Koh Mak remains an unspoiled hidden holiday gem
When compared to its mountainous neighbours Koh Chang and Koh Kood, the island of Koh Mak is quite tiny—only 16 sq.km—and relatively flat. However, the list of things to see and do here is huge. Back in 2014 I spent several months living on Koh Mak, and as a result got to experience almost everything this idyllic slice of paradise has to offer.
Since I stopped living on this tiny island I’ve heard that some things haven’t changed—the island is still more or less car-free, with the exception of a few pick-up trucks and song taews, and there’s still no ATM there—but change is inevitable in this world and Koh Mak is not immune. In the intervening years more restaurants and mini marts have opened, more concrete roads have been built, and there’s now a covered tennis court, a Muay Thai boxing gym, and several new resorts. But thankfully, there’s still a ban on 7-11’s, jet skis, and girlie bars.
The island of Koh Mak is owned by a small group of families, all of whom work together to ensure that any development on the island proceeds in a sustainable way, and that “undesirable” elements are kept out. On a larger scale, the majority of the residents cooperate to make the island as “green” as possible, organizing group beach clean ups and encouraging large-scale recycling. Recently, the Thai government’s Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) selected Koh Mak as a pilot project to promote ‘Green Island Tourism’ and are championing it as a ‘Low Carbon Destination’.
The only way to get to Koh Mak is by boat, and most dock at Ao Nid Pier, on the eastern side. Just north of the pier sits the island’s sole museum—moderately interesting for a quick look-see—but the golden Buddha statues overlooking the bay at nearby Wat Koh Mak are much better for scenic photo ops.
On the far western side is Ao Soun Pier, where you can catch speedboats to and from Koh Chang and Koh Kood. But the real draw here is Ao Suan Yai, a beautiful scalloped-shaped bay with glittering white sand and crystal clear blue-green waters (this bay is also home to the luxurious Koh Mak Resort).
Nearby is another island attraction, but one that is not actively promoted as it is a bit too “out there” for the general public. The Love Temple, as it’s referred to by some people here, is a private sculpture garden that is the brainchild of a man named Somchai, a Burmese native who came to Thailand over 30 years ago. He amuses himself by creating weird erotic painted concrete sculptures to populate his front yard, backyard, and anywhere else on his property where there is space. His home is just off Luang Prom Pak Dee Road, down an unassuming dirt path (when you see the topless mermaid sculpture, you’ll know you’re at the right place).
If you’re looking for some off-island activities, there are two dive operations here—the long running Koh Mak Divers, now entering their 22nd season, and BB Divers who have been in business for four years now. Both make snorkeling and scuba diving excursions to the uninhabited, coral-ringed smaller islands that surround Koh Mak. Another off-island experience is a visit to Koh Kradat, a very flat little island that is home to a population of about 2,000 wild deer. Admission to the island is B100 and kayaking there is easy.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for an unforgettable dinner, with an equally unforgettable view, pay a visit to the Grand Ocean Seafood Restaurant at the hilltop Islanda Resort Hotel.
Live Like a Local
For several years now American-born Kevin Horton and his wife have been return visitors to Koh Mak, spending many months at a time living on the island. Here now is Kevin’s ‘Top 5 Must-Do’ list.
1. Take a cooking course from P’Leng at Smile Koh Mak Thai Cooking School. Awesome teacher, oceanfront location, totally customizable menu… and, quite seriously, you will eat some of the best Thai food you have ever had—and you made it!
2. Across from the Koh Mak Resort, on the northwest side, is a small island named Koh Kahm, which you can get to by kayaking, or taking a boat (but kayaking is better). A B100 landing fee gets you a soda, and all-day access to frolic on fine white sand. A failed resort on the island imported the sand, and it is different than anywhere else on Koh Mak… like powdered sugar! The half-built resort is still there, slowly being eaten by the jungle.
3. Trek to the top of the hill at the west end of Koh Mak and find the hidden meadow overlooking the sea cliffs and the marine reserve to the west. Find the dirt trail, follow it, look for the dry creek, go to the top of the hill, and then make a left.
4. Rent a scooter for a day and explore the friendly roads of Koh Mak. Don’t forget the hidden paths through the jungle. It’s a car-free island, so it has little traffic. And if you get lost, you will get found again as the island is not that big.
5. Sundowners on the deck at Banana Sunset Bar & Bungalows. It’s the best place on the island to watch for the green flash at sunset while you sip your favourite libation.
Words and photos by Bruce Scott