Brilliant white-sand beaches, crystal-clear water, expansive coral reefs and metre-long monitor lizards: welcome to Ko Rok. Protected as part of Mu Ko Lanta National Park, these gorgeous twin islands boast some of the finest snorkelling in Thailand's Andaman Sea. Most come as a day trip, but it's possible to hang around for extended stays during high season.
Aesthetically similar to Ko Surin further north, Ko Rok refers to Ko Rok Nai (called the "inner" island since it's closer to the mainland) and Ko Rok Nok (the "outer" island), both located some 30 kilometres south of Ko Lanta and 12 to 20 kilometres west of Ko Ngai, Ko Muk and Ko Kradan. Small and rugged, the twin islands are roughly the same size and sit only 250 metres apart, with hard and soft coral covering the channel in between.
While some snorkelling sites have names like "Bermuda Ridge" and "Seafan Garden," it all blends together into one impressive reef system that supposedly spans over a square mile in all. Visibility is phenomenal and some of the coral has retained its colour despite considerable bleaching in the past. Angelfish, pufferfish and anemones are among the vibrant and thriving marine life most commonly seen. You might spot a sea turtle, moray eel, sea snake or even a black-tip shark if you're lucky.
Approaching Rok Nok.
Much of the coral is no more than five metres below the surface and easily explored with a snorkel
. Though plenty of daytrippers hit the islands and the nearby dive sites of Hin Mueang and Hin Daeng, the overall traffic is moderate and the beaches nowhere near as crowded as on the Similans
. If you're keen to experience a classic near unspoilt tropical island, this is one of the best in Thailand.
Tigerfish gather for a glimpse of a human.
The interiors of both islands are blanketed in lush jungle
, with some dark-grey limestone cliffs stretching up to 200 metres high. Beaches covering the east coast of Rok Nok and south coast of Rok Nai are so white that they can be as blinding as a field of fresh snow under a cloudless midday sky. It's a joy to dig your bare toes into the super-fine coral sand
One of Rok's giant monitor lizards lounges on the sand… Or is that a dog?
Ko Rok also hosts its share of wildlife on land, including the small squirrel-like creature for which it was named. Monitor lizards
crawl at the top of the food chain and have grown larger here than elsewhere in Thailand as a result. They can often be seen lounging without a care amid fallen leaves off the beaches, so do watch your step! You'll also see plenty of birds, smaller lizards and perhaps a snake or two.
While Rok Nok is completely untouched apart from a few beach bums washing up on San Chao Beach, Rok Nai has a small ranger's station, restaurant and accommodation zone
just back from the 500-metre-long Ko Rok Beach
. This is the landing point where daytrippers have their lunches and snap their customary "Look I'm in paradise!" selfies. Excellent swimming and fine snorkelling can be enjoyed right off the sand.
Just over some rocks from Haad Ko Rok lies Haad Man Sai
, a quieter 300-metre-long beach named after the banyan trees that drape over it. On the north side of Rok Nai is Ao Talu
, a small cove with a mix of sand, rocks and mangroves. This is also where you'll find the trail leading up to Pha Samed Daeng
, a viewpoint affording sweeping northern vistas to Ngai and Lanta.
Amenities included: sea breeze.
Those looking to stick around can normally rent a standard-issue tent
for 450 baht a night, plus a little extra for sleeping mats and pillows. Identical to (but more expensive than) those found on Ko Adang
and Ko Tarutao
, or any other national park island, the tents are pitched under the shade of trees and are large enough to sleep a family of four. Visitors are also welcome to set up their own tents and use the shared cold-water bathrooms.
As of December 2014, a string of large fan-cooled bungalows
with private bathrooms were nearly finished behind Ko Rok Beach. We were told they'll cost around 2,000 baht a night and will be ready for 2015. At time of writing, accommodation on Ko Rok cannot be booked through the DNP's page for Lanta National Park
, but we'd expect this to change now that they've got sparkling new rooms to rent.
Best to wait until these boats leave before swimming over to Rok Nai.
After quickly demanding the steep national park entry fee, the officials who we encountered offered very little assistance
. Their English skills were limited, and they remained quite unhelpful even when we asked questions in Thai. We've heard that the head ranger is very helpful, but he never showed during our inquiry. An open-air restaurant supposedly has a small Thai food and drink menu, but it too had yet to open. If you want to stay overnight, double check with your tour company to make sure the island is ready for it.
There are no public boats to Ko Rok
; the only ways to get here are by booking a tour or chartering a private boat.
Most visitors book a speedboat day tour
from any resort or travel agent on Ko Lanta for between 1,500 and 2,500 baht per person. These tend to pick up customers on all of Lanta's west-coast beaches and will include two or three snorkelling stops, lunch, drinking water, snorkels, masks, fins and the national park fees. It takes around an hour to reach Rok from Lanta, and the tours usually run from 09:00 to 15:00. Similar tours can be booked in Pakmeng Beach
on the mainland.
Our boatman, readying to shove off.
Ko Rok is also commonly reached by private longtail boats
from Ko Ngai, Ko Kradan and Ko Muk, which can be arranged through resorts or directly with the boatmen. We paid 4,000 baht for a boat from Kradan and saw prices ranging from 3,500 to 4,500 at various places on the three islands. These rates are per boat, not per person, so the price can be reasonable if you rustle up four or five heads. However the private boats won't include lunch or the national park fee. It's a bumpy 1.5- to two-hour ride by longtail.
The normal entry fee to Ko Rok is 400 baht per person, but our boatman negotiated it down to 200 since we were only on the island for a short time. The tickets are valid for a few days, so hold on to them if you've yet to visit other parts of the national park, like Ko Haa, Ko Chueak (one of the islets near Ko Ngai) or the beach and lighthouse
at the far southern point of Ko Lanta itself.
Two of our fellow passengers, not readying to shove off.
If you want to stay on Ko Rok
, the best option is to book a tour on Ko Lanta and arrange for the same company to pick you up later — expect to pay around 500 baht extra for the privilege. All-inclusive camping "tours" are also available for around 4,000 baht per person for a couple of nights, but it's not difficult to book your tent in person and simply find your tour boat when you're ready to leave (most companies run tours every day in high season). If coming from Kradan, Muk or Ngai, you would need to arrange for a longtail boat to make two trips out — and pay accordingly.
A small cell tower is located on Ko Rok but the service on our AIS provider cell phone was patchy at best. No banks, ATMs, convenience stores or internet cafes are found on the island. The park rangers can help clean up minor bumps and bruises, but any serious injury would require an express run to Trang in one of the national park's boats. The tour boats stop running and the park accommodation shuts down for the May 1 to November 1 rainy season