If you're after a romantic beach holiday on a beautiful island and don't mind paying a premium 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 distant limestone karsts and the mainland. The tiny island doesn't have much character, but it offers plenty of comfort.
Officially part of Ko Lanta National Park, Ko Ngai (also spelt Hai) is easily reached during high season from Ko Lanta itself, the mainland via Trang province 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 isles of Ko Maa, Ko Chueak and Ko Waen conceal some great snorkelling sites that can be reached by kayak or longtail.
The long east-facing beach hosts a string of resorts that tend to focus on midrange to upscale travellers, with only a few options available for below 1,000 baht a night in high season. While Ngai is a good choice for families and especially couples, solo travellers and backpackers would be much better served by Muk, Kradan or Lanta. Expect to feel a tad 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 to focus on a romantic, 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.
Just you, a beach, and a flag.
If you're into snorkelling
, Ko Ngai makes a good base. While the coral is mostly dead, the surrounding reefs and offshore islets attract schools of tropical fish. The magnificent seascapes of Ko Rok can be explored some 15 km 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, and tours by longtail start at 600 baht.
Coconuts on demand.
Though Ngai is not a diving centre like nearby Lanta, it does host a couple of options. With a beachfront office just north of Koh Hai Villa, the newish Ko Ngai Diving
is a small, independent operation run by a polite Thai man who offers day trips to Hin Daeng, Ko Haa and other terrific sites in the marine park. There's also the German-run Rainbow Divers
based at Koh Hai Fantasty Resort.
Take it easy.
By Thailand standards, Ko Ngai is a very expensive island
— perhaps unreasonably so. A large bottle of water that goes for 13 baht on the mainland will run you 40 to 50 baht here, and don't get us started on the often-lacklustre food. With no standalone shops or restaurants on the island, everything you'll eat or drink will come from a resort.
Ko Ngai does have 24-hour electricity
provided by diesel generators, but many resorts partially or completely shut down power during the daytime. Some 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 advance reservations are recommended.
A half-hour speedboat ride from Pakmeng Pier on the mainland, Ko Ngai is only around four km long by two km 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.
At time of writing, all accommodation is located on the main beach, which stretches from north to south for a couple of km and covers the majority of the island's east coast. It consists of fine coral sand that supports a healthy population of translucent sand crabs. Pine-like casuarina trees provide shade over much of the beach.
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 thinner northern stretch at high tide and the upscale resorts here are built atop seawalls. Coral is found directly off the beach: fine for snorkelling but not the best for a casual wade.
The Ko Ngai High Street.
The atmosphere remains very quiet, with no new resorts appearing for our most recent visit. In fact, the island lost one when the old Paradise Resort shut down on the remote southern coast. A sign was advertising beachfront land for sale in late 2014, but 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 picturesque and usually empty crescent of sand where bright seashells lie ready for the picking. Some great snorkelling can also be enjoyed here, and a viewpoint is situated near the tiny ranger's station beyond the beach's northern end.
Paradise is but a coconut away.
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 and near the cell tower. The 20-minute hike takes you up some steep hills and through thick jungle before emerging at the grassy coconut grove that backs the beach. Along the way, a secondary trail cuts left to a rocky cove 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 located at Fantasy. All but the cheapest resorts offer WiFi, and cell phones with Thai SIM cards and 3G internet work reasonably well on the main beach.
Any sort of medical issue that can't be cured by a Band Aid will require a private boat trip to Trang. There's no police presence on Ngai, but the national park rangers might be able to help should problems arise.