Photo: Beach o'clock.

Introduction

Our rating:

If you’re after a romantic beach holiday on a beautiful island and don’t mind spilling some cash for it, Ko Ngai (also known as Ko Hai) is worth considering.



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Why should you go to Ko Ngai?

Good question! Sitting quietly amid a scenic patch of the Andaman Sea with plentiful (degraded) reefs, Ngai hosts a long sliver of blondish-white sand with views to limestone karsts and the mainland. The tiny island doesn’t have much character, and the food is beyond ordinary, but it offers plenty of comfort for a lazy few days by the sea.

There are worse places to lug a pack. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by David Luekens.

There are worse places to lug a pack. Photo: David Luekens

Backed by jungle-clad hills, the marvellous east-coast beach boasts clear aquamarine water, powdery coral sand and a view to karst isles and Ko Muk’s limestone massifs. It hosts a string of resorts that tend to focus on midrange travellers. While Ngai is a good choice for families and especially couples, solo travellers and backpackers should look to Ko Muk, Ko Lanta or well to the south, Ko Bulon Lae for more budget accommodation options. Accommodation is expensive for the standard and the food borders on dreadful.

On the other hand, if you want the idyllic setting and couldn’t care less about experiencing local culture, Ngai is a fine choice—and you can always catch up on culture back in Trang.

The interior. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by David Luekens.

The interior. Photo: David Luekens

Ko Ngai makes a good base for snorkelling. While the reefs are degraded, they attract schools of tropical fish. The magnificent seascapes of Ko Rok can be explored some 15 kilometres west of Ngai (expect to pay around 4,000 baht for a daytrip by longtail), while Ko Muk’s awe-inspiring Emerald Cave and Ko Kradan’s South Reef are commonly included on boat excursions closer to Ngai. Snorkels can be rented at most resorts for 200 baht a day, kayaks for 500 baht, and tours by longtail start at 600 baht. You can also walk across to Paradise Beach which has a better, less damaged house reef.

By Thai standards, Ko Ngai is an expensive island. A large bottle of water that goes for 13 baht on the mainland will run you 50 baht here, and don’t get us started on the almost always-lacklustre food. With few standalone shops or restaurants, just about everything you’ll eat or drink will come from a resort. Unless you’re down for a rudimentary hut at Light My Fire Society, expect to pay a minimum of 1,500 baht a night for a fan bungalow in high season. Rooms at most resorts start at 3,000 baht and advanced reservations are a good idea.

Where is Ko Ngai

Ko Ngai is the southern-most developed island in Krabi province, southwest Thailand. While most commonly approached from Trang, it is actually a part of Krabi province to the north. Is sits just to the north of both Ko Muk and Ko Kradan, roughly between the two. Both are easily reached by chartered longtail boat. The closest airport to Ko Ngai is in Trang.

Last light on the main beach. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Last light on the main beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

What are alternatives to Ko Ngai

Ko Ngai will appeal primarily to those with a bit more cash and who are looking for a picture postcard beach with less emphasis on local flavour. There are a bunch of places to choose from on the main beach, but prices are high for the standard—especially once the cost of food is factored in. Ko Ngai is not a budget backpacker island.

The beaches on the island, both the main beach and the back (Paradise) beach, are pretty impressive—arguable only Ko Kradan has better beaches in the area. If you want a local vibe, consider Ko Muk. If you’re not so fussed about local culture, then Ko Kradan is a very similar scene to Ko Ngai.

Plenty of space to loll around. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Plenty of space to loll around. Photo: Stuart McDonald

When to go to Ko Ngai

Ko Ngai is subject to the same monsoon as the rest of Thailand’s southwest coast. The rainy season runs roughly from May to October, during which time some of the resorts on the island are closed. Across the dry (and high) season however, expect calm seas and brilliant sunshine. Season runs roughly November to April, with January and February in particular being busy, when making bookings in advance are strongly recommended.

Orientation

An hour’s ferry ride from Pakmeng Pier on the mainland, Ko Ngai is only around four kilometres long by two kilometres wide. There are no roads or motorised vehicles (apart from the longtails), and hornbills soar over the rugged interior hills. Though technically part of Krabi province, Ngai is considered one of the “Trang islands” since it’s most often reached from there.

Pull up a pew. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Pull up a pew. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Officially part of Mu Ko Lanta National Marine Park, Ko Ngai is easily reached during high season from Lanta itself, the mainland via Trang and several other islands. Neighbouring Ko Muk and Ko Kradan join Ngai to form a triangle that makes it easy to hop from one to the next. Dotted in between, the rocky islets of Ko Maa, Ko Chueak and Ko Waen conceal some good snorkelling sites that can be reached by kayak or longtail.

Ko Ngai has 24-hour electricity provided by diesel generators, but some resorts partially or completely shut down power during the daytime. Several resorts close for the May to October rainy season, and those that stay open operate with limited room options and skeleton staffs. Expect inflated prices around the Christmas/New Year holidays, when reservations are essential.

Pulling in to Paradise Beach. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Pulling in to Paradise Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

All but one place to stay is located on the main beach, which stretches from north to south for a couple of kilometres along the majority of the east coast. It consists of fine nearly white coral sand supporting a healthy population of translucent sand crabs. Pine-like casuarina trees provide shade to the north, while it’s mostly umbrella trees to the south.

The widest stretch of sand is found to the south, where most of the resorts are located, though it’s hardly wide enough to play Frisbee at high tide. Water covers the narrower northern stretch at high tide and the resorts at this end are built atop seawalls. Mostly dead coral is found directly off the beach: fine for snorkelling but not the best for a casual wade. Expect long low-tide shallows everywhere except at the beach’s far southern end.

Even in peak season the beach is far from jammed. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Even in peak season the beach is far from jammed. Photo: Stuart McDonald

A hiking trail cuts over Ngai’s southern headland and connects to south-facing Paradise Beach (aka Ao Kuan Tong), a crescent of khaki sand where bright seashells lie ready for the picking. Some decent snorkelling can also be enjoyed here and at neighbouring Ao Mamuang. A viewpoint is situated near the tiny park ranger station beyond Paradise Beach’s northern end.

To reach Paradise Beach, wander into the far right (south) corner of Thanya Resort, pass reception as you head up the hill and you’ll find the trailhead just behind the last villas—it’s now signposted thanks to the new resort. The 20 to 30-minute hike takes you up some steep parts and through thick jungle before emerging at the resort and a grassy coconut grove that backs the beach. Along the way, a secondary trail cuts left to Ao Mamuang, where local sea gypsies dig for shellfish. Paradise Beach can also be reached by kayak, but it is a long paddle.

There are no ATMs on Ko Ngai; Fantasy and some of the other upscale resorts will accept credit cards and exchange foreign currencies at high rates. A computer station and small minimart selling sunscreen, toothpaste and candy bars are also found at Fantasy. All but the cheapest resorts offer free WiFi, and cell phones with Thai SIM cards work fine on the main beach.

Any sort of medical issue that can’t be cured by a Band Aid will require a trip to Trang. There’s no police presence on Ngai, but the national park rangers might be able to help should problems arise.


Where to stay on Ko Ngai

With precious few options for backpackers, Ko Ngai’s resorts cater mainly to an upscale crowd. Many visitors settle into their resort of choice and stray only to the beach or offshore reefs for a bit of snorkelling.

A budget option on Ko Ngai. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

A budget option on Ko Ngai. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The northern stretch of the beach is narrower than the southern stretch—it disappears at highest tide—and low tide reveals a long swathe of shallows that makes swimming impossible. Despite this, it’s a beautiful location with a sedate atmosphere and the better southern stretch of beach can be reached in 15 minutes on foot.

If you’re travelling at the budget end of the stick and are set on Ko Ngai, our first piece of advice would be to instead stay on nearby Ko Muk and visit Ko Ngai on a day trip, but if you must stay on the island, you’ll be limited to either camping at Koh Ngai Camping (T: (095) 084 1404 Official site Agoda Booking) which has bright green tents starting at 900 baht or nearby Sea Taste Camping which has blue tents. Both are towards the centre of the main beach.

Simple fare at Light My Fire Society. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Simple fare at Light My Fire Society. Photo: Stuart McDonald

A non-tent budget option is the extremely basic bamboo shacks at Light My Fire Society ( T: (091) 094 6710 Facebook) which has share bathroom bamboo shack going for 500 baht (walk-in only). You’ll find it at the far end of the beach, under the shadow of Koh Ngai Cliff Beach Resort.

For a step up from camping, either of the two Koh Hai Seafood branches (T: (085) 043 4099 Facebook Booking) are adequate options with simple fan-cooled, cold water bungalows (1,500 baht) set in a single row overlooking a lawn garden to the beach. Better air-con bungalows are available for 2,500 and 3,800 baht at the second branch. The views are terrific—and a good deal better than the bungalows, many of which are basic and not in great shape—one of the bathrooms we saw was well grotty. The restaurant gets good reviews, but as with almost everywhere on Ko Ngai, we found it to be mediocre and overpriced.

All peachy at Koh Ngai Kai Muk Thong. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

All peachy at Koh Ngai Kai Muk Thong. Photo: Stuart McDonald

A little bit spendier, but far more comfortable, Koh Ngai Kai Muk Thong (T: (081) 697 1090 giggug_v@hotmail.com Agoda Booking) offers a bungle of cinderblock apricot coloured rooms scattered around their restaurant and massage sala. They’re inexplicably designed and positioned to make almost nothing of the considerable beach frontage. Inside the rooms are plain but clean and the cold water bathrooms were likewise clean. The small terrace had hammocks pre-slung which was a nice touch, and we found the staff to be helpful and friendly—we just don’t understand why the resort has been laid out how it has. At least the massage sala is beachside and an hour in there through the late afternoon is a pleasant way to lose some time.

Mayalay (T: (081) 894 3585 Official site Agoda Booking) is just down the beach from Koh Ngai Kai Muk Thong, and while it is quite a bit more expensive (standard bungalow 5,400 baht), you do get a far better chalet for your money—so if you can stretch to this, consider it. The rattan faced, thatch roof bungalows are large and well positioned, with many getting decent beach views. They’re well spaced out to allow a little privacy, though there is little in the way of gardens to help on that front. Interiors are smart, including a daybed, and the hot water bathrooms good. There were no hammocks slung, instead a chair on each patio. The beach out front of here is terrific, and the staffer who showed us around was very helpful. Shop around online for a discounted rate.

Not a bad view from the bed at CoCo Cottage. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Not a bad view from the bed at CoCo Cottage. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Coco Cottage (T: (089) 724 9225 Official site Agoda Booking) has oversized wooden cottages, some with spectacular ocean views, which you can enjoy from the comfort of your very comfortable bed—ideal for lovers. Front row goes for 5,700 baht, second row for 4,600 baht and those further back a little less. Rates leap in peak season, Note the rear rooms have little in the view department. The restaurant is also the single place on Ko Ngai we had had a decent meal. The whole resort is overloaded with character and we found the staff to be excellent. Note that the bungalows overlooking the water are not child friendly, with un-railed decks being a bit iffy. Shop around online for a competitive rate. Neighbouring Thapwarin Resort (T: (095) 331 8249 Official site Agoda Booking) is also quite lovely, with beachfront huts going for around 5,300 baht in shoulder season, but we preferred Coco.

Kohngai Thanya (T: (094) 583 2888 Official site Agoda Booking) is more a comfortable Thai style resort, with luxurious bungalows scattered around a frangipani studded garden. It has a small but well executed swimming pool near the beach, but the bungalows are set well back from the beach (despite being described as beachfront) so don’t enjoy the same expansive views of Coco Cottage. Front row is 5,250 baht, dropping to 3,625 depending on how far back you want to go.

Swanky cabanas at Thanya. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Swanky cabanas at Thanya. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Also rans on Ko Ngai include Koh Ngai Fantasy (T: (075) 210 317 Official site Agoda Booking) which has enough pseudo Balinese “features” that we asked if the owners were Indonesian (they’re not), but the rooms (standards start at around 2,500 baht but there are a load of options up to around the 6,000 baht mark) are plain if over-sized and some with great views. We mention it only because it has a tonne of rooms, many ideal for families, and so in peak season is worth considering. At the other end of the beach, Koh Ngai Cliff Beach Resort (T: (02) 316 3577 Official site Agoda Booking) is an absolute eyesore, but does have a swimming pool with a just spectacular outlook—we wouldn’t stay here, but consider dropping by for a drink and a swim in the late afternoon.

On Paradise Beach you’ll find the unimaginably named Koh Ngai Paradise Beach Resort (T: (095) 021 2808 Agoda Booking) offering similarly unimaginable concrete bungalows (from 2,500 baht) running back from the beach overlooking a palm plantation—we recommend staying on the main beach and just wandering over here for the day.


Where to eat on Ko Ngai

Be sure to enjoy plenty of cheap, authentic food back in Trang because you won’t find it on Ko Ngai, where a bottle of water can cost more than a meal on the mainland. Expect to pay a minimum of 100 baht for simple dishes like fried rice, with mediocre curries and stir-fries running between 120 and 200 baht, and seafood, along with Western dishes, reaching up to 300 baht or more.

Don’t ask what this cost. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Don’t ask what this cost. Photo: Stuart McDonald

While the standards are often bafflingly poor, remember: if you spend a small fortune on a terrible meal, remain calm and refrain from making a fool of your self. Breathe deeply, go for a walk and grab a Snickers bar from the minimart at Koh Hai Fantasy. You’ll live to eat another day.

To ensure that the above scenario doesn’t have to unfold, pull up a chair at one of the tables scattered haphazardly over the sand at Sea Taste, one of very few freestanding restaurants on Ngai. The food here is ok, even if we had to wait a while for the staff to deliver it. The connected Sea Bar is also one of the island’s better places to grab a Chang or mai tai, and there are even a few tents out the back if you feel like settling in here.

Getting more imaginative at Coco Cottage. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Getting more imaginative at Coco Cottage. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Really the only standout for Thai food we found was Coco Cottage, offering a thoughtful menu featuring Thai names transliterated into Roman script. Options that you won’t find elsewhere include haw mok talay (steamed seafood curry cakes) and stir-fried kale with oysters. The Thai-Western “burger” made with gai yang (grilled chicken) also piqued our curiosity. Efficient staffers serve cocktails, wines and excellent coffee to wooden tables set up beneath a massive thatched pavilion that’s easily the most atmospheric place to eat on Ngai.

Diners flock to the candlelit tables at Koh Hai Seafood every night when the barbecue gets rolling—but we really found the standards to be poor, especially once the prices were taken into consideration.

Closing out another day on Ko Ngai. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by David Luekens.

Closing out another day on Ko Ngai. Photo: David Luekens

The restaurants at Thapwarin and Mayalay resorts are ok choices for Western dishes along with Thai curries and other dishes that are well balanced despite being toned down for Western tastes. They also offer seafood barbecue complimented by all kinds of iced coffee, teas, mixed juices and cocktails.

Ko Ngai is not a party island, but the beach bars like Ahana and BMH do ok and both be fun places to chat up other travellers. For a mellow mood with impromptu jam sessions and a barbecue, head up to Light My Fire Society at the far end of the beach—it is worth the walk. The host is great value.


How to get to Ko Ngai

To/from the mainland
A ferry departs Ko Ngai daily at 09:00, costs 350 baht per person and takes an hour. Longtail boats go out to meet the ferry and drop you at your resort of choice—prepare to wade through some water.

A longtail with character. Photo taken in or around Ko Ngai, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

A longtail with character. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Hourly public minibuses from Trang bus station run direct to Pakmeng, but most travellers book a combined minibus/ferry ticket from travel agents near the train station in Trang. These cost 500 baht all up and pick up at the travel offices at 10:00. (See the Trang transport section for info on getting there.) Expect to pay 1,900 baht for a private transfer to Ko Ngai from Trang, or around 1,500 for a private longtail direct from Pakmeng.

Other islands
Across season, several boat companies connect Ko Ngai directly to a number of other islands. Tickets can be booked through any resort on Ko Ngai or online. Please check schedule times before you travel.

Sample fares according to the provider websites include:

Bundhaya Ko Lanta 650 baht, Ko Muk 350 baht. Ko Kradan 400 baht, Ko Bulon Lae 1,050 baht, Ko Lipe 1,600 baht. Book with 12Go Asia

Satun Pakbara Ko Lanta 650 baht, Ko Muk 350 baht, Ko Kradan 400 baht, Ko Bulon Lae 1,050 baht, Ko Lipe 1,600 baht. Book with 12Go Asia

Tigerline Ko Lanta 550 baht, Ko Muk 550 baht, Ko Kradan 550 baht, Ko Bulon Lae 1,350 baht, Ko Lipe 1,350 baht. Book with 12Go Asia

Bundhaya: T: (074) 783 111 https://www.bundhayaspeedboat.com/
Petpailin: T: (075) 667 033; (081) 979 9001
Satun Pakbara Speedboat Club: T: (081) 959 2094 https://www.spcthailand.com/
Tigerline: T: (098) 016 8181 http://www.tigerlinetravel.com/



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