Scanning the shorelines of Koh Kood as our ferry approached, I was delighted by what I saw.
The coastline around Ao Salad Bay was almost pristine, with gentle hills covered entirely in jungle.
Around the wooden pier ahead of us were bunched just a few dozen houses and fishermen’s huts on stilts. Poking out from behind this tiny village was a shimmering golden Buddha statue, seemingly gazing out to sea.
“You know what? I already love this island”, I declared to my fellow travelers.
We hadn’t even set foot on the island yet, but seeing a Thai island without the usual rampant development already made me think it would become a new favorite of mine. It did seem like love at first sight.
Knowing what it’s like in Krabi or on the Gulf Islands, I’d expect any Thai island to greet me with a cacophony of bars, souvenir shops, and travel agencies. But on Koh Kood (also known as Koh Kut), things are quite different.
As we disembarked, a few men were unloading supplies from a cargo vessel. Fishermen were pouring shrimp onto screens to dry them in the sun. It felt like a friendly and unhurried place.
A songthaew took us from the docks to the south, driving through unbroken jungles and mangroves for a good 20 minutes. We finally stopped at road crossing, where there were just a couple of shops, restaurants, and guesthouses.
I quickly checked into my room, then walked to the nearest beach. It was among the prettiest beaches I have seen in Thailand.
Uh, so what’s wrong?
It was only after a while that I realized Koh Kood isn’t quite the island I thought it was.
Now, I’m a little worried I’ll be accused of snobbery here. ‘Ooooh Mr. Travel Blogger, you went to the nicest island in Thailand, but it wasn’t good enough for you?’.
No, not at all. Koh Kood is objectively excellent. The waters are as clear as crystal and the beaches are spotlessly clean. Even in the midst of the January high season, it didn’t feel crowded whatsoever. And while it doesn’t have any nightlife I wasn’t looking for any, so on paper this would have been the perfect island.
It just turned out that Koh Kood is designed in a way that I find enormously irritating.
The thing is: it’s built mainly around resorts. I don’t mind resorts — even though I’m more of a guesthouse-type myself — but I do dislike when an island has completely configured itself around them.
It means, for instance, that walking the beaches on Koh Kood can be annoying. Only a part of Khlong Chao beach is public, while the rest is exclusive to the Tinkerbell Resort, the High Season, and the Peter Pan Resort. You’re meant to stay in your designated area.
There are no paths to the other beaches, so if you want to go for a walk you’ll be forced to squeeze through two other private resorts. Their concrete cottages, trimmed hedges, and bland manicured lawns make you feel more like you’re in a recreational park than a tropical island. Occasionally a ‘NO TRESPASSING’ sign reminds you that you’re not meant to be here.
There isn’t any public transportation other than some overpriced chartered taxis. This isn’t impossible to work around, but it is a little bothersome. The only way I could meet some friends staying at another bay was to drop 350 Baht on a 10-minute ride, which is crazy by Thai standards.
But maybe the most irritating thing is how strangely inorganic this island feels. Beautiful as it is, there’s also a certain sterility to it.
Nothing feels particularly connected. Restaurants and cafés are mostly in isolated locations on long empty roads, waiting for any customers to emerge from their resorts. (The village where the ferry drops you off is too far removed to serve as a hub.)
Koh Kood was thoroughly lacking one crucial thing: atmosphere.
Doing Koh Kood independently
Oh dear. That all sounds a bit negative, doesn’t it?
Actually, I still liked Koh Kood, once I came to accept what it is.
It is, as should be clear, a Holiday Resort Island. And if you’re okay with that, you can still travel independently on Koh Kood and carve out your own little experience.
Away from the resorts, there are a few pockets of smaller budget-friendly guesthouses. And if you’re the explorer type, you can find some very nice things to check out on the island. Since there isn’t any public transportation it’s a good idea to rent a motorbike, which typically costs around 300 Baht per day.
I loved visiting the Klong Chao waterfall. It was dominated by Russian package tourists at midday when I first visited, but around sunset there was barely anyone there. The waters are excellent for swimming and are also excellent if you enjoy some attention; if you stay still for just a moment lots of little fish will give you a free pedicure.
Siam Beach (a.k.a. Bang Bao Beach), towards the southern end of the island, literally made me say “wow”. It has a gorgeous little bay.
The snorkeling and scuba diving around the island is also terrific. I went for some dives around Koh Rang, a small protected island off Koh Kood, and found there a wondrous witches’ cauldron of batfish, wrasses, barracuda, and parrotfish. I ended one dive with schools of hundreds of bright yellow fusiliers swirling all around me.
Clearly, this island isn’t all bad.
Is Koh Kood worth it?
I suppose I fell in love with Koh Kood, then fell out of love, but then mostly warmed up to it again until I settled somewhere in the middle. Do I recommend Koh Kood (a.k.a. Koh Kut)? Actually, I do. If you’re looking for a lazy tropical holiday, it’s probably perfect. And even the weary traveler will find it a nice place to spend a few days.
I realize 95% of people wouldn’t care at all about the things I was picking on earlier. And there’s something to be said for an island being kept relatively unspoiled, even though that means segmenting it into private resorts.
Even though it’s only a 5-hour drive from Bangkok plus a 1-hour ferry, the vibe on the Koh Chang archipelago is much more relaxed than on some of Thailand’s more famous islands. After I had spent a month of furious adventuring around Asia, heading down here via the wonderful town of Trat for some quality beach time and diving was just what the doctor ordered.
I’ve read that Koh Kood once used to be 100% focused on package tourism, which changed in recent years. Now the Lonely Planet lists it as one of the top spots in Thailand. That doesn’t seem undeserved to me, even though it didn’t quite meet the expectations I had as our ferry approached.
Koh Kood was just a bit less charismatic than it initially seemed. It didn’t quite manage to capture my heart, but it did at least capture my eyes at nearly every turn.
Where to stay on Koh Kood
While it’s mostly resorts along the coast, if you retreat a little inland you can find some great budget accommodation with charm and atmosphere. I liked the Mata Guest House [Booking, Agoda], which has some lovely wooden bungalows in the forest. Since the owners live on the property, it gives it a bit of a homestay feel.
Other travelers recommended the nearby Cozy House [website]. It’s a simple but cozy place about 15 minutes from the beach.
The only hostel-style accommodation is BB Dorm [Booking, Agoda, Hostelworld], an annex of the BB Divers dive center. Despite a lack of common areas, it’s a decent enough place if you’re set on staying in a hostel, and you can stay there as part of a package deal with some diving or snorkeling, which I heartily recommend.