Photo: Another busy day on Ko Sukorn.

Introduction

Our rating:

On calm and pastoral Ko Sukorn, water buffaloes outnumber the locals, and locals far outnumber the travellers.



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Why should you go to Ko Sukorn?

This less-easy-to-reach island is home to a slow-paced Muslim community that lives mainly off agriculture and fishing, with tourism a distant third. Many of the few travellers who make it here settle in for extended stays and return year after year, soothed to the bone by the time they leave.

Another busy day on Ko Sukorn. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by David Luekens.

Another busy day on Ko Sukorn. Photo: David Luekens

The dark-blue water off Sukorn’s shores doesn’t strike the idyllic sapphire and turquoise shades that you’ll see at some of Trang province’s other islands, like Ko Kradan or Ko Muk. You also won’t find dazzling reefs, luxury resorts or speedboat ferries. But if you seek to lose yourself in a hammock while unwinding into a rural island lifestyle, Sukorn will not disappoint.

A narrow, 17-kilometre cement road encircles almost the entire island, cutting northwest from Baan Saimai to a cliff-top pavilion with great views across mainland Trang province and smaller islands dotted in between. With only a few fluffy green hills protruding from the otherwise flat landscape, Sukorn is ideal for a bicycle or scooter ride.

Late light. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by David Luekens.

Late light. Photo: David Luekens

Those up for more of an adventure can arrange a boat trip to Ko Lao Liang, Ko Takieng and Ko Phetra, all undeveloped national park islands with powdery white sand, clear water and coral reefs. A day trip to all three costs around 3,000 baht (for the boat, not per person) and—take our word for it—is absolutely worth it. If you’re not up for the boat trip, you can still gaze out at the trio’s vertical limestone cliffs during one of Sukorn’s notably marvellous sunsets.

Where is Ko Sukorn

Ko Sukorn is the southern-most developed island in Trang province, southwest Thailand. The island sits close to the mainland and so lacks the clear waters you’ll find on say Ko Kradan or Ko Ngai. The closest airport to Ko Sukorn is in Trang, though it is possible to arrange boat transfers to other nearby islands.

What are alternatives to Ko Sukorn

Ko Sukorn will appeal to those looking for an extremely quiet island well off the tourist trail. There are just three small resorts on the island, all on the west coast and within walking distance of one another. This is a “living island” meaning there are local villages and local Thai people just getting on with their lives—tourism is very much an afterthought here.

The sunsets are none too shabby. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

The sunsets are none too shabby. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The beaches on the island, even the main resort beach, are fairly ordinary, but the waters are shallow and calm, making them very good for those with children. Other than riding around the island or hiring a kayak, there is little in the way of organised activities. If having a beautiful beach is important to you, but you still want a local vibe, consider Ko Muk. If you’re not so fussed about local culture, both Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai have far better beaches. For something between Ko Sukorn and the above more touristed islands, consider Ko Libong, the next main island heading north.

Looking for something in between? Similar to say Ko Muk, but elsewhere? Ko Bulon Lae, set one to two hours further south by boat, should be at the top of your list.

When to go to Ko Sukorn

Ko Sukorn 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 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, but not a scratch on the crowds you’ll find on other islands.

Orientation

The word sukorn means pig: apparently, a lot of wild boars once roamed the roughly 30-square-kilometre island in the Andaman Sea. Alternately known as Ko Muu, which also means “Pig Island”, the name is ironic. You won’t see any pigs on Pig Island, and pork is not an option on the mostly halal menus. You will however see plenty of goats and water buffalo grazing the fields, often accompanied by white herons and butterflies.

Light a fire, do some yoga. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Light a fire, do some yoga. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Most of Sukorn’s hilly northwestern terrain is blanketed in rubber trees, their splotchy trunks dripping white latex “sap” that’s tempered into sheets, hung out to dry and transported by boat to be turned into tires or shoe soles. Shallow-water fish traps and mangroves line much of the eastern seafront, sharing space with longtail boats nudged up to simple homes standing on stilts over the silt.

Home to a busy mint-green mosque and the island’s largest cluster of wooden houses draped in flower bushes and birdcages, Baan Saimai is the island’s main village and where most travellers arrive from the mainland. Traditional Muslim ways of life persist here and at the smaller villages; do be respectful by not showing too much skin as you explore.

Beach art. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Beach art. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Rice fields, coconut groves and watermelon patches reach into Sukorn’s flat southeast reaches, often stretching right up to the greyish sand that rims most of the west coast. Many of the beaches reveal shallow water and considerable rocks for a long way offshore, but Haad Lo Yai is suitable for a swim at any time. Though it hosts most of the resorts, this wide stretch of fine sand stays nearly empty—even in peak season.

A small police office and medical clinic are located near the pier in Baan Saimai, but anything serious will require a trip to Trang town, located 60 kilometres north of the Sukorn ferry pier. While a few hole-in-the-wall shops sell basic necessities, as of early 2020 there are no banks or ATMs on Ko Sukorn. WiFi is available at all the resorts, and the cell signal is strong across the island.

Ko Sukorn’s high season runs from November to April, though outside of New Year, rooms are rarely full. Resorts close for all or parts of the rainy season, when very few travellers visit.


Where to stay on Ko Sukorn

Ko Sukorn’s accommodation scene is primarily clustered on the west coast of the island, ideally positioned to take in the nightly sunsets. Haad Lo Yai is home to the two largest resorts, Sukorn Andaman Beach Resort and Yataa, while just around the headland to the north you’ll find Sukorn Cabana Resort overlooking its own little grey sand beach.

Sukorn Andaman Beach Resort (T: (081) 416 2526 exotravel@yahoo.com Agoda Booking) is easily out pick of the crop on Ko Sukorn—especially if you’re happy to do without too many creature comforts. Rooms come in a few flavours, with standalone concrete chalets (fan-cooled 800 baht, air-con 1,300 baht) set in offset rows running back from the beach (so all get an ocean view) on one side of the restaurant and duplex rooms in two perpendicular rows on the other side. The latter are ideal for families as Mum and Dad can be in one room and the kids in the adjoining one (though some may prefer to be at opposite ends of the resort!). Rooms are clean and comfortable, if featureless, and the bathrooms basic, but it all works. The duplex rooms have hammocks slung, the chalets don’t. But that doesn’t really matter as there are no shortage of lazy chairs and hammocks throughout the grounds.

Everyone can see the sea at Sukorn Andaman Beach Resort. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Everyone can see the sea at Sukorn Andaman Beach Resort. Photo: Stuart McDonald

There’s also a massage sala, which we felt the need to try out twice (research purposes only, 280 baht for an hour) and the large open sided restaurant was suitable for all day lazing—and the food here is great—try the haw mok talay—and prices are reasonable. The best thing here though are the staff. Bend over backwards in the friendly and helpful department. Would we return? Without a second thought.

Just down the beach from Sukorn Andaman is the more than comfortable Yataa Resort (T: (075) 828 594 Official site Agoda Booking ) and it will appeal to those looking for the very creature comforts Sukorn Andaman doesn’t have. That would include better and more spacious, modern and comfortable chalets (from 1,400 baht to 2,500 baht, 2,800 baht for beachfront), far better bathrooms, and a freeform swimming pool. All these frilly extras do come with an added punch on the ticket price though, which leaves cheapskates like us preferring Sukorn Andaman from a value for money point of view. Staff here were also very friendly, the restaurant staff in particular were lovely. So if this fits with your budget, it is a solid choice—and it was clearly popular with families when we swung through. One note, their boat transfer prices to other islands were significantly more expensive than at Sukorn Andaman.

Poolside at Yataa. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Poolside at Yataa. Photo: Stuart McDonald

A third option, on the same coast of Ko Sukorn, but around the headland to the north, is Sukorn Cabana Resort (T: (098) 575 0288 Official site Agoda Booking ). Cabada offers a bunch of older traditional beach bungalows (1,200 baht) set back from the beach in a single row along the rise, and on the other side of the restaurant, newer rooms in a container-like setup (1,600 baht, 2,200 baht for a family room). The container-style rooms were generous in the size department, but lacked much in the design or flair department. The bungalows felt their age and we feel Sukorn Andaman Beach Resort offered considerably better value than here. The restaurant is also set well back from the beach, but is elevated and the terrace setting offers some pretty views. Food is reasonable and the staff were friendly—offering us a free ride to the other resorts when we decided to move on after a night. The beach here is not as good as the main beach.

Classic bungalows at Cabana. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Classic bungalows at Cabana. Photo: Stuart McDonald


Where to eat on Ko Libong

The standard of food at Sukorn’s resorts is not too shabby, especially when compared to a more touristy island like Ko Kradan, and the prices are not outrageous. If you’re not fussed about resort food, you’ll find a small local restaurant right behind Yataa Resort and more still in Baan Saimai. Beer is served at the resorts, but don’t expect any wild parties.

Genuinely spicy at Sukorn Andaman. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Genuinely spicy at Sukorn Andaman. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Serving reasonable Thai food in a big and breezy beachside pavilion, we felt that Sukorn Andaman Resort’s restaurant has the best sundowner atmosphere. We enjoyed the steamed seafood curry here and also the breathtakingly spicy dry yellow curry. Breakfasts are not much chop though. The restaurant is particularly well situated to take in the beauty of the surrounds.

Yataa, like Sukorn Andaman, has a solid repertoire of Thai dishes, and we found the staff to be exceedingly friendly and welcoming, though the prices are a little bit nudged up from what you’ll pay at their neighbour. They also have a wider variety of international fare on offer.

Pack an empty stomach before hitting Yataa. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Pack an empty stomach before hitting Yataa. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Cabana Resort also offers flavourful Thai dishes, including whole barbecued fish, on its dining patio that also comes with great sunset views. It is good the views are solid as the food can take quite a while to appear.

Over in Baan Saimai, you’ll find a few unassuming curry shops, noodle stands and made-to-order eateries that are good options if you prefer to do it the local way—and save money. Some places have English menus, but don’t worry if not, as they’ll be happy to whip something up for you.

Grazing at the Watermelon Festival. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Grazing at the Watermelon Festival. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The village is also the place to score gai yang (barbecued chicken) with sticky rice from a few street-cart vendors near the school. These also offer milky chai yen (Thai iced tea) and khanom snacks of sweet sticky rice with fillings wrapped in banana leaves. You’ll also find a few hole-in-the-wall shops selling fruit, cookies and candy bars to cure your sweet tooth.


What to see and do

Covering a not too big but not too small area of around 30 square kilometres, Ko Sukorn is connected by solid network of narrow paved roads, making it an ideal place for exploring by bicycle or motorbike—easily rented from one of the resorts.

The road ends here. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

The road ends here. Photo: Stuart McDonald

There is a straight forward loop that encircles most of the island, taking around an hour my scooter at a gentle pace, we went in a counter-clockwise direction, but it works either way (obviously).

Starting out from Sukorn Andaman Resort, we headed south, passing by Yataa Resort, and continuing south, through fields dotted with buffalo, rubber plantations, and off and on the ocean out to our right. Towards the southern tip of the island a large retaining wall, which will include a beachfront promenade was being built, but it still had a ways to go.

Fishing village scenes on the east coast of Ko Sukorn. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Fishing village scenes on the east coast of Ko Sukorn. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The beaches, once you’re away from the resorts, are pretty scrappy and mudflattish, but are scenic in their own way. At the southern tip you’ll reach “Watermelon Beach” where vast watermelon fields abut the muddy sands. There is an annual Watermelon Festival held here in early January. After the beach there is a pier which marks the southernmost tip of the island.

From here we veered back north, passing tiny fishing villages and life just going on day by day. Mangroves started to replace the rubber plantations as we slowly worked our way north, eventually reaching the biggest village on the island, Baan Saimai. Here you’ll find a few government offices, a school, a smattering of local eateries and a couple of locally run homestays. This in an interesting spot to park the bike, take a wander and maybe grab a bite to eat. Some houses stand on stilts over a white-sand beach with longtail boats parked out front like Volkswagens. Others are clustered along the inland lanes. Usually made of wood and punctuated by bushy flowers and birdcages, most are attractive in their way.

No shortage of rubber. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

No shortage of rubber. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Onwards we continued, back into deep plantations of rubber farms and the only part of the island that is hilly in any real respect. Leaves scattered deep across the road indicated just how little traffic got up this way. Towards the northern tip of the island, but still on the east coast, there is a large viewpoint (you cannot miss it!) that offers tremendous views over Trang province and perhaps the hills of Phattalung in the far distance.

Continue around the northern tip (watch yourself as the steep road can be slippery) and you’ll start running down the west coast. There are a few not too bad small beaches along the way that you can reach by just bushwhacking through a few metres of jungle. There’s also an abandoned resort along this stretch—a shame as the beach here was very pretty.

Strike a pose at the viewpoint. Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Strike a pose at the viewpoint. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Further south the road hugs the coast and you’ll suddenly round a bend and find yourself to the rear of Sukorn Cabana, from where it is just one more rubber plantation back to where you started.

We feel that a bicycle is the optimal means of covering the ground while also soaking up the atmosphere, but you could also do this trip by motorbike. Either can be rented at Andaman, Yataa and Cabana resorts. It’s about a 17-kilometre trip around the island.


How to get to Ko Sukorn

To/from the mainland
From Trang town, one daily songthaew departs at 11:00 and costs 80 baht per person to Tasae pier. You can catch this unmarked navy-blue pick-up truck on your own in front of the fresh market on Sathanee Road (just north of the train station) or the day market on Rachadamnern, but it’s a lot easier to ask a travel agent to call the driver for a pick up, which should only cost an extra 20 baht. It’s a solid hour-long ride in the back of the often-cramped truck.

Taxi! Photo taken in or around Ko Sukorn, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Taxi! Photo: Stuart McDonald

In Tasae, the local ferry costs 50 baht per person and usually leaves within minutes of the songthaew’s arrival. Sidecar motorbike taxis wait at the pier in Baan Saimai and will take you across the island to the resorts for another 50 baht. Resorts may provide this service for free if you book in advance.

To return to Trang, take the 08:00 boat to meet the same once-daily songthaew. Local ferries actually run to Sukorn throughout the day, when full, but the only way to get between Trang and Tasae at other times is to transfer in Yan Ta Khao. While songthaews regularly run between this small market town and Trang, they’re more infrequent to/from Tasae, making this a potentially challenging and time consuming route.

The other option is to book a private transfer to/from Trang town for 1,500 baht with a private car, or, if you’re fine with leaving at 07:00, 250 baht with a shared car.

To/from other islands
No public island-hopping ferries stop at Sukorn proper, but they will drop you at Ko Lao Liang, where a resort will send a longtail out to meet you—you need to arrange this beforehand! Any of the resorts can also arrange private transfers to nearby islands by longtail boat. Ko Lao Liang costs around 2,000 baht; Ko Libong and Ko Bulon Lae cost 2,500; and Ko Muk and Ko Kradan cost 3,600. These are generally only available in high season, when there are often enough passengers to make the per-person prices reasonable.

Resorts on Sukorn can also arrange private transfers by car/van to places like Hat Yai, Pakbara, Krabi, Ko Lanta and Phuket, for between 2,500 and 5,500 baht. The cheaper option is to head back to Trang town and take public transport to any of these (and many other) places from there.

Getting around
Sukorn is big enough that you’ll probably want some wheels to go exploring. Bicycles can be rented for 100 baht a day at Andaman and Yataa resorts, while Cabana charges 150 baht but has better-quality mountain bikes. All three of these also rent out motorbikes for 300 baht. Sidecar motorbike taxis are readily available in Baan Saimai and can be arranged through resorts.



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