If you are dreaming about that special paradise-island atmosphere which Samui or Phuket have been once famous for, then the Trang and Satun islands is the right destination to go. Idyllic white sand beaches fringed with coconut palms and casuarinas, crystal clear waters teeming with marine life, secluded resorts and simple bungalows and no hordes of tourists on their package tour. Does it not sound tempting? By some lucky reason the islands of Mu Koh Libong Archipelago in Trang province and the islands of Koh Tarutao Marine National Park in Satun province with just few exceptions have managed to preserve wonderful feel of a secluded secret place. Captivating vistas, colourful corals, chao leh villages and rare dugong residing there continue attracting visitors in search of their dream island. Go there right now before it is too late to enjoy this virtually untouched piece of the Andaman.
From Trang to the islands of the Andaman Sea
Trang is a convenient base for island hopping all over the Andaman Sea. There are two large groups of islands which are easily accessible from Trang. These are the islands of Mu Koh Libong Archipelago, including Koh Libong, Koh Kradan, Koh Muk, Koh Ngai, Koh Sukorn, and the islands forming a part of Tarutao Marine National Park in Satun province, i.e. Koh Tarutao, Koh Lipe, Koh Adang and Koh Rawi being the main ones.
Tigerline Ferry, a regional high-speed ferry operator between Trang and the islands of the Andaman Sea, serves two routes, the Andaman Route and the Krabi Route.
The Andaman Route from Phuket to Langkawi in Malaysia includes stops in Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Ngai, Koh Kradan, Koh Muk, Trang and Koh Lipe. On the combo Krabi Route passengers are picked up from Ao Nang, Railey Beach, Krabi Town or Krabi Airport and brought by bus to Trang where they board Tigerline ferries to the Andaman islands, including Koh Libong, Koh Lanta, Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai, Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe and Langkawi.
From Trang to Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai
Tigerline Ferry company picks up passengers going to Koh Libong, Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai from Trang bus and railway stations at 9.50am and 10am respectively. The whole journey to the chosen islands lasts 3½ (Koh Libong and Koh Muk), four, 4½ hours respectively. Tickets cost THB600 for Koh Libong, THB950 for Koh Ngai and Koh Muk and THB1150 for Koh Kradan.
Note that there are no piers for a high-speed ferry to moor at Koh Muk, Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai. To get to these islands from the ferry passengers have to use local longtail shuttle boats which charge THB50 per person. This fee is not included into the ticket price – pay directly to the boatman.
From Trang to Koh Lipe
Though you can get from Trang to Koh Lipe with Tigerline Ferry for THB950, it is easier, quicker and cheaper start your journey from Pak Bala, aka Pak Bara, a small village in Satun province.
Ferries from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe reach their destination is about two hours. Beside two departures of the High Speed Tigerline Ferry at 11.30am and 1.30pm, both at THB695, there is a bit cheaper local A Dang Sea Adventure boat (THB650) leaving Pak Bara earlier in the morning (9.30am); but it is often criticized for its service.
Note that Tigerline Ferry boats to Koh Lipe from Pak Bara first call to Koh Tarutao. The travel time is half an hour, and tickets cost THB345. A Dang Sea Adventure has a separate – and more expensive (THB500) – boat to Koh Tarutao at 11.30am, too.
The Trang islands: which one to choose?
Though belonging to the same archipelago of Mu Koh Libong, each of the Trang islands has its own zest to lure travellers. If you have more than just a couple of days to spend in Trang, do some island hopping to get excitingly diverse experience.
The beaches of the largest of the Trang islands glitter with golden sand. Regardless its size, Koh Libong is a laid-out and relaxed place unspoiled by mass tourism. The most exciting part of any trip to Koh Libong is an opportunity to spot endangered dugong, marine mammals similar to manatees. Reportedly, there are over 100 dugongs there, and dugong-watching boat trips are widely offered on Koh Libong.
It is not necessary to stay overnight on Koh Muk to see the famous Emerald Cave as there are day trips from Koh Lanta and Trang which bring you right to this local wonder. But it is much more fun to visit the cave, once a stronghold of pirates, after the day-trippers have gone away. Koh Muk feels wonderfully undeveloped compared to the more popular islands of the Andaman, and if you are after some close-to-nature experience, it is a place to visit.
Never heard of Koh Kradan? It is little surprising. Nonetheless Koh Kradan is considered one of the most spectacular Thai islands. All the stereotypes about a perfect tropical island are true for Koh Kradan: transparent turquoise waters, blinding white sand beaches and jaw-dropping sunsets are complemented with picturesque reefs inhabited by marine creatures.
A little exclusive and expensive paradise of an island, Koh Ngai harbours several top-notch spa resorts. Snorkelling is also good off Koh Ngai, and day trips to the amazing Emerald Cave on the neighbouring Koh Muk are easily organized. Idyllic and romantic, Koh Ngai is a good choice for couples and families who do not mind to pay more for getting away from crowds.
Further afield: the Satun islands
For a long time Koh Lipe has remained a little hidden gem, but its stunning natural beauty with postcard perfect white sand beaches, clear waters full of marine life and pristine jungle have played a bad trick on Koh Lipe, and very much the same as in case with Koh Phi Phi, the on-going development on the island is nowadays a matter of heated arguments. That said, Koh Lipe still retains its charm, and regardless extremely inflated prices the island continues to attract backpackers and other holidaymakers from around the globe. If you decide to go, book your accommodation in advance any time of the year, especially during peak season periods and Thai national festivals.
The biggest of the islands of Tarutao Marine National Park, in 1940s Koh Tarutao served as a prison and the majority of 3000 people incarcerated there perished during the WWII from malaria and diseases. Since then bad reputation continues guarding settlers off and up to now Koh Tarutao remains arguably the wildest Thai island. There are good and almost deserted beaches, secluded bays and mediocre snorkelling opportunities off Koh Tarurao’s shores. There are trails for jungle walking, and you most probably will be surprised by the diversity of animals you meet. The island remains rather undeveloped without any decent facilities for tourists so if you are after a lazy but comfortable beach experience, Koh Tarutao should not be your prime choice.