Ko Phra Thong – or Golden Buddha Island — is wide, flat and desolate. It’s no wonder people gave up searching for a solid gold Buddha image that was supposedly buried here centuries ago. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to do, which is sort of the point, but a spin through the interesting savannah landscape is an experience that you won't find anywhere else.
Ko Phra Thong’s inland landscape is indeed flat and barren, but it’s distinctive in that it’s categorised as desert-like savannah. Many travellers remark that it looks and feels strikingly similar to the savannah plains of Africa, minus the lions, gazelles and giraffes. Given the fact that most of the rest of Phang Nga province (and southern Thailand for that matter) is lush, wet and mountainous, Phra Thong’s expansive grasslands and dry, sandy dunes come as a somewhat baffling surprise.
For us, it was a welcome surprise. While we'll never complain about a trek through dense rainforest, we’ve always been partial to rolling plains and dry, desert like landscapes. There’s something about the hot, raw, expansive feel of such places that make it easy to reflect, to take a deep breath and find some real space in a busy world.
While cycling down the narrow cement lane that runs deep into the south of this large island, we took a seat at midday on a deserted sand dune and did nothing but watch the sand lizards roam for a while. We forgot the “real” world in all its seriousness and clamour. Only solitude — land, sky, body and mind — remained. When we hopped back on the bike some 20 minutes later, we felt cleansed and utterly alive.
Whether it’s to look deeper into one’s self or relish life with a friend or loved one, it’s that sense of solitude that brings many back to Ko Phra Thong every year. If you’re looking for expensive spa treatments and tidy waiters bringing you drinks by the pool, look elsewhere, but if you want to get away from exactly that type of materialistic tourism, Ko Phra Thong may very well be for you.
Far from being an after thought, Ko Phra Thong also happens to boast some 17 kilometres of wide, almost totally undeveloped beaches, accessable down sandy paths from the main north-to-south road. If you tire of peddling, how does walking on a beach for hours and not seeing so much as a single human-made structure (let alone another actual human) sound? So untouched are Phra Thong’s beaches that they’re one of the few places in Thailand where sea turtles still regularly nest, and the endangered lesser adjutant stork may still be found here in all its glory.
While it’s true that the water off Phra Thong’s coast lacks that typical tropical emerald-turquoise colour, it still makes for some good swimming. After spending midday bobbing in the surf, you might head to the charming fishing village of Ta Pae Yoe on the island’s east coast facing the mainland for a glimpse of traditional Thai island life. A world away from mass tourism and its scammers, the locals are still tickled by the sight of their yearly foreign guests.
Bicycles (and motorbikes) can be rented at Mr Chuoi Bar & Hut and Lions Village for 50 to 100 baht. Bring plenty of water if you plan to go far to the south or east, as Phra Thong's inland terrain gets steamy hot and there are few shops.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 27th February, 2015.