Low-key fishing lifestyle meets low-level tourism on Ko Muk, a fine alternative to the busier islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea. This mid-size island off the coast of Trang province boasts a pair of good beaches within easy boating distance of a sea cave opening to a stripe of coral sand rimmed by vertical cliffs.
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 cries of freaked-out travellers. After 10 minutes an emerald shade grabs the water, brightening as you approach a sheltered sinkhole biome and beach. The beauty and drama of it are unforgettable, so it’s no surprise that boats full of travellers venture here from Ko Lanta, Pakmeng and other places every day in high season. Staying on Muk makes it possible to hit Tham Morakot when it’s not crammed full of people.
Longtail drivers will also whisk you to the superior beaches and reefs of Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai, or further out to stunning Ko Rok, and prices for private boats are very reasonable. Though Muk is far from a big tourism hub, it is the busiest of Trang province’s islands and makes a fantastic base for island hopping.
Muk’s two main beaches are no slouches, even if you won’t find stunning reefs off their shores. A white-sand bar known as “the wing” on east-facing Ao Kham affords tremendous views to Hat Chao Mai National Park 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 stretching up to a karst cliff.
In between you’ll pass through fishing villages where many of the 3,000 islanders dwell in stilted houses above the tide. Goats, butterflies and beach dogs hang around. Kids in bright-pink school uniforms shout “Hello!” to passing travellers. Potted flowers sit next to fishing nets as men hammer repairs into boats and women crack open coconuts. To the north you can trek into the jungle on trails ending at beaches with only hermit crabs and hornbills.
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. Do be respectful of them by covering up away from the beach resorts.
The relatively large population means that Muk is unkempt in places, with garbage being burned or lying discarded around villages—unfortunately common on inhabited islands throughout the region. Nearby Kradan and Ngai are cleaner and have better beaches, but Muk offers a far-wider selection of budget accommodation along with cheaper boat tour prices, more opportunities for exploring on land, and better, more affordable food. While Muk doesn’t have a rep for nightlife, poke around and you’ll find a lot of interesting people, both Thai and foreign, at some fun little bars.
A great island for anyone from solo backpackers to families and even luxury seekers, Muk could be just the right remedy if islands on the mainstream tourism trail, like Lipe and Phi Phi, have put you off. If it sounds good but you could go even quieter, you might also dig Ko Jum, Ko Libong and Ko Bulon Lae.
Ko Muk (also spelt Mook, meaning “Pearl Island”) is located three kilometres from the mainland and usually accessed via Kuan Thung Khu Pier, which links to Trang town by minibus. Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai are both around five kilometres to the west (Ngai north, Kradan south), and it’s a 25-kilometre trip north to Ko Lanta’s southern tip.
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 Tham Morakot, is part of Hat Chao Mai National Park.
The main village, Baan Ko Muk, stretches pretty far inland and north from the pier on along the east coast, in the vicinity of Ao Kuan, Ao Kham, Sivalai Beach and Ao Wua Nawn (see Beaches for profiles of each of these and more). Directly inland from the pier is a small strip of cafes, shops, convenience stores and travel offices, but there are no ATMs on Muk. Larger resorts like Charlie and Sivalai accept credit cards for a fee.
A narrow two-kilometre lane connects the village to Haad Farang on the west coast; expect a 50-baht per person motorbike taxi ride or 30-minute walk from one to the other. It used to be that nearly all visitors stayed on Haad Farang, but several newer resorts now entice a lot of folks to stay around Ao Kham and the village. Ferries from Trang arrive at the pier off Ao Kham, while island-hopping speedboats pull up to Haad Farang.
Haad Farang has more of a holidaying vibe, with the only Thais working and living at the resorts and restaurants. The Ao Kham side is where most islanders live and has only seen an influx of tourism businesses since the late 2000s. There are few places in Thailand where well-heeled tourists stay this close to villagers of very modest means— the economic contrast can be stark. Muk still draws mainly Western travellers, including quite a few who return every year.
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.
Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Ko Muk or check hotel reviews on Agoda and Booking . Hungry? Read up on where to eat on Ko Muk. Want to know what to do once you're there? Check out our listings of things to do in and around Ko Muk. If you're still figuring out how to get there, you need to read up on how to get to Ko Muk, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 16th March, 2017.
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