We couldn’t agree if this is the most beautiful island in Thailand or one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand. Either way, Koh Mak is lined with gorgeous landscapes which then face out to other tiny islands also filled with stunning scenery. It’s a feast for the eyes and the soul.
The original family that settled here grew coconuts and rubber trees. To this day. descendants of that family continue to do exactly that. When it comes to tourism, Koh Mak (Thai: เกาะหมาก) was a late bloomer and didn’t begin to tourist-ificate until the mid-70’s. Travelers far more veteran than ourselves muse that Koh Mak reminds them of Thailand before mass tourism.
The sand is white and reaches far out into the ocean. In fact, the waters are so shallow that when the tide is out, it just looks like the beach grew. Because it is only accessible by speedboat, Koh Mak has retained that postcard beauty and you should come live that postcard life.
WHEN TO GO
Koh Mak, unlike nearby Koh Chang and Koh Kood, is hilly and not mountainous. This allows stormy skies to blow past. The jungle-covered slopes of the other islands are large enough to catch this weather which makes for rainy days. There are no rivers on Koh Mak which gives it a more arid feel.
Some contend that Koh Mak has only 2 seasons: rainy season from May until October and dry season from November until April. This ignores hot season which hits Thailand around April to June. Even when mainland Thailand swelters, Koh Mak’s small size and low hills keep it’s 800 residents more comfortable than those of us who live elsewhere in Thailand.
HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to Trat
Trat Province (Thai: ตราด) is nuzzled between the Gulf of Thailand and the Cambodian border. Trat’s provincial airport, TDX, is owned and operated by Bangkok Airways – one of Thailand’s budget airlines. If you plan to fly, this makes your choice of airlines very simple! From the airport, a minivan or taxi will be able to take you to the pier in about 30 minutes. This is your fastest and most costly option.
From Ekamai, Bangkok’s eastern bus terminal, there are buses to Trat. Once in Trat, you’ll need to take a taxi to Krom Luang Pier. Minivans are another option. These depart from all over Bangkok (and other major cities) and many will take you directly to the pier.
By Boat from Krom Luang Pier
Krom Luang Pier in Laem Ngop (Thai: แหลมงอบ) is fairly straight forward. Vehicles can drive out onto this 2 lane structure. There are a number of covered seating areas along the side. These open-air waiting rooms usually have some form of signage to let you know which speedboat company is using which berth.
We booked our speedboat through Seatales. Having driven our own car, we drove onto the pier, dropped our stuff, and one person drove to the Seatales parking lot. It is a simple lot with some covered parking. A staff member then scootered the driver back to the pier for a small fee. Parking was 50 Baht / day. You’ll be provided with a tiny paper as a receipt. Be sure to keep this as proof of payment for your scooter-shuttle upon your return.
If you are driving yourself to the pier, but you’re not sure if you’re on the right track, the Ko Chang Naval Battle Memorial is an attention-grabbing landmark. Read-up on what is being memorialized, and on your speedboat ride, you can debate whether you believe the Thai or French version of events.
For our speedboat tickets, we called and made a reservation with Seatales. During high-season, pre-booking a ticket is best. We bank transferred 50% of the cost ahead of time (from our Thai bank account). They had asked the ages of our family to decide on adult or children prices. Upon seeing our 8 year old, they charged them the adult price. Charging by height is common in Thailand so when making your reservation be sure to clarify if adult/child pricing is by age or height.
COVID-19 has gutted the Thai tourism industry and so local speedboat operators have pulled together to run fewer, but fuller boats. Though we booked with Seatales and paid them, we took a Leelawadee boat there and back. Because the options were limited with fewer boats sailing, we booked return tickets. You can wait and buy your return once on Koh Mak to give yourself more flexibility, however, it did help our hotel plan our shuttle time for our return trip.
The boat has a central aisle and bench seating on either side. The spacing is snug, but the view is wonderful. The boat is covered, but the sun still finds ways in. Be sure to lather on the sunscreen before you sail. Also, life jackets are provided on board.
We should note that there are stairs at all of the piers. Though we have 4 young kids, a pram / stroller, and bags, Leelawadee did not help us load or unload our things. If you have mobility issues, be sure to pack lightly!
Koh Mak is about 40 kilometers from the mainland and the journey can take anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes.
Getting Around and Returning to the Mainland
There are 3 piers on Koh Mak and different speedboat companies sail to different piers. Leelawadee uses the pier at Makathanee Resort. Seatales and Suansuk sail to and from Ao Nid Pier. Panan uses Koh Mak Resort Pier. Before you arrive, be sure to inform your hotel which pier you will arrive at. Most hotels on the island have a shuttle service (covered pick-up truck with benches called a songtaew).
Koh Mak is not overly large, but it is hilly and not small enough to be fully walkable. Songtaews, those same pick-up trucks that hotels use as shuttles, function like taxis (100 Baht for 2 people or 50 Baht per person for 3 people or more – this is per way). You can also rent scooters from a number of hotels and shops. 300 Baht for a day seems to be the going rate. The roads on Koh Mak are concrete and hold onto the red dust. If you are walking on the roads, be mindful as scooters can be quiet on this type of road.
WHERE TO STAY
Emplaced at the center of Ao Pra (Pra Bay), we stayed at the Mira Montra Beachfront Resort. It came recommended by friends who have lived in Thailand for over 10 years and it did not disappoint. The main building is a tropical, shabby-chic, ocean-facing, open-air barn. Can we make rusty-tropi-chic a thing? This striking structure serves as reception, breakfast area, and restaurant. Adjacent is a sleek infinity pool with sweeping views of the bay. There is shaded seating and a shallow area which is great for the kids.
Flanking these structures are rooms of various types. Each room is stand-alone and there are several types to choose from. The rooms are in two rows which are staggered ensuring everyone has an ocean view.
Without exaggeration, we ate every single meal at the hotel restaurant. The prices seemed high at first glance (compared to food prices in Bangkok), but 3 thoughts changed our mind: (1) as a family of 6, the cost of a songtaew would negate any savings of going elsewhere (2) we’re on a small island where almost everything has to be sailed over – that’s bound to impact pricing (3) the food was really, really, really good. We ordered the massaman curry several dinners in a row!
The staff were observant, attentive, and helpful. As a smaller hotel, the breakfast team got to know our coffee order and by day 3, our coffees were arriving at our table just as we were (as parents, this was an act of kindness like no other).
If you’re looking for a different dinning option that is nearby, then mount-up a sea kayak (which are free to use for guests) and paddle the shoreline (or walk for the wave adverse) to The Blue Pearl Bar. It’s over-water with stairs to which you can tether your trusty water steed.
The 2 Bedroom Beachfront Family Villa was everything we’d hoped it would be and just a little bit more. Two large bedrooms are connected by a living room. The expansive front porch brings that living space outside. Both bedrooms have generous en-suite bathrooms with an indoor and outdoor shower. We think our kids tapped into something primal while washing outside! Mosquitoes are evening companions on Koh Mak and the nets around the beds were both whimsical and practical. They even had netting for the baby cot.
As if all of that space weren’t enough, the beachfront trees are strung with swings and hammocks so you can have your face to the sky and your toes in the sand. It quickly became our outdoor living room.
Sitting in the bay, across from Mira Montra, is Koh Kham. This islet lures people in with it’s sizable swatch of pure white sand (honestly, it may be visible from space). We kayaked over with the kiddos only to be met by a lady named Tao (Star) who informed us that a man in Pattaya is the owner of this island. We were thrown by this (but later found this ownership info online), so asked some of the Thais on the island. They had all paid 200 Baht per person for a round-trip boat transfer and landing fee. We were being asked to pay 200 Baht for the landing fee. Partly on principle but mostly because we had no cash with us, we returned to our kayaks with nothing but glimpses of powdery sand. It was a #2priceThailand moment that actually opened the door to a meaningful talk with our kids about how people make judgements based on appearances.
If you do want to sprawl across those white sands, speak to someone at Mira Montra reception who can arrange the boat transfer and proper fee.
There are no ATM’s on Koh Mak. Larger hotels, and their restaurants, accept credit cards, but on this island, cash is king. Be sure to fatten-up your wallet before setting sail.
There are minimarts strewn across Koh Mak. If you’re looking for beach beers, afternoon snacks, and drinking water, patron a minimart as prices are lower than in hotels.
You’ll hear it lots from locals and hotel staff – watch out for sea urchins. These dark black, spine-covered, foot piercers are sizable and easy to spot against the white sandy bottom through the crystal waters – but we guess folks must still step on them. These brittle critters won’t wreck your time here, but we’ll join the local chorus and encourage you to avoid them.
As a smaller island, there are limited places to pick-up beach gear. Be sure to bring whatever sand apparatai you need. Also, sand flies love Koh Mak so be sure to bring coconut oil. You can read more about this tip and other beach bag wins HERE.