Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter in a Tropical Island - Koh Mak

Koh Mak, the clear waters.

Getting there to Laem Ngop, 6 hours if you drive really slow.

Parking at THB 60 per night.

This island, Koh Mak, smack in the middle of Ao Thai ocean between Koh Chang and Koh Kood. A journey there will take 4 hours by car to reach the various ferry terminals within Laem Ngop in the province of Trat, so start your journey early. Over at Laem Ngop, on an unnamed jetty, there are speed boat operators offering the sea crossing for hotel staffs on Koh Mak at only THB 350, and for the public at THB 450. They also offer parking lots in private housing for you to leave your cars at THB 60 per night. Now, these boats are not the normal slow massive ferries crossing to Koh Chang. These are fast sea vessels guaranteed at making you regurgitate your food out all over the 16 or so rather comfortable seating under the white canvas canopy shielding you from the sun. It was hell of a ride for me as the December sea was rough. The boat had to continually retard the on the throttle and yet attempt to make the crossing in under 45 minutes. It's the monsoon now and we had to slam through the waves instead of cutting smoothly across clam waters. My testicles swapped positions after the ride.

A pier at Koh Mak where we arrived.

The long beach of Haad Khao.

There are a few beaches on Koh Mak. You wouldn't know which beach you did be arriving on but not to worry, the island has a network of local roads and your hotel will pick you up in a truck. We stayed on Haad Khao which means white beach. The sand ain't white on this wide gentle beach stretching laterally east west, but the waters are clam with very gentle waves offering us sunbathers a relaxing swim. We could float around face up without a struggle and be one with the horizon. The waters not churned is clear this season, see them crabs crawling and the occasional small fishes darting. I love Haad Khao, with the winter sun low, we enjoyed both orange sunrise and radiant sunsets in full view.

The shallow waters.

Sunrise in cold December mornings.

Winter I mentioned, whatever winter am I talking about? This is a tropical island, but December offered contrastingly cold mornings. Every morning, we woke to the sound of bristling trees swaying about in the breeze, it was the music of nature. It was 19 degrees centigrade as the sun rose and I clicked away on me shutter. In double clothing I was in, the wind chill I fought. The cleaners were out early, they comb the beaches keeping her pristine.

Bungalows of Baan Chailay.

Local road entrance to resort.

I stayed in Baan Chailay, about 4 to5 bungalows she has. Easy on me pocket, it cost THB 1,200 and we could sleep three. The air conditioner old, but it was cold. Need it actually we don't, the weather was pleasant. Hot showers in ground water pumped from below we bathed. The water was more of a trickling, and it smelt but hey, I ain't complaining for this price. Breakfast served simple, American or that Khao Tom (boiled rice) went well with the self served instant coffee. We were the only Asians accompanied by a number of elderly Caucasian folks politely chatting. Seated on wooden chairs and over our food laden tables, the feel was easy and homey. I had my 3 strips of bacon in the yellow sunlight accompanied by eggs, bread and butter.

Canoes for rental.

As the hours passed, the sky was a deep blue interrupted by bright white clouds . Still, the relentless breeze blowing. Our scheduled snorkeling trip costing THB 500 per pax was repeatedly delayed hourly since 10am. The sea beyond was too rough and the air too cold. We could have had ourselves a private boat at THB1,500, but it had been already been fully taken up by all the Farangs told we were. Being on Koh Mak during the monsoon season, expect travel plans to be altered. Our trip was eventually cancelled and the operators were worried how they were to deal with them Farangs who came on packaged tour. Nevertheless, we went on to an island opposite our beach known as Koh Rayang Nok.

Koh Rayang Nok.

Beach chairs.

White sands on a rather limited beach.

Koh Rayang Nok offered a small white beach with a few beach chars tastefully placed near the shoreline. Coming onto this island is not free, cost THB 200 for "entry". You could get your snorkeling gear form the lone restaurant operating on this island but the December seas were too strong for me. I do not want to drift away to Cambodia so I just sat on the sand whiter than that on Haad Khao on Koh Mak. That's where we also decided to have out very late lunch, not too tasty and a rather bit pricey. And as when one wishes, just tell the boat operator and you will be on your 10 minutes journey back onto Koh Mak.

Wind surfers during sunset.

Local roads to restaurants.

As evening approaches the cats were out playing. The dogs swam and we tourist strolled along passing the many small decent and simple resorts spaciously spread on Haad Khao. At times, we had the whole beach to ourselves. At times we had to avoid being hit by the beach ball so franticly chased by the sweaty young beach boys playing out front of their resorts. Dinner can be offered by a few restaurants located along the main road hidden behind by all the idyllic accommodations along this beach. Don't expect a gastronomical feast on these joints, they offer only decent simple meal masquerading behind artful names.

Chilling out the night.

Sofas on the breezy beach.

After dinner, there's a only-pub-on-this-beach place you could go to the locals called a Reggie Pub. Its well known to have a once a month Full Moon Party similar to that on Koh Phangan. There will be a live band and I could see that the lead singer was attempting his best to please the Farang crowd. We could not understand a single word of all the easy-listening songs he was bringing to us such. Stand By Me became Can By Me, Missing You became Meeing You . Alternatively to avoid the ear torture, we could just chill the night out over BYO whisky on the sofa set on the beach. Just make sure you order that soda, coke or French Fries from the cocktail stand serving the area. They are there to make a living after all and won't be pleased with you taking up the comfy seats free. It seemed we had the whole beach to ourselves again that night, only our laughter, cheers and chatter filled the windy night air. As we drank that last drop under the star lit skies, we walked the 10 meters back to our bungalows and shut down in anticipating of the beautiful sunrise the next morning.

Gentle waves.

So private.

Koh Mak in December, cool weather on contrasting sunny beach. A quiet place giving you the privilege of having the beach and turquoise waters all to yourself at times. Be warned though, oil yourself heavy in insect repellent. I am now sore with more than 20 or so ugly looking blistering sand fly bites. Locals had told me unlike Koh Kood and the more commercial Koh Chang nearby, Koh Mak does not spray their beaches with pesticides. The waters on Haad Khao will be still and only agitated by passing speed boats. The windsurfers takes to the waters and the power kites the cuts the breezy air. The simplicity of this island, the solitude and the clean air is a comeback that I must. Till we meet again.