- Emerald Cave on Koh Muk
- Koh Kradan beach (and the snorkeling right off of it)
- Seafood BBQ on the beach at Charlie’s Beach Resort in Koh Muk
The Lonely Planet lists the Trang Islands as the number one island experience in their Thailand beaches book. This group of islands in the Andaman Sea, South of Koh Lanta (and Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi) are not considered the main Thai islands, mostly because of their very small size. It took us a while to get to the Trang Islands, but they’ve been on our (ever-growing) bucket list for a while. Based on what we read about them, it was a little hard to figure out how best to plan our trip there. This is a group of small islands (4 of which you can sleep on), and while they’re all relatively close to each other (from 20 or 30 minutes to 1.5 hours), transportation in between them isn’t cheap. These islands also don’t have the variety of cheap accommodation which makes it difficult for the budget traveler to stay on them for more than a few days.
We had planned to stay for 2-3 nights and booked only our first night, with the intention of figuring the rest out as we went along. We flew to Trang, took a van into Trang City (90 baht pp) and then another minivan/ferry combo to Koh Muk (350 baht pp). The reason we chose Koh Muk was because it happened to be in the center of the other islands we were thinking of visiting (Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai). We didn’t find out until we got to Trang that this was also the only of the three islands that has a road going through it. The other two have one main beach, with resorts all along the beach and that’s it. We also chose Koh Muk because we knew that we wanted to visit the top tourist attraction in the area, the Emerald Cave, which is on Koh Muk. It turns out that we made the right choice to start.
We arrived at the main pier of Koh Muk and had to take a motortaxi (50 baht pp) to Haad Farang, the beach where we were staying. As usual, we were staying about a 5 minute walk from the beach in a cute bungalow. We’d planned on dropping our stuff off at our place and heading straight to Emerald Cave, but it turned out by the time we were settled, it was a little too late and the tour we were planning to do the next day would include a trip to the cave anyways.
As usual, we spent the next couple of days figuring out our plans for the rest of our trip and realizing where we’d screwed up along the way. So now, let me tell you what we did and then what we think the perfect itinerary for the Trang Islands would have been.
Originally, we planned to stay one night on each of the three islands I mentioned above. We quickly realized that wasn’t going to work because getting between the islands wasn’t cheap (300 baht pp on a ferry or 800 baht to take a private boat). We decided instead that we would base ourselves in Koh Muk and take a day trip to visit the other islands. We also talked about going to Koh Libong, the largest of the Trang Islands and famous for their dugongs (big manatee type animals). When we heard, however, that there are only 40 of them (all together) and that our chances of seeing one was very small, we decided to skip Koh Libong. Libong is also the furthest south of the Trang islands and after Trang we were planning to head north so heading there didn’t really make sense for us.
Koh Muk is a cute island with two main sides. The side with the main pier is where the town is. There are some cute local restaurants and shops, but it’s not very big and though perhaps we were just there during low tide, but the beach was not very nice. The other side, where we stayed, is Haad Farang. Charlie’s Beach Resort is the main (slash really the only) hotel on this beach. Our book said that this was where all the action was, but aside from the restaurant at Charlie’s, there wasn’t much going on at this beach. We did go there for a seafood BBQ our first night, which was really good. Our second night, we walked to the other side for a local Thai meal for dinner. Also very good and about half the price of Charlie’s. You can walk between the two sides of the island (it takes about 30 minutes) or take a taxi for 50 baht pp, but there’s not really much in between.
So for our one full day in the Trang Islands, we wanted to hire a boat to go to Koh Ngai (pronounced Koh Hai) and Koh Kradan. We hired a private longtail boat (our hotel arranged it) and found 2 other people to share it with. The boat for 6 hours was 2500 baht, or about 600 baht per person. Our first stop was at Emerald Cave, right on Koh Muk. During low tide, you can take a boat into the cave (either hire a longtail boat or rent a kayak from Haad Farang – if you go on your own, make sure you bring a headlamp). During high tide, which is when we visited, you have to swim. We were there during high tide, so we swam about 10 minutes all through the dark cave (our boat driver leading us through with his head lamp). When you reach the end of the cave, it opens up and there’s a little island at the end, which is very cool. It kind of looks/feels like you’re in the inside of a volcano. We were there in the morning, but they say if you go there around noon, the sun shines right down into this opening and the water glows an emerald blue color. For me, the coolest part was on the way back. When we were swimming through the cave and almost at the exit, it was pitch black still, but the sun from outside was reflecting in the water and making it look like it was glowing. It was really cool and very beautiful.
There’s supposed to be a 200 baht pp fee to get into the Emerald Cave, but somehow we were able to avoid it. Try to arrange this with your boat driver beforehand. They should know what time you have to go in order to miss paying the fee.
The next stop on our boat tour was Koh Ngai (with a quick and not so great snorkeling stop on the way at a small island right off of Ngai). We’d originally thought about staying on Ngai for two nights and once we saw it, we were glad we’d decided to stay there for zero. The beach on this island is very small, and while it’s pretty, there are just a few resorts where you’d have to eat and spend all your time. There didn’t seem to be any local or inexpensive food/drink options. An hour here was enough for us (20 minutes of which we were picking up lunch from one of the fancy resorts to take on the boat).
The next stop of the day was Koh Kradan. This is the closest island to Koh Muk (only about 25 minutes by longtail boat) and it’s by far the prettiest beach of the three (and one of the prettiest we’ve seen in Thailand). Before we got off on the island, our boat stopped and let us snorkel for a bit. This snorkeling was much better (we heard Kradan has the best snorkeling of the three islands). There was some pretty coral and tons of fish. At one point, all of the sudden I was surrounded by thousands of these little silver fish that reflected the light as they swam and looked like they were glowing. They were all swimming under me and it was really beautiful (I felt like I was in Avatar or something). Then, once they passed me they turned around and I got scared thinking about these thousands of fish attacking me!
After some snorkeling, our boat took us to the beach. This beach was gorgeous, with perfectly whit sand and turquoise blue, crystal clear water. Before we left that morning, we’d actually thought about bringing our bags with us on the boat and trying to stay on this island (at the last minute, our hotel told us they didn’t have a room for us that night and we had to move hotels anyway), but for some reason (unfortunately) we decided against it and left our bags at Koh Muk. Koh Kradan has one cheaper accommodation option (Kalume Kradan Bungalows, 1000 baht per night) and we’d actually booked a room but then cancelled it. After a little while walking around, we wished we could have stayed. We even asked at the hotel if there was any way we could get our bags sent over from Koh Muk (the answer was no). We were bummed because we so easily could have just ended our tour there and it would have been perfect. We even tried to hire another boat once we were back in Koh Muk to take us back to Kradan (it’s only 20 minutes), but they wanted to charge us 800 baht, and we didn’t think it was worth all the extra money. So, we ended up back in Koh Muk for our second night, and while we had a nice night there, we would have loved to stay on the beach for the night on this smaller (and even more beautiful) Trang Island.
So, if we were to do it again, we would still start in Koh Muk for a night for a great seafood BBQ on the beach at Charlie’s and a walk through the local town. The following day, we’d still rent a boat for the day to check out the Emerald Cave, Koh Ngai, and Koh Kradan (plus some snorkeling in between), but instead of going back to Koh Muk at the end of the day, we would have just brought our stuff with us and stayed on Koh Kradan for a night (you can still take a ferry out of here to the same islands as from Koh Muk the next day). This would have been a perfect trip/itinerary for 2 nights in the Trang Islands. If you want more time or like relaxing on the beach, either pick one of the islands and spend a day at the beach (Kradan’s beach is the nicest by far) or head to Koh Libong for a night and take your chance at seeing the dugongs. Either way, as usual, we hope anyone traveling to the Trang Islands can learn from our experiences and mistakes and will be able to plan the perfect trip to these famous Thai islands. While we’re not sure they deserve the top Thai island destination award from the Lonely Planet, they are worth a visit if you prefer smaller (mostly luxurious) islands to the likes of the bigger islands (Koh Lanta, Phuket) further north.