If you’re after a romantic beach holiday on a beautiful island and don’t mind spilling some cash for it, Ko Ngai is worth considering. Sitting quietly amid a scenic patch of the Andaman Sea with plentiful coral, 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, but it offers plenty of comfort.
Officially part of Mu Ko Lanta National Marine Park, Ko Ngai (also spelt Hai) 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.
Backed by jungle-clad hills, the marvelous 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 Muk, Lanta or even Kradan for more budget accommodation options. Expect to feel out of place among the dreamy eyed couples if you come to Ngai alone. A party island this is not.
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 clientele is almost 100% foreign and migrant workers staff some resorts; if it weren’t for the Thai flags strung to the longtail boats, you might forget that you’re in Thailand altogether.
Ko Ngai makes a good base for snorkeling. While the coral is mostly dormant, the surrounding reefs and offshore islets 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 Muk’s awe-inspiring Emerald Cave and 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.
Though Ngai is not a diving centre like Lanta or Lipe, it does host a few options. With a beachfront office next to Mayalay Resort, Sea Open Diving offers day trips to Hin Daeng, Ko Haa and other terrific sites in the marine parks. There’s also Trang Talay Diving at Thanya Resort, and German-run Rainbow Divers based at Koh Hai Fantasy Resort, which is the best option for PADI courses.
By Thailand 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 often-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.
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.
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.
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 here are built atop seawalls. 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.
The atmosphere remains very quiet. A new midrange resort replaced a long-since closed bungalow joint on Paradise Beach in 2016, but that was the extent of new development since our last visit. We don’t expect the bulk of Ngai to be covered in concrete any time soon.
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 snorkeling 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-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.
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.
Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Ko Ngai or check hotel reviews on Agoda and Booking . Hungry? Read up on where to eat on Ko Ngai. If you're still figuring out how to get there, you need to read up on how to get to Ko Ngai, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 7th March, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.