Visitor Guide for Koh Mak island
Koh Mak, an island to the south of Koh Chang, is definitely worth a visit if you plan on exploring this part of Thailand during your holiday. It is a mid-size island which is becoming increasingly popular with couples and families due to its deserted beaches and lack beer bars and ugly concrete block hotels. It’s a haven for people who want to avoid the bright lights and over development of larger islands but still want more than just a basic beach hut.
Over 10 years ago, The Sunday Times chose Koh Mak as one of their Top Undiscovered Islands and just a couple of years ago the New York Times ran an article on finding ‘Old Thailand’ on Koh Mak. That is slowly changing as more visitors and more development come to the island.
Koh Mak is a relatively small, island, far more the typical desert island model than the mountainous Koh Chang and Koh Kood. It lies approximately 20 kilometres south of Koh Chang and covers an area of 16 square kilometres. It’s roughly 10km wide and 5km from north to south. So it’s too big to walk around, but easy to see by bicycle or scooter.
Bicycles are fast becoming the preferred means of travel on the island. In part due to the lack of hills and relatively short distances but also because there isn’t a car ferry to Koh Mak. So there’s very little traffic on the island. This also ties in with the islanders initiatives to be known as an eco-friendly ‘green’ island. But if cycling in 30C heat isn’t your idea of a relaxing holidays, automatic scooters can be rented everywhere for 300 Baht / 24 hours.
And as most development is limited to the western side of the island, no matter where you stay you are usually within a walking or cycling distance of wherever you want to go . . . which is just as well as you can’t expect much in the way of public transport. Although there are a handful of pick up truck taxis on the island now which charge 50 Baht/person pretty much regardless of where you want to go.
There aren’t any rivers on Koh Mak, therefore it’s a very arid island which also lacks the jungle clad mountains of Koh Chang and Koh Kood. So it has a different vibe. It is a still a working island covered predominantly by coconut groves and rubber plantations which account for 90% of the scenery on the island. So don’t expect much jungle. On the plus side the quiet concrete and dirt roads are very shady and it’s an island that’s ideal to explore by mountain bike.
There are two villages on Koh Mak, ‘Baan Ao Nid’ on the Southeastern coast is home to around 50 families plus the island’s school, temple and clinic and ‘Ban Laem Son’ which lies in the northwest corner of the island away from virtually all of the tourist development. Elsewhere you will find small hamlets of a few homes clustered in areas on the eastern shores.
Note that there’s only one ATM on the island and you can’t guarantee that will be working or will have cash in it. There are numerous currency exchanges though, and large resorts will give cash advances on credit cards for 3 – 5% commission.
As far as health goes, there’s a local clinic in the centre of the island and Bangkok Hospital Group recently opened an expensive, but fully equipped, private clinic on Ao Kao beach. It’s a bit pricey, but if you have medical insurance, go there.
How to Get to Koh Mak
The details below are for High Season. During the rainy season, June – September, not all services run, although you can still get to the island from the mainland. Boats from Koh Chang to Koh Mak don’t operate between June and mid-October.
Boats from the mainland (Laem Ngop) to Koh Mak
These boat are all speedboats. The ticket price is the same for all boats. 450 Baht per person one way. Children under 130cm are 300 Baht and toddlers and babies under 90cm are free.
Buy tickets at the mainland pier or your resort when you are on Koh Mak.
Laem Ngop to Koh Mak
Koh Mak to Laem Ngop
All boats depart from Krom Luang pier, Laem Ngop on the mainland.
On Koh Mak, Leelawadee uses Makathanee Resort pier. Panan uses Koh Mak Resort pier. Seatales and Suansuk use Ao Nid pier.
Boats from Koh Chang to Koh Mak
By wooden boat: Daily departure at 09:00 from Bangbao, run by Bangbao Boat. Return at 12:00. Takes 2 hours. 400 Baht
By speedboat: Daily departure from Bangbao at 09:30 & 12:00, run by Bangbao Boat. Takes 40 minutes. 600 Baht. And at 09:00 from Kai Bae, which takes about an hour.
For many people on the west coast the speedboat from Kai Bae is is a preferable service to departing from Bangbao as it saves a pick up truck ride along narrow steep road. Plus you also get to see the west coast of Koh Chang from the sea. If you want to book this just buy tickets for the Kai Bae Hut Speedboat from any tour agent.
By catamaran: In late 2018, Boonsiri Ferry began running a high speed catamaran service between Bangbao pier, Koh Chang – Koh Mak – Koh Kood. Departure time is 10:00. It takes around 45 minutes. This is the most comfortable boat to take, air-conditioned and with free wifi onboard
Note that the inter-island boat services only run during the high season. The first boat to start running are usually from Bangbao Boat in late October. Kai Bae Hut speedboat runs from 1 November to 30 April. Bangbao Boat now run at least one service a day until the end of May. And Boonsiri Ferry will stop their service in mid-May. Note that end dates are subject to change, depending on the weather and demand for the service
Koh Mak Beaches
As you can see from the above map pretty much all the resorts lie on one of the two main beaches. But as most resorts are relatively small and there is plenty of undeveloped beachfront land, you’re in no danger of feeling as though you are on a busy, touristy island even in peak season. It is still easy to wander off and find a few hundred metres of beach to yourself.
In the northwest of the island, Suan Yai Beach, offers sun worshipper’s the chance to toast themselves along a 2 kilometre stretch of white sand beach. For a good photo opportunity, head up the ridge at the western end of the beach, to Thaidaho Vista. Here you can enjoy an amazing, panoramic along the length of the beach and north towards Koh Wai and Koh Chang.
From Koh Mak Vista it’s only 5 minutes walk to the southwestern shore of the island where you’ll find Ao Kao beach, the northern stretch of which is the most developed area on the island which small resorts lining the beach and an increasing number of small cafes and restaurants on the main road which runs along the rear of the resorts. This is the busiest area of the island and it is where many visitors head for dinner or a laid back night out.
This Googlemap will help you get your bearings. Zoom in and click the icons for more information.
Around the Island
Other areas of the island that you might like to visit include:
Ao Nid Pier
Located on the east, Ao Nid Pier is the main cargo pier and has great views south to Koh Kood. From the pier, a paved road leads to the centre of the island and then branches off to the various beaches. There is a good coffee and cake shop on the hill above the pier.
Nearby is Wat Samakeetham, Buddhist temple which also overlooks the bay and is open to all. Highlights include a huge tree, and, if you look at the standing Buddha statues, you’ll notice that the images have definite feminine curves and features. This is a tribute to the founder of the temple, the mother, and grandmother, of many of the island’s current resort owners, who donated the money to build it.
At Koh Mak Seafood, by the shore below the pier, the owner has put together a small collection of old photos and artifacts which give you an insight into the history of Koh Mak. He will be happy to talk you though it. A far different history to Koh Chang’s.
Adjacent to Ao Nid Pier, another long beach but one with red sand and stones. Nice to walk on with great views of Koh Kood but not ideal for swimming.
Follow the paved road and a dirt track to the far northeastern tip of the island and you end up on a remote beach. Shade is provided by pine trees and there’s a small beach shack where you can get a cold drink. A kilometre offshore is the nearby island of Koh Kradad. You can also usually find a guy with a longtail boat who will take you over to Koh Kradad for the day.
Another long curving bay on the north coast of the island, with a white sand beach. Until recently this was undeveloped, aside from a single house belonging to the landowner. But half the property has now been sold and is now home to the luxurious Mira Montra Resort.
Thailand’s Secret Island
Koh Mak has been receiving foreign tourists for far longer than you might think. The first groups of German visitors stayed in the early 1970s. This was a result of members of the family that still own most of the island sending their kids to study in Europe. But the islanders have never tried to push for development and so it has increased gradually over the years. Today, as you’ll see in the video from April 2017, it’s still as laid back as ever.
However, change is coming. In 2018 an undersea cable connected the island to the mainland electricity supply. So no more reliance on aging generator trucks. And most of the dirst tracks around the island were paved.
Koh Kham Resort used to be a popular spot to stay, with only one small budget bungalow resort on the private island. However, the island was sold and it was being developed into a 6 star luxury retreat for the rich. However, work ground to a halt several years ago. Staff still tend the island and sweep the powdery, white sand beach daily.
There’s also a small booth where you can buy cold drinks. Visitors are welcome but you have to pay 100 Baht entrance fee. It’s worth it for the beautiful sand, huge black volcanic boulders and the fact you have an 80% completed luxury hideaway to explore. Get there by either kayaking or one of the regular longtail boat services from Koh Mak Resort or Prompakdee Resort.
Also just off the northwest coast, Koh Pee is a very small island – more a very large rock than anything else. There isn’t much to see above water but it is a great spot to snorkel. Rent a canoe from Cococape Resort and paddle here. If you book an island tour by boat then this will be one of the places you stop off at.
Koh Rayang Nai and Koh Rayang
Just off the western end of Ao Kao Beach you’ll see these two small islands. There’s nothing to see on Koh Rayang Nai, which is the closest to Koh Mak ( at very low tide you can walk to the island ) except one shrine in memory of one of the founders of the island.
Koh Rayang, on the other hand is home to a small resort ‘Rayang Nature Resort’ that caters to people wanting to get away for a while and enjoy the simple life. There’s a lovely little beach with good snorkelling and peace and quiet. Daytrippers are also welcome, but as with Koh Kham there’s a small admission fee, which includes a free soft drink. Simple meals are available in the restaurant.
The resort runs boat services for people wanting to visit the island. Ticket price is 350 Baht per person which includes the round trip by boat, entrance to the island and a drink. Contact the Rayang Nature Resort office adjacent to Monkey Island Resort and opposite Ball Cafe.
Another, larger, private island just off the northeast coast of Koh Mak. It’s flat and featureless. But is home to a herd of deer and has a few kilometres of white sand beach along the east coast. Also a small restaurant and three fan huts that cater to the few tourists who stay there. Take kayak or a longtail boat from Cinnamon Art Resort or from the beach bar at Laem Son beach.
Accommodation: Resorts, Bungalows and Hotels on Koh Mak
Although there are now over 40 places to stay on the island, most are relatively bungalow resorts. The only hotel style accommodation is in the blocks at Makathanee Resort, Cinnamon Art Resort and Islanda Resort.
You’ll find the best value accommodation and that in prime locations often fill up quickly in High Season. But despite this, it is usually possible to find accommodation if you just arrive on the island without a booking. Of course, it’s best to have done some research in advance and selected a handful of places you would like to stay.
Ao Suan Yai, the north facing beach has, for most of the year, the calmest sea. It is dominated by Koh Mak Resort, the largest on the island . This has a variety of air-con bungalows stretched out along 400 metres of beachfront. Adjacent is the more upmarket, Seavana Resort, which is run by the son of the owner of Koh Mak Resort. It’s a much more modern place with a more youthful, hands on approach to running the business and providing good customer service. Overall, it’s the island’s best beachfront resort.
If it’s a bit pricey and you prefer a small beachfront resort with mid-price AC bungalows, then Happy Days and Prompakdee Resort which are 5 minutes walk north along the beach from the pier. These accommodations are located in the grounds of the ‘old house’. A huge, pale blue, teak wood villa which is the oldest building on the island. It was built by the same craftsmen that built the wooden Vimanmek Teak Palace in Bangkok and is the original home of the founders of the island.
And if you don’t mind staying 5 minutes walk from the beach then you should check out Thaidaho Vista, a four room guesthouse on the ridge overlooking the bay. Stunning views and great service from the friendly Thai / American owners.
For anyone travelling with a family or in need of more space, you’ll find houses for rent , which are ideal for families located in the grounds of Goodtime Resort. Book direct with the owners, rather than through the resort, to get the best rates. You’ll find Pickle House, Coconut House and several more listed on Airbnb.
Moving south to Ao Kao beach. Popular bungalow resorts include Big Easy and Koh Mak Holiday, both towards the western end of the beach. The backpacker friendly, but now shabby, Monkey Island, right in the centre of the beach. This is the main spot on the island for a night out or beach party and live music. A better bet for a budget hut is Island Huts, 500 metres walk along the beach. Simple fan huts right on the sand. And towards the eastern end there’s the long-established Ao Kao Resort and Lazy Day, two popular resorts for couples and families looking for a peaceful beach holiday.
The main road that runs behind Ao Kao beach is also where you’ll find cheaper accommodation. Ball Cafe, run by Ball and Oi, has moved locations a few times over the years and now has two locations and a couple of rooms for rent on this road, behind Monkey Island Resort. Even if you don’t stay there you should call in to try their coffee and cakes. Nearby, Joe’s Corner offers good value, stylish rooms.
Way down in the southwest of the island , but on a rocky shoreline, lie Banana Sunset, a great little cocktail bar with a handful of huts and Pano Resort which for years has been popular with visitors who just want a simple bungalow by the sea. In 2018, a new glamping resort, Navicha Tent Resort, opened nearby. They offer air-conditioned tents by the sea. Something to consider if you’re bored with the usual bungalow accommodation.
The small beaches on the east coast of the island are home to an upmarket resort, Plubpla Retreat and the good value Sea Breeze bungalows Both are a bit remote, Plub Pla especially. But they’re very peaceful and have picturesque views south to Koh Kood.
Another new mid-price resort, with just a handful of bungalows, is in an even remoter spot. Talay Time is located at the far southern tip of the island and as such has sunrise and sunset views. If you’re happy to rent a scooter when you need to go for a meal, then it’s the ideal ‘get away from it all’ resort.
Sandflies and Jellyfish
Finally, if you’ve read this far then you’re obviously interested in visiting Koh Mak. However, the island does have a reputation for being home to some vicious sandflies and the occasional Box Jellyfish. Paradise can be dangerous.
Sandflies like quiet beaches where they can lay their eggs and not get disturbed by people walking on the sand or resorts raking and cleaning the sand. So they love undeveloped beaches and islands such as Koh Mak. Not everyone reacts badly to their bits, most people don’t. But if you are one of the unlucky ones then you’ll be covered in itchy red spots after a day on the beach.
Box Jellyfish can be deadly and are usually found further south in the Gulf of Thailand – for example near Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Pa Ngan. But several people have been badly stung by Box Jellyfish whilst swimming off Koh Mak, so care is needed. Many resorts now have jellyfish nets to provide safe areas for people to swim. And on the beaches you will see ‘Vinegar Stations’, red poles which contain a bottle of vinegar. This is the essential initial treatment for a Box Jellyfish sting. to put on any stings.
As yet, there haven’t been any confirmed sightings of Box Jellyfish off Koh Chang’s beaches.
For more detailed information on the island see kohmak.com