With it’s idyllic beaches, stunning sunsets, and crystal clear water, Koh Mak one of the best islands in Thailand. This quiet paradise is privately own so unlike other Thai islands it hasn’t been overrun with tourists or mass development. If you’re looking for pure peace and quiet, and complete relaxation, hop on a boat to this tiny island. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your holiday on Koh Mak.
- Why you should go to Koh Mak
- How to get there
- When you should go
- Where to stay
- How long you need
- How much to budget
- What to do on Koh Mak
Why you should go to Koh Mak
Koh Mak is as far as you can get from brash tourist islands like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan. There’s no backpacker strip or party hostels, you won’t find any large bars or clubs, and there are no lady boy or ping pong shows. Instead you are treated to warm crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, rustic beach bars, friendly locals and rock bottom prices. Koh Mak is the perfect escape if you need some time to chill out, and the perfect place to fall in love with Thailand all over again!
Thailand has always been our favourite country to visit in South East Asia, and we often refer to it as our Asian home. It’s safe, friendly, the food is great, it’s easy to get around and there’s a huge variety in things you can see or do.
Over the years, as Thailand became more and more popular with tourists, the landscape has started to change. New hotels and hostels are constantly being built to cater for demand, upmarket resorts are taking over previously isolated beaches, backpacker party strips and beach parties are becoming increasingly popular, and a pub on the main strip in Koh Phi Phi even serves a Sunday roast! While this is great if you are just looking for a party for a few weeks, it’s rather disappointing if you’re looking for the kind of off-the-beaten-track experience Thailand originally became famous for.
Koh Mak is a peaceful, idyllic paradise that shows no signs of changing. Because development is strictly controlled, it remains just as beautiful and charming as it was when we first came here 6 years ago.
How to get to Koh Mak
To get to Koh Mak you take a speedboat from Laem Ngop pier, which is close to Trat town.
8 boats depart from Laem Ngop pier for Koh Mak each day, and cost 450 baht / £10 / €12 per person each way. Each boat I’ve taken to and from the island over the years has been in good condition and have had enough life vests for everyone on board.
From Laem Ngop Pier, there are 8 speedboats a day in high season, with a reduced service in the rainy season (from May to October). Boats depart from the pier at 10.30, 11.30, 12:30, 14:00, 14:30, 15:00, 16:00, and a possible new addition 17:00.
Returns leave Koh Mak at 08.00, 08.30, 09.00, 10.00, 11.30, 12.30, 13.30 and a possible new addition at 15.00.
You can buy your boat ticket at the pier, or call ahead to your resort and book your seats. It’s possible to buy tickets from an agent, but you will be paying more if you do this.
How to get to Laem Ngop pier
To get to Laem Ngop pier you have a couple of options depending on your budget. You will most likely have to start your trip from Bangkok, but we have also arrived from Cambodia.
Fly (From £71 one-way)
Bangkok Airways flies directly from Bangkok to Trat in 1 hour. You can then take a taxi to the pier which is a 30 minute drive away. This airport is privately owned by the airline so this is the only route that goes to Trat.
Flights vary depending on the time of year, and how far in advance you’re looking, but the cheapest we have found is £71 one way.
The next option is to take a private taxi or Uber. We’ve made the journey by taxi from Bangkok (approx 5 hour drive) and Siem Reap (approx 6 hour drive). Uber is very active in Thailand and very cheap, you don’t have to worry about haggling or if the driver is using the meter. Plus the cars tend to be in good condition and have aircon and seatbelts – which a lot of Thai taxis won’t have!
A private taxi from Bangkokwill cost approx 4,500 baht / £103 / €116 and an Uber will cost between 3,000 baht / £68.50 / €77 and 3,500 baht / £80 / €96 , although it will take a small bit of time to find a driver willing to do such a long trip. It’s worth the wait to save the money and travel more comfortably!
Private Bus / Minivan (from £8)
The final, and cheapest option is to travel by bus. There are numerous companies that depart from Bangkok each day to Laem Ngop pier for as little as 350 baht / £8 / €9 per person.
Buses leave from the airport and from the Democracy monument near the Khao San Road. Some companies offer a boat & bus ticket too which will save you a few baht so opt for this if you can.
Things to note: Bus and boat companies will offer you a return ticket, sometimes for a better price, but they will need a return date when you pay. I would advice booking this return ticket, and then just calling them up if you need to reschedule it. We’ve done that many times with no problem.
What to do in Koh Mak
The best thing to do in Koh Mak is relax! But if you feel like getting off the beach for a bit, hop on a scooter and try one of these activities:
- Go to the Koh Mak Viewpoint to see beautiful views of the neighbouring islands and Ao Suan Yai beach.
- Snorkel, swim, have an afternoon beer and take in the views from Blue Pearl Bar. This small wooden bar is built at the end of a pier beside Coco Cape resort and is a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon. Snorkel equipment is available from the bar, and they have a swimming deck so you can take a dip.
- Take a boat trip to neighbouring islands. You can take a trip to nearby Koh Phee, Koh Kham and Koh Kradat and visit various snorkelling spots. Kayak from Ao Kao beach to Koh Rayang, a tiny private island that has the most idyllic white sand beach (and two adorable dogs!)
- Eat the delicious Massaman curry at Riverside Restaurant. Visit Bamboo Hideaway for some tasty Mexican food, a dip in the swimming pool and a chat with Jake the really friendly American owner. Go there for his ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ Bloody Mary pool party to meet other expats and backpackers.
- Take a sunset yoga class at Ao Kao white sand resort and follow it up with a relaxing massage by the ocean. Find a hammock, pick up a good book and just do nothing!
How Much To Budget
Unlike some other Thai islands there is no cost to enter Koh Mak. Food and drink can be super cheap on the island – if you’re in a budget hut then your meals can cost as little as 60 baht. You can rent a motorbike for 300 baht / £7 / €8 per day, or a bicycle for 200 baht. The island is roughly 8km wide and 5km from North to South so it’s small, but not small enough to walk around the whole thing. Having a bike is a great way to explore the many hidden beaches on the island. Laundry is approx 50 baht / around £1 / €1 per kilo, and usually takes around 24 hours to come back. Accommodation varies depending on your budget- you can stay in simple wooden huts on the beach for as little as 350 baht / £8 / €9 per night, or in a private house for 10,000. My favourite budget accommodation options are listed below.
In total it’s possible to stay in Koh Mak for as little as 1000 baht per person per day if you’re willing to stay in basic accommodation and don’t have too many Changs!
When to visit Koh Mak
High season starts in November and can last up until March, but most resorts tend to increase their rates after Christmas as that’s when the tourist numbers really go up.
We have been here in November, December and January and although it does get a little busier in the New Year, the island was still pretty quiet. You can read more about Koh Mak’s climate here.
How much time do you need?
Being a small island, you can easily see most of Koh Mak’s sights in a couple of days – but that would be missing the point! Koh Mak’s main appeal is to escape the real world and live in paradise for a little while, so the longer you can stay, the better. Many people come to Koh Mak for a few months at a time, and considering that the journey to get here can take a while, I would recommend staying for at least a week. You can get great rates on beach huts if you stay a little longer, and there are a number of islands nearby if you’re craving some variety.
Where to stay in Koh Mak
When you’re on an island this beautiful you should definitely stay on the beach! Ao Kao beach is, in my opinion, the most beautiful on the island and it’s where we always stay when we visit. There are a number of different options for staying here – we have stayed in two. There are a total of around 30 options for accommodation on the island and if you’re coming before the end of January you can usually turn up and find something – otherwise I recommend booking ahead!
This has become our go-to accommodation when we’re on Koh Mak. We love it so much, it’s at the top of my list of 5 best budget accommodations in Thailand!
Island Hut is cheap, basic and as rustic as it gets. There are 33 wooden cabins nestled in between the coconut trees, all just metres away from the beach. The huts are basic – they have bucket-flush toilets and are mostly fan only, so you’re getting back to basics when you stay here, but that’s part of the charm!
You pay as little as 350 baht / £8 / €9 per night for a hut with a shared bathroom, 550 / £12.50 / €14 baht for a hut on the beach and 1000 / £23 / €26 baht per night for an air conditioned hut on the beach. There are only four of these so if you do want to opt for air con you will have to book ahead!
Just steps away from the sea is the shared restaurant that serves up the best Thai food you will eat for as little as 60 baht / £1 / €1.50 for a main course! This is a great place to meet people and chat with the Thai owners – Island Hut is a family-run business and some of the guests have been coming here for over 20 years so there is a great vibe here.
We stayed here on our first trip to Koh Mak when we were on a 3 week holiday before we gave up our jobs to travel – so our budget was a little higher than it is now! It costs approx 1,500 / £34 / € 38.50 baht per night for an air conditioned beach front villa in the low season and 3000 baht / €78 / £68.50 in the high season. Big Easy is a small affair, with just 7 Thai-style wooden villas.
Koh Mak Tips
If you are getting a taxi or bus to Laem Ngop Pier then the driver may drop you off at a little shop just at the top of the pier to buy your bus tickets – don’t buy them here as you will be overcharged. You can walk down to the end of the pier where the boats leave from and buy your ticket directly for 450 baht / £10 / €12. We got caught for this once and paid double the price of the boat.
There is a lot of accommodation on Ao Suan Yai beach, but bear in mind that boats leave and arrive at the pier here all day long so it can be busier and touristy than Ao Kao beach. I personally wouldn’t recommend staying here if you’re looking to chill out.
If you like to keep fit, Koh Mak is a great place to run. The streets are quiet and there a some great viewpoints around the island that you’ll pass. We usually start our days there with a run and then jump right in the sea after!
If you want to help keep Koh Mak clean then a local community group meets every Saturday to pick up waste from the beaches. Lots of local and expats get involved so as well as being a way to give back, it’s also a great way to meet the people that live on the island. More details can be found here.
*Some of the content of this post was originally written by me for Backpacker Story.