Home to sea gypsies, monitor lizards, longtail boats, rubber trees, white-bellied eagles, ocean treasures, butterflies, quiet bays, beautiful beaches and thick jungle where terrestrial spirits are said to whisper in the sea breeze, Ko Bulon Lae is a magical place. Blissfully free of the major development that defines many Thai islands, all it takes is a stroll to be enchanted by Bulon.
Starting near the island's southern coast near Pansand Resort, we moseyed through a field where coconut trees and orange-red tropical chestnut flowers serve as a picture frames for the Andaman Sea. Nearby, a little bungalow that fronts a canal might be the most adorable police station in the world.
Highlighting islander priorities, the largest patch of beachfront is occupied by Bulon's modest school. This is the only Thai island we know of where teachers rent out a few simple bungalows overlooking the sea and a breezy football pitch near the rundown basketball court. It may sound like an odd arrangement, but like most things on Bulon, it all fits together when you see it.
We then strolled uphill past Marina Resort and a Bob Marley shrine that's otherwise known as Coconut Bar — Bulon's only standalone bar.
The narrow brick-and-cement path rambled downhill to a village rich with flower bushes, chickens, goats and colourful sarongs hung out to dry. In front of a little shop, a couple of long-stay Germans chatted with native islanders over fresh-cut mango. At Su's Corner, a French/Thai couple sold us home-baked cinnamon rolls out of their house's open-air kitchen. Their two young daughters giggled while drawing pictures at the next table over.
Continuing north, we strolled through Chao Le Homestay before emerging at atmospheric Ao Panka Yai. Touched by calm water that shelters a nearby coral reef, the small bay hosts only a fisherman's house, boat repair shop and family-run resort set behind palms that sway over the grainy sand. If you're looking for peace and quiet, here it is.
Panka Yai is also a magnet for bits of coral, driftwood, discarded flip flops, purple and orange seashells, and anything else that the ocean feels like depositing here. Among waste-high piles of mostly coral that gather just beyond the surf, treasure hunters will find necklace-worthy chunks of opaque sea glass — white, green, aquamarine, amber — smoothed by untold time in the deep.
We then cut west along a tan-dirt trail that winds past Jungle Huts and the island's only rubber trees. As the milky white sap dripped into plastic bags and halved coconut shells, a few ramshackle houses sat on stilts beneath the shade.
The path cuts southwest through the centre of the island, winding alongside Bulon's only freshwater stream. Wells that have been dug here explain why a cluster of Chao Lae sea gypsies built their village on the sand nearby. The bay's namesake mango tree fell during a storm in 2012, but the handmade crab and squid traps, buoys and boat parts are still piled high.
A sign proclaimed that the area around the freshwater stream “is a fine habitat of Mangrove Pit Vipers. Although not vitally dangerous, its bites can cause serious pain.” While we didn't meet one of them, a fat monitor lizard plopped itself right next to the path and didn't move even when, after a while of waiting, we walked within a step of it. We've heard their bites aren't very pleasant either!
On the way back, we stopped for a late-afternoon lunch at Panka Noi Bay‘s phenomenal Italian restaurant that sits happily out of place next to a spirit shrine adorned with no shortage of animal skulls. Also home to Viewpoint Resort, Panka Noi is another relaxing spot to watch the longtails bob.
Having covered every corner of Bulon apart from the western jungle that locals avoid due to the ghosts, it was time for a swim at the main beach that stretches near the school and Bulone Resort. Shaded by coconut and casuarina trees and with pink flower blossoms popping up amid fine coral sand kissed by clear cerulean water, it can hold its own among some of Thailand's best beaches.
Ko Bulon is so small that we did this walk in half a day, which included two leisurely meals and stops to check out the resorts. Tiny shops and resorts sell water along the way. Strategically placed info boards will even tell you what birds, flowers, butterflies and snakes (?) you're seeing. Bring binoculars and you might spot a Nicobar pigeon or orange-bellied flower pecker. Paths are easy to follow and motorbike traffic minimal.
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