and can deliver to resorts. Charlie Resort rents motorbikes for 400 baht per day.
Otherwise you can hop in a sidecar motorbike taxi for a flat 50 baht per-person ride across the island; unless it’s past midnight these are readily available behind Haad Farang and next to the pier on Ao Kham, among other places. The only other ways to get around are by kayak (available at most resorts for 100 baht per hour or 500 baht per day) and longtail boat.
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